KENTUCKY DERBY HISTORY: 1957

The 1957 Kentucky Derby field included three of the best-ever American racehorses and an astonishing finish prophesied in a dream.

This ’57 Derby is considered to have had the best field in the history of the race.  More remarkable is that the race-week favorite, Calumet Farm’s General Duke, was scratched the morning of the race with a bruised foot that he suffered four days earlier in the Derby Trial.

The Derby entrants included Hall of Fame horses Bold Ruler, Gallant Man, and Round Table, plus seven other entries, one of which was Calumet Farm’s backup to General Duke, Iron Liege.  Nine of the ten entries had equaled or set at least one track record.

Another distinction for the 1957 Kentucky Derby is that it had one of the most bizarre endings.  Bill Shoemaker, riding Gallant Man, caught front-running Iron Liege at about the sixteenth pole but misjudged the finish line and briefly stood up in the stirrups.  Shoemaker’s error allowed Bill Hartack and Iron Liege to win the race.

The race chart comment was:

“Iron Liege…took command during the (stretch) drive and, responding to strong handling, held Gallant Man safe but with little left.  Gallant Man…moved up determinedly in the early stretch, reached the lead between calls, and was going stoutly when the rider misjudged the finish and could not overtake Iron Liege when back on stride.”

Round Table was third and Bold Ruler fourth.

Several nights prior to Derby Day, Gallant Man’s owner, Ralph Lowe, had a dream that Shoemaker stood up in the stirrups…a premonition he personally conveyed to Shoemaker, who dismissed it.

Fourteen of the twenty-seven horses, jockeys, and trainers in the 1957 Kentucky Derby are in the Hall of Fame.  The book Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century lists Round Table at 17, Bold Ruler at 19, and Gallant Man at 36.  General Duke, arguably the most talented 3-year-old racehorse of 1957, never raced again and was euthanized with a neurological disorder in 1958.  Iron Liege won 11 of 33 races, had a modest career at stud, and died in Japan in 1972.  Bold Ruler sired Secretariat.

I’ve always wondered whether Ralph Lowe’s telling Bill Shoemaker of his nightmare programmed the jockey’s mind, subliminally at least, to misjudge the finish line.  Not even Shoemaker could have answered that question.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

I’ll be posting a series of Kentucky Derby history stories (every Monday) from now through the first week in May.

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