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Triple Crown Winner Gallant Fox: The Red-Headed Horse

1948 Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox, "the father of the Triple Crown", and Earl Sande.
Earl Sande and Gallant Fox, undated. From the Keeneland Library - Cook Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

Winning the Triple Crown is the most coveted accomplishment in the sport of horse racing. It takes a super horse to sweep the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes because of the proximity of their dates and because the horses running in them are the best of the best. Though Sir Barton was the first horse to win all three in 1919, the term “Triple Crown” wasn’t around until Gallant Fox won it in 1930. Because of that, he is known as “The Father of the Triple Crown”.

Breeder and owner William Woodward Sr. of Belair Stud paired the once-raced mare Marguerite (by Celt) with the successful French-stallion Sir Gallahad III. The colt, Gallant Fox, was born on March 23, 1927, at Claiborne Farm. Gallant Fox grew up to be a large and gangly colt.

Trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons received the colt when he was of racing age to begin preparing for a career on the racetrack. He found that his horse worked best in company and therefore always trained his horse with others. He found that no other horse in the workouts could run faster than Gallant Fox.

Owner William Woodward did not believe in over-taxing his horses as two-year olds, so Gallant Fox was not pressured to perform extraordinarily well. Despite this, he brought home wins in the Flash Stakes and the Junior Champion Stakes. He also placed second in United States Hotel Stakes and finished third in the Futurity Stakes.

Gallant Fox had proved himself as a good racehorse with just seven starts as a two-year old. It was not until he was three, however, that he showed his truest form. Over the year, he matured into a monstrous 16.1hh Thoroughbred. His bay coat was decorated with a striking blaze and splashes of white on his legs. He was truly a handsome individual with a gentleman's personality to match, but had a wall-eye that was rumored to scare any horse who tried pass him.

Gallant Fox’s trainer implored jockey Earl Sande to come out of retirement to ride the colt for his three-year old season. Sande obliged and an unstoppable team formed. Together they took the Wood Memorial Stakes in preparation for the Preakness Stakes.

In the Preakness Stakes (which came before the Kentucky Derby that year), Gallant Fox weaved his way through horses and held off a strong drive by his rival Crack Brigade to win. Eight days later, Gallant Fox was entering the Kentucky Derby's first electrical starting gate as the favorite. Before a crowd of 50,000 rain-soaked people, Gallant Fox overcame a slow break to beat Gallant Knight and the filly Alcibiades to the wire.

After the race, Earl Sande told the Pittsburgh Press that Gallant Fox “never gave me a moment’s worry…It was the easiest of the three Derbies I won”.

Gallant Fox met 1929’s Juvenile-Champion Whichone for the first time in the Belmont Stakes. Sande was injured rom a car crash he was involved in and still had a bandage over his head when he mounted Gallant Fox for the Belmont. Even with that challenge, Sande and Gallant Fox put away the competition with ease and set a new stakes record. Gallant Fox had become America’s second Triple Crown.

The colt had become a fan and farm favorite. He was given the nickname “Fox of Belair” and was also fondly called “the red headed horse” due to the red hood and blinkers he wore. After his Triple Crown sweep, Gallant Fox pranced his way home to a win in the Dwyer Stakes. He then held off a fierce and fighting Gallant Knight in the Arlington Classic before a crowd of 60,000. Whichone and Gallant Fox met for the second-time in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in August. Both were coming off of some great performances. The race was so highly anticipated that New York’s Governor and the eventual President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, attended the race. It was guaranteed to be a battle between two legendary foes.

However, Whichone floated wide around the turn, taking Gallant Fox with him and tiring them both out. Heavy rains had turned Saratoga’s track into goo, soothing Jim Dandy’s tender hoof and allowing him to overtake both horses to win as a 100-1 upset. Jim Dandy would later have a stakes race named after him.

Later that year, Gallant Fox defeated Questionnaire by a nose in the Lawrence Realization Stakes and smoked older horses in the Saratoga Cup and Jockey Club Gold Cup. Because Gallant Fox developed a fever after the Jockey Club Gold Cup, he was retired to his birthplace of Claiborne Farm.

The famous “red-headed horse” had won $328k in his career, surpassing the earnings record held by Zev since 1923. He had earned himself a record of 17:11-3-2. Although there were no formal Eclipse Awards at that time, Gallant Fox was considered the “Horse of the Year”.

Col. Walter Moriarty is the founder of the popular publication National Turf Digest. In September of 1930 he wrote, “Few horses in any country have really earned the right to be called ‘great.’ It is a title given somewhat carelessly and often undeserved. One might say here that not half dozen since Man o’ War have demonstrated their right to name of ‘great’…Gallant Fox is a great horse. If he never wins another race, he will go down in history as one of the best ever bred in any country”.

Gallant Fox’s stud career started off successfully at Claiborne Farm. In his first few crops Gallant Fox produced 1935 Triple Crown winner Omaha, 1936 Champion Three-Year Old Granville, and 1938 Royal Ascot Gold Cup Winner Flares (a full brother to Omaha). However, his success at stud quickly began to decline. He sired 172 winners and 20 stakes winners in 322 named foals.

Gallant Fox died at Claiborne Farm on Nov. 13, 1954. He is buried there near his sire, Sir Gallahad III. He was inducted into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1957.

Gallant Fox remains the only Triple Crown winner to sire another Triple Crown winner. Each year, racing fans visit Claiborne Farm and pay their respects to this horse racing legend. “It doubtless will be many a year before another horse like Gallant Fox comes along. A 3-year-old champion is to be found with each turn of the calendar, but not like the son of Sir Gallahad III and Marguerite, which in eleven races came from obscurity to a place where he is ranked with Man o’ War, Reigh Count, and other greats of long ago.” - Bryan Field, The New York Times



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