THE TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY OF THE WOODWARD DYNASTY

The 2010 Belmont Stakes marks the 80th anniversary and the 75th anniversary, respectively, of the Triple Crown achievements of Gallant Fox and Omaha. In a remarkable feat, the colts were father and son and were bred by the same farm, the Belair Stud of banking tycoon William Woodward Sr. (located in Prince Georges County, Maryland near Washington, DC), and had the same trainer, the legendary Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. Both colts were foaled in Kentucky at the famous Hancock family Claiborne Farm.

Gallant Fox came into the Preakness, which was the first leg of the Triple Crown in 1930, with eight starts and a record of three wins, two places, two shows, and one out of the money. In the first outing of his 3-year-old campaign, the Wood Memorial at Jamaica racetrack, Fitzsimmons changed jockeys and retained Hall of Famer Earle Sande to ride. Sande and Gallant Fox won the Wood and Sande was up in all of Gallant Fox’s races thereafter.

Gallant Fox won the Preakness on May 9 by 1 ¾ lengths. Eight days later, on May 17, he won the Kentucky Derby by two lengths. He completed the Triple Crown on June 7, becoming the second colt to do so, by leading the Belmont virtually the entire 1 ½ miles and drawing away by 3 lengths. The Daily Racing Form described Gallant Fox’s Kentucky Derby and Belmont efforts in an identical manner: “Speed in reserve.”

Gallant Fox would race six more times in 1930 and then be retired to stud. He won five of these stakes, losing only to Jim Dandy in the Travers by eight lengths while conceding six pounds to the winner. His lifetime record was 17 starts with 11 wins, three seconds, and two thirds and earnings of $328,165.

From Gallant Fox’s first crop of 18 foals came Omaha. Trainer Fitzsimmons sent Omaha to the Kentucky Derby on May 4, 1935, with 11 previous starts. He won under jockey Willie “Smokey” Saunders by 1 ½ lengths in what the Daily Racing Form described as “easily,” which was the same description the Form used to describe his six-length win in the Preakness exactly one week later. Two weeks after that, Omaha ran second in the Withers at Belmont Park. On June 8, he became the third Triple Crown winner by stalking the pace to take the Belmont by 1 ½ lengths. In 1936, Omaha was sent to Great Britain, where his record was two wins and two close seconds in top flight stakes under the tutelage of trainer Cecil Boyd-Rochfort.

Omaha was retired on July 2, 1936 after getting beat a neck in the Princess of Wale’s Stake at Newmarket. His lifetime record was 22 starts with nine wins, seven seconds, and two thirds and earnings of $154,755.

The Blood-Horse ranked Gallant Fox as the 28th best American Thoroughbred of the 20th century and Omaha as the 61st best. Both father and son were elected to the Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga Springs, New York. Omaha is the only Triple Crown winner not to be named Horse of the Year; he lost that honor in 1935 to the 4-year-old Discovery, who beat Omaha in the Brooklyn Handicap.

Gallant Fox stood at stud for 22 years and was a very productive stallion, siring not only Omaha but 1936 Horse of the Year Granville. Gallant Fox died in 1957 at the age of 30.

Omaha was a disappointment at stud, starting out in Kentucky and dying in Nebraska in 1959 at age 27. He was buried at the now-defunct Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack in Omaha on what is today part of the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus. A grave marker is next to a classroom, although the exact location of Omaha’s burial on the old Ak-Sar-Ben site is in dispute.

William Woodward Sr. died in 1953 and Belair Stud passed on to his son William Woodward Jr., known as Billy. He inherited a yearling by the name of Nashua. In 1955, with 80-year-old Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons training, Nashua won the Preakness and Belmont (after losing to the brilliant Swaps in the Kentucky Derby). Billy Woodward’s luck changed fast and took a turn for the worst.

On the night of October 30, 1955, Billy and his wife Ann attended a party for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in the tony Oyster bay neighborhood on Long Island. After apparently arguing at the get-together, they returned after midnight to their nearby mansion and retired to their separate bedrooms. What transpired about two hours later, Life magazine referred to as the “Shooting of the Century” and three novels were subsequently based on it, including one by Truman Capote.

The mansions in the area had been plagued with burglaries and the Woodwards armed themselves for protection. Ann, awakened by her barking dog, got out of bed and ventured into the hallway, where she said she saw a “shadowy figure” near the door to Billy’s room. She fired both barrels of her 12-gauge shotgun and instantly killed her 35-year-old husband.

The aftermath was full of accusations and acrimony about whether the shooting was really an accident, albeit Ann was never charged (click here to read more). Nashua was put up for sale and became the first horse ever to be auctioned off for more than a million dollars, to a syndicate headed by Leslie Combs of Spendthrift Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. The storied Woodward racing dynasty was over.

Copyright © 2010 Horse Racing Business

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