Connections: Paul Revere, King Tut, Andy Griffith, Bob Dylan and Guys and Dolls

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Paul Revere rightly gets the credit, but he couldn’t have done it without Brown Beauty, the mare he borrowed for his midnight ride to warn the colonists that British soldiers were headed for Concord.

Steve Martin

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized Revere in his poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” but Steve Martin gives voice to Brown Beauty in his homage “Me and Paul Revere,” which he wrote and performed with his award-winning bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers on Tuesday, at Revere’s historic home in Boston.

Copley's portrait of Paul Revere

Martin, the comedian famously known for his “King Tut” performance on Saturday Night Live in 1978, is also a talented banjo player, as well as writer of fiction, music and lyrics, and art collector. His interest in Paul Revere was sparked by John Singleton Copley’s famous portrait of the silversmith that hangs in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, specifically because the artist portrayed Revere as “a working man with his sleeves rolled up, and it is just something that really wasn’t done (at that time)”

Later, after reading “Paul Revere’s Ride,” by David Hackett Fischer,” Martin decided to write “Me and Paul Revere,” as told from the perspective of the horse “to make it more interesting and entertaining.”

Broadway composer Frank Loesser famously wrote Paul Revere, albeit a racehorse, into the lyrics of opening number, “Horse Can Do,” the awarding winning musical “Guys and Dolls, which premiered in 1950 and was made into a movie starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon, in 1955.

Bob Dylan also invoked “Paul Revere’s Horse” in the first stanza of “Tombstone Blues,” a ballad he wrote and recorded during the turbulent 1960s (1965):

The sweet pretty things are in bed now, of course,
The city fathers they’re trying to endorse
The reincarnation of Paul Revere’s horse,
But the town has no need to be nervous.

Andy Griffith’s interpretation of Paul Revere’s ride, as told to Opie and his school buddies, and Deputy Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith in the early 1960’s, might be the most fitting and certainly the most poignant. Griffith died yesterday, July 3, at the age of 86.

It’s about time!

Thursday, June 21st, 2012


In a unanimous 7-0 decision this week at Laurel Park, the Maryland Racing commission voted to change Secretariat’s official time in the 1973 Preakness to 1:53, which eclipses the previous Preakness record of 1:54 set by Canonero II in 1971, as well as the 1:53 2/5 shared by Tank’s Prospect (1985), Louis Quatorze (1996) and Curlin (2007).

Secretariat’s record times in the 1 1/4 mile Kentucky Derby (1:59 2/5) and the 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes (2:24, against wind in the backstretch) also still stand. His official electronically recorded time in the Preakness was charted at 1:55, but changed to 1:54 2/5 two days later based on the Pimlico clocker’s manually recorded time. But two staff members of the Daily Racing Form independently clocked the performance at 1:53 2/5, increasing doubt about the validity of the track’s “officially” adjusted time.

“It is wonderful for the sport to remove an asterisk and wonderful for the legacy of Secretariat and his fans, who believed he set the record in all three Triple Crown races,” said Leonard Lusky, who represented Secretariat’s owner, Penny Chenery. It was Chenery and Tom Chuckas, president of Pimlico race track, who requested an investigation into the matter, and modern film synchronization techniques were called upon to resolve the controversy once and for all.

Click here to watch Secretariat’s awe-inspiring Preakness performance; note that rider Ron Turcotte never uses the whip.

Connections: Black Caviar and Mr. Crimson Ruler

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Black Caviar, the 5-year-old Australian sensation, who scored her 21st consecutive win on May 12 in Adelaide, has interesting connections to North American horses, including Crimson Saint, who connects to the late, famed Quarter Horse breeder B.F. Phillips, Jr. and Dash For Cash.

Black Caviar (1999) was sired by Bel Esprit, winner of more than $2 million and one of the best sprinters of his generation in Australia.

Bel Esprit was sired by American-bred Royal Academy (1987), sire of 160 stakes winners and the earners of more than $120 million. Royal Academy, whose best lick on the track was at the mile, died this past February at Coolmore Australia.

Royal Academy was sired by Northern Dancer’s son Nijinsky, a British Triple Crown winner who became leading sire in Great Britain and leading broodmare sire in North America.

Royal Academy’s dam was Kentucky-bred Crimson Saint (1959), who equaled the four furlong record in :44.80 at Oaklawn Park, and set a track record of :56 flat at Hollywood Park. Crimson Saint’s sire, Crimson Satan, won the Charles H. Strub at Santa Anita by 5 3/4 lengths, while clocking :21 flat for the first quarter.

Crimson Saint’s greatest claim to fame, however, came as a broodmare. She was in foal to Triple Crown champion Secretariat in January 1976, when she was purchased for $295,000 by prominent Kentucky horseman Tom Gentry. The foal, a filly from Secretariat’s second crop, was stakes winner Terlingua, who would produce Storm Cat, one of the most influential stallions of modern times.

Mr. Crimson Ruler, photo by Sally Harrison

Crimson Saint’s first foal, a chestnut colt named Mr. Crimson Ruler (1975), was also sired by Secretariat, but never raced. Instead, he was purchased as a yearling by B.F. Phillips Jr., the same year that Phillips’ homebred Quarter Horse colt Dash For Cash was named AQHA world champion and champion 3-year-old.

Phillips believed that the proper Thoroughbred bloodlines could improve the performance of Quarter Horse runners. And he had proven his theory with Dash For Cash, whose dam, Find A Buyer, was a Thoroughbred, and whose sire, Rocket Wrangler, was by Rocket Bar, a Thoroughbred son of Three Bars.

Although at first glance Secretariat seemed an unlikely cross for Quarter Horses, his sire, Bold Ruler, was a world champion sprinter at 3.

“You can pick the Bold Rulers out on their conformation,” said the late Arthur B. Hancock, Jr., owner of Claiborne Farm and syndicate owner of Nasrullah, Bold Ruler’s sire (Hancock also imported Princequillo, sire of Secretariat’s dam, Somethingroyal, and syndicated Nijinksy II, sire of Royal Academy). “I see the same musculature as Nasrullah. They all had an extra layer of muscle beside their tail running down to their hocks. It is a good sign when you see it in a Bold Ruler. It means strength and speed.”

As a Quarter Horse breeder, Phillips had noticed the similarity in conformation between Dash For Cash and Secretariat, which was confirmed by the late equine artist Jim Reno, who measured both Secretariat and Dash For Cash for larger-than-life-size bronze sculptures.

There was a pedigree connection between the two stallions, as well, through Imperatrice, who was Secretariat’s second dam (Somethingroyal was her daughter), and the fourth dam of Dash For Cash.

Mr. Crimson Ruler was overshadowed at Phillips Ranch by Dash For Cash and never lived up to expectations as a sire. From 16 Quarter Horse crops (a total of 296 foals), he produced just four stakes winners, and his top money earner was Mr Crimson Bug (LTE $133,045), third in the Rainbow Derby. At the time of the Dash For Cash Futurity Sale in July 1984, Mr. Crimson Ruler had sired just one Thoroughbred winner and no stakes-placed runners.

Kentucky Brand Pipe Tobacco Derby Day Contest

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

An eight-year-old with pigtails walks into a neighborhood drugstore in 1954 and asks to buy a package of pipe tobacco. It might have happened, but not for this eight-year-old, who blanched at the thought of being questioned.

Instead, I stared furtively at a counter display which promised that I had a chance to win a Thoroughbred, if I sent in the best name for the colt, plus the wrapper from a package of Kentucky Club pipe tobacco.

Initiated in 1954, the annual Kentucky Club contest received close to a million entries by 1964. One year a bundle of entries (there was no limit on the number of one could submit, as long as each was accompanied by a wrapper) was sent in by a nun who, according to an article in the April 13, 1964 issue of Sports Illustrated, persuaded her pupils’ fathers to save their Kentucky Club wrappers for her.

Another contestant purchased 100 packages of Kentucky Club, tore off the labels so that he could submit 100 names, then gave the contents of the packages to a veterans hospital and claimed a charity deduction on his income tax return.

“Prize” horses in the annual contest were two-year-olds selected by Ted Atkinson, the first active jockey to be inducted into Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame. Atkinson’s mounts included racing giants such as Bold Ruler, Nashua and Tom Fool. Sires of prize horses ranged from Citation to Your Host to Count Fleet, and some of the horses went on to achieve modest success, like Aurecolt, the 1956 selection, who won his first start and $2,600. Others never made it to the post.

While first prize in the contest included a colt, plus two choice seats and all expenses paid in Louisville for four days during the Kentucky Derby, there were a total of 500 prizes, including (second through tenth) hi-fi sets with “full concert realism,” and the remainder, 8-piece sets of English highball glasses decorated with a picture of that year’s prize colt.

Although it might be hard to imagine today, pipe smoking was trendy through 1970, when everyone from Bing Crosby, with his mellow voice and ever-present pipe, to Ronald Reagan endorsed tobacco, and pipe cleaners were something you purchased at the tobacco counter rather than a craft store, as today.

Pipe smoking began to decline in 1970, when cigarette and tobacco advertising was banned on television and radio, and print ads, and packages were required to carry the Surgeon General’s warning. The decline also spelled the end for the Kentucky Club Derby Day contest.


Friday, May 4th, 2012

Cowboy Watering His Horse, by N.C. Wyeth

The field of this year’s Kentucky Derby reminds me of “James Burke’s Connections,” a brilliant BBC series from the late 1970s that looks at modern life through the prism of historical connections.

For instance, Union Rags, a top contender at 9-2 on the morning line, is connected to:

  • A preeminent family of American artists
  • Who connect to Crystal Bridges Museum
  • Which connects to Alice Walton
  • Who connects to cutting horse champions
  • Which connects to Helen Groves
  • Who connects to Michael Matz, and Middleburg, Va.,
  • Which connects to Phyllis du Pont Mills,
  • Who connects to Brandywine Valley, Pa.
  • Which connects to Chadds Ford, the home of N.C. Wyeth
  • Who connects to Peter Hurd,
  • Who connects to Sentinel Ranch, near Ruidoso, NM,
  • Which connects to Bob Baffert, trainer of morning line favorite Bodemeister (4-1)

Here is  how it plays out:

Union Rags was bred and is owned by Phyllis Mills Wyeth, whose husband Jamie Wyeth is a celebrated American artist, as was his father, Andrew Wyeth, and his grandfather, Newell Convers (N.C.) Wyeth.

Jamie Wyeth painting

A painting by Jamie Wyeth.

Works of both Jamie and Andrew Wyeth hang in the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark., funded by the Walton Family Foundation, and conceived and created by Alice Walton, daughter of the late, Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Alice Walton, 62, is the breeder of National Cutting Horse Association Horse of the Year Boon San Kitty, as well as NCHA Futurity champion Rockin W, named in honor of her Texas home, Rocking W Ranch.

Alice Walton and Helen Groves are friends who share a passion for cutting horses. Helen, an accomplished competitor and breeder of cutting champions, is great-granddaughter of famed King Ranch founder Richard King, and daughter of Richard Kleberg, breeder of American Quarter Horse Association foundation sire Wimpy, as well as 1946 Triple Crown champion Assault and 1950 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Middleground.

Helen Groves’ daughter, Dorothy “D. D.” Alexander Matz, is a noted horsewoman and wife of Michael Matz, trainer of Union Rags, as well as ill-fated Barbaro, winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby.

Michael Matz trains Union Rags for Phyllis Wyeth, whose late parents, James P. Mills and Alice du Pont Mills, raced such horses as champion Devil’s Bag and top sire Gone West, who is the dam’s sire of Union Rags.

James and Alice du Pont Mills owned Hickory Tree Farm near Middlesburg, Va., where Helen Groves operated Silverbrook Farm, which hosted a popular cutting event and sale during the 1980s. But Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth own Chadds Ford Stable, in the Brandywine Valley of southeastern Pennsylvania.

It was in the Brandywine Valley that Alice du Pont’s forebearer, E.I. du Pont, founded a gunpowder works in 1802 that became the formidable DuPont Company. And it was the Brandywine Valley School of American Illustration, founded by Howard Pyle, that brought a young N.C. Wyeth to the area in 1902.

Wyeth, one of America’s foremost illustrators in the first half of the 20th century, sold his first cover to the Saturday Evening Post in 1902. During his lifetime (he died in 1945), Wyeth created over 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112 books, including Treasure Island; The Yearling; Kidnapped; Robin Hood; and a host of other beloved classics still in print today and treasured for Wyeth’s illustrations.

Four of Wyeth’s children became artists, including Andrew, the most famous of the clan, and father of Jamie. Andrew’s sister, Henriette, who painted the official portrait of First Lady Pat Nixon, married one of N.C.’s students, Peter Hurd, who became a renowned western artist and painted the official portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Peter and Henriette Hurd made their home on Sentinel Ranch, in San Patricio, N. Mex. San Patricio is just 20 miles from Ruidoso, home of Ruidoso Downs, which is famous for the $2 million All American Futurity, Quarter Horse racing’s equivalent to the Kentucky Derby.

Bob Baffert, Bodemeister’s trainer, began his career with Quarter Horses, many of which he raced at Ruidoso Downs.

Spayed heifers

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

References to spayed heifers are not uncommon in early accounts of the American cattle industry. The castration of calves with a few quick slices of a cowboy’s blade is easy to imagine as part of the perennial process of roundups on the open range. But how did the same cowboys remove ovaries, when the mortality rate for human abdominal surgery was more than 50 percent in the latter part of the nineteenth century?

Rollie Burns explained the process in the book “Rollie Burns: An Account of the Ranching Industry on the South Plains,” by W.C. Holden. Burns, born in 1857, covered the range as a buffalo hunter, bronc buster, cowboy, drover, and rancher. When he became manager of the IOA Ranch in Lubbock County, Texas, in 1888, he was in charge of over 330,000 acres with an annual calf crop of between 4,000 to 7,000 head. Although one season his crews branded 7,500 calves, with fires stoked by dried cow chips because the land was so arid that brush was often hard to find.

The IOA routinely spayed heifers they expected to use for beef, at three or four years of age. Spaying meant that the heifers would be easy to manage with steers of the same age. But the process required more skill than castration and could not be performed on the roundup ground.

“The female calves had to be held and driven to headquarters, where special equipment and a pasture were provided,” explained Rollins.

“There were two methods of spaying. The old way was to pull the heifer up by the heels with a block and tackle attached to a heavy cross-beam supported by two tall posts. An incision about four inches long was made, and the ‘doc’ ran his fingers in and removed the ovaries.

“The incision was sewed up and the animal was then driven into another corral so that she would not have to be choused around any more. After that it was better to keep the heifers in separate pens for a few weeks until the wounds healed.”

In the second method mentioned by Rollins, the heifer was driven into a chute, where small incisions for removal of the ovaries were made in the flanks, just in front of the hip bones. This technique and vaginal removal are the procedures used for spaying heifers, today.

Spur, Texas

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Texas leads the nation in cattle with 14 million head, and also in horses, with over 1,000,000, according to the Texas A & M Department of Animals Sciences and the American Horse Council. In fact, cattle and horses are more numerous than people in the wide, open spaces between Amarillo, Texas, home of the American Quarter Horse Association, and Fort Worth, home of the National Cutting Horse Association.

But in the early 1900s, an enterprising Swedish investor and his sons who owned 298,000 acres of cattle range in the Texas Panhandle decided to market 673 square miles of it as farm land, after persuading Burlington’s Texas Central Railroad to run a route through the site. The first train arrived in the fledgling town of Spur, 60 miles east of Lubbock, in 1909.

“The farmers’ opportunity to secure a home in the richest valleys and uplands of Texas,” promised a 1912 advertisement for S.M. Swenson & Sons.

“To the first comers we are willing to sell one-half of our holdings of 673 square miles on easy terms and reasonable prices. We reserve the other half for the big increase to come with development. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the homeseeker.”

Advertised prices ranged from $12.00 to $17.50 per acres, with “some additions when close to town. The Swensons were part of a syndicate that had purchased the land for one dollar an acre from Spur Ranch (formerly) Espuela Land & Cattle Company) in 1906.

“The great extent and variety of land insures the homeseeker such range of selection that the man early on the ground can find exactly what he wants,” the ad further promised. “Spur is in Dickens County; beautiful location, surrounded in all directions by miles upon miles of fertile farming country and is fast becoming a city.”

According to the Handbook of Texas, 600 lots were sold, although it is not clear how many were farm lots. At its height, in 1940, Spur supported a population of 3,000; today the population is just over 900.

The famous Pitchfork Ranch still maintains part of its extensive range in Dickens, County.

Stamford, founded by the Swensons in 1899 and home of the Swenson Ranch headquarters, has fared better than Spur. The famous Texas Cowboy Reunion, held annually since 1930, draws over 10,000 rodeo participants and fans to the little town of just over 3,600 residents.