Omaha: The Belair Bullet

Omaha at Ak-Sar-Ben race track.
Omaha at Ak-Sar-Ben race track. (BloodHorse Library)

He stands alone in the annals of Thoroughbred racing, the only Triple Crown winner sired by a Triple Crown winner.

Omaha had big shoes to fill when he was foaled at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. on March 24, 1932. His daddy was 1930 Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox who scored nine victories in 10 races and had become the greatest money winner in the history of American racing. 


Born: March 24, 1932

Died: April 24, 1959

Owner: Belair Stud

Trainer: "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons

Race Record: 22 9-7-2


Third Triple Crown winner (1935)

Champion 3-Year-Old (1935)

Kentucky Derby (1935)

Preakness Stakes (1935)

Belmont Stakes (1935)

Arlington Classic (1935)

Elected to Racing Hall of Fame (1965)

With a striking blaze down his handsome chestnut face, Omaha also inherited his famous father's tall, leggy frame and penchant for speed. He was out of Flambino, a successful stakes mare by Claiborne's top sire Wrack. Like his sire and his dam, the "Belair Bullet" was owned and bred by William Woodward Sr., owner of Belair Mansion and Belair Stud Farm. It was at Belair in 1774 that Samuel Ogle, the three-time provincial governor, imported the first pair of Thoroughbred stallions to America.

A New York investment banker, Woodward took control of the 500-acre tract of land in Bowie, Md. in 1898 after the death of his uncle, James. It was the headquarters for his passion -- racing and breeding Thoroughbreds. Throughout much of the 1930s, '40s and '50s, Belair Stud was the premier racing and breeding stable in America, and rivaled any in the world.

Just down the road from Woodward's stately five-part Georgian-style mansion past a grove of oaks and beeches sat the storied stable. In the spring of 1934, a strapping chestnut 2-year-old was there, too.

Trained by the legendary "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons, hopes were high when Omaha ran for the first time at Aqueduct Racetrack on June 18. He lost a photo finish to Sir Lamorah in a maiden race. Five days later he broke his maiden, but failed to win again as a 2-year-old. Omaha's best race as a juvenile came in the Champagne Stakes. He was much closer to the pace and pushed the season's top juvenile, Balladier, to a new track record while losing by a nose.

Coming off an unremarkable freshman campaign Omaha stamped himself as a 3-year-old to be reckoned with in a powerful four-length victory in an allowance at the old Jamaica Racetrack on April 22. Then he ran a strong third in the Wood Memorial, losing place money by only a nose.

Though not as precocious as his famous father, still Omaha was a powerful, 17 hands colt who got better with age and distance. By the time the 1935 Kentucky Derby came around on May 4, the "Belair Bullet" was ready to run the race of his young life.

Omaha went to post as the second choice. The favorite was Calumet Farm's Nellie Flag, a daughter of Man o' War's champion son American Flag and Nellie Morse, the filly who had won the 1924 Preakness Stakes. The Calumet entry was the first Derby mount of Eddie Arcaro, who later rode five horses to victory in the run for the roses.

The balance of the field included Wood Memorial winner Today as well as runner-up Plat Eye, Hopeful Stakes winner Psychic Bid, and Saratoga Special winner Boxthorn, who was third choice in the betting. With 20-year-old Willie Saunders in the saddle, Omaha moved up on the outside to take the lead in the backstretch on a muddy track and finished strongly to earn his roses by a length and a half.

The Preakness Stakes was a week later. Warren Wright insisted that his filly Nellie Flag would be dangerous, blaming traffic problems for her fourth-place finish in the Derby. Dick Thompson, the trainer of Boxthorn, stated that his charge was much fitter for the Preakness than he had been at Churchill Downs.

Omaha ran all his rivals off their feet, storming home the winner by six lengths and just missing the Pimlico track record. Tuning up for the Belmont Stakes Omaha was runner-up to Rosemont in the Withers Mile in New York.

When pressed for a comment by turf writers, all William Woodward would say in answer to their comparisons between Omaha and his Triple Crown winning sire was that he hoped Omaha would be "just like him." They could not get the owner to commit as to whether he thought that likely.

Belmont day dawned gray and damp, and after day-long downpours the track was officially sloppy by post time. In the Belmont's 67th running just four horses lined up against Omaha: Rosemont, Cold Shoulder, Firethorn, and Sir Beverley.  When the gates sprang open Omaha was shuffled back, but jockey Saunders quickly settled Omaha down.

With a half-mile to go, Firethorn, a Sun Briar colt, began moving swiftly forward on the rail. Responding Omaha lengthened stride and the duo rolled past the front-runners and dueled down the stretch. Fifty yards from the finish, Omaha snatched the lead and drew off once in the clear to become the third Triple Crown winner by a length-and-a-half margin.

Omaha wins the Belmont Stakes to capture the Triple Crown.
Omaha wins the Belmont Stakes to capture the Triple Crown. (Keeneland Library-Cook)

The BloodHorse reported the wild scene: “Amid hearty cheering, Saunders brought Omaha back to the winner's circle, the victory being the most popular of the day. There, despite a driving rain, waited Omaha's owner, William Woodward, and for the second time in his turf career, a horse which had won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes in his colors. Now indisputably at the top of his division, Omaha is the first to be sired by a horse which had won the three events.”

Omaha's victory was worth $35,480, and brought his career earnings to $106,930. The next time out, he finished third behind Discovery in the Brooklyn Handicap. It cost the colt Horse of the Year honors which went to Discovery and stamped Omaha as the only Triple Crown winner who failed to earn the highest honors.

Following a victory in the Dwyer, Omaha headed west to Chicago where he faced a pair of top-flight 3-year-old fillies in the Arlington Classic. He uncorked an impressive effort whipping both in a time of 2:01 2/5, breaking Sun Beau's stakes record. With the scintillating victory over the elite fillies, Omaha finally gained status as a national hero. But his American racing days ended when he pulled up lame during a gallop at Saratoga.



Horse Owner Jockey Trainer
2018 Justify China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing, WinStar Farm Mike Smith Bob Baffert
2015 American Pharoah Zayat Stables Victor Espinoza Bob Baffert
1978 Affirmed Harbor View Farm Steve Cauthen Laz Barrera
1977 Seattle Slew Karen Taylor Jean Cruguet Billy Turner
1973 Secretariat Meadow Stable Ron Turcotte Lucien Lauren
1948 Citation Calumet Farm Eddie Arcaro Jimmy Jones
1946 Assault King Ranch Warren Meehrtens Max Hirsch
1943 Count Fleet Mrs. John D. Hertz   John Longden Don Cameron
1941 Whirlaway Calumet Farm Eddie Arcaro Ben Jones
1937 War Admiral Samuel Riddle Charlie Kurtsinger George Conway
1935 Omaha Belair Stud William Saunders James Fitzsimmons
1930 Gallant Fox Belair Stud Earle Sands James Fitzsimmons
1919 Sir Barton J.K.L. Ross John Loftus H. Guy Bedwell

As a 4-year-old Woodward shipped Omaha to England where he believed his horse's late running style and ability to get a distance of ground was a good match for that country's premier races. He triumphed in the Victor Wild Stakes and the Queen’s Plate at Kempton Park. In the prestigious Ascot Gold Cup -- in front of 200,000 spectators -- he lost by a nose to the filly Quashed on the two-and-a-half-mile race. In the final start of his career, Omaha lost by a neck in the Princess of Wales Stakes at Newmarket racecourse.

Omaha and Woodward.
Omaha and Woodward. (Keeneland Library-Cook)

Omaha was the only American Triple Crown winner ever to cross the Atlantic, and his spirited battles earned the praise of the British turf writers. After he injured the tendon of his left foreleg in training, Omaha was sent back to the United States and retired to Claiborne Farm in June of 1937. That same year, his full brother Flares avenged his loss in the Ascot Gold Cup, winning the race in the colors of Belair Stud.

Omaha's racing record in 22 starts: nine wins, seven seconds and two thirds with career earnings of $154,705. In remembering the champion, the Daily Racing Form's great turf writer known by the pen name of Salvator wrote: "In action he was a glorious sight; few Thoroughbreds have exhibited such a magnificent, sweeping, space-annihilating stride, or carried it with such strength and precision. His place is among the Titans of the American turf."


Omaha was sent to stud at Claiborne Farm in 1937 but was not especially successful, siring just seven stakes winners from 206 foals. In 1950, he was moved to Nebraska and spent the last nine years of his life on a farm outside of Nebraska City. During the 1950s, Omaha was often taken to the Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack in Omaha where he had pictures taken with small children on his back and later galloped around the track to the delight of the crowd. He passed away in 1959 and was buried in the circle of champions at Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack.

Omaha was elected into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1965. He also made BloodHorse magazine's list of the century's top 100 racehorses, ranking 61st.

Note: This article was originally puiblished in 2014 and has been updated.

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