What’s in a (Race) Name? Rushaway’s Unprecedented Derby Double

Legends
Racing at Turfway Park, host of the March 25 Rushaway Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was an ambitious racehorse owner and trainer named Al G. Tarn and a tough-as-nails 3-year-old colt named Rushaway. Together, they pulled off a racing feat unlike any other; an achievement that was described as “Turf history that may live forever” by writer Bob Saxton of The Cincinnati Enquirer.

On May 22, 1936, Rushaway won the Illinois Derby at Aurora racetrack—a fine victory, albeit nothing remarkable. The incredible moment came at Latonia racetrack, some 330 miles from Aurora, where Rushaway won the Latonia Derby … on May 23!

The plan for this seemingly impossible double was hatched when Al Tarn noticed how well Rushaway had emerged from his Illinois Derby victory. As quoted in the May 24, 1936 edition of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Tarn said “He won so easily, cooled out so rapidly after he won at Aurora, that I didn’t see why he couldn’t do the same thing [in the Latonia Derby].” Therefore, “Rushaway, after being cooled out, was loaded into an express car and shortly afterward lay down and slept throughout most of the journey to Cincinnati. I never saw a horse that was such a good actor.”

Even still, it seemed unlikely that Rushaway could win two Derbies in the span of two days, especially with a lengthy train ride in between. So when Rushaway crushed his rivals in the 1 ¼-mile Latonia Derby—winning by six lengths in the fast time of 2:02 3/5—it was a performance almost impossible to comprehend. Bob Saxton further marveled that “There was no tired look about Rushaway… as he strode into the winner’s ring and received the acclaim of 10,000 or more persons. In fact, he had enough ‘pep’ left to object when the floral blanket was thrown across his neck.”

Rushaway’s spectacular double would prove to be the highlight of his career. Although he raced on through 1942, eventually competing in 107 races, his only subsequent stakes win came in the 1937 Marquette Handicap and he was winless during the final two years of his career. In “A Quarter-Century of American Racing and Breeding,” a 1941 supplement to The Blood-Horse magazine, the great turf writer Joe Palmer wrote that “the ‘iron horse’ performance finished Rushaway. He is still racing, and occasionally wins, but was never of stakes class again, even in cheaper company.”

But thanks to the glory of his one-of-a-kind Derby double, Rushaway’s name lives on. Turfway Park in Kentucky, located just a few miles from the site of long-gone Latonia racetrack, honors Rushaway with the annual running of the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes, which will be held on March 25 this year.

Let’s recall some of the other memorable horses that are being honored with races this weekend…

Spectacular Bid at the start of the 1980 Woodward.
Spectacular Bid at the start of the 1980 Woodward. ((Bob Coglianese/Blood-Horse))

Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream Park

Four Eclipse awards, including a Horse of the Year title. Induction into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. These honors hint at the vast talent possessed by the great Spectacular Bid, but perhaps the best indication of his dominance came in the last race of his career, when no one showed up to run against him in the 1980 Grade 1 Woodward Stakes. Spectacular Bid galloped around the track to win in a walkover … although he was so fast that he still ran the 1 ¼-mile race in 2:02 2/5, the same time that he posted while winning the 1979 Kentucky Derby.

A champion at age 2, 3, and 4, Spectacular Bid won 26 of his 30 lifetime races and briefly reigned as the highest-earning Thoroughbred in North American racing history. In one of his most memorable performances, he won the Grade 1 Charles H. Strub Stakes while setting a still-standing world record of 1:57 4/5 for 1 ¼ miles on dirt.

Grade 3 Skip Away Stakes at Gulfstream Park

Competing against some of the greatest horses of the 1990s, including Cigar, Gentlemen, and Formal Gold, Skip Away had to fight to win the biggest races across the country, but his remarkable durability and speed allowed him to win almost half of his 38 races and more than $9.6 million in purse money, despite never competing in the rich Dubai World Cup. At the peak of his career, Skip Away won nine straight races from October 1997 through September 1998, including the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Like Spectacular Bid, Skip Away won four Eclipse Awards and was later inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Cicada Stakes at Aqueduct

You can count on one hand the number of fillies in U.S. racing history that have won championships at age 2, 3, and 4. In fact, you can count them on one finger because Cicada is the only one! Racing for Meadow Stable of Secretariat fame, Cicada won 23 of her 42 lifetime races during the early 1960s, including six straight stakes races as a 2-year-old, the Kentucky Oaks as a 3-year-old, and the historic Sheepshead Bay Handicap as a 4-year-old. She even ran against colts on a few occasions, being beaten just a nose by champion Ridan in the 1962 Florida Derby.

Dream of Summer's son Destin. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Dream of Summer Stakes at Santa Anita Park

As a racehorse, Dream of Summer was among the most accomplished mares in the United States from 2004 through 2005, winning the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap and several other graded stakes races across the country. However, her greatest legacy has been as a broodmare, for her best foals include 2016 Grade 1 Belmont Stakes runner-up Destin and 2011 Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes winner Creative Cause. Dream of Summer’s latest foal of racing age—a 3-year-old filly named Vexatious—is already making a name for herself in California and could be a horse to watch this year!

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!