Triple Crown Turning Point: The Omaha International Adventure

The career path of each Triple Crown winner is unique to that horse and its moment. They each share wins in all three classics, but how they got there and what they did next speaks volumes about their individual talents and the people connected to them. Although the list has 13 names, one member of this elite club did something that no other has done: he ventured abroad to test a new surface on a world stage: Omaha.

Thanks to a nagging injury and his owner’s dreams of international triumph, the third Triple Crown winner embarked on a grand adventure to meet a challenge unlike any American career had to offer.

Greatness breeds greatness

Bred by owner William Woodward, Omaha was bred for the classic victories that helped define his career on the racetrack: His sire was Gallant Fox, the second Triple Crown winner, and his dam, Flambino, had finished third in the 1927 Belmont Stakes. A tall horse with a long stride, Omaha often walked slowly from the starting gate, but could deliver a sustained closing kick down the stretch, a style much more suited to long-distance racing. He won only once at 2, the shorter distances of the junior stakes are not conducive to his racing style. At 3, though, he shined, winning at 1⅛ miles and beyond.

His victories in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes were all easy, winning by as much as six lengths at Pimlico and by a length and a half in the other two. After winning the Dwyer Stakes and the Arlington Classic, trainer “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons sent Omaha to Saratoga for the late-summer meet there with the intention of avenging his father’s spectacular loss to Jim Dandy in the Travers Stakes of 1930.

But Omaha would never see the “Summer Derby” starting gate. As Fitzsimmons groomed the third Triple Crown winner for the Travers, it was clear the colt would not be ready. A shoulder injury from his turn at the Arlington Classic diverted Omaha from the path his father had traveled in 1930, sending Omaha to the sidelines as Fitzsimmons tried to rehabilitate his 3-year-old star. However, the injury was persistent and the accompanying pain persisted after each workout. Instead, Woodward opted to retire from Omaha for a year, sending him to Belair Stud in Maryland to recover.

This injury became a turning point in Omaha’s career, the catalyst for attempting something no Triple Crown winner has attempted before or since: racing in England.

a new search

With Gallant Fox and two other Belair stallions standing at Claiborne Farm, owner William Woodward decided to keep his champion colt in training, with the goal of competing as a 4-year-old. After Omaha showed that he might be ready to resume racing, Woodward decided to send the colt to England to try and get the valuable prizes there rather than continuing to race him in America. However, before he could ship it overseas, the owner needed to know if Omaha was ready. Assessing that fell to Captain Cecil Boyd-Rochfort.

Woodward had hired Boyd-Rochfort, trainer of such Americans as Marshall Field III and George Widener, to condition the handful of horses he sent to England each year with the aim of winning races such as the Epsom Derby and the Ascot Gold Cup. his annual trip to the United States in December 1935, stopping at Fitzsimmons’ barn at Aqueduct to see Omaha. After watching a workout, Boyd-Rochfort declared the colt fit, opening the door for the third Triple Crown winner to travel to England. His target of him? The 2½ mile Ascot Gold Cup.

After a week-long voyage on the Aquitania, Omaha arrived in England and immediately began training for her turn at Royal Ascot five months later. He easily went from running counterclockwise on dirt to running clockwise on grass, and won his first two races there. That set up his attempt at the Ascot Gold Cup, a race won by an American horse only once, though 1928 Kentucky Derby winner Reigh Count came close, finishing second in 1929. The field included Quashed, the English filly who had already won several races at similar distances that season.

Both Omaha and Quashed were in the middle of the pack for the first two miles of the Gold Cup, waiting for their chance to step up. Quashed moved up to second at the final turn, Omaha stalked her into third, pushed by another horse. As the field entered the homestretch at Royal Ascot, Quashed took the lead, with the American colt leading on the outside. They hooked up a quarter mile from the finish, dueling, fighting for whatever advantage they could gain over the other. If the filly got a little ahead, Omaha would fight, the two going to the finish together in what looked to be a draw. Instead, the filly would win a head, denying Omaha an Ascot Gold Cup along with his Triple Crown.

The only

Omaha would compete once more during his time in England, finishing second before retiring for the rest of the 1936 season. Woodward kept England’s third Triple Crown winner for another year to give Omaha another shot at winning the Cup. Gold. A tendon injury the week before the 1937 edition spelled the end of his quest for the biggest prize at Royal Ascot. Woodward sent Omaha back to the United States to stud alongside his sire Gallant Fox and grandfather Sir Gallahad III at Claiborne Farm.

Omaha remains the only Triple Crown winner to cross the Atlantic and compete in England, the home of the original Triple Crown. If Belair’s colt hadn’t been injured at the Arlington Classic, he probably wouldn’t have made the trip to try and win the Ascot Gold Cup, denying us what the observer called one of the 10 greatest races of all time. That injury might have prevented him from copying his father’s great three-year stint, but it became the turning point that brought us something even better, Omaha’s international adventure.