Bull Lea: The King of Calumet

Bull Lea, one of the most influential Thoroughbred sires of all time, at Calumet Farm.
Bull Lea at Calumet Farm, undated. 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.

Bull Lea could be called “The King Of Calumet”. His studly duties allowed Calumet Farm to reign in the 40s and 50s. His bloodlines were those on which Calumet was built.

Early Life (1935-1936)

Bull Lea’s breeding was planned by Coldstream Stud. His dam was Rose Leaves, a non-winning daughter of Ballot who ended up producing multiple stakes winners. His sire was Bull Dog, an average racehorse and full-brother to Sir Gallahad III (who would sire Gallant Fox).

The colt’s coat was a sleek, dark bay color with white markings on all four legs. He was said to be sickle-hocked and had loose, floppy ears. He possessed good bone and muscling and was built with good hips and shoulders that would help him out tremendously during his racing career.

Calumet’s owner Warren Wright Sr. and trainer Frank J. Kearns were impressed when they first laid eyes on the colt at Saratoga’s Yearling Sale in 1938. They shelled out $14k for him, making him the fourth highest priced yearling sold anywhere that year.

Two-Year Old Season (1937)

After Bull Lea had been taught the basic rules of being a horse, he was sent to trainer Frank J. Kearns. Kearns trained the colt to a decent two-year old season. Bull Lea managed to hit the board in three stakes races that year, finishing third in the Saratoga Special and finishing second in both the Champagne Stakes and Hopeful Stakes. In just one year he earned his owners half of his purchase price.

Three-Year Old Season (1938)

Bull Lea found himself in the winners’ circle quite a few times when he was a three-year old. He had matured and was finally getting into form. Bull Lea beat everyone to the wire in the Pimlico Handicap, Keener Stakes, Autumn Handicap, James C. Thornton Memorial Handicap, and the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

The win in the Blue Grass Stakes not only gave Bull Lea an entry into the Kentucky Derby, but also set a new track record of 1:49 ⅗ for 9 furlongs at Keeneland. He would also set a track record at Keeneland for 8 ½ furlongs in an Allowance race.

Bull Lea would finish 8th in the Kentucky Derby but many of his other losses wouldn’t be so harsh. He finished second in the Classic Stakes, Narragansett Special, Continental Handicap, and Potomac Handicap. He also finished third in the Aquidneck Handicap.

Four-Year Old Season (1939)

By the time he was four-years old, Bull Lea had earned about $47k and would be adding another $50k to that by the time 1939 was through. He finished second in the Mclennan Memorial Handicap and won the Widener Handicap.

His racing career had been pretty successful and he had well out-earned his purchase price. He was retired to Calumet Farm in 1939 with a record of 27: 10-7-3 and almost $95k in earnings.

[Video: The first minute of this video shows Bull Lea (#5) winning the Widener Handicap]

Stud Career & Retirement (1940-1964)

Despite Bull Lea’s performance on the racetrack, Calumet Farm did not think he would be their top stallion when he entered stud at their farm. They bred him to some pretty good mares during his first few seasons at stud, but had their focus on Whirlaway until Whirlaway’s trainer Ben A. Jones convinced them to send their best mares to Bull Lea.

Bull Lea quickly proved Calumet’s doubts on his ability at stud wrong. He sired three Champion racehorses in his first crop alone. His daughter Twilight Tear was named Horse of the Year in 1944. Armed was named Horse of the Year in 1947. Duranza was named Co-Champion Three-Year Old Filly (sharing honors with Twilight Tear) in 1943.

His dominance wouldn’t stop there. His sons Coaltown and Citation were both born in 1945. Coaltown would be named 1948 Champion Sprint Horse, 1949 Champion Handicap Horse and Co-Horse of the Year. Citation is a name known for winning the 1948 Triple Crown. Citation was also 1947’s Champion Two-Year Old and 1948’s Horse of the Year.

Bull Lea’s daughter Two Lea was named 1949 Champion Three-Year Old Filly and 1950 Champion Older Mare. Two of his other daughters won both titles: Next Move (1950 & 1951) and Real Delight (1952). To keep adding to Bull Lea’s long list of accomplishments as a sire - his son Faultless won the Preakness Stakes in 1947, his daughter Bewitch was named Champion Two-Year Old Filly in 1947 and Champion Older Female Horse in 1949, and Gen. Duke won the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby.

Bull Lea made up for his eighth place finish in the Kentucky Derby by siring three Kentucky Derby winners: Citation in 1948, Hill Gail in 1952, and Iron Leige in 1957. He is just one of four stallions to sire three Kentucky Derby winners.

Clearly, Bull Lea had a knack for siring Champions. He was named Leading Sire five times and Leading Broodmare Sire four times. 52 of his 345 foals were stakes winners.

Bull Lea died on June 16, 1964, of old age. He was 29 years old. His sheer power at stud made Calumet a dynasty. They respected their stallion deeply and celebrated his accomplishments. He is honored today with a bronze statue in their graveyard. Some of his most famous progeny are buried just underneath him as a tribute to his contributions to the Thoroughbred.

[Video: Bull Lea's Triple Crown winning son, Citation]



American Classic Pedigrees

NY Times


Calumet Farm


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