They called him Challedon, but that was merely his name, which could be preceded by such distinguished titles as “Champion 3-Year-Old Male,” “Champion Handicap Horse,” “Two-Time Horse of the Year,” and “Hall of Fame Inductee.” Through the years, the names of many memorable horses have unfortunately faded from memory, and Challedon – a bright star of the late 1930s and early 1940s – is surely among the best of these little-remembered champions.
Challedon was bred in Maryland by William L. Brann and Robert Stanley Castle, the owners of Branncastle Farm. Racing under Brann’s name, Challedon was an accomplished stakes winner as a 2-year-old, and showed an affinity for his home state from an early age, winning the Maryland Futurity at Laurel Park and the prestigious Pimlico Futurity at Pimlico.
But the best was still to come. As a 3-year-old in 1939, Challedon finished second in the Kentucky Derby behind runaway winner Johnstown, but Challedon was able to turn the tables when returning to Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes, which was contested over a very muddy track that Johnstown disliked and Challedon relished. As Johnstown faded to a distant fifth-place finish (a headline in the May 14, 1939 edition of the Albuquerque Journal exclaimed “Muddy Track Is Disastrous To Favorite”) Challedon unleashed a strong finish to win by 1 ¼ lengths.
This win would be the first of many for Challedon during the 1939 season, as he later added victories in the Arlington Classic, Narragansett Special Handicap, Hawthorne Gold Cup, Tranter Stakes, Havre de Grace Handicap, Maryland Handicap, and Pimlico Special to his record, with the latter three wins coming in Maryland. Not surprisingly, Challedon was voted Horse of the Year by a clear margin.
After being the picture of consistency and durability during 1939 (he made 15 starts that year), Challedon took a more finessed and reserved approach to the 1940 season, but the results were still impressive. From seven starts, Challedon won five times, traveling from coast to coast to win the Hollywood Gold Cup in California and the Whitney Stakes in New York, along with repeat victories in the Havre de Grace Handicap and Pimlico Special. As a result, he became the first horse in history to be officially voted Horse of the Year two times.
Minor injuries derailed Challedon’s 1941 campaign and seemed to affect him in 1942 as well, when he won only twice from thirteen starts. One last hurrah came in the 1942 Philadelphia Handicap at the Havre de Grace track in Maryland, in which Challedon prevailed by a nose in a tremendous finish to give fans in his home state one last victory to remember him by. Befitting of a champion regaining lost glory, the April 26, 1942 edition of the Arizona Republic noted that “Although he was only the third choice in the wagering, Challedon received a rousing ovation as he returned to the winner’s circle.”
Although Challedon’s name does not often appear in modern-day discussions of great racehorses, he is fondly remembered each year when Laurel Park in Maryland hosts the $75,000 Challedon Stakes. Let’s take a look at a few other upcoming races named for memorable horses from the past….
Seattle Slew Stakes at Belmont Park
Twelve horses have managed to sweep racing’s elusive Triple Crown, but only one has been able to accomplish the feat while maintaining an undefeated record. When Seattle Slew entered the 1977 Kentucky Derby, he was unbeaten and unchallenged in six starts. His brief racing record was a far cry from the battle-tested résumés that previous Triple Crown winners had brought to the Derby, but Seattle Slew’s brilliance more than made up for his lack of experience. After decisively winning the Derby, he cruised to easy victories in the Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner, and while he would lose his unbeaten record later on, he retired with a reputation as one of the brightest stars to emerge from a decade filled with great champions. He also became a very successful sire, with 1991 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy among his most accomplished foals.
Happy Ticket Stakes at Louisiana Downs
The Louisiana-bred mare Happy Ticket was such a sensation in her home state that no one could beat her; in fact, she opened her career with eight straight wins in Louisiana and would retire unbeaten against fellow Louisiana-breds. But Happy Ticket’s skill level went far beyond the domination of state-bred races – later in her career, she stepped up into the big leagues and compiled an excellent record in graded stakes company, including a win in the Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes and a runner-up effort in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Sunday Silence Stakes at Louisiana Downs
There are many ways to remember the greatness of Sunday Silence. One could remember his consistency and talent – he never finished out of the exacta and won six Grade 1 races during his career, including the Kentucky Derby. Or one could remember his legendary rivalry with Easy Goer and their thrilling finishes in the Preakness Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic, both of which Sunday Silence won by narrow margins.
But Sunday Silence’s greatest legacy might be as a stallion. Due to a lack of interest from U.S. breeders, Sunday Silence was sold to stand at stud in Japan, where he became a legend like no other. He was the leading sire in Japan every year from 1995 through 2007, a staggering span of 13 consecutive years, and his foals – which included the great champion and sire Deep Impact – won almost every major race in Japan. Sunday Silence’s descendants continue to dominate racing in Japan, stamping him as one of the most successful Thoroughbred stallions of all time.
Unbridled Stakes at Louisiana Downs
Unbridled knew how to win races when the stakes were high. When the colt was a 2-year-old, trainer Carl Nafzger kept the colt out of sight and out of mind at tracks like Arlington Park, Canterbury, and Calder Race Course, far from the bright lights of New York, Kentucky, and California. But this patient approach paid off when Unbridled stepped up as a 3-year-old to win the 1990 Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby, and when he later added a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to his record, he was a clear-cut choice to be voted champion 3-year-old male at the Eclipse Awards.