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Salvator (1886-1909)

By: Ron Hale

After its initial 20 years of operation (beginning in 1870), Monmouth Park, located three miles from Long Branch, N.J., outgrew its facilities. Its officers, led by George Lorillard and D. D. Withers, voted to build a new Monmouth Park on 660 acres of nearby land. The result was a massive new track that opened on July 4, 1890. The grandstand was the largest in America -- some 700 feet long -- and was the first such structure in the country to be built entirely of iron. The track was a huge 1-3/4 mile (14 furlongs) dirt oval, with a straightaway chute that was 1-3/8 miles (11 furlongs) long.

It was on this straightaway less than two months after opening day of the new Monmouth Park that the mighty Salvator, in the final public appearance of his career, ran one mile in 1:35 1/2, breaking the existing American and world record by nearly four full seconds. Salvator's mile record, which came in a race against time, would not be broken for 28 years.

(Roamer would run the distance in 1:34 4/5 -- also against time -- in August 1918. In the decades that followed Roamer, the American record for one mile on the dirt would fall several times. In 1968, Dr. Fager set a new mark of 1:32 1/5 around one turn at Arlington Park. Thirty years later, Dr. Fager's record has not been equaled or broken.)

In the fall of 1887, Matthew Byrnes, who trained James Ben Ali Haggin's eastern contingent, and jockey George (Snapper) Garrison, came to California to Haggin's 44,000-acre Rancho del Paso to select the best young horses to take back to New York. One colt they selected was the blaze-faced chestnut yearling, Salvator (by Prince Charlie, out of the Lexington mare, Salina), whom Haggin had purchased earlier that year from Daniel Swigert's Elmendorf Farm in Lexington, KY.

This would not be the first champion that Haggin purchased from Elmendorf. Some years earlier, he had bought a filly name Firenze, who went on to become one of the greatest distaffers of the 19th Century (and a member today of the Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga Springs, NY) and Ben Ali, with whom Haggin won the 1886 Kentucky Derby.

As Abram S. Hewitt points out in "The Great Breeders and Their Methods" (Thoroughbred Publishers, Inc., 1982), Salvator -- a foal of 1886 -- was the last great horse produced by Elmendorf Farm under Swigert. Hewitt says:

"It is perhaps no accident that Swigert bred no great horses after 1886. His two key stallions had passed the 20-year mark in age. This is the same pattern that occurred in the Boussac stud, with the old age and death of Djebel and Pharis, and at Calumet with the passing of Blenheim II and Bull Lea."

Salvator had bucked his shins during one of his fast time trials while training in California and thus did not make his first start until August 11 of his two-year-old season. He finished fourth in the Junior Champion Stakes at Monmouth Park. In his second start, he ran a magnificent race to finish second in a tight finish to the good Proctor Knott in the inaugural running of the Futurity at Sheepshead Bay on Coney Island, NY. (As the 1-to-2 favorite, Proctor Knott would finish second, beaten a nose, in the Kentucky Derby the following year. Many people thought he won the Derby, but the placing judges, who did not have the benefit of a photo-finish camera in those days, thought otherwise. Salvator skipped the Derby.)

The new Futurity attracted nationwide attention because it was to that point in time the richest Thoroughbred race ever run in America. While accounts of the final purse differ, the most widely used figure is $45,375, with $40,625 to the winner. Although the race was run on a Monday, the second largest crowd of the season gathered at Sheepshead Bay. There were so many people that management dispensed with the post parade (a relatively new feature at racetracks then) to avoid having the horses be spooked by the throngs at the rail. (Note: This is the same Grade 1 Futurity that is renewed every fall at Belmont Park.)

In the final four starts of the year, all in New York, Salvator finished first in each. He won the Flatbush, Maple, Tuckahoe and Titan stakes, finishing the year with 4 wins in 6 starts.

At three, Salvator won 7 of 8 starts. Making his first start of the year on June 18, he beat Belmont Stakes winner Eric in the Tidal Stakes at Sheepshead Bay. Two weeks later, he came back to win the inaugural running of the Realization Stakes (known today at the Lawrence Realization Stakes) at the Coney Island track.

The Haggin runner made his next three starts at Monmouth Park. This was the last year that the Monmouth Park on this site would be used for racing. As previously noted, a new, much larger Monmouth Park would open the following year at a location not too far away.

Salvator won Monmouth's Lorillard Stakes before finishing third, beaten a neck by Proctor Knott and Longstreet, in the blanket finish of the Omnibus Stakes. It would be the last time that Salvator tasted defeat. Four days later, he came back to win the Jersey Handicap. Back in New York in September, he annexed the September Stakes at Sheepshead Bay and the Sweepstakes and an overnight purse at Jerome Park, a track that would soon be torn down to make way for a much-needed reservoir to serve the growing population of New York City.

Salvator's first start as a four-year-old came in the 7th running of the Suburban Handicap at Sheepshead Bay on June 17, 1890. The race included the marvelous Tenny, who would have been champion in any other era. Carrying 127 pounds, Salvator beat Cassius (107 pounds) with Tenny (126 pounds) third.

Tenny's connections were angry at the result and proposed a $5,000 winner-take-all match race the following week at the same distance and equal weights. The race became one of the most-anticipated sports events of the year. The racing world was abuzz in the days leading up to the contest. One of the largest crowds ever assembled at Sheepshead Bay was on hand June 25.

Perhaps the two greatest jockeys of the 19th Century, Snapper Garrison and Isaac Murphy, were on the principles -- Garrison on Tenny and Murphy on Salvator. The bookmakers installed Salvator as the 3-to-5 favorite. Here's how Walter S. Vosburgh describes the match race in "Racing in America, 1866-1921," (The Jockey Club, 1922):

"The two horses ran side by side for three furlongs. Then Salvator led by two lengths. Once in the stretch, however, Tenny came very fast and was overhauling Salvator, but the latter 'lasted' to win by a nose in 2:05. Both jockeys thought they had won after they had pulled up, and walked their horses back, chatting as they did so."

"I think I beat you," said Garrison.

"No, I guess my horse won," replied Murphy.

The placing judges put Salvator's number up. The official fractional times showed that Salvator times for the seven, eight and nine furlongs were American records. The final time was a new American record of 2:05 for 10 furlongs.

Back the next month at Monmouth Park, Salvator's reputation had preceeded him and no horse wanted any part of him. He merely walked around the track to take the Monmouth Cup. Tenny came back for one more try, this time in Monmouth's Champion Stakes, but he could get no closer than four lengths to Salvator at the finish.

On August 25, Tenny raced against time, trying to beat the American record of 1:39 1/4 for one mile. He failed, finishing the distance in 1:40 3/4. Three days later over Monmouth's lengthy straight course, Salvator cruised to the one mile, against time, in 1:35 1/2, obliterating the American -- and world -- record. Salvator was promptly retired to stud. His final record on the track showed 16 wins from 19 starts and earnings of $113,710.

Vosburgh reports that at stud, "the dams of most of the great race-horses of the country were brought to mate with him (Salvator). Great things were expected, but he was an utter failure." (op cit)

How famous was Salvator? Vosburgh says the following:

"Salvator was probably the best-advertised horse that has raced in this country. Certainly no other horse has been more frequently quoted. He made a powerful impression upon the public imagination; and for this there are good reasons. His memorable finish with Proctor Knott in the first Futurity; the fact that he was undisputed champion of his year at three; that he enrolled his name as winner of the Suburban at four with top weight; and his equally sensational race against time when be broke the record -- a concentration of highly sensational incidents which impressed the public minds for years after." (op cit)

In the September 6, 1890 edition of The Livestock Record (later to be renamed The Thoroughbred Record), a correspondent using the pen name of "Wirelight" wrote the following:

"Salvator stands to-day without a rival. I have reached an age where I cannot hope to live long enough to see his superior. King of Kings, I salute thee! I take off my hat to thee. I place the laurel wreath about the beautiful neck, and proclaim thee monarch of the turf."

"Children yet unborn will marvel at his powers and be far on the way to the grave as old men and women before the world shall be permitted to look upon his like again."

In 1955, when the National Museum of Racing announced the names of first inductees into the newly created Hall of Fame, Salvator's name was among them.


  • Salvator and Roamer's one-mile records came in races "against time," which were fairly common in the 1800s and early 1900s for both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds. In these "races," one horse would race with the sole intent of finishing the distance in new-record time. One or more "rabbits" were often used to ensure that the early fractions were to the horse's best advantage.

  • Salvator's record also came on a straight course, which were popular features at many early racecourses. The Widener chute (an about 7-furlong straight course that cut diagonally across Belmont Park) was the last such course used at a major track in America. It was abandoned some 40 years ago. While many people claim that straight courses help to significantly improve final times, many noted trainers of earlier times disputed this notion. They claimed that not having turns for longer races made it difficult to get horses to change leads at the proper time. As a result, horses tended to become fatigued much earlier.

  • The fabulous, new Monmouth Park, where Salvator set his record in 1890, would be short lived. New Jersey was among the first states to pass repressive legislation. Tragically, three years after it opened, the track closed forever. It was torn down before the end of the decade. Except for a few charity hunt meetings, Thoroughbreds would not return to competition in the garden state for more than half a century (Garden State Park in 1942).

  • The third version of Monmouth Park was constructed not too far from the former sites of the first and second tracks of the same name. Monmouth Park III opened in Oceanport on June 19, 1946.

  • The Salvator Mile, honoring perhaps the most famous horse to race in New Jersey in the 19th Century, was inaugurated at Monmouth Park in 1948. The race also honors one of the turf's most distinguished scholars and historians, John Lewis Hervey, who from 1892 until his death on December 31, 1947, wrote under the pen same "Salvator," taken, of course, from the great horse of the same name. Hervey's pen name appeared in publications from the Horse Review to Daily Racing Form to The Blood-Horse. He wrote three volumes of The Jockey Club's "Racing in America" series and was the founder and author of the first eight volumes of "American Race Horses," annual racing reviews that were published from 1936 through 1963.

© 1998, Ron Hale

Photo from a circa 1900 postcard in my collection

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