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Citation was the standard
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Racing's greatest rivalry
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Citation was born to run
By Ron Flatter
Special to ESPN.com
"Had you been able to put Secretariat in 1948 and put Citation in 1973, I'm confident that Citation today would be remembered every bit as affectionately as Secretariat," says writer Billy Reed on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series.
For 25 years, his name was synonymous with an achievement that seemed beyond duplication: "-------- is trying to become the first horse since Citation in 1948 to win the Triple Crown."
So it went, year after year. Radio gave way to television. Five Presidents would come and go. A man would be sent to the moon, but no horse would win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes again.
By the time Secretariat finally matched Citation's accomplishment in 1973, the quarter-century Triple Crown drought only served to underscore the brilliance of Citation's achievement.
He was racing's first millionaire horse, earning $1,085,760 in a 45-race career that ran from 1947-51. He won 32 times and finished out of the money only once. At his peak as a two- and three-year-old, Citation won 27 of his 29 races, including his last 15 in 1948. He won his 16th straight -- a modern-day record -- in January 1950. That mark was tied by Cigar in 1996.
Blessed with speed, endurance and a seemingly endless desire to win, "Big Cy" inspired his handlers to express profoundly bold confidence in him. "My horse could beat anything with hair on it," said Citation's trainer, Jimmy Jones.
Citation was the brainchild of Calumet Farm owner Warren Wright. Citation's sire was Bull Lea, who finished a disappointing eighth as a 3-1 second choice in the 1938 Kentucky Derby, but was terrific as a stud. Wright figured he might be able to create a decent racehorse by matching Bull Lea with Hydroplane II, an overseas mare whom he got to the United States at the onset of World War II. To avoid wartime torpedoes in the Atlantic Ocean, Wright had Hydroplane II shipped via a time-consuming Pacific route in 1941.
Eventually, Bull Lea and Hydroplane II got together, and on April 11, 1945, they produced a bay colt whom Wright sent to Jones' stable in Maryland to start racing two years later.
Citation ran nine times as a two-year-old, winning eight with one second. He won his first start by a half-length on April 22, 1947, in a 4½-furlong race at the old Havre de Grace track. A two-length win in the Elementary Stakes at Washington Park that summer was followed by victories in the Belmont and Pimlico Futurities.
Even before the Triple Crown races, "Big Cy" turned skeptics his way early in 1948. In Florida, he was matched against older horses -- including Armed, the 1947 Horse of the Year -- in the Seminole Handicap at Hialeah. Not only did Citation win that race, he also won the Everglades Handicap and Flamingo Stakes.
With seven consecutive wins, Citation was on a roll heading back home to Maryland to prepare for the Triple Crown. Unfortunately his jockey, Al Snider, never made it with him. Snider drowned on a fishing trip off the Florida Keys in early March.
Jimmy Jones turned to Eddie Arcaro to replace Snider. "I'm calling you to put you on a Derby winner," he told Arcaro, who already had ridden three Kentucky Derby winners.
Their first start together was a learning experience. In the mud at Havre de Grace on April 12, 1948, Citation was unable to close on Saggy, who beat him by a length in the six-furlong Chesapeake Trial. It would be the last race Citation would lose for 21½ months.
Citation and Arcaro won their next two races before arriving for Derby Day, which was eerily similar to that muddy afternoon in Maryland the previous month. An inch of rain fell on Churchill Downs, and it was going to be a sloppy 1¼ miles.
"It was set up for Coaltown to have an easy lead," Jones said, referring to Citation's Calumet stablemate. "Citation could get him when he wanted to."
But even those who had faith in Citation had to wonder when he fell behind by six lengths, as Coaltown enjoyed a leisurely run on the lead.
Arcaro later recounted in his 1951 autobiography, I Ride to Win, that he heard the voice of Ben Jones, Jimmy's father and training mentor: "I kept remembering what old B.A. had told me; that the horse that Citation could not run down had not yet been born. 'But what the hell is this now?' I said to myself. 'Suppose Citation doesn't pick Coaltown up when I call on him.' "
But Ben Jones' words were borne out in a memorable stretch run. Citation sped past Coaltown to win by 3½ lengths. Although son Jimmy did most of the day-to-day work, patriarch Ben had his name listed as Citation's trainer, allowing him to tie "Derby Dick" Thompson's training record of four Derby winners. Ben Jones would eventually get the record alone at six.
Coaltown was out of the picture when Citation won the Preakness by 5½ lengths over Vulcan's Forge.
In between the Preakness and Belmont, Citation won the Jersey Stakes. Before the Belmont, Arcaro said, "The only way I can lose this race is if I fall off my horse." That almost happened when Citation stumbled out of the gate, nearly throwing Arcaro. But they regrouped, and Citation scored an eight-length win over Better Self in 2:28 1/5, tying Count Fleet's record for the 1½-mile Belmont.
Citation became racing's eighth Triple Crown winner and the fourth in eight years.
He won nine more races in 1948 to finish his three-year-old season as Horse of the Year with a then-record $709,470 in earnings. His career total of $865,150 was a little more than $50,000 shy of the record held by Stymie.
But that record would have to wait. Citation developed an osselet on his left front ankle. That and tendon injuries kept him off the track in 1949. Returning after a 13-month layoff, he ran his winning streak to 16 on Jan. 11, 1950, at Santa Anita with a 1½-length allowance victory.
Citations's streak ended 15 days later at Santa Anita when he finished second to Miche, who carried 16 pounds less than "Big Cy." After another second at the San Antonio Handicap on February 11 at Santa Anita, two weeks later in the Santa Anita Handicap, he carried 132 pounds and lost by 1¼ lengths to Noor, who was carrying only 110. It was one of four times Noor would beat Citation in 1950.
Because of injuries, his last race that year was on June 24. Citation wound up 1950 with only two wins and seven seconds in nine starts and career earnings of $938,630, a record.
Wright died on Dec. 28, 1950, but not before extracting a promise from the Joneses to keep Citation on the track until he passed the $1 million mark. Citation returned in April 1951 -- after a 10-month absence -- and his first three starts yielded only two thirds and a fifth. It looked as if his run to a million was turning into an embarrassing limp. A second-place finish in his next start -- the Argonaut Handicap at Hollywood Park -- extended his losing streak to a six, but it also provided a little promise.
Wins in the Century and American Handicaps at Hollywood Park brought him within less than $15,000 of Wright's hoped-for million. On July 14, 1951, Citation went out a winner with a four-length victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup. It pushed his earnings past $1 million and signaled the end of his racing career.
Although Citation would sire some respectable offspring, including 1956 Preakness winner and Derby runner-up Fabius, his stud career never came close to rivaling his racing days.
Citation died on Aug. 8, 1970, at 25 and was buried at Calumet Farms in Lexington, Ky. It would be another three years before his distinction as the last Triple Crown winner would be erased.
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