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Underappreciated Horse Racing Stars of 20th Century: Cavalcade, Granville, and Myrtlewood

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Few decades resonate still in the consciousness of sports, yet many of the names and faces of the 1930s remain well known to this day. From Lou Gehrig to Jesse Owens to Joe Louis, that 10-year period gave us Seabiscuit, War Admiral, Gallant Fox, and more.

As states approved racing and parimutuel wagering to help fight the economic deficits of the Great Depression, the sport expanded from sea to shining sea and a long list of star racehorses came with it.

Alongside stars like Omaha and Discovery were three horses who also made history in the 1930s. A female owner of note, a dominant stable, and a superstar racemare all were part of the rich tapestry of the decade that brought the sport innovations like the starting gate and the photo finish camera, an exciting introduction to the sport as 21st century fans know it.

Cavalcade (1931-1940)

Much like Regret, Cavalcade was technically a New Jersey-bred, but his route there was a rather circuitous one. His dam, Hastily, was an unraced daughter of Hurry On, an English stakes winner and stallion, who went on the auction block at Newmarket in December 1930. In foal to Derby runner-up Lancegaye, she fetched 1,100 guineas from American breeder F. Wallis Armstrong, who brought her back to his Meadowview Farm in Morristown, N.J. There, Hastily foaled a brown colt with two short white socks on March 24, 1931, the colt who would ultimately be named Cavalcade.

As a yearling, Armstrong sold Hastily’s colt at the Saratoga Yearling Sale for $1,200 to trainer Robert Smith, who was buying on behalf of his employer, Brookmeade Stable. In the 1930s, an era that saw innovations like the starting gate and historic firsts like Mary Hirsch’s trainer license, Brookmeade was another of those notables: it was owned by Isabel Dodge Sloane, Dodge Motors heiress and sportswoman who played both golf and tennis and owned a stellar stable of steeplechase and flat racehorses.

In the Brookmeade colors, Cavalcade’s 2-year-old season was one of almosts, where he finished second in races like the Sanford Stakes and Eastern Shore Handicap and placed in three other stakes while also winning the Hyde Park Stakes at Arlington Park. In his 3-year-old season, though, he took Sloane’s success on the flat to another level.

At 3, he won the Kentucky Derby over future Hall of Famer Discovery and Peace Chance, who would go on to win the Belmont Stakes that year. Then he followed that with a second in the Preakness and then victories in the American and Detroit Derbys and the Arlington Classic. At year’s end, he was considered the nation’s best horse and helped make Sloane the sport’s leading owner, a first.

A quarter crack in the latter half of his 3-year-old season sidelined Cavalcade until the following year. He started only twice in both 1935 and 1936, lingering issues making him increasingly difficult to train. Sloane retired him to stud at her Upperville, Virginia farm, where he stood for three seasons. In October 1940, she transferred Cavalcade to Shandon Stud near Lexington, Ky., but he contracted “shipping fever,” or a respiratory illness that possibly caused pneumonia, and died two weeks later. Sloane buried the Derby winner at her Virginia farm.

Cavalcade would not be the only horse Sloane would send to the Derby, but he became her only Derby winner, alongside her other classic wins, with High Quest in the 1934 Preakness and Sword Dancer in the 1959 Belmont Stakes. He also became one of Brookmeade’s three Hall of Famers in 1993, joining both Bowl of Flowers and Sword Dancer on the list of racing’s best horses.

Granville (1933-1951)

Belair Stud might be best known for its two Triple Crown winners, the father-son duo of Gallant Fox and Omaha, but William Woodward’s stable had more than just those two champions in the barn of trainer “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons. The year after Omaha’s trip through the Triple Crown classics, Granville, another colt sired by Gallant Fox, became a star for the white with red polka dots.

At 2, Granville needed five starts to break his maiden, finally getting his first win at Aqueduct in September 1935, his only victory that season. He then started his 3-year-old campaign with an allowance win before finishing second by a nose in the Wood Memorial. He followed his sire’s path through the Triple Crown, much as Omaha had done the year before, but the same level of success eluded him. He dropped rider Jimmy Stout at the start of the Kentucky Derby, losing his chance to be Woodward’s third winner, and then finished second by a nose to Derby winner Bold Venture in the Preakness.

Two weeks after the Preakness and a week before his turn in the Belmont, Granville faced older horses in the Suburban Handicap, again finishing second by a nose to Firethorn, who had finished behind Omaha in two of the three classics the year before. He then captured the Belmont Stakes, giving Belair its fourth victory in that race in less than a decade. Following his sire’s path through the second half of his 3-year-old season, Granville would take the Saratoga Cup, the Arlington Classic, the Kenner Stakes, and the Lawrence Realization. He even did Gallant Fox one better and won the Travers Stakes.

An ankle injury after his Lawrence Realization win meant the end of Granville’s racing career, but his stellar 3-year-old season earned him the first official title of Horse of the Year as well as 3-year-old champion. With Gallant Fox already at stud and Omaha soon to join him, Woodward opted to lease Granville to Kenneth Gilpin, who stood the Belair stallion at his Kentmere Farm in Virginia. He moved twice more, eventually becoming a part of the Remount Service stallion band in New Mexico.

Myrtlewood (1932-1950)

Everything about Myrtlewood, from her pedigree to her owner to her carriage, spoke royalty. A daughter of Blue Larkspur, Belmont Stakes winner for Colonel E.R. Bradley, she was known for her speed, setting or equaling five track records and a world record for six furlongs. She was best at distances from six to eight furlongs and counted rivals like Seabiscuit among the horses she vanquished. Even bigger than her impact on the racetrack was what she did in the breeding shed.  

She was bred by Brownell Combs, whose family’s association with the sport dated back to his grandfather General Leslie Combs, who had served as president of the Lexington Association track, the predecessor to Keeneland. He counted Daniel Swigert of Elmendorf Farm, breeder of the great Spendthrift, as an ancestor. Among his broodmare band was Frizeur, a daughter of 1912 Two Thousand Guineas winner Sweeper II out of Frizette. The mating of Blue Larkspur and Frizeur produced Myrtlewood, a tall bay filly who was “robust and powerful, but of fine lines and proportions,” according to racing historian John Hervey.

Myrtlewood had just four starts at 2, winning twice and coming in third behind fellow filly Nellie Flag in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. At 3, she raced mostly in the Chicago area, making the rounds of Arlington, Hawthorne, and Lincoln Fields. She set a world record for six furlongs that season, lowering the mark to 1:09 2/5 at Arlington Park. That next season, she won a series of handicaps, including the Keen Handicap at Keeneland, and the Ashland Stakes while setting two more track records that season. She even showed her heels to horses like Discovery and Roman Soldier in her three seasons on the track.

Beyond those 22 races and her wins and records, Myrtlewood stands among one of the great broodmares of the 20th century, producing 11 foals. As Spendthrift Farm’s foundation mare, she foaled horses like Miss Dogwood, winner of the 1942 Kentucky Oaks who later became the third dam (maternal great-grandmother) of breed-shaping sire Mr. Prospector through her granddaughter Gold Digger. Another daughter Crepe Myrtle would become the third dam of My Charmer, the mare who produced 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.  

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