Like fine wine, the thoroughbred Sun Beau aged well

There never was a question about the disposition and conduct of the long bay named Sun Beau. There might have been . . . because in his five years of racing he had eight trainers. Eight different trainers? What were the requirements demanded by owner Willis S. Kilmer? His standards must have been very unusual because even though he had seen trainers in his employ come and go, his thoroughbred Sun Beau held the American record for earnings ($376,744) when retired from racing.

Sun Beau

To put Sun Beau’s career earnings record in some perspective, his total (collected with 33 wins and 12 seconds) lasted for nine more years before it was broken by the indefatigable Seabiscuit.

Sun Beau was foaled in 1925. He was the grandson of the fabled Fair Play. It was Fair Play that also sired the most famous thoroughbred of the era — Man o’ War.

With Man o’ War and Fair Play in his immediate background, maybe owner Kilmer was within his rights when he expected much from Sun Beau.

In his first race in the splashy green, orange, and brown-sleeved silks of owner Kilmer, Sun Beau was being guided by the quickly-deposed Charles Carroll, who could have been labeled in a court room as “Trainer No. 1”.

It’s no wonder trainer Carroll wasn’t around long enough to be properly introduced to polite society. Sun Beau was not an overnight success. He was not a three-month success. Or a success of any stripe as a two-year-old because he won only one of four races. Mr. Carroll was promptly given directions to the unemployment line.

It was 1928 and Sun Beau was three. Along came “Trainer No. 2” in the person of Andrew Blakely. It seemed Mr. Blakely didn’t believe in coddling his lieges for he sent Sun Beau off to the races some 23 times. Twenty-three times in one year.

There were eight wins and six other in-the-money finishes that brought in nearly $80,000.

Owner Kilmer saw fit to place Sun Beau in the Kentucky Derby, where he was 11th, and the Preakness Stakes, where he was fifth. It was toward the end of the fall racing season that improvement could be noticed.

With owner Kilmer, it seemed change was inevitable . . . so along came “Trainer No. 3”, a man named W.S. “Doc” Crawford. “Doc” wasn’t long-suffering because he wouldn’t be around long enough to tell everybody to call him “Doc” instead of “W.S.”

As a four-year-old, Sun Beau set an American record for 1 1/4 in winning the Hawthorne Gold Cup for the first of three times. Also in 1929, there came victories in the Havre de Grace Handicap, the Washington Handicap, and the Aqueduct Handicap.

In his 14 tries at age four, Sun Beau collected six wins and was in the money 12 times while earning another $80,000.

The tall brown colt was still in good health. He had no infirmities. His legs were in fine shape. And so he kept racing at age five.

Kept racing? He went out 19 times. Trainers number four, five, and six drifted in and out of owner Kilmer’s hot seat. But Sun Beau was becoming a giant in the industry. He raced another 19 times, mostly being confined to the East and Midwest. And among his nine wins were successes in the Hawthorne Gold Cup for a second time, in the Washington Handicap a second time, and in the Toronto Autumn Cup before the days when a passport was needed to enter our supportive northern neighbor, Canada.

In 1931, the sport of racing was in a survival mode, just like so many of the corporations and businesses jolted by the Great Depression that had come in October of 1929. Andy Schuttinger was named Sun Beau’s seventh trainer on March 28, 1931. Ol’ Andy somehow got through a couple months before being replaced by No. 8, Jack Whyte.

Whyte presided over Sun Beau’s last nine races in 1931. The all-weather, all-racing-surfaces champion piloted on. There were another 14 starts that year. And a remarkable nine wins, including the Hawthorne Gold Cup, Arlington Handicap, and Philadelphia Handicap.

Sun Beau earned more money at age six than he had in any other single racing season.

Maybe there weren’t any more trainers willing to take the bait offered by owner Kilmer. Anyway, for whatever unstated reasons, Sun Beau was retired after going on at age six. He had raced 74 times and had those 33 winning trips.

For three consecutive years — 1929, 1930, and 1931 — he had been named the U. S. Champion Older Male Horse of the Year. None of his trainers had ever collected the “Most Patient Trainer on the Far Turn” award.

His popularity would have been more universal if the country and the world had not been enveloped by the debilitating Great Depression.

When Seabiscuit showed his obscure-to-riches rise a few years later, the country had climbed out of the deepest trenches caused by the collapse of the stock market and could give more attention to sports again.

When Seabiscuit retired nine years after Sun Beau had left, he was the first one to surpass the rangy bay’s career earnings.

Eight trainers. Five years on the track. He lived until 1943 — even outliving some of his many trainers and demanding owner, Willis Sharpe Kilmer.

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