Nine Decades Later, Cavalcade Still Last New Jersey-Bred Horse To Win Kentucky Derby

Written By Grant Lucas on April 25, 2024
Cavalcade after winning the 1934 Kentucky Derby, the last New Jersey-bred horse to win the event

For the 150th time, 20 of the best thoroughbred horses will race for the roses in the Kentucky Derby. When the wreath goes around the neck of that winning steed, the 150th winner at Churchill Downs will make a celebratory trot around the track and another chapter will be written for the illustrious race.

But New Jersey will go yet another year without one of its own wearing that wreath, despite claiming the horse as its official state animal.

The Garden State has fingerprints throughout the national horse racing scene. The honor of oldest racetrack in the US goes to Freehold Raceway. The first filly to win the Kentucky Derby was Regret, a New Jersey horse who claimed the title in 1915.

But recent history has not been so kind of New Jersey horse racing, as the state has gone 90 years since its last Kentucky Derby-winning thoroughbred.

How the last New Jersey horse to win the Derby came to be

In April 1934 – as the great Frank Capra film It Happened One Night first rolled into theaters – Regret, at age 22, died. Just a few weeks later, another New Jersey thoroughbred picked up where she left off.

A brown colt sired by a successful British racehorse, Cavalcade may have been conceived in England but was actually born at Meadow View Farm in Branchville after F. Wallis Armstrong purchased Cavalcade’s mother while Cavalcade was in utero.

Foaled in 1931, Cavalcade was soon after sold to Bob Smith, a trainer for Dodge heiress Isabel Dodge Sloan for $1,200. At the time, Smith boasted that he had purchased the best yearling from the available crop.

The trainer proved prescient, as Cavalcade raced 11 times in 1933, winning the Hyde Park Stakes in Chicago. In nine other races, he finished no worse than fourth. By 1934, heads began to turn toward the “almost unbeatable” horse with a “machine-like burst.”

When Cavalcade became the horse to beat at Kentucky Derby

Cavalcade’s track records established him as a favorite, alongside stablemate Time Clock, heading into the Kentucky Derby.

Cavalcade set up in post eight, in the middle of the 13-horse field. Reports indicated that Cavalcade was as relaxed as could be, going so far as to lean against his stall at the starting gate.

While the rest of the field jockeyed for the front position of the 1 ¼-mile race, jockey Mack Garner allowed Cavalcade to hang back. One by one, those frontrunners lost steam, allowing Discovery to grab the lead on the final turn. After a patient race, Cavalcade took off down the homestretch. Coming around the outside of Discovery, Cavalcade blew by his competitor and claimed the victory by three lengths.

“When we caught Discovery,” Garner told the Chicago Tribune, “I knew the race was over and we perhaps could have run that last quarter of a mile faster if there had been any need of it.”

‘Gamest horse’ rides off into the sunset

It was the high note to Cavalcade’s short career. The stallion went on to lose the Preakness Stakes by a nose to stablemate High Quest.

After skipping the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, Cavalcade went on to the American Derby in Chicago. He once again beat Discovery, setting a course record with a time of 2 minutes, 4 seconds. Cavalcade again set a track record in his win at the Detroit Derby and followed it up with a victory at the Arlington Classic, rallying from the back of the pack to win by four lengths – again over Discovery.

It was after the Arlington race that Garner called Cavalcade “the gamest horse I had ever ridden.”

Soon, though, Cavalcade reportedly became too difficult to train, never returning to peak condition. He retired to stud, and, unfortunately, died in 1940 after contracting bovine respiratory disease, then commonly known as “shipping fever.”

Thus ended a short but illustrious career that featured eight wins in 22 starts and led Cavalcade to an induction in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1993 and the New Jersey-Bred Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class in 2012.

When will another New Jersey horse win the Derby?

New Jersey has seen few other strong contenders to win the Kentucky Derby since Cavalcade.

The most recent occurrence came in 2017, when Irish War Cry burst onto the scene out of Overbook Farm in Monmouth County.

Irish War Cry went into the Derby carrying the fourth-best odds as well as high hopes of ending a long streak of New Jersey-less winners at Churchill Downs.

A disastrous start to the race, though, spelled doom for the chestnut colt, who ducked into the inside right away, pushing over the 16th position Tapwrit, which caused a chain reaction that bumped the No. 15 horse McCracken into No. 14 Classic Empire.

This all allowed Always Dreaming to build an early lead thanks to a quick start that helped him avoid the traffic congestion. He raced alongside State of Honor into the far turn before the latter faded. Irish War Cry made a push to challenge the leader, but Always Dreaming had enough in the tank to fend off the late charge and claim the victory.

Ultimately, Irish War Cry himself faded and came in 10th among 19 finishers.

All told, 89 winners have claimed Kentucky Derby titles since Cavalcade, not one from New Jersey. Who knows when this drought will end. But at the very least, in a seminal 150th year for the Derby, we get a chance to remember the machine-like burst of greatness of Cavalcade.

Photo by AP Photo
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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is a longtime sportswriter who has covered high school, collegiate, and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant now focuses his attention on the growing NJ online gambling and sports betting scene.

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