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Domino: The Toughest Sprinter of the 19th Century

Domino (on the rail) in the match race against Clifford and Henry of Navarre. 10.6.1894. From the Keeneland Library - Hemment Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

Domino is known as one of the greatest sprinters of the 19th century. His nearly black coat and speedy times earned him the nickname “The Black Whirlwind” and his detestment of his jockey sometimes earned the nickname of “savage”.

Domino was bred by Major Barak G. Thomas of Dixiana Farms. Thomas had bred his mare Mannie Gray to Himyar for the first time in 1887, producing the filly Correction. Correction turned out to be an extremely speedy filly, prompting Barak G. Thomas to breed Mannie Gray to Himyar once again in 1890. Mannie Gray foaled Domino on May 4, 1891.

Barak G. Thomas entered Domino into a June 1892 yearling sale at Tattersalls in New York. A wealthy Wall Street financier named James R. Keene and his son Foxhall were in attendance. When James Keene saw Domino he was less than impressed and was not willing to pay the high price he thought that Domino would go for. Foxhall, however, was impressed with Domino and bought him for $3,000. Later the two would combine their stables and Domino would race under James Keene’s name.

Foxhall sent his new yearling to Albert Cooper to be broken. Cooper put the horse through two extremely fast works in two days, causing Domino to bow both of his front tendons. The injury would plague Domino for the rest of his career. Foxhall swiftly transferred his horse to trainer William Lakeland because of this poor management.

Under the guidance of William Lakeland, Domino grew and matured. He made his debut on May 22, 1893, winning by six lengths. After this race, Domino would be piloted by jockey Fred Taral for the rest of his career. It was a partnership that Domino would grow to despise because of Taral’s harsh riding style.

Following his successful debut, Domino blazed home to five more victories at distances of six furlongs or shorter. These victories included the Great American Stakes, Great Eclipse Stakes, Great Trial Stakes, Hyde Park Stakes, and the Produce Stakes. Domino was performing extremely well in these sprints, so he was entered into the Futurity Stakes.

An undated picture of Domino from the Keeneland Library - Hemment Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

The Futurity Stakes was one of richest races at that time with a purse of $45,000. Domino had been assigned to carry a high weight of 130 pounds because of his dominant winning streak. During the race, Domino’s stablemate Hyderabad fell, nearly taking out Domino. The incident caused jockey Fred Taral to punish Domino for a problem that had not been caused by him, whipping him mercilessly. Perhaps the abuse Domino was subjected to by Taral worked; he won the race by a head.

The Futurity Stakes had exhausted Domino and his hatred for Taral was growing stronger. Despite his exhaustion, Domino was placed into a match race with Dobbins (who had finished third in the Futurity Stakes by just another head) just two days after The Futurity. Again, Taral whipped Domino mercilessly to try to get his horse to the wire first. Domino and Dobbins crossed the wire together in a dead heat. One month later, Domino won the Matron Stakes. It was his final start of his two-year old season, landing him with nine wins in nine starts. He had earned $170,790, a record for a juvenile until 1931.

Domino was no longer the same horse after his juvenile season. He hated his jockey so much that he would nearly panic at the sight of him. Time and time again he tried biting Fred Taral. It got so bad that a towel had to be placed over Domino’s head so that Taral could mount him.

Even though Domino hated Taral (and rightfully so), the two were still able win races together. In his three-year old debut, Domino won the Withers Stakes over Belmont Stakes winner Henry of Navarre. He also came flying home to wins in the Culver Stakes, Flying Stakes, and the Ocean Handicap. In addition to those wins, he won a match race over Clifford and was in a dead heat in a match race with Henry of Navarre. He met with Clifford and Henry of Navarre again in a match race between the three of them, finishing last after injuring his foot.

Domino had won six out of eight starts and finished third in another. His only big loss of his three-year old season was a last place finish in the 1 ½ mile American Derby, a race that was far beyond his distance capabilities.

At four years old in 1895, Domino won four of his eight starts. These wins included the Coney Island Handicap and Sheepshead Bay Handicap. Twice he failed to beat Henry of Navarre and any race beyond a mile was a tough one for him to win. In late 1895, his foot problems became too prevalent and he was retired.

Domino had finished his career with a record of 25:19-2-1 and had earned more than $193,000. He retired to James Keene’s Castleton Farm near Lexington, Kentucky. There he stood just two years at stud, siring just nineteen named foals. Among those are Disguise, Pink Domino (dam of Sweep and great grand-dam of War Admiral and Whirlaway), Cap and Bells, and Commando (sire of Colin and great grandsire of Gallant Fox). Domino died of spine meningitis at the age of six in 1897. He had been turned out to his paddock and was found lying down, paralyzed. Many believe that he had suffered an accident in his paddock.

Domino will forever be remembered for his speed on the racetrack. However, it is also important to remember this horse for his overall toughness. Throughout his short life he endured bowed tendons that plagued him with soreness, a bad foot, and a merciless jockey. How tragic it was to end the way it did.

His body was transferred back to Barack G. Thomas’ farm and he was laid to rest wrapped in a white sheet. Soon after his funeral, a gravestone was placed among his final place of rest. On it are the words, “Here lies the fleetest runner the American turf has ever known, and one of the gamest and most generous of horses."


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