THE GLORY YEARS: 1940-1950
"Awesome" might best describe Calumet Farm from 1940 through 1950. Under the leadership of Warren Wright Sr., Ben Jones, and later his son, Horace A. "Jimmy" Jones, Calumet stormed to the forefront of Thoroughbred racing. During this period, Calumet led the list of Leading Money-Winning Owners seven times. In 1947 the farm became the first to exceed $1 million in purse earnings. In homebreds Whirlaway and Citation became racing's fifth and seventh Triple Crown winners. Two additional Kentucky Derby and Preakness trophies were captured by Calumet horses during this period. Calumet horses were selected as "Horse of the Year" five times, and 20 divisional titles were handed out to Calumet runners through 1950.
Warren Wright Sr. died on December 28, 1950, bringing to an end the greatest decade ever experienced by one farm in the history of American racing. In just 19 years he had built a turf giant. The solid foundation laid by Wright, the expertise of trainers Ben and Jimmy Jones, and the guidance of his widow, Lucille Parker Wright, would ensure Calumet's lofty position for yet another decade.
1940 - 1941
Entering 1940, Warren Wright Sr. had assembled all of the necessary tools to establish his racing dynasty. He had the trainer and he had the horses. The next 10 years proved to be the most glorious decade ever experienced by an American racing stable. Calumet had arrived. The farm emergence as a racing power was heralded in 1940 by Whirlaway, a 2-year-old colt by Blenheim II, out of Dustwhirl. Although somewhat erratic at 2, he captured 7 of his 16 starts, including the Saratoga Special and the Hopeful Stakes. His earnings for the year were $77,275.50, vaulting Calumet to third on the list of Leading Money-Winning Owners.
Whirlaway began his 1941 campaign with the same tendency to bolt toward the outside rail that he had exhibited as a 2 year-old. Ben Jones was able to correct this problem prior to the Kentucky Derby by modifying Whirlaway's blinkers, resulting in his 8-length Derby victory in a record time of 2:01 2/5. Whirlaway went on to become Calumet's first Triple Crown winner, finishing the year with 13 wins in 20 starts and capturing the 1941 Horse of the Year title.
Supported by a fine 2-year-old class including Some Chance (c.), Sun Again (c.), and Mar-Kell (f.), Whirlaway catapulted Calumet to its first number-one ranking on the list of Leading Money-Winning Owners with total earnings of $475,091.
1942 - 1943
Whirlaway returned in 1942, winning 12 of his 22 starts and again being voted Horse of the Year. On July 17, he became the world's leading money-winner by winning the Massachusets Handicap. By year's end he had amassed $560,911.50, making him racing's first $500,000 earner.
Bolstered by an excellent group of homebred fillies, 1943again found Calumet at the top of the list of leading money-winners. Two-year-old fillies Twlight Tear and Miss Keeneland joined with Nellie L. (f.,3) and Handicap Mare of 1943, Mar-Kell (f.,4), to help the farm post combined earnings of $267,940. In winning the Handicap Mare championship, Mar-Kell posted victories in four stakes races, including the prestigious Beldame Handicap.
Whirlaway returned at 5 to start twice and was then retired to stud with a cumulative record of 32 victories in 60 starts and total earnings of $561,161.50. He later was leased to Marcel Boussac to stand in France, where he died in 1953 with 17 stakes winners to his credit.
1944 - 1946
In 1944, Twilight Tear (f,3) became the first filly to be voted Horse of the Year. Of her 17 starts she won 14, including a string of 11 straight victories. Her earnings for the year were $167,555.
Her male counterpart in 1944, Pensive (c,3) was considered a good but not great colt. His success to a large measure reflected the training genius of Ben Jones. Although he would win but three stakes races that year, two of these were the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. He came very close to becoming Calumet's second Triple Crown winner, finishing second in the Belmont by one-half length. His earnings for the year were $162,225.
Sun Again (h,5), Pot O'Luck (c,2), Mar-Kell (m,5), Good Blood (f, 2), and Twosy (f,2) combined with Twilight Tear and Pensive to boost Calumet to a record-earning year with total winnings of $601,660.
In 1945, Calumet slipped to third on the list of Leading Money-Winning Owners with $371,660 in earnings. Twilight Tear, Horse of the Year in 1944, bled in her only start at 4 and was retired to a successful career as a broodmare. The top gun for Calumet in '45 was Pot O'Luck won 5 of his 21 starts, including the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He finished second in the Kentucky Derby and had earnings for the year of $149,220. Pot O'Luck's efforts were supported by Armed, a 4-year-old gelding by Bull Lea. Armed won 10 of his 15 starts and earned $91,500.
In 1946, led by Armed, Calumet again claimed the top spot on the list of Leading Money-Winning Owners with $564,095 in earnings. Armed won 11 of his 18 starts, including the Widener Handicap and the Suburban Handicap. His earnings for the year were $288,725. Armed was supported by the 4-year-old filly Good Blood, which posted winnings of $60,875.
Early in 1947, Ben Jones assumed the title of Racing Stable General Manager and named his son and assistant, H.A. "Jimmy" Jones, as trainer. It was then decided to split the stable, with Ben Jones campaigning his half in the East while Jimmy Jones took his portion to California. This arrangement continued until late 1952.
1947 - 1950
In 1947, Calumet had the greatest year of any farm in the history of Thoroughbred racing. The $1,402,436 earned by Calumet horses was more than double any stable's previous earnings. The farm not only captured Horse of the Year and Champion Handicap Horse honors with 6-year-old Armed, but also took 2-year-old and 2-year-old colt honors with Citation and the 2-year-old Filly title with Bewitch. In addition, Bull Lea was the nation's Leading Sire, and Potheen was named Broodmare of the Year. The stable collected a record 100 victories in 1947, with 36 money-winning performers and 10 stakes winners.
Armed led the Calumet barrage, winning 11 of his 18 starts with earnings of $376,325. As a 2-year-old, Citation won 8 of his 9 starts, his only loss being to stablemate Bewitch in the Washington Park Futurity. Bewitch posted 7 additional victories, including Calumet's third Preakness. Fervent (c,3) also contributed, winning 4 stakes races, including the American Derby and the Pimlico Special.
In 1948, Calumet continued its relentless assault on the racing world. Three-year-old Citation, to be named Horse of the Year, was almost unbeatable, winning 19 of his 20 starts and capturing Calumet's second Triple Crown. His $709,470 in earnings established a new record. His stablemate, 3-year-old Coaltown, had total winnings of $104,650 en route to capturing the Champion Sprinter title, and 4-year-old Fervent contributed $123,775 by winning 6 of his 12 starts, including the Equipoise Mile and Washington Park Handicap. P> Citation did not start during the 1949 campaign due to an injury, but his presence was hardly missed. Coaltown, racing in many of the events in which Citation would have been entered, won 12 of his 15 starts and was voted Handicap Horse of 1949. Ponder, a 3-year-old Pensive colt, picked up 9 victories, including Calumet's fourth Kentucky Derby. Calumet fillies also did their share, with Bewitch taking Handicap Mare honors and Two Lea and Wistful sharing the 3-year-old Filly title. Wistful also handed the stable its first National Filly Triple Crown by capturing the Kentucky Oaks, Pimlico Oaks, and Coaching Club American Oaks.
In 1950, Calumet dropped to second on the list of Leading Money-Winning Owners after four consecutive first-place finishes. Citation never returned to his 3-year-old form, but during his 5-year-old campaign he did become the world's leading money-winner at $924,630 while winning the Golden Gate Mile. Both Ponder and Two Lea had successful 4-year-old campaigns, with Ponder earning $219,000 and Two Lea taking Handicap Mare honors.
The year and an incomparable era were brought to a close when, on December 28, Warren Wright Sr. died at his winter home in Miami Beach. His achievements during his 19 years as master of Calumet will forever mark him as one of the giants in the history of Thoroughbred breeding and racing, and the continued success of the farm would serve as a lasting memorial to the solid foundation that he had laid.
Warren Wright Sr. A native of Springfield, Ohio, became an office boy for the family business, the Calumet Baking Powder Company, at age 15. Nine years later he succeeded his father, William Monroe Wright, as president. Under his guidance the company prospered and, in 1928, was sold to General Foods for an estimated $40 million.
In 1931, Warren Wright inherited Calumet Farm from his father and immediately began its transformation to Thoroughbred racing and breeding. Wright was a methodical man who approached his new venture into racing with the same attitude of efficiency that he applied to business. His first decade as master of Calumet was primarily formative although the stable ranked in the top ten money-winning owners as early as 1934 and again in 1936, '37, '38, and '40.
Calumet truly arrived in 1941 with Whirlaway. The next 10 years would bear the fruits of Wright's labors and establish a standard of excellence which continues today.
Warren Wright Sr. died on December 28, 1950. His career may have been best summarized in the obituary by editor Haden Kirkpatrick in The Thoroughbred Record (Vol. 153, No.1, January 6, 1951):
"He played the game the way all games should be played, with a fierce devotion to the main objective, content with nothing but paramount achievement. In a sport that has its integrity sometimes questioned, his was above the reproach of even the most scurrilous critics. The world knew, and there was never a doubt, that when the Calumets went down as they sometimes did, they went down leveling with all turrets blazing. That element of uncompromising endeavor was doubtless Warren Wright's greatest gift to American racing. For the devil red, not merely a symbol of the ultimate aristocracy of the turf, became also the proud banner of the $2 bettor. They believed in it, and they worshipped the horses that bore it. Wherever the Calumets were running, the clerks, the salesmen, the laborers could turn out in full confidence, with their little bills in their hands, secure in the knowledge that whether they rode with Wright or against him, his entry was going to blast for all the money, and intended either to get it or crack wide open trying."
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