Gallant Fox stands for a photo after a race. (Photo courtesy of Keeneland Library)
There have been 12 Triple Crown champions, but Gallant Fox may have been the most important one of all.
While there was mention of a Triple Crown as far back in 1923, the term did not become fashionable until Gallant Fox swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes and Daily Racing Form columnist Charles Hatton popularized the achievement.
While Hatton’s writing played key role in turning a series of three races for 3-year-olds into Thoroughbred racing’s premier events, the spark came from the brilliance Gallant Fox displayed in the spring of 1930.
Gallant Fox wasn’t the first horse to sweep the three races; Sir Barton pulled off the trifecta first in 1919 before significant stock was placed in the sweep.
But in 1930 that all changed when Gallant Fox dominated the scene.
Owned by the famed Belair Stud, Gallant Fox was a son of the farm’s foundation sire, the English import Sir Gallahad III. His career started inauspiciously enough as he finished third in an allowance race at Aqueduct on June 24, 1929 in his first start, and then was a dull eighth in the Tremont Stakes.
But under the astute care of legendary trainer James E. “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons, the big, lanky colt with a white blaze came to hand in his next start. He won the Flash Stakes at Saratoga at 10-1 odds and would never finish worse than third again in his career.
Gallant Fox finished his 2-year-old season with two wins in seven starts, which gave little hint of what was to come at three.
He started his 1930 campaign in late April with a 4-length win in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and then, at a time before the Kentucky Derby became synonymous with the first Saturday in May, he won the Preakness by three-quarters of a length on May 9. Eight days later, he won the Kentucky Derby by two lengths and then captured the imagination of the nation when he took the Belmont Stakes.
America had a new hero and the Triple Crown was born, thanks to Gallant Fox.
What Gallant Fox did during the remainder of 1930 only solidified the greatness he displayed in the spring. He won the Dwyer, Arlington Classic, Saratoga Cup, Lawrence Realization and the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
His lone loss during that period came in the one of the era’s most famous races.
Gallant Fox was sent off a heavy 1-2 favorite over three rivals in the Travers Stakes and seemed destined to notch his seventh straight victory. But the track came up wet and heavy that day and Saratoga lived up to its reputation as “The Graveyard of Favorites.” At the start, Gallant Fox and Whichone, the Belmont runner-up, battled for the early lead. But on the final turn, a 100-1 shot named Jim Dandy found a hole on the rail and scooted past the tiring leaders to register an eight-length win over Gallant Fox that became one of the sport’s most celebrated moments.
Today, the Jim Dandy Stakes serves as Saratoga’s stepping stone prep for the Travers.
Gallant Fox finished 1930 with nine wins in 10 starts and became the first horse to amass earnings of more than $300,000 in a single season.
Gallant Fox was retired after his 3-year-old campaign but he continued to have a major impact on the sport.
In 1936, Gallant Fox’s son, Granville, won the Belmont and became the first horse to be voted Horse of the Year.
But a year earlier, in 1935, it was another of Gallant Fox’s sons, Omaha, who swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont – in that order – to become the third Triple Crown winner.
To this day, Gallant Fox and Omaha remain the only father and son to win the Triple Crown.
In a way, it’s a fitting status for Gallant Fox, the Father of the Triple Crown.