The Enduring Legacy of Darby Dan Farm

Proud Clarion and jockey Bobby Ussery head to the winner's circle after the 1967 Kentucky Derby. (BloodHorse Library)

From the 1960s through the 1980s, few racing silks were as recognizable and iconic as the silks of Darby Dan Farm. The silks were fairly plain – a fawn-colored shirt with brown sleeves – but it was their simplicity and their regular appearances in the winner’s circle that made them famous.

Darby Dan was founded by John W. Galbreath, an entrepreneur who built a fortune in real estate and construction. Born in 1897, he had shown an early interest in horse racing, starting a small Thoroughbred breeding operation in the 1930s and racing his horses at little Beulah Park, located in Galbreath’s home state of Ohio. But as his love for racing grew, he expanded his involvement in the sport, eventually purchasing a large portion of Idle Hour Farm in Kentucky. This legendary farm had been created and managed by the four-time Kentucky Derby-winning breeder Col. E. R. Bradley, and Galbreath – recognizing the value and significance of the historic property – purchased the property after Bradley’s death and renamed it Darby Dan Farm.

This decision marked the start of a legacy that extends to this day.

One of the first major stallions to reside at Darby Dan was the legendary Swaps, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1955 and Horse of the Year honors in 1956. Swaps would prove to be a huge asset for Darby Dan, carrying the fledgling stable to the top of the sport by siring Primonetta. Born in 1958, the chestnut filly won the first eight starts of her career in 1960 and 1961 before continuing to race with success through 1962, winning the Regret Handicap, Molly Pitcher Handicap, Spinster Stakes, and Falls City Handicap to become Darby Dan’s first champion.

John Galbreath and Chateaugay after the 1963 Kentucky Derby. (Skeets Meadors/BloodHorse Library)

One year later, Darby Dan rose to even greater heights with the unheralded Chateaugay. A son of Swaps, Chateaugay was unremarkable as a 2-year-old, but won the 1963 Blue Grass Stakes and was entered in the Kentucky Derby, becoming Darby Dan’s first starter in the run for the roses. He wasn’t expected to contend against a deep field led by Never Bend, Candy Spots, and No Robbery, but to the surprise of many, Chateaugay produced a big rally to win by 1 ¼ lengths. He proved his win was no fluke by finishing second in the Preakness Stakes and winning the Belmont Stakes to just miss a Triple Crown sweep, and at the end of the year, he was voted champion 3-year-old male.

Thus, Darby Dan had risen from obscurity to race two champions in as many years, and their success didn’t stop there. Four years later, Proud Clarion brought Darby Dan’s record in the Derby to a perfect 2-for-2 when he won in a massive 30-1 upset over the future Hall of Fame runner Damascus. In 1972, Darby Dan would be involved in an even greater upset with a colt named Roberto. Carrying the Darby Dan silks to glory in England, Roberto won the historic Epsom Derby by a nose, and later that year, he pulled off a stunning upset in the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup, parlaying a front-running trip into an epic victory over the previously unbeaten Brigadier Gerard. Roberto’s victory remains one of the most famous upsets in the history of British racing.

As the years went by, Darby Dan continued to find more success at the highest level of the sport. A troubled trip cost Little Current any chance in the 1974 Kentucky Derby, but the colt rebounded to win the Preakness and Belmont and became the year’s champion 3-year-old male. Four years later, the filly Tempest Queen swept through victories in major races like the Acorn Stakes, Gazelle Handicap, and Spinster Stakes to become the champion 3-year-old filly of 1978. Graustark, His Majesty, Stage Door Betty, Dawn’s Curtsey, Proud Truth, Brian’s Time, Sunshine Forever – all these star runners and more were bred by Galbreath and owned by Darby Dan. Sunshine Forever even became a champion, winning the Man o’ War Stakes, Turf Classic Stakes, and Budweiser International to become the 1988 champion grass horse.

That same year, Galbreath passed away, and leadership of Darby Dan passed to his son Dan Galbreath, and eventually to John Galbreath’s grandson John Phillips. The Phillips Racing Stable, with its own distinct silks, became the new racing side of Darby Dan, campaigning 1999 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner and champion turf female Soaring Softly, as well as the talented fillies Memories of Silver, Wonder Again, and Winter Memories. As a result, the name Darby Dan came to represent only the breeding side of the farm, and the Darby Dan silks went unused for years.

But could those famous fawn and brown silks be poised for a renaissance? It’s possible. In recent years, Darby Dan has invested in several promising young stallions, including Florida Derby winner Dialed In and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile runner-up Tapiture. If one or more of these stallions proves to be a success, they could propel Darby Dan back to the forefront of American racing. Darby Dan also made a return to racing in recent years with turf performer Manitoulin, a Grade 2 winner in 2017. 

Fun Facts

  • John Galbreath was the first man to breed both a Kentucky Derby and an Epsom Derby winner, achieving this feat thanks to the success of Darby Dan’s Chateaugay and Roberto.
  • Proud Truth, one of the last major Darby Dan stars campaigned during John Galbreath’s lifetime, won the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
  • In addition to Swaps, Darby Dan has been the home of many top stallions through the years, including the unbeaten European superstar Ribot, who sired 1969 Horse of the Year Arts and Letters and 1965 champion 3-year-old male Tom Rolfe, as well as the talented Darby Dan runners Graustark and His Majesty.
  • Graustark and His Majesty also became successful stallions for Darby Dan. Graustark sired 1972 champion 3-year-old male Key to the Mint and 1975 Belmont Stakes winner Avatar, as well as Tempest Queen and Proud Truth, while His Majesty sired 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Pleasant Colony and was the leading U.S. sire of 1982.

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