Bold Ruler: A Star On and Off the Track

Bold Ruler, with Eddie Arcaro in the irons, won the 1957 Jerome Handicap at Belmont Park by six lengths. (BloodHorse Library)

To truly understand the importance of Bold Ruler, it should be pointed out that he is best known for his accomplishments in the breeding shed rather than the racetrack.

As innocuous as that might seem, it actually speaks volumes because Bold Ruler enjoyed an exceptional career on the racetrack.

He won the 1957 Preakness Stakes. He was a consensus Horse of the Year choice in 1957 as well as the year’s top 3-year-old. In 1958, he was voted champion sprinter. He set or matched four track records.

Yet for all of that glory, the legacy of Bold Ruler is best reflected in the champions whose bloodlines traced back to him, not his own victories. His influence on the breeding industry was that profound and lasting.

He was, after all, the sire of the legendary Secretariat.

That Bold Ruler would become a pre-eminent sire was hardly a surprise. He was regally bred, a son of Claiborne Farm’s foundation sire Nasrullah – a leading sire in both United States and Europe – out of Miss Disco, a daughter of 1935 Horse of the Year Discovery.

A big, 16.1 hands colt, his connections were impeccable. He was owned by the famed Wheatley Stable of Mrs. Gladys Mills Phipps, trained by the revered Hall of Famer “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons and ridden in 27 of his 33 races by another of the sport’s greatest figures, Eddie Arcaro.

He won his first five starts and then, after runner-up finish in an allowance race, went on to win the prestigious Futurity at Belmont Park.

His bid for the 2-year-old championship ended when poor starts led to unplaced efforts in the Garden State Stakes and Remsen Stakes – his first tries beyond six furlongs.

At 3, he returned to form and won the Bahamas and Flamingo Stakes. After finishing second in the Florida Derby, he defeated Gallant Man by a nose in the Wood Memorial and was sent off as the 6-5 favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

Yet on the first Saturday in May, a fast pace and the mile-and-a-quarter distance were too much to overcome and he wound up fourth.

Two weeks later, after winning an allowance race, he captured the Preakness by two lengths over Kentucky Derby winner Iron Liege.

Bold Ruler faded to third in the Belmont Stakes but closed out 1957 by winning six of his final seven starts. The highlight was a victory over Round Table and Gallant Man in the 1 1/4-mile Trenton Handicap at Garden State.

In an era before the Eclipse Awards, he was a consensus choice as Horse of the Year, gaining the honor from the Daily Racing Form and Turf and Sport Digest while the third voting body, the Thoroughbred Racing Association, sided with Dedicate.

At 4, Bold Ruler won the Toboggan, Carter, Stymie, Suburban, and Monmouth Handicaps before the injuries that shadowed him throughout his career finally caught up with him. He came out of the Brooklyn Handicap with a bone splinter and was retired.

He left the racetrack with a record of 23 wins out of 33 starts with earnings of $764,204, a record that would amazingly pale in comparison to his incredible accomplishments in the second phase of his life.

Sent to Claiborne Farm, Bold Ruler was an immediate success at stud as he passed along his speed to his sons and daughters at an incredible rate of success. Though his first crop numbered just 17 foals, he produced eight stakes winners and 14 winners.

With Arcaro after 1957 Wood Memorial. (BloodHorse Library)

He went on to become North America’s leading sire for a record seven straight years (1963-'69).

He sired 11 champions, beginning with Lamb Chop, the champion 2-year-old filly of 1962 and ending with Wajima, the champion 3-year-old male of 1975. In between were such outstanding runners as Gamely, Bold Bidder, and Vitriolic.

His sons What a Pleasure and Raja Baba became leading sires.

During his years at stud, 22% of his foals became stakes winners.

While he was the dominant sire of his era, Bold Ruler was always haunted by an inability to produce classic winners.

When cancer brought his life to an end in 1971, he had never produced the winner of Triple Crown race. Yet that all changed in 1973 when his most famous son, Secretariat, became the first horse in 25 years to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont and earned acclaim as one of the sport’s greatest champions.

Thanks to Secretariat, Bold Ruler posthumously became the leading sire of 1973 and the notion that Bold Rulers hit a wall in the spring of their 3-year-old season became as obsolete as a black and white television.

In the ensuing years, his sons and daughters maintained the glory of their bloodlines. His sons produced top runners such as Kentucky Derby winners Dust Commander, Cannonade, Foolish Pleasure, Bold Forbes, and Spectacular Bid. A total of seven Kentucky Derby winners in the 1970s were from his bloodlines.  

In 1977, Bold Reasoning, an offspring of Bold Ruler’s son Boldnesian, sired the great Seattle Slew, the 1977 Triple Crown champion and a highly successful sire in his own right.

In later years, Seattle Slew’s son, 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, kept the Bold Ruler line as vibrant and fashionable. A.P. Indy was leading sire in 2003 and 2006 and sons such as Pulpit, Bernardini, and Malibu Moon and grandson Tapit have become prosperous sires.

His career on a racetrack may have lasted for a few years with some impressive achievements, yet Bold Ruler’s legacy has withstood the test of time and lives on today through the success of the next generation of his offspring.

In some eyes, he rates as North America’s greatest sire. He may not have been as fast or brilliant as Secretariat, but he produced him – as well as a lengthy list of other great runners – and that’s why Bold Ruler belongs in any conversation about Thoroughbred racing’s greatest stars.

For Bold Ruler, winning the Preakness was just the tip of an iceberg.

Fun Facts

  • He was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1973.
  • Bold Ruler ranked 19th on BloodHorse magazine’s list of the top 100 champions of the 20th Century.
  • Bold Ruler was third in the 1957 Kentucky Derby, which is famous for jockey Bill Shoemaker misjudging the finish line on the runner-up, Gallant Man.
  • The 1957 Belmont Stakes featured one of the first memorable uses of a “rabbit” as trainer John Nerud entered Bold Nero to challenge Bold Ruler in the early stages of the race and help stablemate Gallant Man. The tactic worked as Bold Nero pushed Bold Ruler through early fractions of :46 4/5 and 1:10 2/5 in the 1 1/2-mile race, setting the stage for Gallant Man to win by eight lengths.

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