This week's BackTrack offers a recap of the June 9, 1945 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs where Hoop, Jr. captured the Louisville classic. The story, headlined "Five Weeks Late Kentucky Derby," was written by J.A. Estes. It ran in the May 16, 1945 issue of The Blood-Horse.
It went without saying that the seventy-first Kentucky Derby would be an unusual renewal of America's first-ranking classic race. Because the request-ban against racing was not lifted in time for the Derby to be run on its regular date, May 5, it was five weeks late. Because of the confusion brought about by the hiatus in racing, there was less than the usual amount of dependable information as to the comparative class and condition of the horses.
Because few of the best horses in the race had run on wet tracks, few of the owners and trainers knew whether their horses would be suited to Churchill Downs' course, muddy far down from repeated showers, including a downpour on the morning of the day of the race. (Paradoxically, of those whom the writer invited to commit themselves on this subject before the Derby, only the connections of Jeep were altogether confident that the mud would suit him, and it was Jeep which seemed most uncomfortable in the going.)
Probably because of the general feeling that this was a situation where anything might happen, the race had an unusual number of scarcely qualified starters shooting hopefully at the moon.
Because the war still kept people from making long trips except when necessary, there could not be many in attendance from great distances. But approximately 75,000 persons crowded the old plant and set a Derby day record by wagering $2,380,796, of which $776,408 was a record for the Derby itself.
For a betting favorite the crowd settled down at length to Calumet Farm's Pot o' Luck, which closed at $3.30 to $1. The son of Chance Play had finished fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes a week earlier, but he was running on so gamely at the finish that his stout courage could not be forgotten. The crowd probably remembered, too, that trainer Ben Jones three times before had produced horses at the very peak of their form to win the Derby after having been beaten in their last previous raes--Lawrin, Whirlaway, and Pensive.
For second choice, at $3.70 to $1, it took F.W. Hooper's Hoop, Jr., which had distinguished himself by winning a division of the Wood Memorial and by a sensational workout at Churchill Downs on June 6, a mile in 1:38 1/5, pulled up nine furlongs in 1:51 3/5. Third choice was the Blue Grass stakes winner Darby Dieppe, whose victory in that race had indicated his ability to run on an off track.
The guesses were very good. Pot o' Luck pulled out a splendid race, quite up to the traditions of the house of Jones, but he started running from too far back, and after he had passed every other horse in the race Hoop, Jr., which had been winging along in front nearly all the way, was still not within striking distance. After the race Mr. Jones was asked about Pot o' Luck and the Preakness Stakes. He shook his head. "Saving him for the Belmont, huh?" Mr. Jones did not care for that either. He made it plain that he had had enough of Hoop, Jr., for the time being. Pot o' Luck could have a rest; the stable was going to Chicago.
Darby Dieppe, however, which held off Pot o' Luck almost to the end for place money, was among those which went to Pimlico Race Course for another try at Hoop, Jr., in the Preakness Stakes on June 16. Like Pot o' Gold he had started very slowly, but unlike the Chance Play colt, he had tired near the end; trainer Charles Gentry saw a chance for improvement. (At the starting gate for the Preakness, Pavot would be waiting for them, and Pavot's only conqueror, Polynesian.) Hoop, Jr., came out of the race with a slightly swollen knee, but trainer Ivan Parke made no question, as he left for Baltimore with the colt, that he would be able to run in the Preakness. Alexis and Burning Dream also went along.
At the gate there was a delay of several minutes as Misweet, Foreign Agent, and Pot o' Luck took turns in acting up. When starter Reuben White released the field, Bymeabond was first to get away. Hoop, Jr., breaking from No. 12 position, the last stall in the regular gate, came over slightly on Alexis; the alert Arcaro was bent on gaining the lead. Alexis soon got by Sea Swallow, and then came Air Sailor and Jeep. Last of all, as they came down the stretch the first time, was Pot o' Luck and just ahead of him Darby Dieppe--in the same relative positions they held in the early running of the Blue Grass Stakes.
It soon became apparent that Hoop, Jr., under Arcaro's practiced rating, was likely to be in front the major part of the race, and the crowd was busy shifting attention from the leader to the rear to see how Pot o' Luck and Darby Dieppe were faring. Down the back side Bymeabond was on the heels of Hoop, Jr. Alexis, Jeep, and Air Sailor were a little farther back, within striking distance--if they could strike. Darby Dieppe was moving a little faster than Pot o' Luck, but the chances of neither appeared very hopeful until almost to the far turn. There they began moving up fast, the former with less loss of ground.
Coming into the stretch Arcaro let out the wraps on Hoop, Jr., which, running powerfully, began widening his lead. Bymeabofnd was still second but Alexis began to fade, bowing to the bid of Air Sailor and then to Darby Dieppe. Douglas Dodson took Pot o' Luck out on the final turn, threaded his way between horses, came inside near the furlong pole. Hopelessly beaten for the winner's share, Dodson put all he had into the drive. Darby Dieppe first got past Air Sailor and Bymeabond but he could not hold off Pot o' Luck, which wound up near the rail beating the gray colt almost a length for the secondary honors.
Hooper, Sr. and Hoop, Jr.
The man who went down to the Derby winner's special enclosure to receive the trophy from the hands of Gov. Simeon S. Willis, and congratulations from almost 85-year-old Matt Winn was tall, angular, Fred W. Hooper, a Jacksonville, Fla., contractor who has set up as a cattle breeder and farmer, and lately as a Thoroughbred breeder, on an estate at Montgomery, Ala., where he had the stallion Hollywood and a few mares, and where the first Thoroughbreds of his breeding are now suckling their dams.
As Hooper left the stands a short while later to follow his Derby winner to the barn, he said, "I never thought I'd make it this quick."
He had made it very quickly indeed--at the first try. Two years ago, just before the Fasig-Tipton Company's "Saratoga" sales at Lexington, Mr. Hooper had shown up in the office of The Blood-Horse, wrapped his long legs around a high stool, and started asking for books. He was about to start buying yearlings and he wanted to find out some things. On the second day of the sales he made his first purchase, for $10,200--Hoop, Jr., which he named for his young son. He was disappointed that he was able to spend so little money. He went to $50,000 on the $66,000 Pericles, and to $45,000 trying to buy the stallion Grand Slam at the J.O. Keene estate dispersal, but he got the stakes-winning Alabama from Dr. Eslie Asbury's consignment for $17,000.
In the Derby field Hoop, Jr., was the least-raced horse with the exception of the obscure Bert G. At 2 he had run only five times. He won a maiden race at Hialeah Park in February, ran three times second in stakes events at Pimlico's meeting in the spring. Trainer Ivan Parke then took him to Suffolk Downs, where he made it a practice to work five furlongs in 59 seconds or thereabouts. On June 13 he won a five-eighths race in :59 by five lengths, and trainer Parke reported to owner Hooper over the telephone that he didn't think any horse he ever saw could have beaten him that day.
About this time the colt began to show signs of developing osselets. So Mr. Hooper grinned and told Parke, "Let's put this colt away and win the Kentucky Derby with him." Hoop, Jr., was fired, sent to the farm in Alabama. But before October he was being given light training, and by spring he was one of the readiest horses in the country--ban or no ban. "We could have won the Derby if they had had it on May 5," said his owner.
Hoop, Jr. unplaced (fourth) for the first time in his first start of the season, has now won four of his eight races, finished second in three others, and has earned $89,290.
Hooper got his first yearling and first Derby winner out of a good family of Thoroughbreds. He got his first trainer out of a good family of horsemen. Ivan Parke, now 38 years old, came out of Idaho in 1922 to try his hand at race riding. The next year he was leading jockey--and the next. At Latonia on October 16, 1923, he rode five winners. Next day he rode five more. This rare feat (which somehow has escaped inclusion in the American Racing Manual's comprehensive records) was not materially bettered until Bobby Permane duplicated it in 1944 and added five more on the third day.
Ivan's brother Burley Parke, 40, one of the most successful trainers of recent years, had hoped to win this year's Kentucky Derby with Free for All, but the son of Questionnaire went unsound and had to be turned out; he probably will not start again until next year. Among other brothers in the family are Vasco, 42, clerk of the scales at Lincoln Fields; Monte, 27, now training a stable at Churchill Downs; and Charles, 25, who is assistant to Ivan. All of these Parkes were riders, but only Ivan gained distinction.
For jockey Eddie Arcaro, Hoop, Jr. provided a special gratification. Already generally recognized as America's outstanding rider, he wanted a third Derby to match the records of Isaac Murphy and Earl Sande. Now he will undoubtedly want a fourth Derby to beat those records.