Queens In the Sport of Kings

September 24, 2010 in 1940s-1950s, Economic history, Historical Decades, Historiography, Social history

Queens in the Sport of Kings

Women owners and trainers of race horses, while not as prevalent as some may desire, has been staple in Kentucky. From the first female owned Derby winner in 1904 at least 17 other Derby winners have been owned by women.1 In fact Elwood the 1904 winner was also bred by Mrs. J.B. Prather also a first in the horse industry. Mr C. E Durnell did not think the horse should have been entered in the race and in protest stayed away from the track. Needless to say Durnell did not see the ceremony of his wife Laska receiving the roses.

There were a number of notable female owned Derby winners. Mrs John Hertz won the Derby twice. The first was with “Reigh Count” and the second in 1951 with “Count Fleet”. If the name looks familiar, she was the wife of the founder of Hertz Rentals. She was not the first woman to win it twice that distinction goes to Helen May Whitney. She did so in 1931 and 1937. Ethel V. Mars, her husband was the founder of Mars Candy Bars, was an underdog derby winner. Her horse Gallabadion was up against Bimelech “the best horse in America” at that time. She was unable to attend the race because of illness but listened by radio to hear her horse win the 1940 derby. In 1947 Elizabeth Arden Graham, the cosmetic queen, won with Jet Pilot in the first photo finish at the Derby. The Kentucky Derby is one of the biggest horse race in the world, and these women against all odds entered the Paddock.


4 responses to Queens In the Sport of Kings

  1. I was curious if any Triple Crown winners were owned by women, so here is what I found.
    All ownd by women:
    1943 Count Fleet
    1973 Secretariat
    1977 Seattle Slew

  2. Thank you for filling in the gaps of my knowledge of women who owned derby winning horses. The wealth these women had did not totally alleviate the struggle to own and bred horses, and enter them in derbies in Kentucky and beyond. I am now hooked on this topic.

  3. This is interesting and reminds me of that movie coming out about Secretariat since his owner was a woman! It’s not something people often think about, but it’s really interesting to learn about.

  4. Mary Jean Wall, a journalist who focused on the thoroughbred industry for most of her career, has recently finished her graduate degree here at the University of Kentucky. She has a wonderful new book out about Kentucky history and the early years of Kentucky racing as we know it now… as it grew in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It would be fun to have someone focus on her (or something from her writing) for their individual projects!

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