Triple Crown Turning Point: Overcoming Tragedy on Citation’s Journey to Greatness

Citation won the 1948 Kentucky Derby by 3 1/2 lengths under Eddie Arcaro on his way to sweeping the Triple Crown. (Keeneland Library/Cook Collection)

Few breeders and owners have defined an era as Calumet Farm did in the 1940s. What started as a Standardbred farm in the 1920s transitioned into a nursery for a long list of racing immortals in the 1930s. Warren Wright imbued the same passion he had for business into creating a Thoroughbred farm that marked its entry into immortality with Whirlaway’s addition to the fraternity of Triple Crown winners in 1941. By the late 1940s, Calumet had another Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner in Pensive and the first filly to be named Horse of the Year in Twilight Tear. In Citation, they had another hopeful ready to claim a crown for Calumet.

After a championship 2-year-old season, 1948 promised opportunities to show the colt’s great speed and deep wealth of stamina. The loss of one member of his team, though, could have changed that path. Instead, that was a turning point for the Calumet colt, a chance to gain the services of another immense talent to join in this run for a crown.

Purple Pedigrees

Citation at Calumet in 1956 (Keeneland Library/Meadors Collection)

Warren Wright had followed in the footsteps of William Woodward with his investment in Blenheim II, who had been imported to the United States in 1936. Woodward got his Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox from the imported Sir Gallahad III and Wright got Whirlaway from Blenheim II. By the late 1940s, Calumet had shifted to building on their newest stallion, Bull Lea. Sired by Bull Dog, a full brother to Sir Gallahad III, Bull Lea had not been as stellar a performer for Calumet as Whirlaway, but he would make his mark in a different way.

Wright supported his stallion by sending many of Calumet’s mares to him, including the imported Hydroplane II. A fair performer on the track, the mare counted Hyperion, winner of the Epsom Derby and the St. Leger Stakes, as her sire, bringing a European influence into the farm’s bloodlines. From the pairing of Bull Lea and Hydroplane II came Citation.

Though the colt was a plain dark bay, Citation was anything but plain. Alongside Coaltown, also part of that same crop of Bull Lea foals, he helped make Calumet’s 1947 season a successful one. Citation won eight of his nine starts at age 2, his only blemish a second-place finish in the Washington Park Futurity. On his back for many of those wins was a jockey named Albert Snider. He rode Citation to victory in the colt’s first start at Havre de Grace and in the prestigious Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park. His contract with Calumet Farm and the task of riding Citation in 1948 marked Snider as a jockey on the rise, ready to achieve the same heights as his friend Eddie Arcaro, who had emerged over the previous decade as one of the sport’s top riders.

A Sudden Loss

Snider started his riding career in his native Canada before moving his tack to the United States in 1938. He was aboard Kentucky Derby winner Hoop, Jr. in the 1945 Preakness Stakes, finishing second to Polynesian. Snider rode Citation in five of his nine starts in 1947, winning all five. The colt earned champion 2-year-old colt honors, entering 1948 as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Snider helped Citation continue his win streak into his 3-year-old season, taking the Seminole and Everglades Handicaps and the Flamingo Stakes. Trainer Jimmy Jones decided to give Citation a break in March as they prepared for the coming classic season. Snider used that time off to take a fateful fishing trip off the Florida Keys.

Snider and two others were lost when a severe storm hit suddenly, leaving Snider’s family bereft of their father and husband and Calumet without a rider for Citation. The Canadian rider had been the one that Jones wanted for this son of Bull Lea. He has gone undefeated on the colt, knew him well. What would the loss of Snider mean for Citation? The campaign ahead had him on track to be in the starting gate on the Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, and Citation was enough of a star that trainer Jimmy Jones wanted the right jockey on board. The first name on their list was Snider’s friend Eddie Arcaro.

Jones knew Arcaro well: he had ridden Whirlaway to victory in the 1941 Triple Crown. The lanky Midwesterner knew what it took to rise to the challenge of the distances, the schedules, and the high-caliber horses that Citation was set to face. However, Arcaro was already committed to another mount, My Request. Jones offered the famed jockey the chance to ride the colt in his next two prep races as a trial. Arcaro agreed, assuring the trainer that he would jump ship to Citation if he liked the Calumet colt.

Shaky Start

Citation and Arcaro (Keeneland Library/Cook Collection)

In early April, Arcaro was boosted into the saddle for his first race on Citation, the Chesapeake Trial at Havre de Grace. At the start, the jockey took his mount back rather than allowing him to run on the lead in an attempt to see just what kind of horse he had under him. They raced in fourth, Arcaro waiting until the far turn to make a move for the lead. Rather than going inside the leaders Hefty and Saggy, he took the colt to the outside, confident that Citation could pass them as they entered the stretch. Instead, Hefty drifted out as he navigated the turn, pushing Arcaro and the Calumet colt even wider. To catch Saggy on the lead, Citation would need to expend valuable energy that Jones told the jockey to save for the races to come. Arcaro rode the colt out without touching him with the whip. Citation finished second by a length to Shaggy, who would later sire dual classic winner Carry Back.

Arcaro was furious with himself at the defeat. He had cost Citation the win by staying to the outside and allowing Hefty to push them wide rather than doing what the jockey would normally have done and gone to the inside. Jones was furious, too, at Arcaro sure, but at himself for telling the rider not to prompt Citation with the whip. If he had, then perhaps Citation would have made up the ground and passed Shaggy.

“Don’t hold the loss against Citation,” Arcaro told reporters. “It was all my fault pure and simple. And believe me when I say it – it won’t never happen again.”

After the Chesapeake Trial, the jockey was determined to make Citation’s next ride a better one, easily winning the Chesapeake Stakes by 4½ lengths. The two-race trial was over, so it was time for Arcaro to fish or cut bait. Would he jump ship for the Joneses or stay put on My Request?

A few days later, Arcaro called Jimmy Jones to let him know that he would be riding Citation in the 1948 Kentucky Derby.

A Classic Combination

With the loss of Snider, Calumet Farm and Citation’s trainer needed to find the right replacement for the 3-year-old tests ahead of the colt. He was so talented that maybe any jockey might have worked out, but truly a horse like him needed a partner that would help him maximize the excellence he possessed. In 1948, Citation would win 19 of his 20 races with the Hall of Fame jockey aboard for 14 of those victories. Together, they were a winning combination from Kentucky to New York to California.

The loss of Snider could have been a turning point for the eighth Triple Crown winner, knocking him off the path that Jimmy Jones had set for him. Fortunately, Eddie Arcaro was able to pick up where his friend had left off and join the dark bay colt on his journey to greatness.

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