In the spring of 1908, the great Colin was the king of New York, winning every race he entered, but in May, his fans were worried. Colin, they had heard, was lame. He had bowed both tendons, and, in the words of the Daily Racing Form, he was “considered to be hopelessly broken down.” The situation appeared dire, and Colin’s owner, James Keene, had put out the word that the horse was unable to race.
Then, some hope. Perhaps Colin was not as bad off as he’d seemed to be. In fact, said Keene, Colin would run in the May 30 Belmont Stakes, and when he got to Belmont, fans were delighted to see that although the colt was bandaged, he didn’t seem lame at all. Keene apparently decided that he was no longer going to set conditions regarding when Colin would race. “All I can say,” Daily Racing Form reported, “is that Colin is here and he is here to run. If he is to break down he might as well do it in a race as any other place.” Keene did allow that that he wanted the weather to hold so that Colin could run on a safe, fast track.
But it poured. Again, it seemed Colin wouldn’t run. But in the “blinding rainstorm,” as the Form reporter wrote, here came Colin. “The rain was so heavy during the running that little could be seen of the contest, but men stationed around the track say that he was in front all the way.”
As it turned out, no one need have worried. Colin, his handlers said, wasn’t even really lame. His bandages had simply been fastened too tightly, and that made him sore for the trial before the Belmont. It was an offbeat explanation, but after the colt’s dazzling Belmont performance, it seemed perfectly reasonable.
And Colin did not disappoint. He was beyond sound. He was brilliant.
“The great and unbeaten Colin scored his fifteenth consecutive victory in the $25,000 Tidal Stakes of one mile and a quarter at Sheepshead Bay this afternoon, defeating a trio of brilliant opponents, Dorante, Stamina, and Chapultepec with practically the same superlative ease that has marked a majority of his performances since the beginning of his phenomenal career on the American turf,” wrote the Daily Racing Form of June 21.
A few years ago, I wrote a chapter for a book about the greatest rivalries in horse racing, and I was very lucky in that I was assigned the chapter about Colin and Fair Play. The rivalry was as intense as they come, with the horses pitted against each other constantly. In the Belmont, it was Fair Play who splashed along behind Colin, nearing him up until the finish line. Colin edged out Fair Play every time. (Don’t feel sorry for Fair Play, though; once Colin was out of the picture, he won all the time. And then he sired Man o’ War.)
1908 was a bit of a disastrous time for racing in America, because New York repealed the Percy-Gray law, so the law now effectively forbad betting on racing. The stands were not very full at Sheepshead Bay the day that Colin won the Tidal Stakes. Colin headed to England with many other racehorses, but he was too lame to race once there; loosening bandages no longer helped his tendons. He was through. His record stands: undefeated in 15 starts.
His stud career was limited by infertility problems (he was a shy breeder); he sired 11 stakes winners out of 81 foals in 23 seasons at stud. He died in 1932, 27 years old. It would be eighty years later that any similarly challenged racehorse neared this record, when Personal Ensign went 13 for 13.
Colin’s trainer, James Rowe, was famous for many things, among them his wild successes with star racers like Hindoo and Regret, and the fact that he rode in Barnum’s circus. But here’s what he wanted engraved on his headstone: “He trained Colin.”
“Is Still Unbeaten Colin,” ran the Daily Racing Form’s headline about the Tidal Stakes in 1920.
He’s still Unbeaten Colin today.