Tomorrow is the Belmont, so this seemed like a good time to share this.
I was snowed in for two days in March of 2006 and here is the result:
So, what did you do while you were snowed in?
I spent the two days sewing on a project I have been working on for several years now. I call it “20th Century Champions” and it’s a depiction of the 11 Triple Crown winners of American Thoroughbred horse racing. No. I’m not kidding. Each block is a paper-pieced figure of the horse with the background being the colors of the silks worn by the jockey when they won the Triple Crown. It really did take me several years to track down the silks colors and the color of each horse, but once that was determined, the rest of the project was a breeze. (I’ve since learned that you can find the registered colors of a stable just by visiting jcsilks.com – IF you want to do it the easy way) As I searched for information about the colors, I couldn’t help but learn more and more about each horse along the way.
As I assembled each block, I found myself developing new respect for each of theses champions. Like Sir Barton, the very first Triple Crown winner who accomplished the feat in1919. SA I pieced the rid and black striped for his background, I remembered that, after his racing career, Sir Barton served his country as a US Cavalry remount until his death in 1937. I decided I needed to add an American flag to his block.
And as I worked on the red polka dots of Gallant Fox (1930) and Omaha (1935), I was reminded that they are the only father and son duo to win the Triple Crown honors. An unprecedented and unrepeated feat. Omaha lived out his retirement years as a stud in Nebraska and was laid to rest at the old Aksarben race track. Sadly, all that’s left of his grave is a marker, which has been moved several times to make way for building projects.
War Admiral, with his black and yellow checks, recently became widely known as the ‘big shot’ who was brought down by the little guy in the movie Sea Biscuit, but he really deserves to be remembered more respectfully. His Triple Crown wins in 1937 included a stumble out of the blocks at the Belmont which left him with a gash in one of his front legs. He was so covered with blood at the finish line his owners feared for his life, but the cut was minor and this son of the great Man’O’War finished a stellar career with a record of 21 wins, 3 places and 1 show of 26 starts.
As Count Fleet (1943) came to life under my stitches, I remembered learning hat he is the middle man of three generations to win the Kentucky Derby, taking the Run for the Roses after his father Reigh Count and before his son Count Turf.
And then there was Assault who hailed from King Ranch in Texas. As a baby, Assault sustained a severe injury to his right front foot and was nearly euthanized. The scar tissue left him with a limp when he walked, but did not have any effect on his ability to run. If it ever pained him, he never showed it and was nicknamed “The Clubfooted Comet” following his Triple Crown victories in 1946.
Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948) share the devil blue and red background pieces as they both come from Calumet Farm and were both trained by the great Jim Fitzsimmons.
Since eight of these champions lived and won before I was even born, my only knowledge of them comes from books and newspaper articles. But as my blue and white checks went together for Secretariat’s background, I vividly recall watching on live TV as he took the Triple Crown when he won the Belmont by 31 lengths in 1973. He still holds the record for two of the three races.
Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978) are the only two Triple Crown champs to survive into the 21st Century. Affirmed died in 2001 and Seattle Slew died in 2002.
I hardly noticed the more than two feet of snow piling up outside as I stitched my personal memorial to these 11 American legends.