By Teresa Genero
Triple Crown Winner Gallant Fox was the Pride of New York
He may have been known as the “Fox of Belair,” an homage to his owners’ farm in Maryland. But it was on New York’s tracks that Gallant Fox made his mark, in New York’s races that he made racing history.
Gallant Fox (Sir Gallahad III – Marguerite) made 17 starts, 14 of them in New York. Eight of his eleven victories came over a New York track, and he raced in some of the state’s most storied contests: the Futurity, the Wood Memorial, the Belmont, the Dwyer, the Travers, the Lawrence Realization, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He won five of them; ironically, he may be best remembered for the one he did not win –the 1930 Travers, taken by 100-1 shot Jim Dandy.
Gallant Fox was not what you’d call a precocious 2-year-old; he made his first start at the end of June 1929 in an allowance at Aqueduct, and he finished third to a hors named Desert Light, on whom the Fox would turn the tables later in his career. An eighth place finish in the Tremont five days later might have had some connections worried, but reportedly, trainer “Sunny” Jim Fitzsimmons was unconcerned, attributing the loss to the colt’s youth and curiosity. Quoted in Marvin Drager’s The Most Glorious Crown, Fitzsimmons said of the race, “[Gallant Fox] was so interested in the others that he forgot to leave the barrier until he saw them running down the track away from him, when he started after them and did pass five of them.” It was the only time in his career that Gallant Fox finished off the board.
A month later in Saratoga, the bay colt broke his maiden in his third start, the Flash Stakes, and five days later was second-best in the United States Hotel Stakes.
Gallant Fox’s difficulty in finding the winner’s circle followed him down to Belmont, the third New York track to host him. A close second in an allowance and a three-length loss in the Futurity – to 2-year-old champion Whichone – hardly stamped him as impressive, but as 1929 came to a close, the son of Sir Gallahad III began to display the form that would lead him to his place among Thoroughbred racing’s elite.
Making his third start in 18 days, Gallant Fox returned to Aqueduct at the end of September for the Junior Champion Stakes. Under his third jockey, Gallant Fox went to the post as the oddson favorite and did not disappoint, beating Desert Light by two lengths and ending his freshman campaign on a promising note. His record for the year was two wins, two seconds, and two thirds from seven starts.
Drager tells us that Gallant Fox spent the winter at Aqueduct, even though New York did not then host winter racing, remarking on the colt’s ability to withstand a cold New York winter. The Fox took a seven-month vacation, coming back to the races in the Wood Memorial at Jamaica on April 26, 1930.
Renowned jockey Earle Sande, who had already won two Kentucky Derbys, on Zev in 1923 and on Flying Ebony in 1925, came out of retirement expressly to ride Gallant Fox. Sande’s decision, spurred on by his massive losses in the Wall Street crash of 1929, meant the end of the merry-go-round of jockeys for Gallant Fox, and the beginning of a six-race winning streak.
Gallant Fox won the Wood decisively and with the victory earned the title of Preakness and Kentucky Derby favorite. At a time when the term “Triple Crown” was not widely used, in 1930 the Preakness was run before the Derby, on May 9. For the first time, Gallant Fox ventured outside of New York, but neither the travel to Maryland nor the rigor of racing twice in less than two weeks after a seven-month layoff had any negative effects on the “Fox of Belair”: he took the Preakness by a half-length over Crack Brigade, who had also finished second in the Wood.
Eight days later, Gallant Fox added the Kentucky Derby to his résumé. With the patchiness of his 2-year-old season firmly behind him, Gallant Fox returned to New York to try to become only the second horse to win the Preakness/Derby/Belmont series. Standing in his way would be Harry Payne Whitney’s Whichone, a dazzling prospect himself, and the last horse to have beaten Gallant Fox. Whichone, not Gallant Fox, would go to the post as the Belmont favorite. Battling for the title of “best 3-year-old,” these colts scared away all but two competitors, and the much-anticipated showdown ended with Gallant Fox completing the “triple crown,” so called for the first time in the New York Times upon his three-length victory over Whichone.
Gallant Fox raced six times after his historic victory in the Belmont, leaving his home state only once, to win the Classic at Arlington Park. In an epic upset, both he and Whichone were beaten by the only other horse who showed up for the Travers, the longshot Jim Dandy, who beat the Triple Crown champion by a muddy eight lengths. But that ignominious defeat was the only one Gallant Fox would taste as a 3-year-old. He added the Dwyer, the Saratoga Cup, the Lawrence Realization, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup – run over three different New York strips – to his prodigious list of victories, and when he was retired at the end of 1930, he had won ten of his last eleven starts.
Though Sir Barton, the first winner of the races that came to be known as the Triple Crown, began his racing career in New York, the majority of his starts came in Maryland, and it was at Pimlico that a race was named for him. Gallant Fox gave New York its Triple Crown hero, and New York repaid him with his own race. Inaugurated in 1939 at old Jamaica, the Gallant Fox is now run in the winter at Aqueduct at 1 5/8 miles, its distance a testimony to the rigors of the Triple Crown, to the stamina needed to garner the most coveted and rarest accomplishment in sports.
Painting of Gallant Fox by Thomas B. Voss. Courtesy of the National Museum of Raing and Hall of Fame.