Triple Crown Heroes: Whirlaway

Triple Crown Heroes: Whirlaway
Photo: Blood-Horse Publications
Racing's fifth Triple Crown champion, Whirlaway, winning the 1941 Kentucky Derby.

Editor's Note: In the fifth of 11 installments on previous Triple Crown winners, here is an excerpt from The Blood-Horse of Issue of June 14, 1941 on Whirlaway winning the Belmont Stakes to complete the Triple Crown.

In a manner of speaking, Whirlaway won the Belmont Stakes on successive Saturdays in May, for his decisive triumphs in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes left owners of other contenders with little hope for the Belmont. When Whirlaway charged in the earlier races nothing had proved able to go with him, and in the stretch at Churchill Downs and Pimlico it was a clear case of "the farther it went, the worse it got." So from the leading 3-year-olds only J.F. Byers' Robert Morris came out for the Belmont Stakes, and the other starters were C. V. Whitney's Yankee Chance and King Ranch's Itabo, the latter unbeaten in three previous starts, all at short distances and against no such opposition as he met in the Belmont.

Itabo, a son of the Derby-Preakness winner Bold Venture and the high-class Snowflake, went to the front, but at a fairly slow pace, and Robert Morris, Whirlaway, and Yankee Chance followed as named, all under restraint. Possibly there was some faint hope that a slow enough pace might work to Whirlaway's disadvantage, but Jockey Eddie Arcaro easily saw through this strategy. After a half-mile, he reported afterwards, he turned to Jockey Robertson on Robert Morris and Jockey James on Yankee Chance, and said, "The hell with this, fellas, I'm leaving." He left forthwith, giving the chestnut colt his head, and after the next quarter-mile Whirlaway was seven lengths in front. There Arcaro took him in hand again, rated him along steadily, while Robert Morris passed the failing Itabo and took up a discouraging chase.

On the last turn Whirlaway came out from the rail a little but was quickly straightened, and he finished with speed in reserve, two and a half lengths ahead of Robert Morris, which closed gamely. Yankee Chance moved up slightly in the stretch and finished third, five lengths behind Robert Morris, five lengths ahead of Itabo. Each starter carried 126 pounds. Time, :25 2/5, :49 4/5, 1:13 4/5, 1:39 1/5, 2:05, 2:31, track fast. Stakes division, $39,770, $5,000, $2,500, $1,000.

The ease of Whirlaway's victory was perhaps reflected more clearly by the time than his margin of success. He was nearly three seconds away from the track record which Sorteado set in 1939, a factor explained by the fact that he beat his field in the third quarter-mile and had little to do thereafter. He met the smallest field since Sun Meadow and Jamestown disputed the issue with Twenty Grand in 1931, and if his victory was not particularly impressive, it was obviously because his opposition could not extend him. ...

Owner Warren Wright did not see Whirlaway complete his triple crown victory, being at Denver, Colo., with Mrs. Wright, to see their son, Warren Jr., graduated from Denver University. He listened to the broadcast of the race with considerable confidence, told Denver reporters that Ben Jones deserved the credit for making a great consistent racer out of a temperamental, willful 2-year-old. Someone asked what system had been employed with Whirlaway, and Owner Wright answered: "One doesn't employ a system in raising an unusual child. One studies the child, watches nervous reactions, follows awakening interests, or, in other words, carefully bends the twig."

Meanwhile the twig faced a busy summer. He is engaged for the Dwyer and Shevlin Stakes at Aqueduct, the Arlington Classic and American Derby, the Travers at Saratoga, the Lawrence Realization and Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. Trainer Ben Jones apparently plans to accept as many of these engagements as the condition of the horse warrants, and should Whirlaway win these, approximately $140,000 in first monies would be added to his total, placing him in striking distance of Seabiscuit's money-winning record. He has also been nominated for the Hollywood Derby and Hollywood Gold Cup. No announcement has been made from the Calumet Stable, but it has been hazarded that Whirlaway may be sent after the Santa Anita Handicap next winter.

(Afternote: Whirlaway won the Dwyer, Travers, American Derby, and Lawrence Realization, ran second in the Arlington Classic and Jockey Club Gold Cup, and didn't run in the Shevlin and the three California races. He won the Jockey Club Gold Cup over Alsab, Bolingbroke, and The Rhymer the following year, plus five stakes under 130 pounds and the Pimlico Special in a walkover. Whirlaway was the first horse to earn more than $500,000, and he concluded his racing days with 32 wins (22 in stakes) from 60 starts and earnings of $561,161. He started at stud at Calumet near Lexington, but was sent to France, where he died in 1953. Whirlaway ranks No. 26 on The Blood-Horse's Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century.)

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