With Calumet Farm, one of thoroughbred racing’s real icons, back in the news lately it brings to mind a filly the one-time fortress sent out to beat its own Triple Crown champion, Citation.
Calumet is within a long javelin throw of stylish Keeneland Race Course on the outer rim of Lexington, Ky. The stakes-winning “factory” once churned out Kentucky Derby winners and even Triple Crown champions like the state of Georgia churned out peanuts and fire ants.
Calumet was all but unstoppable.
Its immaculate stables, barns, and out buildings were home to no fewer than 11 thoroughbreds that have been selected to the U. S. Museum and Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga.
“Mr. Longtale” (Whirlaway) was a Calumet star . . . as were Ponder, Coaltown, Armed, Alydar and maybe the best of all, Citation.
For decades, Calumet had competition at the top from the Whitneys, Vanderbilts, and Paul Mellon but mostly stood above them all in yearly stakes wins, earnings from its roster of champions, and visits to winner’s circles in prestigious races.
In 1947 and 1948, Citation and Coaltown had competition from one of their own. In fact the Calumet filly, Bewitch, actually dealt Citation his only defeat as a two-year-old when she won the Washington Park Futurity.
Calumet’s longtime trainer was gentlemanly Ben Jones. Jones kept the colts to himself in 1948 and turned the racing life of Bewitch over to his son, Jimmy. The father and son combination collaborated on a schedule that kept Bewitch out of the Triple Crown series.
It was Citation taking all three legs of that year’s Triple Crown races. And Citation would run up a string of 16 straight racing wins.
The Joneses had thought long and hard on Bewitch as a Triple Crown possibility. She had won four stakes at age two. At three, she won five more stakes events.
Even then, she wasn’t retired. At age four she recorded another three stakes victories. At age five she raced from New York to Kentucky to Illinois to Florida. And at age six, she raced another 15 times with 12 of those efforts coming against colts. Upon retirement, her earnings were an America-best $462,605. No other female had won as much money.
In 1977 she joined both of Calumet’s Jonses in the Saratoga-based Hall of Fame.
Throughout the decades that included the mid-1930s until the early 1970s even on-the-fringe followers of racing knew of Calumet’s gleaming buildings with their fresh coats of white paint and red-trimmed porticos. The cherry red silks of Warren and Lucille Wright were carried to so many victories that Calumet led the nation in money-earnings for a dozen years beginning in 1950.
When Mrs. Wright passed away in 1982, Calumet went into a steep decline and its thinned base of thoroughbreds won only a few times and was almost completely absent from the Triple Crown limelight.
In the decade from 1990-2000 the farm bent so low it actually had to declare bankruptcy. In 2000, the owner and the farm’s retained attorney and chief financial officer were convicted of bribery and fraud and were sentenced to prison terms.
Calumet was in danger of being sold and could have become lots for a housing development. That didn’t happen . . . and just recently the farm was purchased by a man who claims to have the resources and resolve to bring Calumet back toward the top of racing.
The red-trimmed cupolas are still in place. The numerous white buildings are still spread across the bluegrass landscape.
And the long ago years when Jimmy and Ben Jones were saddling the many champions that earned Calumet the reputation of being the General Motors or New York Yankees of thoroughbred racing could finally be returned to national prominence.