In 1889, a beautiful son of Spendthrift was born in Kentucky. The colt was out of the imported mare Torchlight (Speculum) and was bred by Overton Chenault’s Spendthrift Stud partnership. This colt, later to be named Lamplighter, had a gorgeous bay colored coat decorated with a blaze and three white feet.
Lamplighter was purchased by Capt. Samuel S. Brown when he was a yearling and it was under Brown’s colors that he raced as a two-year old. The American Turf: An Historical Account of Racing in the United States from 1898 recalled that Lamplighter “did not display much brilliancy” in his two-year old season in 1891, though he did win six races. He flashed some potential when he came flying from six lengths behind the second-to-last horse to win a race at Jerome Park.
Lamplighter had not been nominated to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, or Belmont so he could not run in any of the Classics as a three-year old. However, he made up for it by winning the Champion Stakes and First and Second Special Stakes. He also won the Twin City Handicap and Thistle Stakes that year. Lamplighter also finished third in the Suburban Handicap, beaten out for first by just a neck and a head.
After winning the Champion Stakes at Monmouth Park, Lamplighter was purchased by American tobacco manufacturer Pierre Lorillard for $30,000. At that time, Pierre believed that Lamplighter would be the best horse he ever owned. Lamplighter was good in 1893, but not as good as Pierre had hoped. The colt won the Oriental Handicap, Standard Stakes, Maturity Handicap, Fall Stakes, and Labor Day Stakes, but was only able to finish second in the Brooklyn Handicap after experiencing some trouble during the race and was again third when he attempted to win the Suburban Handicap. Lamplighter was known for bumping other horses and hated being boxed in. Later in his career, he became a “sulker” and would quit during his races.
One of Lamplighter’s most talked about performances was his win in the Bridge Handicap, when he carried 127 pounds and absolutely dominated his foes. He is also known for his match race with Marcus Daly’s Tammany, which Tammany won by four lengths.
Despite the losses in two of the major handicap races of the year and in his match race with Tammany, Lamplighter as being 1893's retrospective Co-Champion Handicap Horse (Champion Older Horse). In all, Lamplighter earned a record of 66: 29-15-9 and earned more than $88,000.
He retired to Milton Young's McGrathiana Stud in 1896 & sired horses like Met Mile winner Arsenal and Brighton Cup winner Holsher. According to TB Heritage, he was fourth on the sire’s list in 1902 and second in 1903. In 1907, Lamplighter entered the Fasig-Tipton sale in Lexington, Kentucky. The horse who had earned tens of thousands of dollars and was once purchased for $30,000, was sold for the low sum of just $100. He lived out his final days on a farm in Missouri.
In 1946, Monmouth Park inaugurated the Lamplighter Handicap in his honor.
Lamplighter is not the most memorable horses of his era; he may not have won any of the races in the Triple Crown series and wasn’t the winner of the most prestigious Handicap races of his day, but he was still one of the favorite horses in the East during his time on the track. For that, this beautiful racehorse should always be remembered.
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