January 5, 2011

Prior to her victory in the 1980 Kentucky Derby, unbeaten filly Genuine Risk tested her mettle against males for the first time, in the Wood Memorial—and finished a strong third behind Plugged Nickle and Colonel Moran. That performance was good enough to convince her connections to enter her in the Derby, which she won with ease—the first filly in 65 years to win the “Run for the Roses.”

Thirty-three years before Genuine Risk’s Wood Memorial run, another filly (albeit one already with success against her male counterparts) was similarly tested, and narrowly missed becoming the only filly to win what is now New York’s most important spring test for 3-year-olds. Named for the young daughter of Eddie Arcaro—the jockey who rode her for much of her career—Carolyn A. was a potent race mare who looked well on her way to a brilliant broodmare career when she tragically died 20 days after birthing her first foal—a colt who replicated his dam’s Wood performance, while unfortunately running against arguably the greatest race horse of the twentieth century.

Carolyn A.’s sire Questionnaire was a New York legend, having won (among other races) two of the three legs of the New York Handicap Triple Crown in 1931 (the Metropolitan and Brooklyn handicaps) and finishing second in the Suburban. As a juvenile, he had lost the Lawrence Realization by a nose to subsequent Triple Crown victor Gallant Fox, and finished third behind him in the Belmont Stakes, but with Gallant Fox off to stud, Questionnaire bloomed into a serious handicap horse, although he failed to win championship honors, having the misfortune to be racing at a time when first Sun Beau and then Equipose dominated.

A decent race mare, her dam Albania (by the leading broodmare sire Bull Dog) excelled at stud for owner Ben F. Whitaker, producing 10 starters, all winners, including 1945 Roamer Handicap winner Chief Barker (Sickle). Her daughters produced stakes winners such as Gravesend-winning sire Distinctive , 1953 champion 3-year-old filly Grecian Queen, and 16-stakes race winner My Request. Among her descendents is even an Epsom Derby winner, the ingloriously-named Benny the Dip.

However, with a record of 8 wins (6 places, 8 shows) in 41 starts and $140,615 in earnings, Carolyn A. was Albania’s most successful runner. At two, she won the Demoiselle, but it was her 3-year-old campaign that revealed her true grit. Just one week after winning the 8.5 furlong Black Gold Purse at the Fair Grounds, Carolyn A. rallied from the back of the pack to streak to victory in the 1947 Louisiana Derby—the first filly to win that race (only Grecian Princess in 1964 would replicate the feat).

Thus, on April 19, Carolyn A. entered the first division of the Wood Memorial as an 18-1 shot. Unfortunately, also entered in the 10-horse field was subsequent Belmont Stakes winner Phalanx who, in the second-fastest clocking of the Wood (only Count Fleet’s had been faster), beat her by one and a half lengths. It would not be the last time the two met. However, it would not happen in the Kentucky Derby, although Daily Racing Form writer Charles Hatton rightly noted in his May 1 column “Judge's Stand” that “Carolyn A. is better qualified to start than are some of the colts, if anybody cares to make a point of it.”

After next finishing runner-up to lightweight (104 lbs. to her 121 lbs.) Harmonica in the Wistful, Carolyn A. soured, finishing well-back as the 9-10 favorite in the Acorn, scratched out of the Withers, and was never a threat in her subsequent autumn races.

As a 4-year-old, she returned with a vengeance, upsetting the Correction Handicap in April (paying $26.20 winning over favored Ocean Brief) and defeating the great 6-year-old Gallorette by 3 lengths in the Firenze Handicap. Gallorette would go on to win the Carter and Whitney handicaps that season, but, in October, Carolyn A. would defeat her again, this time while running second to Donor in the stakes race named for her sire, the Questionnaire Handicap at Jamaica racetrack (where she also defeated Phalanx).

Her summer foray at Saratoga included a victory over the sensational Miss Grillo in the Diana, a race that also featured Kentucky Oaks victress Challe Anne and English Oaks winner Imprudence II. It was to be her last win, however. That autumn, Carolyn A. placed in the Busher (third) and Comely (third), as well as finished third behind Phalanx in the Empire City Gold Cup—a race that was to be the 12th consecutive victory for Triple Crown victor and 1948 Horse of the Year, Citation.

Sent off to Charles Nuckols & Sons’ Hurstland Farm in Midway, Kentucky, she was bred to 1945 Preakness winner Polynesian, and, on April 18, 1950, her first foal was born. His name: Tahitian King. Unfortunately, Carolyn A. was killed in a “breeding paddock accident” little more than a fortnight after his birth, so Tahitian King grew up fostered by a Percheron mare.

A dynamic juvenile, Tahitian King won his first three starts at Belmont (including the National Stallion Stakes) before moving on to Saratoga where, on August 9, he captured the United States Hotel Stakes under the guidance of Eddie Arcaro. Two weeks later, in the Grand Union Hotel Stakes, he met another unbeaten son of Polynesian, a gray bullet named Native Dancer—and the rest is history.

In three years of racing, Native Dancer won 21 of 22 starts, his only defeat to Dark Star in the 1953 Kentucky Derby. However, that autumn of his juvenile year, Native Dancer defeated both Tahitian King and Dark Star in the Futurity at Belmont Park, equaling the world record for 6.5 furlongs in the effort. It was a superlative effort, charging through a narrow opening to wrangle in Tahitian King, and win by just over two lengths. Dark Star finished another four lengths back in third.

At three, Tahitian King won his first effort, at the Fair Grounds, but was withheld by his owner Texas oilman Ben F. Whitaker from the Louisiana Derby as “not ready” with only one race after a four-month layoff (he had suffered a leg injury—and out of the money—in the previous year’s Champagne Stakes). Back in New York, he won an allowance race at Jamaica before failing just five days later in the Experimental Free Handicap—a race in which, it turns out, he suffered a knee injury.

That didn’t stop him from running in the Wood Memorial, though, where Arcaro jumped off Tahitian King, in favor of Native Dancer’s stablemate Social Outcast. It was thus Canadian jockey Hedley Woodhouse who guided the pace-setting Tahitian King to his well-beaten runner-up finish against the Dancer. Plans to run in the Derby where scrapped, and the colt remained in New York where he won the 52nd running of the Swift Stakes on May 11. However, after Dark Star’s upset victory in the Derby, Whitaker decided to attempt the Preakness in spite of his colt’s sore feet. It didn’t go well, as Tahitian King finished well behind Native Dancer, in sixth-place.

Back in New York, he was nipped out of second money in the Peter Pan, and then finished out of the money in the Shevlin. Giving up a whopping 20 lbs. to his rivals, he ran third in a handicap race at Jamaica on the Questionnaire Handicap undercard in July, and then finished out of the money in the Saranac Handicap. After 17 months off, Tahitian King re-emerged at Tropical Park in Florida in December 1954, managing a second-place finish in his belated 4-year-old debut, but the new year did not bode well for his comeback, as he finished a well-beaten sixth in the January 4 Shelborne Purse. He never raced again. In 21 starts, he won 7 times, with 5 places and 3 shows, and earned $103,565. He did his dam proud.

Sources Consulted:

“Carolyn A. Takes Louisiana Derby” New York Times, March 9, 1947, p. S4.

“50,840 Jam Jamaica: Favored Phalanx Beats Carolyn A. in First Division of Wood” New York Times, April 20, 1947, p. S1.

Charles Hatton, “Judge's Stand” DRF, May 1, 1947, p. 32.

“Carolyn A. Captures Correction Handicap by Half Length” New York Times, April 8, 1948, p. 36.

“Carolyn A. Leads Home Gallorette by 3 Lengths in Firenze Handicap” New York Times, May 9, 1948, p. S1.

“Carolyn A. Shows Way to Miss Grillo by Length in Diana Handicap” New York Times, August 19, 1948, p. 26.

“Citation Captures Gold Cup by 2 Lengths over Phalanx” New York Times, October 17, 1948, p. S1.

“Undefeated Juvenile Equals World Mark in 8th Victory” New York Times, September 28, 1952, p. S1.

“Whitaker’s Tahitian King Takes the 52nd Running of the Swift Stakes at Belmont Park” New York Times, May 12, 1953, p. 33.

“Preakness Choice Reaches Pimlico” New York Times, May 20, 1953, p. 36.


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