Whirlaway: America's War Hero

Updated: 5 days ago



Whirlaway on 5.20.1941. 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.

1941: Pre-War Involvement Anxiety


1941 was a scary year for United States. The war was raging over in Europe and it was nearly inevitable that the U.S. would need to get involved. Americans were waiting anxiously to see just when we would be sending our boys off to fight.


There were few things that soothed that anxiety better than horse racing. The sport was thriving at that time. Greats like Man o’ War, Seabiscuit, War Admiral, Gallant Fox, and others had cemented a love for the sport into people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. In the 1940s, America had grown fond of a horse named Whirlaway.


Whirlaway was a chestnut ray of sunshine in a world that had a grey cloud looming. Americans of all types could see themselves in him. He oozed potential, but had many problems that he needed to overcome to accomplish great things (like winning the Triple Crown).


Whirlaway was sired by English Derby winner Blenheim, so Calumet Farm’s expectations on how he would perform on the racetrack were pretty high. Still, it didn’t take long for trainer Ben A. Jones to start referring to Whirlaway as “the dumbest horse I’ve ever trained”.

Whirlaway was a problem child. He was very high-strung and known to shy and rear. It was a chore to saddle him and the trouble wasn’t over when the team finally managed to get the saddle on, either. Whirlaway would often miss the break and had a nasty habit of drifting towards the outer rail when going around turns. These wide moves cost him countless races that he should have easily won.


Nevertheless, Whirlaway was able to rise above all of those problems to win the Triple Crown in 1941. By doing so, he inspired Americans who were struggling with the realities before them by becoming both a relief and a distraction. He was a prime example of overcoming hardships to accomplish great things.


1942: Raising Money for the War


America’s fear had finally come true; the country entered World War II at the end of 1942. The men were off to fight overseas and the women took to the factories. Whirlaway’s connections knew that his popularity could spur fundraising for war efforts, so they put him to work. They ran him 22 times across the country to raise money for the War Emergency Relief Fund. His races also helped to increase the sale of war bonds.


Huge crowds were drawn to the track and huge amounts of money were generated for the war effort every time the chestnut colt ran. Over the course of a single year, Whirlaway helped raise $5 million for the war. He was a hero to the men fighting overseas and to the women who loved them back here in the U.S.


Whirlaway was truly a hero for the United States.


[Video: Watch Whirlaway's three Triple Crown races]


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