The times have been few when a thoroughbred comes to a “classic” race with an unbeaten record and his owner wavers about even racing him.
[cleeng_content id="899310028" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]The most famous of such cases happened in 1969 when the owner was Canandian oilman Frank McMahon and he had listened intently to his trainer and the jockey of his thoroughbred, Majestic Prince.
Johnny Longden was the trainer. He was a retired jockey whose riding exploits would gain him entry into the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame. Majestic Prince’s jockey was also a future Hall of Famer. He was a man who minced no words, so McMahon listened when Bill Hartack told him that it didn’t matter that the robust chestnut had won the Kentucky Derby and then the Preakness, he had injured a leg in the Preakness to the extent that he shouldn’t run in the Belmont Stakes.
McMahon said he would skip the chance to own the first Triple Crown champion since Citation in 1948. He would follow Longden’s advice and return to California where with the proper rest and care Majestic Prince could resume racing later in the year.
Ever the showman and limelight chaser, McMahon said, “We wanted a Triple Crown, not a Crippled Crown.”
The New York press and other media saw the chance for weeks of unrivaled news and stories flying away to California. Just after the Preakness was history, thousands of words were written and screams of protest followed McMahon after he made his not-to-run decision clear.
One particularly critical headline above a story appeared in Sports Illustrated magazine. Called “The Prince Ducks the Big One,” the article roundly criticized McMahon. And the media stepped up its badgering.
After an open shouting bout with Longden that was heard by many, McMahon held a one-man press conference and announced with some bravado that, indeed, Majestic Prince would run in the Belmont.
Neither Longden nor Hartack had anything further to say until the Belmont had been run and Majestic Prince had a 5 1/2-length loss to Arts and Letters.
Said Hartack, who had gotten his race-riding start at the little Charles Town Turf Club on fifth Avenue in Ranson, “The horse was hurting. We should never have run.”
Longden, the only person ever to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness as both a jockey and trainer, gave his opinion. “Majestic Prince had what was called a check ligament in his right front. When he bore out in the Preakness, that was a warning. We never should have run him in the Belmont.”
His second-place finish in the Belmont was the only time in 10 lifetime starts that “The Prince” didn’t win.
Longden later told of his attempts to make Majestic Prince “right” and return him to racing, even if it took until 1970 to do it. But the 1,170-pound copper-colored Adonis never came back.
Instead, he was sold to a syndicate for $1.8 million and went off to Spendthrift Farm in Lexington. Ironically, among the 33 stakes winners he sired was Coastal, who won the Belmont Stakes.
Right from the outset of his life, Majestic Prince was a prized foal. His family tree was supported by his sire, Raise a Native, and his grandsire, Native Dancer. A generation or two before the once-beaten Native Dancer were Nearco (sire of Northern Dancer), Hyperion, Mahmoud, Teddy and Black Polly.
Speculators were near-unanimous in their evaluations of what they thought would be his future stardom.
McMahon paid a then-record $250,000 for him at a 1967 yearling auction at Keeneland.
He only raced twice at age two, but then the next year Hartack guided him to calculated wins in California.
After reeling off victories in the the San Vincente and Stepping Stone, he was stepped up to the Santa Anita Derby. He won that much-watched race by eight lengths.
With his spotless seven wins in seven races record, Majestic Prince was part of a highly regarded group that came to the 1969 Kentucky Derby.
Joining with Arts and Letters, Top Knight and Dike, Majestic Prince and those three had chased off all but four others.
Only eight thoroughbreds contested The Derby. In a rousing stretch run with Arts and Letters alongside, “The Prince” won by a neck.
Only eight entries graced the Preakness where the home stretch much resembled The Derby as Majestic Prince defeated Arts and Letters by a nose to remain unbeaten and brought about the frenzy concerning his not running in the Belmont Stakes.
Trainer Longden told the media to go back and watch a replay of the Preakness and see the evidence of The Prince “bearing out” as a reaction to pain in one of his front legs.
As we now know, owner McMahon couldn’t pass up the temptation to go after the Triple Crown. That ill-fated circumstance saw Majestic Prince lose his unbeaten streak, miss the Triple Crown and never race again.
Even with only six thoroughbreds entered in the Belmont, the leg injury prevented a victory.
Longden and Hartack are in the Hall of Fame. So is “The Prince.” McMahon is not.[/cleeng_content]