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Armed: From Stable Pony to 1947 Horse of the Year

Armed, 1947 Horse of the Year, gets a treat from a groom. Sired by Bull Lea, raced by Calumet Farm.
Armed gets a treat from a groom. Keeneland Library. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

Early Life (1941-1943)

Calumet Farm’s great Bull Lea sired many Champion racehorses. Among those was a small but well-made colt out of the mare Armful (Chance Shot).

The colt was born at Calumet Farm in May of 1941. He boasted a long body and good shoulder. He ran with long strides and a notably low head carriage. Unlike most of the horses sired by Bull Lea, this colt was not big and muscular. At maturity he would only stand at 15.3hh. His owners decided to name the colt, sending the name “Armed” to the Jockey Club.

The good build that Armed possessed didn't matter much when he started his training because he was almost impossible to handle. Anyone who dared approach his stall was greeted with pinned ears and bared teeth. Because of his mean personality, the colt was sent back home to Calumet Farm and gelded. He was then used as a lead pony for future Calumet stars like Twilight Tear and Pensive.

Three-Year Old Season (1944)

Armed’s bad behavior prevented him from running as a two-year old. By the time he finally did make it to the racetrack, he was part of Calumet’s second-string runners. Trainers Ben A. Jones and son Jimmy Jones had much better horses in their stable to focus on.

He made his racing debut in February at Hialeah Park, winning by eight lengths with Eddie Arcaro in the irons. He won again by three lengths in his next race. Jockey Conn McCreary piloted Armed in his second start. The win convinced him that Armed could win the Kentucky Derby, but the gelding didn’t quite make it there. Instead, his stablemate Pensive swept the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

Armed didn’t make it to the stakes level in 1944. He ended his three-year old season with 3 wins in 7 starts.

[Video: Take a behind the scenes look at Calumet Farm, the place Armed grew up]

Four-Year Old Season (1945)

Armed finally earned himself a spot in both the stakes races and in the heart of trainer Jimmy Jones in 1945. The colt became Jimmy’s favorite in the stable and he was quick to show the horse off when visitors stopped by - even with pinned ears.

The gelding made his season debut in June at Jamaica, losing. It would be his last loss for a while; the colt went on a six race winning streak afterwards. He then finished second in four consecutive stakes races: the Chicago Handicap, Washington Park Handicap, Fall Highweight Handicap, and the Havre de Grace Handicap.

Armed finally rebounded from his string of narrow losses with a win in Laurel Park’s Washington Handicap. He then won a few overnight stakes in preparation for what would be one of the biggest races of his career: the 1945 Pimlico Special. There he was able to upset horses like Stymie, Polynesian, First Fiddle, and Gallorete by four lengths.

He ended his four-year-old season with 10 wins in 15 starts. He only finished off the board one time.

Five-Year Old Season (1946)

The feisty gelding got even better as he matured. 1946 saw Armed win 11 races and set three track records. He was quickly becoming a sensation.

Armed finished second in the Mclennan Handicap in February. He then carried 128 pounds to victory in the Widener Handicap, honoring his sire who had won the race in 1939. Later that year, Armed ran in 10 races with no less than 130 pounds on his back.

That year, Armed won both the first and second session of the Double Event Stakes. He set a new track record of 1:48 3⁄5 for 9 furlongs at Tropical Park in the first session and then equaled that time in the second session.

Armed finished second in the Harford Handicap and followed that up by setting a track record for 8 ½ furlongs at Havre de Grace, winning the Philadelphia Handicap in 1:43 ⅕. He also won the Dixie Handicap, Suburban Handicap, Sheridan Handicap, Whirlaway Stakes, and Washington Park Handicap. In addition to those wins, Armed hit the board in the Equipoise Handicap, Arlington Handicap, Quick Step Stakes, and Narragansett Special.

Armed finished his five-year old season with 11 wins in 18 starts. He only finished off the board one time. His season was so spectacular that he was given his first Championship title: Champion Handicap Horse.

Six-Year Old Season (1947)

1947 turned out to be Armed’s best year yet. He first got revenge for his loss in the Mclennan Handicap the previous year by winning it that February. The powerful gelding also won the Widener Handicap for the second year in a row. He also got himself to the winners’ circle in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, Stars and Stripes Handicap, Arlington Handicap, and Sysonby Mile.

The Widener Handicap wasn’t the only race that Armed won twice in a row. He also won the 1947 edition of the Whirlaway Stakes and defended his title in the Washington Park Handicap. He tried notching another victory in the Sheridan Handicap, but fell just short to finish second.

Armed hit the board in the Domino Handicap, Equipoise Handicap, and Pimlico Special. His incredible season was turning him into a sensation. He was fast, tough, and ornery - “Here’s what to do with your old hat—feed It to Armed,” read the Madera Tribune that January. “At least that’s what Ben Jones, Calumet Farm’s trainer, does for his favorite, at Hialeah, Fla., race track. Armed has a fondness for nibbling and he’s indulging his whim.”

But perhaps Armed’s most anticipated race of the year was the $100,000 charity match race with Assault. Assault had won theTriple Crown in 1946, helping him to deny Armed Horse of the Year honors that year. The race was held on Sept. 27th at Belmont Park.

Armed proved his younger, Triple Crown winning foe no match. He led the way throughout the entire race and crossed the wire eight lengths ahead of Assault. Though the result was one of much celebration for the Calumet connections, Assault’s party said his chances of winning had been ruined by a splint problem.

Regardless, Armed was named Horse of the Year and Champion Handicap Male. He had won 11 races from 17 starts and, again, only finished off the board one time.

[Video: Watch Assault, Armed's foe in the match race, win the 1946 Triple Crown]

Remaining Years (1948-1950)

After 1947, Armed was not as powerful. However, he was still able to win multiple stakes races and earn his connections good money. He won just one of 6 starts in 1948, but managed to hit the board in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, Seminole Handicap, and the Mclennan Handicap.

The following year Armed won 3 of 12 starts. He finished second in the Washington Park Handicap, Stars and Stripes Handicap, and Churchill Downs Handicap. He also finished third in the Arlington Handicap and Clark Handicap.

1950 was the final year of Armed’s career as a racehorse. The nine-year old gelding won two of his six starts and finished second in the Royal Palm Handicap.

Retirement and Death (1951-1964)

At the end of 1950, Armed was finally retired. He had finished with a record of 81: 41-20-10 and had earned over $817,000. He was the all time money-earning gelding and had set or equaled nine track records. Clearly, his career was one to be proud of.

Armed returned home to Calumet Farm to live out the rest of his days as a pensioner. In 1963, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He passed away on May 4th, 1964 at the age of 23.


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1 Comment

Such a great story! Now many horses peak at age 6. Just goes to show you what great training can do.

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