Looking Back

This month in mid-atlantic thoroughbred history! For Looking Back archives click here.

 The Fasig-Tipton Company and Maryland Horse Breeders Association’s Eastern Fall Yearling Sale was approaching, and among those expected to attend was Judy Johnson. Earlier in the year Johnson became the first woman to saddle a Preakness starter when she sent out Sir Beau in the classic. She had purchased Sir Beau for $4,500, and by late summer of his 3-year-old season, the multiple stakes winner had earnings of more than $81,000.

In 1943, Johnson became the first (and in 1968 was still the only), woman to ever be licensed to ride professionally in steeplechase races. And in 1935 she took out her trainer’s license one week after Mary Hirsch (daughter of Max Hirsch) became the first woman in the U.S. to do so. 

Asked about her success with the Eastern Fall Sale yearlings, Johnson quipped, “It’s the place for bargains. I’ll be back!”

There were many examples of bargains found at the sale, including undefeated 2-year-old stakes winner Like a Charm, an earner of $79,914 purchased for $6,500; Black-Eyed Susan and Barbara Fritchie winner Holly-O., sold for $5,000 and amassing over $120,000; and Prince Saim, a $4,500 yearling who went on to win the rich Garden State Stakes and earn in excess of $200,000.

The Maryland Horse was to serialize a new book about the life of famed trainer Sam Hildreth, who dominated racing at the turn of the 20th century and died in 1929 at age 63. His clients included Lucky Baldwin, William C. Whitney and August Belmont, as well as Harry F. Sinclair’s Rancocas Stables, which set an all-time record for purse earnings in 1923.

Another legendary trainer, Max Hirsch, was asked for his recollections of Hildreth, whom he’d known as a young man. Still training at 88, Hirsch offered: “He was as good as they come, but not the best. The best trainer I’ve ever known was James Rowe.”

He added, “Hildreth was a top horseman. Great eye for a horse. I sold him Grey Lag. But Rowe was the best.”


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