Sir Barton was an ill-tempered, tender-footed, six-time loser when he came to the starting gate in the 1919 Kentucky Derby. The 3-yearold chestnut colt was expected to set the pace for stablemate Billy Kelly, a favorite to win. But with acclaimed jockey Johnny Loftus on board, Sir Barton led wire to wire and landed in the winner’s circle (right). Four days later, on May 14, he took the Preakness in Baltimore, and followed that with a record-setting run in the Belmont Stakes June 11. No horse had ever won these three races—known as the Triple Crown—in a single season, and the thoroughbred racing industry named Sir Barton its Horse of the Year. The glory was short-lived. Sir Barton’s uneven 1920 season ended with a crushing loss in a head-to-head race with über-horse Man o’ War. Sir Barton retired, was a dud as a stud and ended his working days in the U.S. Army’s horse training and breeding program in Nebraska.
Originally published in the June 2012 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.