Sports Illustrated featured an article on May 7, 1962 by the noted horse-racing writer Whitney Tower pertaining to the upcoming Kentucky Derby.  In an age way before the Internet, the Derby was actually run on Saturday, May 5, 1962, but Sports Illustrated published the May 7, 1962 issue the previous week.

Tower informed his readers that the eight candidates with “valid credentials” were “Sir Gaylord and his stablemate, the brilliant filly Cicada, Ridan, Sir Ribot, Decidedly, Sunrise County, Admiral’s Voyage and Donut King.  Add to this list Crimson Satan, though his excuses for losing are now wearing thinner than a second-hand kimono, and Royal attack. Clearly, the number of legitimate choices is limited.”

Tower focused his assessment on Sir Gaylord:

“The role of Derby favorite will almost certainly go to Sir Gaylord, who won last week’s Stepping Stone at Churchill Downs—a seven-furlong prep—by nearly two lengths over Sir Ribot.  Out of action since suffering an ankle injury at Hialeah after he won the Everglades, Sir Gaylord came within two-fifths of a second of the track record and was then officially timed over the Derby distance in 2:02 2/5.  (But a horseman sitting beside [trainer] Casey Hayes, who trains Sir Gaylord for Christopher T. Chenery, clocked the colt running out the mile in 1:34 3/5 and the mile and a quarter in 2:01 4/5.)  For a horse that had not raced in over two months that was impressive, to say the least.”

On the Friday morning before the Derby, heartbreak for Sir Gaylord’s connections ensued as the colt suffered a career-ending hairline fracture in his right foreleg.  Chenery, his owner, could have substituted future Hall-of-Famer Cicada in his place, but opted to run her in the Kentucky Oaks, which she won.

Sir Gaylord was impeccably bred, by the brilliant Turn-To and out of the Princequillo mare Somethingroyal, also the dam of Secretariat.  Thus Sir Gaylord was a half brother to Secretariat (sired by Bold Ruler).

It was no surprise that the blue-blooded Sir Gaylord was a highly successful sire in the United States and France, with his progeny including Sir Ivor, who won the 1968 Epsom Derby and became a champion broodmare sire in his own right.

The star-crossed Sir Gaylord won ten races from 18 starts and had earnings of $237,404, equivalent to nearly $2 million in 2017 dollars.  He died in France in 1981.

Intriguing questions abound in Kentucky Derby history:  What if Sir Gaylord had been able to run in the race?  Or Cicada in his place?

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

The series on Kentucky Derby history began on February 20 and ends on May 1.


On February 28, 2017, Churchill Downs, Inc. (CHDN) reported its operating results for the 2016 fiscal year, which commenced on January 1, 2016 and ended on December 31, 2016.

CHDN operates in six business segments:

  • Horse Racing, consisting of live racing at Churchill Downs, Arlington Park, and Fair Grounds Race Course.  Calder Race Course in Miami is owned by CHDN, but is managed by the Stronach Group.
  • Casinos, including five casinos, two hotels, a 50% stake in Miami Valley Gaming, and a 25% stake in Saratoga Holdings.  CHDN has gaming positions (slot machines, video poker, and table games) in seven states.
  • TwinSpires, the largest, legal mobile platform for online betting on horse racing in the United States and includes related businesses such as BRIS (handicapping information).
  • Big Fish Games, a global producer and distributor of social casino, casual, and mid-core free-to-play premium paid games for PC, MAC, and mobile devices.
  • Other Investments in such companies as United Tote.
  • Corporate.

In 2016, CHDN had aggregate net revenue of $1.3 billion compared to $1.21 billion in 2015.  Diluted earnings per share were $6.42 in 2016 versus $3.71 in 2015.

Net revenue for each of the six business segments were (in millions of dollars): Horse Racing, $268.1; Casinos, $332.8; TwinSpires, $221.9; Big Fish Gaming, $486.2; Other Investments, $20.8; and Corporate, $1.0.

Total EBITDA for CHDN in 2016 was $334.5 million.  The percentage shares of EBIDTA for the segments were:  Horse Racing, 23.8% ; Casinos, 37.6%; TwinSpires, 16.5%; Big Fish Gaming, 23.6% ; Other Investments, less than 1%; and Corporate, -2.4%.

When the horse racing and online betting segments are combined, they account for 38% of aggregate net revenue and 40% of total EBIDTA.

The five-year performance of CHDN common stock was far above average.  A $100 investment in CHDN stock on December 31, 2011 would have grown to $302.92 by the end of 2016.  By contrast, a $100 investment in the S & P 500 index would have been worth $191.18 and a $100 investment in the Russell 2000 index of small-capitalization stocks would have increased to $196.45.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


Silky Sullivan was a California-bred superstar as the 1958 Kentucky Derby approached, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated on April 28th and capturing the attention of people who were not fans of horse racing.  He was a muscular 16 hands-plus picture-perfect specimen known as the “California Comet” whose chestnut coat gleamed in the Golden State sun.

Silky Sullivan’s appeal was his running style, which was lagging far, far behind the field in the early part of races and then closing with a tremendous rush.  His trainer, Reggie Cornell, and his regular jockey, Bill Shoemaker, said that the colt would not respond to efforts to keep him closer to the pace.

In a 6 ½ furlong prep race for the Kentucky Derby, Silky Sullivan was 41 lengths behind after a quarter of a mile, and rallied to win.  Has a horse ever overcome such a gap in a sprint and won?  Doubtful.

In the Kentucky Derby, CBS televised the race using a split screen, with one screen focused on the field and the other screen showing the dawdling Silky Sullivan.

Prior to the Kentucky Derby, Silky Sullivan had won half his 14 starts.  In the Santa Anita Derby on March 8, 1958, his last race before the Kentucky Derby, the colt made up a 26-length deficit to win by three lengths at 1 1/8 miles.

Silky Sullivan went off in the Kentucky Derby as the co-favorite with Calumet Farm’s Tim Tam…and dashed his followers hopes by losing to Tim Tam by 20 lengths and finishing twelfth.  Tim Tam repeated the drubbing in the Preakness, beating Silky Sullivan by 15 lengths.

While Silky Sullivan had lost much of his mystique after the Derby and Preakness, he delighted his loyal fans by returning to California and winning two sprints with his come-from-behind style.

Silky Sullivan lived out his life as a breeding stallion of some note and was paraded for several years in front of adoring fans at California racetracks on St. Patrick’s Day.  He continued to receive fan mail for years after his 1958 campaign.  Silky Sullivan died in 1977 and was buried near the tote board at Golden Gates Field racetrack in San Francisco.

It is difficult today to imagine what it was like in 1958 when a charismatic racehorse was a household name.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

The series on Kentucky Derby history began on February 20 and ends on May 1.