Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall of Fame


1947 Horse of the Year

After a juvenile campaign which included second place efforts behind Sky Larking and Menow in the Hopeful and Champagne Stakes, Calumet Farm's Bull Lea beat juvenile champion Menow in the Blue Grass Stakes and became second choice in the betting, after Belair's Fighting Fox, for the 1938 Kentucky Derby. The winner was Woolford Farm's Lawrin, trained by Ben A. Jones. Bull Lea went on to win the James C. Thornton Handicap, the Autumn Handicap, and the Pimlico Handicap. It was as a stallion that Bull Lea had significant influence on the sport of racing, however.

He became one of the most successful sires in American breeding while standing at Calumet Farm. Bull Lea's first foal crop included no less than three champions, all of which were trained for Calumet by Ben A. Jones. Durazna and Twilight Tear, both fillies, achieved success during their juvenile season and were named co-champion two-year-old fillies. Twilight Tear went on to be named Horse of the Year the following season. The third champion from Bull Lea's first crop, the brown gelding Armed, wasn't so distinguished until 1946, when he earned recognition as such in the handicap division.

Racing for Calumet Farm, Armed made 81 starts in his racing career, winning 41 times and earning $817,475. He was named 1947 Horse of the Year and earned handicap division championships in both 1947 and 1946. At the age of two, however, Bull Lea's son was asked to serve the red and blue in somewhat less glamorous ways. Slow to develop his speed, he was gelded and used as a lead pony at the farm's training track while other Calumet juveniles, including Twilight Tear and Pensive, claimed honors on the racetrack.

Armed began his racing career at Hialeah in February, winning by eight lengths for jockey Eddie Arcaro. Conn McCreary rode him the next time out, and after a three length win he wasn't shy about his opinion of the gelding, saying "Let's go with this one in the Derby, Ben; he'll win it."

It was Pensive, however, that ended up in the Churchill Downs winners circle with McCreary in the irons, while Armed finished the season modestly, with three wins in seven starts to earn $4,850. In the meantime, his stablemate Twilight Tear brought home Horse of the Year honors and $167,555 while Pensive carried Calumet's red and blue silks to victory not only in the Kentucky Derby but in the Preakness Stakes as well. It wasn't until the age of four that Armed raced in stakes company.

Jimmy Jones returned from the Coast Guard in 1945, and Armed ended up in his division of the stable. The brown gelding became his favorite horse, and when visitors came to see the Calumet horses, Jimmy Jones and Armed were always sure to entertain. The gelding would come to the stall door, ears pinned and teeth showing, while Jones explained that "All the Bull Lea's bite, but this one's the worst of all." When the trainer opened the door, however, his favorite charge would drop the act and stand quietly while Jones checked his legs.

Armed began 1945 in June, with a loss at Jamaica. The blame was placed on his rider, and he proved his quality with a six race winning streak. After four near misses in stakes company, including a second to Busher, the 1945 Champion Three Year Old Filly and Horse of the Year, in the Washington Park Handicap, Armed pulled off a victory in Laurel's Washington Handicap, despite top weight. Then came a couple of wins in overnight races, as Jones prepared his charge for his final race of the season.

The most important of Armed's ten wins that season was the Pimlico Special, in which he upset the season's champion handicap horse, Stymie, as well as Preakness winner Polynesian and Pimlico Oaks winner Gallorette.

His four year old campaign had ended with ten wins, and Armed had finished out of the money only once, earning $91,600 that season.

In 1946 Armed finally reached the top of his division, winning eleven of his eighteen starts and earning the impressive sum of $288,725. He won the Widener Handicap, carried 130 pounds to victory in the Suburban Handicap, and was voted Champion Handicap Horse, becoming the third champion from Bull Lea's first crop.

As a six-year-old Armed was the star of the most successful stable in the country. Also racing for Calumet in 1947 were the juvenile stars Bewitch, Citation, and Coaltown, as well as Preakness Stakes winner Faultless. Armed won eleven of seventeen starts that season, with victories including his second consecutive Widener Handicap. He earned $100,000 of his $376,325 that season in a winner take all match race at Pimlico, soundly defeating Assault, whose Triple Crown win the previous season had helped him edge Armed for the Horse of the Year title. Armed's eight length victory was somewhat diminished by the fact that Assault was not entirely sound, but then again, the never completely sound son of Bold Venture had been winning despite his splint problem. Winning the Sysonby Mile, Armed brought his career earnings to $761,500 and reigned as thoroughbred racing's all-time leading money earner for sixteen days. Stymie's victory in the Gallant Fox Handicap allowed him to replace Armed as leading money winner, but the high headed stretch runner could not threaten the Calumet gelding's fame. Armed was named 1947 Horse of the Year, and was also the season's leading earner.

Armed enjoys the spoils of victory

1948 began with a second place finish to his younger stablemate Citation in an allowance race at Hialeah, and throughout the rest of his career, Armed continued to take a back seat to Calumet's younger stars, failing to win another stakes race. He did win races however, scoring victories in six of his last twenty four starts and earning the praise of trainer Jimmy Jones, who said:

"They will have to rank him with the great of all time. He's lost that old zing and the things he did easily come hard now, but when he was at his best there wasn't anything around that could touch him."

Armed raced until the age of nine, earning $55,975 in the last three years of his racing days, and while he didn't win a stakes race after age six, he did run second in five of them, including the Churchill Downs Handicap behind stablemate Free America. He was the world's leading money winning gelding, and had set or equaled nine track records. He won one final race at Gulfstream, in March of 1950, before retiring to Calumet Farm, where he lived as a pensioner until he passed away on May 5, 1964, a year after being elected to the Hall of Fame.

Armed's Race Record

Year Starts Wins Seconds Thirds Earnings
Lifetime 81 41 20 10 $817,475

Armed, 1941 brown gelding

Bull Lea Bull Dog Teddy Ajax
Plucky Liege Spearmint
Rose Leaves Ballot Voter
Colonial Trenton
Thankful Blossom
Armful Chance Shot Fair Play Hastings
Fairy Gold
Quelle Chance Ethelbert
Qu'Elle est Belle II
Negrina Luke McLuke Ultimus
Black Brocade Neil Gow
Black Velvet


Recommended titles include: Champions from the Daily Racing Form, Thoroughbred Champions: Top 100 of the 20th Century from Blood-Horse, and Man O' War: Thoroughbred Legends #1 by Edward L. Bowen, as well as Seabiscuit on DVD .
Seabiscuit DVD

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