Colin -- 1908 Belmont hero
by Kellie Reilly
On the eve of Saturday's Belmont S. (G1), we honor the unbeaten Colin, who rose above a host of trying circumstances to maintain his perfect record in the 1908 edition of this oldest American classic. Often ranked in the highest echelon of our sport's heroes, in the rarified company of such legends as Man o' War and Citation, Colin overcame unsoundness, illness and man's poor judgment to retire with a perfect 15-for-15 mark. Nor did his travails end at stud, for he was neglected abroad and plagued by poor fertility at home, but he still found a way to exert a lingering influence. On the track as well as in the breeding shed, Colin defied the odds and escaped the laws of probability.
A true celebrity in his time, Colin was mobbed by enthusiastic fans and marveled at by horsemen and turf writers alike. He had "it," that "electrifying effect on racing men," as Abram Hewitt expressed it. "The blood surges, and the pulses quicken at the very sight of such Olympians on the track." Hewitt recalled that he had "listened to old-time horsemen talk about him with an other-world expression on their faces."
The brown (a few later sources say bay) colt with an elegant stripe on his
face and three white socks hardly aroused that kind of reaction as a yearling --
quite the opposite, with his ugly, enlarged hock a cause for grave concern. In
fact, his owner/breeder, Wall Street wizard James R. Keene, doubted that the
colt would stand up to serious training. That early misgiving must have been
profoundly disappointing, as the youngster was one of only 25 (some say 27)
foals sired by the 1901
Despite the inauspicious lump on his hock, the well bred Colin was given his
chance in the early trials in company with the other Keene fledglings. He seized
it with alacrity, flashing dazzling speed along with that indefinable touch of
class. Trainer James Rowe Sr. was suitably impressed. The future Hall of Fame
horseman had been a leading rider in the 1870s with two
Knowing that Colin's inordinate potential could not be realized unless his hock was addressed, Rowe devised a regimen which included robust daily massages and bathing in cold water. The well mannered colt took it all in stride. According to a report in the Thoroughbred Record, "He seemed to realize that the treatment was meant for his good, and he never gave his handlers the least trouble."
Although the swelling was still pronounced, Colin was sent into battle early
and often as a juvenile, making his debut in a five-furlong contest at
Just three days later in the National Stallion S., the Keene colt set a new record of :58 on Belmont's five-furlong straightaway, appearing "immeasurably the best" as he strolled home by three. Wheeled back again on four days rest in the Eclipse S., Colin shouldered 125 pounds on a muddy track in the pouring rain. Bucking shins while fending off a stiff challenge from a rival carrying eight fewer pounds, he fought through the pain to win going away by a head at the wire. No one else would come that close to the budding star for the rest of the season.
With his tender shins given just 24 days to recuperate, Colin reappeared
under silks in the Great Trial S. at old
Not long after this upbeat bulletin was issued, however, fate erected another
obstacle in Colin's path: he started coughing. Although Rowe treated the colt as
best he could, the cough persisted for 10 days. His next engagement was one that
his connections were determined not to miss -- the prestigious Saratoga Special,
offering a showdown with another undefeated juvenile, the well regarded Uncle.
No one else dared to take Colin on at equal weights, so an intriguing match race
was in the offing, if only the
Colin made the race, but he didn't look particularly well, and both owner and trainer were worried about his condition. Rowe instructed jockey Walter "Marvelous" Miller, a teenage phenom who was the first rider to win 300 races in a year, to let Colin just stride along with Uncle and to rely on his heart to get him home. As it turned out, the colt was not about to let a pesky microbe, allergen, or whatever the trigger was for his cough, stop him.
In the early stages of the six-furlong contest, Colin maintained a narrow
lead over Uncle through fast fractions, and for a time it looked as though the
two unbeatens were locked
in mortal combat. As soon as Miller asked him, the
"I could have gone away at any time," the eventual Hall of Famer said, adding that he was particularly struck by his mount's startling acceleration. "Even if loafing along, he can get into action quicker than any horse I have ever seen when it becomes necessary. Seems to me he can go right from a loafing gallop into his full racing speed in one stride," but he "never wants to do any more than he has to."
Colin became the toast of the Spa, and there was plenty of buzz about his
remarkable effort on the heels of a persistent cough. He exited his conquest of
Uncle in terrific shape, with his cough gone and his hock nearly normal. Four
days after the Special, Colin captured
A vast throng of 50,000 crammed Sheepshead
Although Keene had announced that Colin would get a "much needed rest, which
he richly deserves," the colt lined up one week later and captured the
seven-furlong Flatbush S. by three commanding lengths, followed by eased-down
victories in the Brighton Produce S. and Matron S., then run in a division for
colts. The Thoroughbred Record was overcome by his dominance, exclaiming,
"The more one sees of him, the more firm is the conviction that he is the best
horse ever bred in
Excitement was at a fever pitch for his seasonal finale, the seven-furlong
Champagne S. on
After Colin went into his winter quarters at Sheepshead
The undefeated champion reportedly put in a tremendous work in advance of his
sophomore bow in the Withers S., and he looked fit and well on race day at
Colin had already risen above an enlarged hock, bucked shins, and a bad cough
as a juvenile, but he had another physical ordeal to suffer just days before the
The exact nature of Colin's setback was not revealed, but rumors swirled
about bowed tendons. According to one account, as late as the afternoon of the
As the Thoroughbred Record put it, "One could not fail to be astonished at the apparent perfect condition of Colin." He sported bandages on all four legs, yet he "stepped out lightly and freely, his eye was bright, and not the slightest indication was there of any ailment whatever." He bucked, hitting the wooden stall hard, prompting a racegoer to say, "If only his forelegs were as good as those (planks), there surely is nothing the matter with him." For a horse who was routinely praised for being on his best behavior in the paddock, "always the gentleman" and not excitable in the least, could he have been trying to tell his handlers something? Or was he just feeling great and showing it like any three-year-old on the muscle?
Fair Play maintained his relentless momentum, nearing Colin's throatlatch, as
the two flashed past the usual finish line. Casual
racegoers thought it was over, but the
Had Notter really misjudged the wire? According
to historian William Robertson, Goodwin's official race chart says that Notter
flubbed it. The Hall of Famer vehemently denied the
charge, arguing that Rowe had told him to give the colt as easy a time as
possible, and that Colin had little left in the stretch as his leg began to
hurt. While it sounds perfectly in character for Rowe to want to protect Colin,
and he similarly instructed Miller to handle him tenderly in the Saratoga
Special, the way Notter rode him actually made it
harder. For a kind but clever horse who would not
unduly exert himself unless asked, was it really Colin's idea to open up
daylight on the field in the early and middle going of the longest race of his
life? Rather, it would have made more sense to employ the tactics used against
Uncle, to allow him to lope with the pack and then call upon him for maximum
effort at the right time. Instead, he was wrung out and understandably tiring
just as the race neared its climax. Considering that spectators skewered
Notter for overriding the colt early in the Withers,
is it too much to imagine that he may well have done the same in the
About three weeks later, Colin faced the starter for what turned out to be
the final time in the Tidal S. at
With racing in
Entering stud in
Colin sired only 81 foals in the course of 23 seasons at stud, but a remarkable 14 percent of them were stakes winners. One of those was Neddie, the paternal grandsire of the mighty Alsab, subject of our Historical Cameo for the Preakness. Alsab's best son, Armageddon, was actually inbred 4 x 4 to Colin. Another of Colin's stakes winners was On Watch, who figures as the broodmare sire of 1945 champion handicap horse Stymie. Stymie's dam was herself inbred 2 x 4 to Colin. Slow and Easy, a daughter of Colin, produced Easy Lass, named Broodmare of the Year for producing Coaltown, better known to posterity as Citation's stablemate but voted Horse of the Year in two of three polls in 1949, as well as that year's co-champion three-year-old filly Wistful.
Two other daughters of Colin appear deep in the maternal line of two potent families. Colin's daughter Herd Girl produced 1935 champion handicap mare Late Date, herself the ancestress of 1982 Broodmare of the Year Best in Show, whose descendants include champions El Gran Senor, Try My Best, Spinning World, Xaar and Aldebaran. Belmont contender Jazil (Seeking the Gold) traces to this same family. Irish champion Grey Swallow (Ire) (Daylami [Ire]) hails from another branch of Late Date's family, and he too will be in action on Belmont day in the Manhattan H. (G1). Another daughter of Colin, Comixa, is the ancestress of Golden Trail, whose female descendants have produced the likes of elite stallion Dynaformer, champions Sunshine Forever and Ryafan, and multiple Grade 1 winners Brian's Time and Memories of Silver.
Colin has an indirect connection to champion sprinter Lost in the Fog (Lost Soldier), who had his own unbeaten streak going for quite some time. Lost in the Fog's female line traces to Colin's dam, Pastorella.
As Lost in the Fog's odyssey illustrates, it is desperately hard to preserve the exalted status of unbeaten. After Colin, 80 years passed before another major performer retired perfect, the glorious Personal Ensign, who like Colin, displayed inordinate courage in the mud.
With the passage of time, Colin's achievements have receded from popular memory, but in the opinion of the most savvy horsemen and judges before the era of Secretariat, he ranked in America's top four, along with Man o' War, Citation and Keene's other wonder, Sysonby.
Each of those had tasted defeat, as would Secretariat and other truly great individuals. As Kent Hollingsworth wrote in The Great Ones, "Great horses have been beaten by mischance, racing luck, injury and lesser horses running the race of their lives. None of these, however, took Colin. He was unbeatable."
Rowe deserves the final word. Although he developed Sysonby and a galaxy of other champions, Rowe wanted his epitaph to read, "He trained Colin."
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