Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Great Horse Battleship

Some of the great racehorses that came out of America did not race in the Triple Crown.  The somewhat unknown, Battleship was one of those.  He was the son of Man o' War, a small colt, just 15'1 and he is the only horse to have won both the American Grand National and the British Grand National steeplechase races.  Born in 1927, he made 55 starts, 24 wins, 10 placings. He entered the US Racing Hall of Fame in 1969. He began racing on the flat and changed to the jumps in 1933. Retired to stud in the US after the Grand National in 1938, he sired only 58 foals. He died in 1958 at 31.

Competing for his first owner through age four, he won ten of his twenty-two starts on the flat. An injury kept him out of competition for a year, and at the end of 1931 Walter Salmon sold Battleship to Marion DuPont Scott for $12,000. A member of the prominent and wealthy DuPonts of chemical manufacturing, DuPont had begun developing her Montpelier estate in Orange, Virginia, into what became one of the leading horse-training centers in the United States at the time. She developed a race course there that is still used each November, The Montpelier Races. Her brother developed the area around Fair Hill, Maryland.

Ms. DuPont had Battleship trained for steeplechase racing and entered his first competition in 1933. The horse showed promise, winning three of his four races that season. Then, in 1934, he won the American Grand National, the most prestigious steeplechase race in the U.S. at the time. Gentleman jockey Carroll K. Bassett rode Battleship in most of his major U.S. victories. Bassett was also an accomplished artist and sculpted a small bronze bust of Battleship in 1934.  Here is a horse made by Bassett.  Pretty good? You can learn more about this here.

In July 1936, Battleship was sent to England, where trainer Reginald "Reg" Hobbs began to prepare the horse, on the mend with a bowed tendon, for the 1937 Grand National. Battleship won several races in 1936 and 1937, but some critics remained unimpressed saying he "did not look like a stayer".
Hobbs was also convinced that Battleship was not ready for the Grand National in March 1937. He continued training and racing in England, winning five of his thirteen races and was entered into the 1938 Grand National. His competition in the 1938 race included Royal Mail winner of the 1937 Grand National, Royal Danieli, and Workman. Battleship beat Royal Danieli to win the race in a photo finish, completing the race in 9 minutes, 27 seconds. He was ridden by the young Bruce Hobbs who was the youngest rider to win the race at 17.  Battleship was also a stallion, unusual for a race like the National.  There have been only two winners and none since Battleship.

Here's a link to a video about his great win at Aintree.

In June 1938, Battleship returned to the U.S.

Following his 1938 Grand National victory, Battleship retired to stand at stud at DuPont's Montpelier estate.  Notably, he sired War Battle and Shipboard, steeplechase champions in 1947 and 1956 respectively, plus Sea Legs, winner of the 1952 American Grand National. He also sired the stakes winners Cap-A-Pie, Eolus, Floating Isle, Mighty Mo, Navigate, Navy Gun, Tide Rips, and Westport Point.

You can see Battleship's grave at Montpelier, a fitting place for such a fine champion not far from the main house once owned by James and Dolly Madison.  Retired racehorses also live on the estate, as was stipulated in DuPont's will.

Don't you love a great story? Battleship the movie?  Why not?

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