In 1957, there was a “Big Three” of thorougbred racing.
[cleeng_content id="502361189" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]The 3-year-old crop that year was dominated Bold Ruler, Round Table and Gallant Man. All three were eventually selected to the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame.
Bold Ruler sired Secretariat. Round Table was a history-making scion on the track as well as a sire whose sons and daughters won many stakes races.
Gallant Man didn’t receive the notice or the raves of his two contemporaries. But he was just as influential on the track in his two years of races.
One of the reasons Gallant Man didn’t hit the headlines as often as either Bold Ruler or Round Table was because he was foaled in Ireland and his pedigree showed stallions and broodmares from Europe instead of Kentucky or California.
Another reason he wasn’t set afloat in media ink and attention was because of his small stature and muddy brown color that were far from distinguishing.
His ankles were troublesome and his feet gave him trouble.
And after he fell far from the money in his first two races, Gallant Man had spotted his American rivals too many lengths in any battle for being well-known.
His third race produced a win and he seemed ready for the challenge of Bold Ruler in the last prep race for the Kentucky Derby, the Wood Memorial in New York.
The Ruler and Gallant Man staged a theatrical Wood Memorial. In the middle of that race, Ward and Gallant Man were locked in a stride-for-stride, flank-to-flank battle through the whole of the stretch.
Trainer John Nerud had been given the assignment to raise Gallant Man’s competitive level. He was at Belmont Park watching as the 300-yard duel was finally claimed by Bold Ruler.
In the race, Bold Ruler and the smallish Gallant Man ran as if yoked by an invisible band. The margin of victory was Bold Ruler’s nose.
Both the thoroughbred talents would refresh their rivalry in the 1957 Kentucky Derby. Both had the momentum of the stirring Wood Memorial stretch drive to lift them to Churchill Downs.
Gallant Man became famous in the Kentucky Derby. And he didn’t win the race. His jockey, Californian Bill Shoemaker, would become infamous.
The “Big Three” were there. They were supposed to be joined by Calumet Farm’s Gen. Duke, but he was withdrawn because of an injury. Instead, the cherry red silks of Calumet were worn by jockey Bill Hartack who rode Iron Liege. Federal Hill would also be a factor in the race.
As the drama unfolded, it was Iron Liege and Gallant Man outrunning Bold Ruler and Round Table through the deep stretch. At the sixteenth pole, as the two leaders ran practically in tandem, Shoemaker misjudged the finish line. For a few brief seconds he stood in the irons, signaling to Gallent Man that the race was over.
When he realized his grievous mistake, he dropped down and furiously roused the little brown again.
It was too late.
Iron Liege swept past the finish line. He was ahead. He was the 1957 Kentucky Derby winner and Shoemaker was the goat not only for the first Saturday in May of 1957 but for many Kentucky Derbies to follow.
Five weeks later in the “Test of Champions” — the 12-furlong Belmont Stakes — Gallant Man dusted a field that included Bold Ruler, and he set the race records that stood until Secretariat came along in 1973.
Later, he would finish his 3-year-old campaign with five stakes wins.
As a four-year-old, he would continue to make headlines despite increasingly weak ankles and problem feet. At four, he won the Hollywood Gold Cup, Sunset Handicap and Metropolitan Mile.
Retired after finishing his 4-year-old season, he would sire 52 stakes winners.
He was selected to the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame in 1987. Jockey Shoemaker and trainer Nerud joined him in the selective honor of also being inductees into the Saratoga Hall.
Gallant Man had won at the sprinter’s distance of six furlongs. He also won at two miles.
Yet, his notoriety still comes largely from the unfortunate finish in the Kentucky Derby. Shoemaker rode on until way past his 50th birthday. His achievements were enough to roundly receive the cheers accorded to one of the world’s greatest jockeys.
Gallant Man was the little thoroughbred that was robbed of a Kentucky Derby victory. But his fame was little diminished by that human mistake.