He was fractious, with tender feet and shoes that sometimes came off while racing. A classic thoroughbred, Sir Barton was not. Yet 100 years ago, the Maryland-trained horse was the first winner of what would become known in 1923 as racing’s Triple Crown.
A chestnut colt prone to nips and kicks, Sir Barton led all the way in sweeping the 1919 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes — a remarkable feat, given he’d never won a race before. 0-for-6 entering the Derby, Sir Barton won by five lengths. A scant four days later, he captured the Preakness by four lengths, winning the heart of a post-war nation wanting heroes.
“Within five days, he has set all turfdom aflame,” The Sun reported. “No man can ask a horse to do more.”
No? Ten days later, Sir Barton won the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. Then, on June 11, he completed a daunting 32-day challenge by winning the Belmont Stakes in record time — his fourth stakes victory in 32 days.
It was a coup for the colt trained in Laurel and dressed in Maryland silks of orange and black. Passersby in Model Ts might see Sir Barton breezing on the track at owner J.K. Ross’ 373-acre farm fronting Baltimore-Washington Boulevard. A Hall of Famer, he won nine more starts but lost a bunch too, including a ballyhooed match race with the great Man o’ War in 1920. A dud at stud, Sir Barton died of colic in 1937 and remains the only one of 13 Triple Crown winners never to have won a prior race.