People love to hear the stories of the best horses and people to ever compete in the sport of horse racing. The tales of their incredible triumphs - Triple Crown wins, victories over fierce competitors, or record-setting performances - are what make this sport feel so spectacular. But aside from these few giants of our sport are the countless horses who did not did not become one of racing’s greats, but still meant a lot to those who worked with and loved them. One of those horses was 1908 Kentucky Derby winner Stone Street.
In 1905, a bay colt sired by Longstreet was born at Elmendorf Farm in Kentucky. The colt’s sire Longstreet was considered the Horse of the Year in 1891 and his dam, Stone Nellie, was a daughter of Stonehenge. This breeding had been orchestrated by James Ben Ali Haggin, an American attorney and art collector who became a noted horseman through his efforts at Rancho del Paso in California and Elmendorf Farm in Kentucky.
Haggin decided to combine Longstreet and Stone Nellie’s names to create the name for their colt: Stone Street.
Stone Street was purchased by C.E. & John W. Hamilton and began a lackluster career on the racetrack. Despite running many times, Stone Street failed to win any major stakes races early in his career. Being so, it was a bit of a shock when Stone Street was entered into the 1908 Kentucky Derby. His chances at winning seemed laughable; one newspaper noted that his odds of winning were 75-1 and even Stone Street’s owners requested that he be scratched from the race! Still, the colt’s trainer John Hall truly believed that he could win.
Stone Street was known for his affinity for muddy tracks and thanks to rainy weather on Derby day turning the track into “fetlock deep mud”, Stone Street was given the opportunity to run the best race of his life.
15,000 people packed into Churchill Downs to watch the field of eight three-year old Thoroughbreds compete in the 34th running of the Kentucky Derby. The horses started well and began their trek around the track with Milford in the lead. By the ¾ post, Milford had given way to Banbridge, who Stone Street easily overtook. He led the field the rest of the way around the muddy track and was never threatened by another horse; they were all bogged down and tired from the deep mud that Stone Street absolutely loved.
“The finish was never in doubt after the horses had traveled three-fifths of their mucky route, and the only excitement at the finish was furnished by three horses struggling for the place and show honors,” the Los Angeles Times published, recounting the finish of the race. “Sir Cleges, the favorite, finished second, two and one-half lengths behind Stone Street, and a head In front of Dugan, who made a final rally in time to beat Synchronized for third place by a neck.”
The clock stopped at 2:15 1/5 ; the slowest time in history for the current length of the Kentucky Derby (1 ¼ miles). For comparison, Justify's time over a sloppy track in the 2018 Kentucky Derby was 2:04.20. Stone Street’s slow Kentucky Derby win was certainly celebrated by everyone who won $123.60 by betting on him, but the critics weren’t so excited by the victory. One newspaper published that he was “probably the worst three year old who ever won a Kentucky Derby” and others contributed his Kentucky Derby win solely to the fact that the track was muddy and the other horses were in bad form.
These criticisms were only substantiated by the fact that Stone Street never won another major stakes race in the next six reasons of racing. Still, his owner John Hamilton saw things differently: “He was a wonderful horse in many respects and a spectacular racer. I have seen him several times trail so far behind that his case looked absolutely hopeless. Once I saw him one-sixteenth of a mile out of it, before they reached the half mile ground, going one and one-eighth miles; he ran the last half in :47, timed by several trainers, and won the race pulled up by two lengths, ridden by Teddy Rice. It was a wonderful performance.”
“Many races I have seen him in were just run and won like this,” Hamilton continued. “Had he been a sound horse, there’s no telling how fast he could have run.”
In 1914, Stone Street was spending some time off at Longwood Farm when he decided to jump out of his paddock. While running around the farm, he became entangled in a wire fence and severed his hind tendon. This tragic accident forced Stone Street’s owners to euthanize him. They were heartbroken over the loss. “We were hopeful of his training again and starting during the coming summer,” Hamilton said after Stone Street’s death. “There was a good deal of sentiment surrounding this horse, and we feel his loss keenly. He was one of the horses that proves a mud runner will change, and become a fast track runner exclusively. In his two and three-year-old form, he was a wonderful horse in the mud, but at four, five, and six years old, he would not run a lick in the mud, but wanted a past-board track on which he could run winning races.”
Stone Street was just nine years old at the time of his death. In all, he had accumulated a record of 92: 18-17-9 and had earned more than $12,000.
Though the Kentucky Derby wasn't as prestigious back then as it is now, Stone Street still took his connections to the heights of our sport. He was the only Kentucky Derby winner bred by James Ben Ali Haggin despite the fact that he owned some of the largest Thoroughbred breeding operations in the country. While Stone Street may always be remembered as the slowest Derby winner ever, he still won one of the most important races in American horse racing, and for that his name has become a part of history.
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