Joe Palmer (1904–1952)
From The Great American Sport Page: A Century of Classic Columns
Horse racing fans across America are getting ready for this weekend’s Kentucky Derby.
The annual excitement reminds us of past year’s winners, particularly those three-year-old horses that went on to capture the Triple Crown. Sir Barton became the first Triple Crown winner exactly a century ago, in 1919; Justify was the thirteenth, just last year.
Among other past winners was War Admiral (1937), whose fame as Seabiscuit’s rival was recalled in the recent book and movie. War Admiral’s father was Man o’ War, widely regarded as the greatest thoroughbred in horse racing history—even though he skipped the Kentucky Derby. Both horses were owned by Samuel Doyle Riddle, who was renowned for the protective care of his charges and who (to paraphrase journalist Joe Palmer) never forgot that horses were horses.
For our Story of the Week selection, then, we present Palmer’s remembrance of Riddle, written shortly after his death in 1951, which “removed one of the few remaining links which bound racing of today to the racing of the previous century.” And in the introduction we explain why Man o’ War didn’t run the Derby and why Riddle surprised the racing world by retiring his horse early.