Citation: Big Cy of Calumet Farm

By Jenny Kellner

CitationSeven years after Whirlaway carried the devil’s red-and-blue silks of Calumet through a sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, a leggy bay 3-year-old colt bearing the same colors stepped onto the track at Havre de Grace for the $29,000 Chesapeake Stakes.

Five days earlier, Citation had suffered only the second loss of his career, finishing second in the Chesapeake Trial under new jockey Eddie Arcaro, replacing, Albert Snider, who had drowned in March on a fishing trip in the Everglades.

The Chesapeake, at 1 1-16th miles, is notable for two reasons: first, it would serve as Citation’s penultimate prep for the Kentucky Derby in two weeks time. Secondly, it marked the beginning of a 16-race winning streak that encompassed that year’s Triple Crown, lasted until 1950, and stamped Citation as arguably the greatest racehorse that ever lived.

"Citation was the best horse I ever saw," his trainer, Jimmy Jones, told Joe Durso of the New York Times in a 1996 interview.  "And I saw Man o' War.

The 1948 Kentucky Derby was run over a sloppy track – more than an inch of rain had fallen, conditions which favored Citation’s classy stablemate Coaltown, winner of the Blue Grass Stakes.  As Ben Jones gave Arcaro a leg up, the jockey is alleged to have said, “Are you sure I’m on the right one?” To which Jones reportedly snapped “You’re on the right one.”

With win bet wagering only, it didn’t matter to the bettors which part of the entry won and in the early going, Coaltown loped along comfortably on the lead while Citation trailed by as many as six lengths. On the backside, Arcaro was beginning to worry: “I said to myself. 'Suppose Citation doesn't pick Coaltown up when I call on him?,” he later wrote in his autobiography, “I Ride to Win.”      

But when he called,  Citation answered in a big way. Charging past his stablemate, Big Cy went on to an easy 3 ½-length score. Two weeks later he galloped off to a 5½-length victory over Vulcan Forge in the Preakness, and tuned up for the Belmont Stakes with an 11-length win in the Jersey Derby on May 29.

Citation had made but one previous appearance at Belmont Park, winning the Futurity Trial as a 2-year-old, one of just three career races in which he would not be favored. On Belmont stakes Day, June 12, he would be sent off as the 2-5 favorite over seven rivals, but he ran more like a 1-20 shot.

He stumbled at the start, but quickly recovered a bounded into the lead, running easily through fractions of :24, :48 2/5 and 1:12 3/5 with his nearest competitors a length or so behind. Then, on the far turn, he began to make his move.

“I could not see Arcaro move,” wrote Joe Palmer in his Sidelights column in the June 18, 1948 edition of the Blood-Horse. “But with some slight dropping of the hands, he released the swelling energy of the great racer beneath him. Citation opened away. He was three-sixteenths away but he was home. The Belmont crowd began to roar, before he hit the furlong-pole. This observer dropped his classes, climbed over assorted cameramen, and went downstairs to get into the champagne.”

Five lengths in front at the top of the stretch, Citation hit the wire eight lengths in from of Better Self, tying Count Fleet's stakes record of 2:28 1/5.

Before 1948 was over, Citation would win 19 of 20 starts, 17 of them stakes, in what many believe was the greatest season ever by a racehorse. Although hampered by arthritis, which cause him to miss all of 1949, returned to the races the following year, winning an allowance at Santa Anita before his win streak came to an end on Jan. 16, 1950 in a handicap race.

He was retired in the summer of 1951 after having become racing’s first millionaire, with a record of 32 victories, 10 seconds and two third in 45 starts and a bankroll of $1,085,760. Inducted into racing’s Hall of fame in 1959, Citation died on Aug. 8, 1970 at the age of 25 and is buried at Calumet Farm.

“I’ve tried to fault him, but I just can’t find any holes,” said Ben Jones. “He’s the best. Maybe we’ll never see his likes again in our time. He was the best horse I ever saw. Probably the best horse anybody ever saw, I expect.”

Click here to view the 1948 Belmont Stakes results chart