Triple Crown Heroes: Assault
Editor's Note: In the seventh of 11 installments on previous Triple Crown winners, here is an excerpt from The Blood-Horse issue of June 8, 1946 on Assault winning the Belmont Stakes to complete the Triple Crown.
When King Ranch's Assault made a tentative bid for a grand slam of the 3-year-old classics by winning the six-furlong Experimental Handicap at Jamaica on April 9, his first start of the year, scarcely anyone was looking. Most observers were studying the Maine Chance Farm challengers, which they continued to do in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, both of which fell to Assault. And in the Belmont Stakes, last leg of the Triple Crown, the Texas colt wasn't taken wholly seriously, for he went to the post $1.40 to $1, against $1.35 to $1 for Lord Boswell, the Maine Chance hope. He hadn't yet convinced the skeptics.
But that was when there was a mile and a half to go, which in a horse race is room for reasonable doubt. From the eighth-pole home, however, the issue was settled beyond dispute and at the wire Assault was first, three lengths in front of Natchez, and 5 1/2 lengths before the Maine Chance colt, which finished fifth.
At the start of the race Assault stumbled but recovered immediately, was dropped alongside Lord Boswell, behind Hampden, which took his usual position in front afer Cable had held a brief lead, and Natchez and War Watch. Along the back side Hampden stretched his lead to two lengths, Natchez had moved to second, War Watch was third, Assault was a head before Lord Boswell.
On the far turn Mehrtens let Assault move to third, as Hampden held his lead and Natchez bore out. At a time when Lord Boswell might have been supposed to move up, Cable passed him and began to pull away. As the horse turned into the stretch, Assault was taken to the outside and began his drive, putting Hampden and Natchez away. The latter had taken the lead when Hampden flagged in the straightaway. The Foxcatcher horse also was passed by Cable, which ran a steady race and got up to beat Hampden by a head for third.
Natchez possibly forced the pace for the benefit of Mahout, his stablemate which had closed like the wind in the Peter Pan Handicap, beating Lord Boswell, Cable, and War Watch, among the Belmont field. Mahout had no sprint left for the stretch run, this time, and Conn McCreary persevered with Natchez to save second money. Neither did Lord Boswell have the finish kick he had exhibited in the Blue Grass Stakes and the Preakness. ...
Assault's series of victories this year represent the first Triple Crown for the King Ranch, for Texas, for Jockey Warren Mehrtens, and for Trainer Max Hirsch. The veteran trainer had, however, saddled Bold Venture, sire of Assault, for wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and sent Vito out to win the Belmont in 1928 for A. H. Cosden.
Robert J. Kleberg, Jr., of the King Ranch, received the August Belmont Memorial Cup from Admiral Marc A. Mitscher (another Texan) with a practiced hand. In accepting the trophy, Mr. Kleberg said: "We're deeply happy and we feel others will agree with us now that Assault is a great horse. I want particularly to compliment Max Hirsch (also a Texan) on a great training job." Mehrtens, a beaming participant in the ceremony, analyzed the race: "The only time I was worried was coming out of the gate, when Assault stumbled. He recovered at once and we were never in difficulty again. I had more confidence this time than in either the Derby and Preakness, but I still can't believe we've won the Triple Crown." ...
The crowd of 43,599 spectators had arrived at Belmont Park clad for spring weather and the temperature suddenly dropped 20 degrees within the space of half an hour. But there was no lack of enthusiasm, and the bettors poured in $147,409 on Lord Boswell and $146,587 on Assault.
Beside the six-furlong Experimental, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes, Assault this year has won the Wood Memorial. His only defeat came in the Derby Trial, in which he was fourth. In 15 starts, he has won seven races, finished second twice, and third once, earned $316,270. He now is in twelfth on the list of leading American money winners.
(Afternote: Assault took the Dwyer in his next start, then lost six straight. He ended the year with wins in the Pimlico Special over Stymie and the Westchester Handicap, and extended his win streak to seven by winning five consecutive stakes to start the 1947 season. Assault and Stymie battled each other several times that year, including once in a celebrated match race in which the older Stymie prevailed. Assault's racing career ended in 1950 with a record of 18 wins from 42 starts and earnings of $675,470, pretty good for a horse with a deformed hoof caused by an injury as a weanling. He proved infertile at stud and never sired a registered offspring. Assault ranks No. 33 on The Blood-Horse's Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century.)
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