Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Fair Grounds

The Fair Grounds Racetrack and Casino in New Orleans, Louisiana offers classic Thoroughbred racing from November through March every year. Last year, they offered a short Quarter Horse meet in August for the first time and it was met with great excitement. This track is the third oldest racing facility in the nation, having opened in 1872. With a track as historic as the Fair Grounds, there are bound to be great stories that have happened here.

One of those stories is that of Black Gold, a game little horse who won the Kentucky Derby, the Louisiana Derby, the Ohio Derby and the Chicago Derby all in his 3rd year… the only horse to win the Derbies in four different states. Black Gold was foaled in 1921, the result of the mating of Black Toney, one of the country's best sires at the time, with Useeit, a mare who was banned from racing when her owner denied a claim for her in a race. Before his death, her owner, Al Hoots, had a dream that she would bear a foal that would win the Kentucky Derby. His wife made sure she was bred to the stallion in question, and Black Gold's story began.

His first race was run at the Fair Grounds racetrack. On January 8, 1923, Black Gold handily won his maiden race under the tutelage of trainer Hanley Webb. In March of 1924, Black Gold easily overcame his competition on the muddy fields of the Louisiana Derby, winning by six lengths. When he won the Kentucky Derby, his owner, Rosa Hoots, became the first Native American woman to have bred and owned a Kentucky Derby winner. He went on an amazing campaign that year in several states, beating many of the top horses of the day. His record of winning four Derbies in four different states stood for decades.

Like his sire, Black Gold was overraced and developed a quarter crack in his hoof. As his abilities waned, it was decided that Black Gold would be retired to stud. Unfortunately, like some of the other top horses of the day, it turned out that he was sterile.

In 1927, Black Gold was once again on the track, but he never made the board in the three starts he made that year. Nevertheless, he refused to give up. While he was not physically in form, his spirit remained undaunted. On January 18, 1928, Black Gold stepped onto the Fair Grounds racetrack for another game try. As he attempted to gain in the stretch, he broke his leg. Running on three legs and a heart, he continued on to the wire. His leg was utterly ruined, and he had to be destroyed.

Black Gold was buried in the infield of the Fair Grounds… the scene of his first win, one of his most magnificent wins, and his final defeat. To this day he rests not far from the sixteenth pole, near the remains of Pan Zareta, his mother's old rival.

To this day, every January the Fair Grounds hosts the Black Gold Stakes. The winning jockey puts flowers on Black Gold's tomb, accompanied by the descendants of Rosa Hoots.

No comments: