Bold Ruler: The King of the Crop


Bold Ruler, undated. Keeneland Library Meadors Collection. From the Keeneland Library Meadors Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

Early Life


The crop of Thoroughbred foals born in 1954 would one day be considered the greatest of the century. Among them were Round Table, Gallant Man, Iron Leige, Gen. Duke, and Bold Ruler.


Bold Ruler was born on April 6, 1954, at Claiborne Farm in Paris, KY. His dam, Miss Disco, was a stakes-winning sprinter by the incredible handicap horse Discovery. His sire was Claiborne’s great Nasrullah. The colt was leggy with long ears to match and was dark bay in color. He was skinny, but would grow into a tall and powerful beast. It was difficult to keep Bold Ruler in good condition throughout his time at the farm. He always seemed to get himself into some kind of trouble and was therefore kept in the back paddock where most visitors wouldn’t see him. He nearly lost his tongue once, leaving him with a sensitive mouth for the rest of his life. He even almost lost his leg in a battle with a water trough.

Bold Ruler working out in June of 1957. Keeneland Library Morgan Collection. From the Keeneland Library Meadors Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

Two-Year Old Season


When Bold Ruler was of age, he was sent to trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. Sunny Jim found the colt to display large amounts of talent during his early training. It was no surprise that he broke his maiden on his first asking on April 9, 1956.


He won another four times after his debut and quickly became the favorite of his breeder, Ms. Gladys Phipps. Bold Ruler loved her too, acting as calmly and gentle as he could whenever the small and stylish woman paid him a visit or grabbed him up to walk him. Bold Ruler tasted defeat for the very first time in an allowance race. He would go on to win the Belmont Futurity, Juvenile Stakes, and Youthful Stakes.


But, the accident-prone ways of his youth never left Bold Ruler. He slammed his back into the starting gate during the Youthful, resulting in an injury. He also developed a hock problem. Though the title for Champion Two-Year Old seemed locked on Bold Ruler in 1956, he did not receive that honor. It instead went to the winner of the Garden State Stakes, Barbizon, which was the most prestigious race for two-year olds at that time.

Bold Ruler after winning the Wood Memorial. Keeneland Library Morgan Collection. From the Keeneland Library Meadors Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

Three-Year Old Season


Bold Ruler was shipped to Florida to escape the cold, East Coast winters. It was there that he would hash it out with Gen.Duke. Gen.Duke was considered to be the fastest horse Calumet Farm had ever produced, though not quite fast enough to beat Bold Ruler in the Flamingo Stakes.


After beating Gen.Duke in the Flamingo, Bold Ruler met the horse again in Florida Derby. Bold Ruler finished second. It was then on to the Wood Memorial where Bold Ruler would win over the great Gallant Man. The crop of 1954 met up at Churchill Downs for the first Saturday in May. Though Gen.Duke and Barbizon were not starting, Gallant Man, Iron Leige, Round Table, and Bold Ruler were. It was truly a great race for all to watch, but not for Bold Ruler to run in. He finished fourth. Iron Leige, Gallant Man, and Round Table all finished above him.


Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons found that his horse’s mouth was sore after the Derby. The injury he sustained as a youngster at Claiborne Farm had likely contributed to his loss in the most recognizable race in the world. Sunny Jim would not have that injury influence his horse’s results anymore; he tied a piece of cloth around Bold Ruler’s tongue to help alleviate the pressure put on it by the bit. Jockey Eddie Arcaro also said that he had restrained the horse in the Kentucky Derby which could have also contributed to his loss.


The cloth on his tongue and a lack of restraint from Eddie Arcaro helped Bold Ruler greatly in the Preakness Stakes. He got his Derby revenge, leading the field freely and besting the Kentucky Derby winner Iron Leige by two lengths.


He also participated in the third and final leg on the Triple Crown series, the Belmont Stakes, and finished third. The effort Bold Ruler put into the Belmont Stakes strained his heart and he was given three months off of racing to recover. He returned to the track in with a strong win in the Jerome Handicap that September.


Bold Ruler then finished third in the Woodward Stakes before finishing out the year with a win streak. He took the Vosburgh Handicap, the Queens County Handicap, and the Benjamin Franklin Handicap. His final race of the year was a three-horse race between Bold Ruler, Gallant Man, and Round Table. Bold Ruler crossed the wire first.


Bold Ruler’s incredible three-year old season earned him the title of 1957 Horse of the Year.

Bold Ruler at Churchill Downs in 1957. Keeneland Library Meadors Collection. From the Keeneland Library Meadors Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

Four-Year Old Season


Bold Ruler’s four-year old season was nothing short of outstanding. He started 1958 with a win in the Toboggan Handicap and followed that with a victory in the Cater Handicap. He then met Gallant Man in the Metropolitan Handicap, finishing second. He got his redemption with an easy romp in the Stymie Handicap. His winning ways continued in the Suburban Handicap - a race that some consider to be the best victory of Bold Ruler of all. He was passed at the top of the stretch by Clem, but fought back with every ounce of courage he had to win the race. Bold Ruler then won the Monmouth Handicap by three quarters of a length. His next start, the Brooklyn Handicap, would become the final race of his career. Bold Ruler finished the race in seventh place. Something had to be wrong as Bold Ruler rarely performed so poorly.


It was - Bold Ruler had an ankle injury. X-rays revealed a two and a half inch bone splinter lodged in his tendon. It was unclear how long he had been running with such an injury and it had likely been causing him a great deal of pain. So, Bold Ruler was retired. He had a record of 33:23-4-2.


[Video: The 1957 Trenton Handicap with Gallant Man, Round Table, and Bold Ruler]


Retirement and Stud


Bold Ruler returned to his birthplace of Claiborne Farm. He had proved himself as an outstanding racehorse and hopes were high for him to pass down his winning ways to his offspring.


That he did. Bold Ruler earned the title of leading sire in 1963. He continued to top that list through 1969. Though his offspring displayed talent and heart like their sire, they also inherited his unsoundness. Many of his foals were big bodied horses on fragile likes, just like Bold Ruler himself. Despite the unsoundness issues, Bold Ruler sired the great Secretariat. He also sired the incredible filly Gamely as well as horses like Reviewer, What A Pleasure, Lamb Chop, Bold Bidder, Bold Lad, and more. Of his 366 named foals, Bold Ruler sired 240 winners and 82 stakes winners.


Siring Secretariat is the biggest accomplishment of Bold Ruler’s, but he is also responsible for 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. Bold Ruler’s son Boldnesian is the sire of Bold Reasoning, who sired Seattle Slew.


The combined genes of Seattle Slew and Secretariat are responsible for one of the greatest modern sires: A.P. Indy.


Clearly, Bold Ruler’s impact on the Thoroughbred is huge. Some of the most talented Thoroughbreds to grace the racetrack are his descendants. Because of that, he will be remembered forever.


Death


Sinus cancer struck Bold Ruler during what should have been the middle years of his life. He went through radiation therapy, becoming the first horse to receive such a treatment. Unfortunately, the therapy could not save Bold Ruler. He was humanely euthanized due to Sinus Cancer in 1971. He was just 17 years old.


His life was one plagued with injury and illness. From the time he was just a youngster zooming around the paddock to the day of his death he had endured a tongue injury, back problems, a strained heart, chronic arthritis, a bone splinter. But, it was cancer that finally took his life.


He is buried at Claiborne Farm. His greatest son, Secretariat, rests just feet away.


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Sources: BloodHorse Claiborne Farm Equibase Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall of Fame

American Classic Pedigrees