The Strange Saga of Jim French

At Aqueduct recently, it was suggested by Jim Gluckson of the NTRA/Breeders' Cup that I reprint a column I wrote several years ago on Jim French. He reminded me that this is the 40th anniversary of his remarkable and unprecedented Triple Crown campaign. With the majority of top Derby contenders having only two or three Derby preps, this is the perfect time to revisit the plucky little Jim French.

So, before we become immersed in the major Kentucky Derby preps, here is the column on a horse the younger generation can not even remotely relate to, but one who should serve as a constant reminder of what amazing feats the Thoroughbred of yesterday was capable of.

************

The story of Jim French, one of the most indestructible, indefatigable horses of the modern era, has faded into history, taking with it the colt's remarkable feats of durability on the racetrack and the notorious final chapter of his career, in which the Travers favorite was impounded by the Saratoga County sheriff's office and not permitted to run.

But let's start at the beginning. Jim French was a plucky little brown colt who brought his trainer John Campo into the national spotlight for the first time. Campo's training of Jim French would have brought about an outpouring of criticism from today's Internet racing fans. But the son of Graustark not only stood up to Campo's unprecedented schedule, he actually seemed to thrive on it.

Campo, who would go on to become one of the top trainers in the country, later would say when asked why he ran Jim French so often, "I didn't know any better then. I had only been training for a few years and if I had known better I wouldn't have run him so many times. He wasn't a big horse, and small horses do hold up better than big horses."

Hold up is an understatement. As excessive as his methods were, Campo's ability to keep Jim French in top racing condition for so long actually was a remarkable achievement. By the time Jim French arrived in Florida in December 1970 to begin preparing for the Triple Crown races, he had already crammed 11 races into a four-month period, racing four times in November alone, including a victory in the Remsen Stakes.

--On Dec. 26, he engaged in a thrilling stretch duel with Sir Dagonet to win the 1 1/16-mile Miami Beach Handicap at Tropical Park.

--Two weeks later, he just got up to win the 1 1/16-mile Dade Metropolitan Handicap at Tropical by a nose, carrying top weight of 125 pounds and conceding 10 pounds to the runner-up.

--Eleven days later, now at Hialeah, he dropped back to six furlongs and finished a fast-closing fourth in the Hibiscus Stakes, beaten only 1 1/4 lengths by the brilliant Executioner.

--He was back two weeks later, coming from 10th at the top of the stretch to win the seven-furlong Bahamas Stakes by a head, with the regally bred His Majesty third.

--Two weeks later, he was beaten a head by His Majesty in the 1 1/8-mile Everglades Stakes, but was disqualified to fifth for bearing in down the stretch.

--Like clockwork, he was back in the gate two weeks later, coming from 19 lengths back to finish third behind Executioner in the 1 1/8-mile Flamingo Stakes.

--Instead of waiting for the Florida Derby, Jim French not only ran 17 days later, he shipped up to New York, where he finished third to the early Kentucky Derby favorite Hoist the Flag in the seven-furlong Bay Shore Stakes, run in a scorching 1:21.

--Just one week later, he was back in Florida, where he closed fast to finish third to Eastern Fleet in the Florida Derby, run in 1:47 2/5, just a fifth off the stakes record.

--Not content to wait for one final Derby prep, Campo put Jim French on a plane to California and ran him one week later in the Santa Anita Derby, which he won by 1 3/4 lengths in 1:48 1/5.

--Two weeks later, he was back in New York, where he finished a solid fourth to stablemate Good Behaving in the Wood Memorial.

So, Jim French entered the grueling Triple Crown series having competed in 10 stakes at five different racetracks in a little over four months, traveling from New York to Florida to New York to Florida to California, and back to New York. Although most horses would have been totally wiped out by now, Jim French went on to finish a fast-closing second to Canonero II in the Kentucky Derby, third in Canonero's track record-breaking Preakness, and a fast-closing second in the Belmont Stakes, in which he made up more than five lengths in the final furlong to be beaten three-quarters of a length.

Instead of being given a well-earned vacation following arguably the most ambitious Triple Crown campaign ever, Jim French amazingly was back in the starting gate two weeks after the Belmont, finishing a fast-closing fourth in the one-mile Pontiac Grand Prix (formerly the Arlington Classic) at Arlington Park. Following his first three-week "vacation" since the previous November, he shipped to California, where he finished second in the 1 1/4-mile Hollywood Derby, giving the winner, Bold Reason, 13 pounds. One week later, he was back in New York, winning the 1 1/4-mile Dwyer Handicap, conceding 12-15 pounds to the rest of the field.

In less than seven months, Jim French had run in 16 stakes from six furlongs to 1 1/2 miles, never finishing worse than fourth (except for his disqualification). During that time he competed at 10 different racetracks, made two round trip cross-country flights at a time when Eastern horses rarely flew to California for one race, and logged almost 20,000 miles of traveling.

Jim French resurfaced four weeks after the Dwyer and ran an uncharacteristic ninth as the 2-1 favorite in the Monmouth Invitational Handicap. It was discovered after the race that the colt had a spur in his right knee that had broken off. Several people around the horse, however, were convinced that he had been 'gotten to,' and made their feelings public. 

Campo then sent Jim French to Saratoga for the Travers, and that's when all hell broke loose. Prior to the Travers, it was announced that the colt had been impounded by the Saratoga County sheriff's office. His entry for the Travers was refused by the stewards. State steward Francis P. Dunne called it "the most complex racing situation I've ever encountered."

It had been discovered through a loan made by Jim French's co-owner Frank Caldwell, who had purchased the colt from his breeder Ralph Wilson during his 2-year-old campaign, that there was a hidden ownership issue surrounding the horse.

Caldwell, a Long Island furniture executive, had sold 70% of Jim French to Etta Sarant, and then taken out a loan from the Citizens National Bank and Trust Co. of Lexington, Ky., receiving a $130,000 advance after stating on his affidavit that he was the sole owner of Jim French. Leslie Combs II, a director of the bank, also assured that Jim French would stand at his Spendthrift Farm in Lexington.

It was discovered, however, that Mrs. Sarant, in whose name Jim French raced in the Monmouth Invitational, had no owner's license in New York, and had no interest in applying for one. After the Monmouth Invitational, Jim French was resold to construction executive Fred Cole, but he, too, was suspended by the New York Racing Commission for failure to appear to give testimony in the case. That left Jim French without an owner.

Dunne said at the time, "We have a real can of worms on our hands, and it's beginning to appear that not all of the worms have been pulled out of the can."

He was right. Officers of the Saratoga Country sheriff's office then filed a writ of attachment on behalf of the Citizens Bank. The New York Racing Commission, sensing a possible cover-up, began an investigation into the ownership of Jim French and several other horses owned by Caldwell.

According to the commission's findings, the true owner or part-owner of Jim French and the other horses was R. Robert LiButti, doing business as Robert Presti. The commission also concluded that the horse's ownership had been concealed from racing authorities, and stated that LiButti/Presti had been barred from racing in 1968. He maintained it was only a misunderstanding and that he had been exonerated of any wrongdoing.

LiButti said that undisclosed ownership was a common occurrence in racing, and his ownership of Jim French was not done to defraud the public, claiming that no crime had been committed.
On Oct. 13, 1971, the New York Racing Commission suspended Campo, Ralph Wilson, and trainer George Poole for 30 days for their role in the concealed ownership. Caldwell was ordered to appear before the commission to "show cause why his license should not be revoked."

As for Jim French, he was not allowed to run in the Travers. Because of the complexity of the case, and the danger of his knee eventually splitting due to the spur that had broken off, he was retired and sold (it was never officially reported by whom) to art dealer Daniel Wildenstein for $1 million and retired to Haras de la Verrerie in France, where he proved unsuccessful, siring only five stakes winners. He was then sent to Japan in 1977. His name did show up in America as the broodmare sire of Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) winner and grass champion Steinlen.

The name of Jim French has long since disappeared. The vast majority of today's racing fans have never even heard of him, which is a shame. This was a true Thoroughbred in every sense of the word, who gave 100% every time, despite being subjected to one of the most grueling racing schedules of any horse in the history of the sport.

More than three decades have passed, and now, at a time when it is so difficult to keep horses sound, and when many champions race only four or five times a year, it is important that we remember a horse like Jim French to remind us just how resilient Thoroughbreds can be.

There are no shrines or memorials to this gallant warrior, who deserved to go out fighting and be remembered for his amazing toughness and durability rather than the ignominious series of events that befell him at Saratoga. 



85 Comments

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Derblinda

Thanks Steve for the story.  I remember Jim French.  What a tough horse. If we could find a trainer who would operate somewhere in the middle between what Campo did and the ones of today, I think it would be better for racing.

20 Mar 2011 4:23 PM
CarryBack

Thanks for your column- I love your bringing in past history as you so often do! I remember Jim French quite well. As a devout fan of Graustark, I picked him early in his racing career and saw his Derby finish (my first Derby). However, even I was unaware of how often he raced. Thanks for refreshing the memory of this plucky colt.

20 Mar 2011 4:41 PM
Terry

I remember Jim French placing in all 3 Triple Crown races, but I didn't know about all the controversy. I wan only a teenager at the time.

What happened to Jim after he went to Japan? The story is unfinished!

20 Mar 2011 4:50 PM
goodwin

How sad...even if they are not stakes worthy, they are truly a remarkable breed. They ALL deserve a luxurious equine retirement.

20 Mar 2011 5:06 PM
joe c.

'Love when Steve brings back history.  While 1971 and Cannonero were the first year I became really aware of racing, who could forget Campo ten years later with Pleasant Colony.  His-actually Summing's-Belmont was the first race I was able to attend.  Here's to Jim French and the iron horses of yesterday.

20 Mar 2011 5:16 PM
John

Steve,

I was at Santa Anita the day he won the Derby.  I think he defeated a colt named Elephant Walk or something like that.

Steve, it was my understanding that Jim French the horse was named after a radio personality in the Seattle area.  That Jim French is known as the producer of the Imagination Theatre genre including radio mysteries such as the Harry Nile series.

Is this true?

20 Mar 2011 5:23 PM
Coldfacts

Steve,

Riveting Reason is no Jim French but his campaign to date is similar to Jim’s in the modern era. I lot of your supporters might be wondering why I mention this colt so often. I am of the opinion he is extra ordinarily tough for a Mr. Prospector line horse. Listed below is his brutal 2YO resume

7/31/2010 –  6F Debut Maiden Special: 3RD, 1 ¼

8/14/2010 -  6F Maiden Special; 2ND, 1/2L (Rest 14 days)

9/8/2010 -    7F DEL MAR FUTURIYT (G1); 3RD, 7 3/4L (Rest 24 days)

10/2/2010 –  8.5F NORFOLK (G1); 3RD, 2 ¾ (Rest 23 days)

11/6/2010 –  8.5F Breeders Cup Juv.  8TH, 16 1/4L (Rest 34 days)

11/25/2010 – 8.5F Maiden 1ST; 2 3/4L (Rest 18 days)

12/18/2010 – 8.5F Cash Call Fur. 5TH, 6 1/2L (Rest 22 days)

12/29/2010 -  8F Allowance 2ND, 1/2L (Rest 10 days)

Eight races including four G1s in 5 months covering 61 furlongs at four tracks with an average rest period of 18.12 days. His longest rest was 34 days and his shortest was 10 days. His last four races covered 33.5 furlongs in 53 days. This colt came back from his longest rest (44 days) and was asked to run the longest distance of his career in a Gll race. He got beat by a fitter colt by nose in 1:48.63. No other colt on the derby trail had that 2YO work load. His first 3YO race was extremely encouraging and suggests he is improving rapidly. It has been 37 days since his last race. He is now getting proper rest and with his foundation lactic acid will have to take a back seat when he is fully fit. He is a machine of a horse who is my Jim French.

20 Mar 2011 5:39 PM
Especially Horses

Steve, I remember Jim French and all the controversy and I am at this moment visualizing John Campo, a character right out of a Dick Francis mystery. Oh, and Canonero II, now there’s another unconventional story to tell.

20 Mar 2011 5:41 PM
Dani

What an amazing story. It seems almost impossible a horse could do what he did. Thank you for bringing his name out into the light of day for me as I had never heard of him before today. Jim French and his incredible story will certainly be one I remember. What a most remarkable horse.

20 Mar 2011 5:45 PM
LongStoryTB

I remember him!  What a wonderful story.  Thank you for sharing with us all.

20 Mar 2011 6:06 PM
Abigail Anderson

Steve -- Great story on Jim French. What a campaign compared to the races run by most 3 year-olds now. It makes me wonder, still again -- although it remains a chicken- before- the-egg conundrum -- about the breeding-racing connection today. I mean, if you booked to Jim French you knew what he had going. But can you say that about a colt who races maybe 8 times in his whole career & is then retired? The flip side (more interesting to me) is whether or not we're breeding horses that we shouldn't even consider introducing into the bloodlines, because they're brief stardom on the track makes them a sure bet at the sales....

20 Mar 2011 6:20 PM
Bill Daly

Great story about a most remarkable horse and trainer.  No horse better exemplifies the difference between thoroughbreds of yesteryear and those of today.  They were a much tougher breed, but Jim French was off the charts as far as stamina and durability. It's interesting that Campo admitted he really didn't what he was doing with his training of Jim French.  He made some unusual moves as a trainer including one time he entered a horse in a race at Timonium - the Maryland bullring.  The horse had been training and racing at Belmont - the complete antithesis of Timonium. He appeared with his jockey at the time - Frank Lovato Jr.  I can still see Campo standing on what passes for an apron, chomping on his cigar, in front of the little grandstand watching Lovato attempt to keep the horse from bolting on the turns.  I think he ran second to a horse he undoubtedly would have beaten had the race been run at Belmont - or Aqueduct for that matter.  I still wonder what he was thinking??  Quite a character, John Campo Sr was.

20 Mar 2011 6:32 PM
GJU

Wow, Steve! GREAT, great article. I have to admit, I'm one of the guilty ones who had never heard of Jim French, but after reading his accomplishments, I feel like his name should be up there with the great ones...as in...I should know about this horse. Well, I do now. Thanks for posting the article again, Steve. It's always great to learn about stories like this (even I do feel a little bad for the horse).

20 Mar 2011 6:38 PM
Deacon

Amazing story Steve, I remember Jim French very well, but I never knew any of the history surrounding him. Tough little guy, by Graustark as you say. His dam was Dinner Party who was by Tom Fool. The bloodline goes back to who else, Man O War.  

I think he ran 27/28 times or so and won 9 but was second or third 10 or 11 other times. Very hard hitting horse, a three year old iron horse. Extremely rare these days. I saw him run at Hollywood Park, really liked his toughness.

20 Mar 2011 6:38 PM
Greybirdk

Thanks for this story.  As soon as I read this amazing horse had been an unsuccessful sire in Japan, my heart sank.  I imagine he met the same horrible end as Ferdinand.  Bring our horses home.  

20 Mar 2011 6:54 PM
Tammy

I remember Jim French and he deserves to be remembered.

In fact someone needs to write a book about the warriors, The Iron horses.

Champions or not we should celebrate those's from a time where you could bond with your favorites. Win or lose we followed them, we loved them. It was a glorious era, horses ran more then four or five times a year for one or two years. How sad for us, how sad for racing.

20 Mar 2011 7:02 PM
Matthew W

After the skinny horse beat Unconscious, who was a fine horse, Johnny Campo schrugs it off and insults West Coast racing--"He didn't beat much"....that skinny horse went all over beating up on bigger horses, truly a gem, lost in the Cannonero saga of that year....

20 Mar 2011 7:10 PM
Steve Haskin

Riveting Reason is dealing with a hoof problem right now and is being given some time off. The Derby is a longshot at best.

20 Mar 2011 7:12 PM
Matthew W

I remember another little stayer, not as good as Cougar II or Fort Marcy or Drumtop or Typecast--but the smallish, one-eyed horse named "The Pruner", Steve, that little guy races on both coasts, against the very best--and I rooted for him!

20 Mar 2011 7:17 PM
Steve Haskin

Matthew, the Canonero saga is the greatest story in the last 50 years in my opinion. I wrote a two-part behind-the-scenes blog a couple of years ago covering his entire career, with lots of little-known stuff included. It still amazes me after all these years. I would love to see it made into an animated movie. It could be a great bridge between North and South America. There was some interest in making it into a movie based on my blog, but nothing ever came of it.

I remember The Pruner. He was owned by Phipps.

20 Mar 2011 7:18 PM
Especially Horses

Steve, what month and year did you blog the Canonero story?  He is one of my all time favorites and I want to go to your Archives to read his story.

20 Mar 2011 7:45 PM
7 1/2 Furlongs

Mr. Haskin -

Nineteen seventy-one was my second year in horse racing.  I think Unconscious was the top 3-year old in California that spring (or the following year).  Back then, East Coast trainers shipped horses to California with a lot more success than today.

How John Campo trained and raced Jim French is a complete 180- degree about face, compared to the high profile New York-Florida trainers of top 3-year olds now.

In the early 1970s, Campo trained in the age of innocence, when there were fewer considerations, mostly business-related, influencing trainer decision-making.

I prefer horse racing back then.

It was more of a sport and recreational, and not so high-tech with so much commercialization.

Thanks for the article on horse and trainer.  

20 Mar 2011 7:46 PM
Dan

Truely an iron horse. We need more horses like Jim French.

20 Mar 2011 7:48 PM
John T

I remember the 1971 season so very well, mainly because I was heartbroken when Hoist The Flag

had to be retired as I was quite

sure he was about to become one of the all time greats.Something we shall never know.But as that was my first experience with the American Triple Crown I soon got caught up in all the hoopla especially after Canonero won the first two legs and he was a son of

Pretendre who with a young Paul Cook in the saddle got out-foxed by

the Australian jockey Scobie Breasley on Charlottown in the 1966

Epsom Derby and had to settle for

second.

As the trainer of Jim French,John Campo stated he had not been training very long at the time and

he probably should not have had all

those races as a 3 year old so it was a tremendous accomplishment for

Jim French to be placed in all 3 triple crown races that year.

20 Mar 2011 7:49 PM
Dan

@Steve, can you repost the blog about Cannonero.

20 Mar 2011 7:52 PM
anita

Hi Steve,

 I remember both horses-I picked Cannero in the Derby -nly because my sister lives in Venezula. I had much respect for Jim French.

Wish todays horses ran more often.

Even more workouts; it is really sad to see horses not run as ofter as they did in the past. Maybe Aquduct should have a stakes races named after Jim French. He deserves his day. thanks

20 Mar 2011 8:11 PM
Zookeeper

Mr. Haskin, you can't make this stuff up. What an amazing horse! Not so sure about his trainer... If someone tried to do this today, I'd be the first one to scream bloody murder. But then again, none of today's horses could "thrive" under this regiment. I doubt that many of them could, even back then, when horses were much sturdier.

Thank you for bringing him out of the dusty corners of racing history. He deserves no less. Now we know that there was once a courageous horse named Jim French. Trevor Denman would say: "The more they asked, the more he gave!" And how was he rewarded for his valiant efforts?...

It's a great story Mr. Haskin, but it made me a little sad.

20 Mar 2011 8:25 PM
Tanbon

Hi Steve, I think there would be a lot of interest in hearing the end of your story about Jim French. What happened to him in Japan and afterwards? We're all hoping such a glorious colt had a happy ending and didnt suffer an inglorious end due to greed and indifference? Either way, we'd like to know?

20 Mar 2011 8:44 PM
Steve Haskin

Especially horses and Dan, here are the two links (two-part story). Trust me, you cant make this stuff up. I noticed the comments and only a few people still comment now, so I'm thinking a lot of these old blogs are new to the current group of posters.

Nov. 19, 2008 --cs.bloodhorse.com/.../Viva-Canonero_2100_.aspx

Nov. 23, 2008--

cs.bloodhorse.com/.../Viva-Canonero_2100_-Part-2.aspx

20 Mar 2011 8:54 PM
will

Steve.

there were many tough & durable horses in that era.Two that come to mind are Alma North & Twin Time both owned by Eugene Mori.He purchased both at auction without the expertise of the modern day bloodstock agent,turned them over to an unheraled trainer and here is all they accomplished

Alma North made 78 starts,23wins,14seconds & 18 thirds with earnings of $513,597.

Twin Time raced for five years,89 starts,18wins,15seconds &  16thirds with $269,687 next to his name.

I do not agree that horses are less tough today than in the era of which we speak.The mind set of their connections have changed.

20 Mar 2011 9:06 PM
Steve Haskin

Especially Horses and Dan, for some reason I cant cut and past the links to those stories on here. So just click on to Nov. 19 and Nov. 23, 2008 on the right side of the archive page and theyre the two top stories. Obviously read part I first :). you cant make this stuff up.

20 Mar 2011 9:09 PM
buttnell70

Jim French was a generous hard hitting race horse I compare him to Nearctic both legends,both deserve recognition always.Thanks for the well deserved article Steve.

20 Mar 2011 9:14 PM
Matthew W

I saw Cannonero II work out, between races, at Santa Anita, in 1972--he was breathing fire--he then went back East and (I think) won a Gr I as a four year old--he was some kinda good--had stamina as well as speed--certainly one of thse underrated horses we've been blogging about....the story itself is great--his Derby itself was among the more powerfull I've seen, as well....

20 Mar 2011 9:21 PM
Especially Horses

@Steve. Thanks!

@John T: 1971 was the first year I was fully engrossed in Horse Racing and of course Cannonero and the possibility of a Triple Crown only fired my enthusiasm. I was fifteen and remember crying when I learned of Hoist the Flag’s career-ending injury.  The year before I had watched my first horse race on television when High Echelon won the Belmont Stakes and I was hooked.  Soon after I begged my dad to take me to Santa Anita.  At the time I was a subscriber to The Western Horseman, but soon after I cancelled my subscription so I could afford to subscribe to The BloodHorse (actually I talked my dad into paying for the subscription – he told me I could only get one magazine and to choose which one I wanted).  The Western Horseman sent me a letter asking why I cancelled and I wrote back “I am into Thoroughbreds and Horseracing now”.  It’s 2011 and I am into Thoroughbreds and Horseracing still.

20 Mar 2011 9:36 PM
Abigail Anderson

Just read the Canonero II story -- you're not kidding, Steve. It would make an AMAZING movie!!!! So....start writing?????

20 Mar 2011 10:01 PM
M-D

Yes, it is a fascinating story but more importantly...

may we ask, what happened to Jim French in Japan?

Do we know when he died & what were the circumstances of his death?

Jim French's death & the circumstances of his death are every bit as important as any of the other details of his life.

20 Mar 2011 10:01 PM
debbie

hi steve, great story.  i just love it when you take us all back.  i, too, would love to know what happened to jim french...

20 Mar 2011 10:16 PM
EM

yes great story!  Thank you...reminded me of Exterminator...does anyone remember him???? Anyway is it possible to find out what happened to Jim French or is it to sad to mention.

20 Mar 2011 10:35 PM
HT JohnnyYou & Lenny have been doing a lot of reminiscing

Another great job, Steve. I had no idea about Jim French's career beyond the Triple Crown. You & Lenny seem quite disturbed of late by the inactivity of today's horses in comparison to the old days. It's sort of the baseball equivalent of the starting pitcher completing 30 games and pitching 340 innings. You'll just never see it again. Campo had a splendid little filly named Talking Picture who I remember running a lot in '73 but ultimately had a short career. Always wondered what became of her.

20 Mar 2011 11:59 PM
HorseApples

Thanks for the story on Jim French. Remember him well. One of my all time favorite horses was Victory Beauty. Raced from age two to age thirteen.(1958-1970)

Starts:184  Wins:41  Places:18  Shows:28...Holy cow, I really miss the old days!!

21 Mar 2011 12:00 AM
John Manley

A postscript to this story -- Libutti was later involved with Devil His Due, which ran in the name of his daughter, Edith. If I remember the story correctly, tax authorities one day showed up at Allen Jerkens' barn in Saratoga to try to confiscate the horse to satisfy a tax lien that had been placed against Mr. Libutti.

21 Mar 2011 1:18 AM
Steve Haskin

I tried years ago to find out what happened to Jim French, but everything is very vague, even from the time he stood in France.

Johnny, you are so right. I always use the roll of the starting pitcher today to compare how times have changed in baseball.

Unconscious actually was the favorite in the Derby off his impressive win in the California Derby. Big, handsome flashy chestnut with a white face.

Matthew, he won the Stymie Handicap beating Riva ridge.

John T, I was at Aqueduct the day Hoist the Flag won the Bay Shore in 1:21 -- incredible race and amazing horse. He would have been one of the all-time greats. I was at the Morning Telegraph when we got a message from our NY columnist saying that the insurance company was reporting HTF was going to be put down that afternoon.

21 Mar 2011 1:42 AM
Deacon

The mention of Unconscious is a true walk down memory lane. Remember him well, he was by Prince Royal III who was also by Ribot. What a bloodline.

Hoist the Flag was absolutely brilliant.  You're right Steve he could have been one of the best. He was by Tom

Rolfe who was also by the great Ribot.

Hoist the Flags dam, Wavy Navy was by War Admiral who was by Man O War (of course).

Thanks again .............  

21 Mar 2011 3:17 AM
Tesio

 I'll see your Jim French and raise you Trillion. On six consecutive weekends in October/November 1979, she finished fifth in the Arc (2400 meters), third in the Preis von Europa(ditto) and second in the Canadian International(13 furlongs), Aqueduct Turf Classic, Oak Tree Invitational and Washington DC International(all at 12 furlongs).   She then produced Triptych (by Riverman), who was almost as tough as her mother.                                PS: Talking Picture produced Irish 1000 Guineas winner Trusted Partner (by Affirmed).

21 Mar 2011 6:14 AM
Rachel

As a teenager, I do remember Jim French, though I did not know he ended up in Japan.

Zookeeper, we still have many iron horses today who race with the frequency of little Jim French... who have 50...100...150 starts...they're in the bread n' butter ranks...(funny thing, though, they pay out the same at the betting window.)♥

21 Mar 2011 7:12 AM
Susan

Great story Steve,

Say what you want about Mr. Campo, yes he was a character, but he trained the Derby winner , and great sire Pleasant Colony.

I liked your last comment mentioning the Morning Telegraph,  it made me smile.

Makes me think of my dad, and the good old days....

21 Mar 2011 7:42 AM
connirichmond@yahoo.comatpix!

Seeing Jim French in an article caught my eye, as I had only heard of him through my own horses pedigree's. My mare ran 48 times and produced a filly that ran 42 times. They were not stake winners buty paid thier own way, gutty gritty mares that ran and won from 4 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/8. Small as well, thanks for ths aticle, it is awesome.

21 Mar 2011 7:48 AM
Dwayne

Great Story Steve! In an era of lightly raced stakes horses, the story of Jim French is amazing. It is sad he retired in relative obscurity.

21 Mar 2011 7:58 AM
DanC

Steve:  I know you are a busy guy, but for your readers' sake, can you try a little harder to find out this horse's fate?  Just looking at pedigreequery.com indicates he was siring well into the late 1980's; someone with your connections should be able to pick up the trail from there.  Thanks.

21 Mar 2011 8:56 AM
BillRink

Hi Steve,  Thanks for another superb article. I am really impressed with the resillency of Jim French, what a campaigner.I can only wonder about his connections, both on and off the track. They really did grind on this horse. He must of had a great mind. I'm also wondering about his progeny, you said he didn't get alot of runners. His pedigree would suggest the possibility as a good Broodmare Sire. From a quick view it appears he sired a large percentage of fillies. Reading a story like his really has me hoping he finished out good. After Japan, do you know what happened? Thanks Bill

21 Mar 2011 9:02 AM
Bill Daly

Speaking of HTF, I remember the race prior to the Bay Shore in which he beat a sadly overmatched bunch at Bowie by the length of the grandstand.  That horse had amazing ability and was trained by a real old school horseman: Sid Watters.  Mr. Watters was Dickie Small's uncle so training horses really ran in the family tree!

21 Mar 2011 9:06 AM
Rachel

Hoist The Flag is also the grandsire of Personal Ensign, who ran most of her races after a bad injury in her 2 year-old year...

21 Mar 2011 9:07 AM
Pedigree Ann

The academic year 1970-1971 was my freshman year in SoCal and my first time being near a major racetrack. Up until then, I lived in the wilds of Minnesota (well, suburban Twin CIties) pre-Canterbury and never saw any races except the Triple Crown on TV. A whole world was opened up to me. I could buy the Racing Form for 50 cents (I still couldn't afford it every day) at the local drug store and follow racing all over the country!

That was the season I fell in love with His Felinity, Cougar II, newly come from Chile. And it was the first time I chose a Derby horse to follow all the way to the big dance and that horse was plucky little Jim French. Every time I knew he was going to race, I would wear his colors (green and yellow; hey, I was freshman) for luck, then often had to wait for a day to find out the result of the race from the newspaper. Oh, I cheered so hard for him in the Derby and Belmont - "Get 'im, Jim!" - and he always tried his best.

After I went home for the summer it was harder to find out what was going on with him; I never did find out entirely what the Travers controversy was about. It was such a shame that a hickory dirt horse like Jimbo ended up at stud in a soft turf country; one could have predicted he wouldn't sire the sort of horses the French wanted. He should have been here, siring more like himself.

I never got to see him in person, even when he ran at Santa Anita; I didn't have a car and couldn't get a ride. But he was my first Derby horse and very special to me. He showed me that racehorses are for racing and that losing a race isn't the end of the world.

By the way, have you seen the Cheltenham Gold Cup replay? The two 11yo superstars Denman and Kauto Star slugging it out down the final hill after 3 miles, neither giving an inch, only to be overtaken by a kid, a mere 6yo, in one of the fastest times ever. Thoroughbreds are capable of so much more than modern US trainers are willing to ask them for.

21 Mar 2011 9:09 AM
DanC

For what its worth, Wikipedia states that Jim French died "forgotten" in 1992; no source is cited for that fact though.

21 Mar 2011 9:10 AM
RG

John had Protagonist in the 1974 Stepping Stone and some people around the paddock were very verbally abusive to him telling him to scratch the horse. I don't know what they saw but the horse never got a call and never ran again. Left an impression with me. Never bet a Campo horse after that.

21 Mar 2011 9:29 AM
peggy7

Jim French and Campo---great retelling. You should do a column briefly outlining several past greats who trained similarly. I heard firs hand how Sunny Jim trained Nashua for that match race, Hirsch Jacobs, one of the greatest trainers/breeders said he'd rather work them for the money than wear them out in the morning. Then of course there is Tesio, and we know how he trained Nearco and Ribot.

21 Mar 2011 9:32 AM
LouAnn Cingel of Union, Missouri

Wow, man o man, what a story, no what a horse!  Thanks for bringing Jim French to the forefront in this day.  Never heard of him and that is a big travesty.  This horse deserves to be honored for all that he went through and for the grueling races he ran in.  May he be happy and rest in peace and glory up above the clouds!  I will remember you Jim French!

21 Mar 2011 9:44 AM
steve from st louis

Steve, your take on Jim French brought back the name of my absolute all-time favorite,  Graustark. After winning seven straight to start his career, his only loss came in the 1969 Blue Grass when Graustark lost by a nose to Abe's Hope despite fracturing a coffin bone during the race. With no disrespect, Uncle Mo couldn't warm Graustark up.

21 Mar 2011 10:18 AM
TripleCrowKaren

As usual Steve, you picked another "good un" to write about.   I remember  "little" Jim French well.    Also remember the tragedy of losing Hoist The Flag,   Like it was yesterday.    Seem the 70's had a lot of "Iron Horses"....look at the workouts that the great Secretariat used to "eat up" and just keep on going.    And the Mighty FOREGO.  How many fans knew how fragile those legs were on that "giant" of a horse?  How his trainer kept him together and under the high weights they kept throwing at him is beyond me!   Hope someday we get back to actully breeding horses that can LAST!

21 Mar 2011 10:38 AM
Big Lou

I remenber my father owning a littie cheap claming mare that she would race Sunday,Wenesday,& Friday,and she did that for a long long time.She would never be less than  third.She was amazing.

21 Mar 2011 11:12 AM
Derby Dew

Steve,

Thanks for bringing Jim French to mind.  Going along for the ride on your trips down memory lane keep the fires burning for what was once a true sport.  Those were the days when equine athletes competed with heart and muscle against all comers for the love of running.  

I'm from the school of thought that believes horses can derive more mental sharpness and physical fitness from competing in races than they can from morning workouts.  A good example of today's mindset are the Triple Crown preparations which are heavy on training, light on racing, with everyone avoiding each other until Derby day.  With the delicate handling of today's 3yo contenders, many of them seem ill prepared to run in a tough race like the Derby.  They are probably bored to death with these mundane workouts and would much prefer the stimulating experience of a race.  Just ask 'em? (okay, I've gone a little overboard here, but recalling Jim French just gets my juices flowing).

Win or lose, Jim French just loved to run, and we racing fans were inspired by his performances.  He was some racehorse!

21 Mar 2011 11:28 AM
Zen's Auntie

Steve Haskin,

I put off reading this because I was out of soft tissues. This morning, I sat down with coffee alone in the quiet and really enjoyed this.

Thank you once again what a great story about a great horse.

This is just before my TB obsession that became a love affair that forged me as a Lifelong TB fan.  God Bless them all - For all the reasons that make the breed so amazing.

I'll take roughed up Cast Iron over fine china any day.

Running well,  makes you a better runner. Can you imagine never worse than 4th in that schedule? Today?

still I belive in retiring them sound, so they can go on to useful lives. TB Horses live 25 years there is so much more life left in them after the track.  

Its unthinkable that any horse who has ever won a dime or tried to would ever be "lost". Less beliveable the likes of Jim French or Ferdinand but sadly it is all too common.

I dont even want to know what happened to him in Japan.  Its just too sad.  

Thanks for the reference to the 2 part story - Im reading that next.  Mondays are so peaceful.

21 Mar 2011 11:56 AM
makarra

picture of Jim French:

www.sporthorse-data.com/.../Horse_Jim_French-big.jpg

picture of Jim French

21 Mar 2011 11:59 AM
Zen's Auntie

Pedigree Ann I could not agree with you more. The best eventing horses are TB's Many are track retired sound.

Lets face it, oval flat racing is kittens play to that lions den. If done right on a sound built horse the more you ask from a TB the more you get this builds heart both litterally and in spirit. They get smarter too, TB's have a huge capacity to learn, if you help them.

21 Mar 2011 12:10 PM
Deacon

Steve from St. Louis: The 1969 Blue Grass Stakes was won by Arts and Letters, who was trained by Elliot Burch and ridden by the great Bill Shoemaker.  Graustark lost the 1966 Blue Grass Stakes to Abe's Hope by a nose. Ironically, who was also ridden by Bill Shoemaker. Graustark bred by John Galbreath and owned by the Darby Dan Farms.

I wouldn't disagree that Uncle Mo may not be as talented as Graustark (few were) but lets at least give the guy a chance and see how he performs in the triple crown. History is made on the racetrack.  

21 Mar 2011 12:21 PM
LAZMANNICK

A wonderful story Steve.  I remember reading it the first time around......I have the past performances for that 1971 Kentucky Derby when Jim French came from as far back as 11th to finish a bang up second.  When you look at the PP’s several unbelievable things stand out.  There were 20 starters and combined they had 263 total starts heading into the race for an average of 13 starts per horse, and 70 total wins for a win Pct. of 27%.  Of the 20 starters, only 9 or 45% were actual stakes winners, 4 were maiden only winners and one, was still a maiden.  It was a pretty deep field, however, with some very talented horses including Jim French; Canonero (the winner); Unconscious who would defeat Triple bend twice and finish a bang up second to Cougar II and actually defeat both in the San Antonio Hdcp.; career 14 race winner Helio Rise; Eastern Fleet who would defeat both Jim French and Executioner in the Florida Derby and who was making his 11th start of the year in the Derby (finished 4th); and Executioner who would win several big races including the Flamingo (a big race back then) and the Met Mile.  The good old days steeped in history.  Thanks so much for the memories.

21 Mar 2011 12:59 PM
Cris

Back in the day, a trainer raced his horse into condition. Every race was not meant to be a winning one and since they only had to recover from the race and not the drugs, they popped up in less days.

21 Mar 2011 1:14 PM
Carmel

I remember Jim French running in the Triple Crown races, even though I was only 11 at the time.  It was so nice to read more about him and find out what a hard trying little horse he was. I too would like to know what happened to him after he was sent to Japan........I only pray he did not suffer Ferdinand's fate.

21 Mar 2011 1:38 PM
mz

I add my name to the people who remember Jim French.

Also remember he went to France.

RIP

21 Mar 2011 1:38 PM
steve from st louis

Deacon: I was mixed up on dates of that Blue Grass--that happens at my age--but I will always remember Graustark, how he always ran "angry" like he had a chip on his shoulder, as if he knew that Easterners loved Phipps'  Buckpasser as their Derby horse and he was going to make Midwesterners proud by backing him. Of course, neither of them even made the Derby.

Categorically, no horse was ever so mismanaged by their trainer as Graustark was by Boo Gentry.

Deacon, you gotta' understand that Graustark worked in 33 2/5   in his Keeneland blow-out, a day which clockers reported was the 45th day in succession that Graustark was brought to the track to work. If a trainer did that today, he'd lose all his stock and be brought up on cruelty charges.

And you're probably right to give Uncle Mo his chance. And I will. I'll watch quietly as that Indian Charlie blood starts boiling about  the quarter pole and he cooks himself out inside the furlong marker in the Churchill dust.

21 Mar 2011 2:55 PM
sceptre

Thanks for the nice recollection. Yes, I remember him well. Had then focused a bit on him, because he was by Graustark out of a Tom Fool mare which later proved to be an exceptional "nick" (and was a combination of two of the all-time greats)...Hard for me to buy that Campo didn't know what he was doing re-running him so often. As I recall, John Campo groomed for Eddie Neloy and, I believe, rubbed Buckpasser. So, Campo had first hand experience on how things were done. Despite his number of starts at 2 into 3, I wouldn't characterize Jim French as an "iron horse". As you said, he developed spurs---chips, and was retired mid-way through his 3 yr. old season. Certainly isn't testimony for running them more frequently. Likely truth is that we've learned more about how to better manage a racing career-and this knowledge tells us to run them less frequently. My guess is that we'll learn more still, which will lead to even fewer starts. For example, we'll be better able to more easily detect subtle microfractures, and other effects common to wear and tear. It's all for the better-less chance to keep a "blind eye"-so let's stop rose coloring the good old days and the excessive racing of horses.

21 Mar 2011 2:56 PM
Linda in Texas

I would really rather not know Jim French's fate. Perhaps he died in his stall as did Cannonero. I will remember and think of him as flying thru the fields, meadows and pastures 'Upstairs' as i do all of them.

Death of anything is hard to take even at an old age and all used up.

Today would have been my dad's 98th

Birthday. Lost him to the big C 35 years ago.But how he died does not lessen what he accomplished in his life.

And so too with thoroughbreds, that is the way i like to think of all of them who leave their heart

and marks on the tracks but i still want them to die with dignity and remembered as such.

Jim French made a name for himself and did his owner and fans a great favor by doing what he could the best he could, and he was a strappy gutty smallish horse. And as much as he raced he should have been a goodwill ambassador.

And Zen's Auntie, don't move the tissue box, you will need it for The Cannonero Parts 1 and 2. Read it last year when i realized i could access all of Steve Haskin's writings just when i had discovered Hangin' With Haskin. So it was a wonderful introduction to what has been a great year on this blog with so many super folks. And many new ones each week. That is so nice.

And how 'bout Band Box and Quantum Miss's wins over the week end and a couple other grays also? But the

biggest gray win was The Factor.

Now maybe he will get some respect and fans will realize he does have stamina and 'leadability.' He had

a determination expression on his face that was as serious as a heartbeat! The whole time he was racing i wondered what he was thinking and saying to himself!

I was happy for him and for his owners. That was an impressive win.

I wish him many more.

Thanks Steve Haskin. In the end we all are left with our memories and thank God those cannot be taxed!!

21 Mar 2011 3:43 PM
Richie

Well, Steve you've done it again. Brought back memories that I'd not thought of in many years. Jim French was one of my very favorite horses back than when I was first discovering our wonderful sport. It's funny but I don't remember thinking that he was racing too many times. It just meant more chances to watch him run, which of course is why horses had large fan followings in those days. It also brought back memories of another forgotten "iron horse" that I groomed many years ago for the great Dicky Dutrow named Lexington Park. He was a minor Sw in Md and finally moved down the ladder and was claimed in 1978, I believe. I lost track of him but when I had to leave the track due to illness and moved to New England I saw his name listed in the entries at the old Great Barrington Fair. I was determined to drive there and claim him and bring him back to live out the rest of his life in a nice pasture in the Green Mountains but by the time I got down there he was gone and I was never able to track him down or find where he was. Btw , his record was 209 Starts 47-35-29. I've always hoped that he ended up with some people that loved him and took care of him in his later years. Thanks for the memories, Jim French and "Lex".

21 Mar 2011 7:23 PM
HT Johnny

I wonder if the ill-advised shipping of Seattle Slew to run in the Swaps following the Triple Crown was something of a turning point.

-----

There was a time in NY when Pancho's entry of Black Match & Intensitivo appeared almost daily.

21 Mar 2011 7:42 PM
HorseApples

HT Johnny...

I was at the track that day 'Hollywood Park'.  Willie Shoemaker said before the race that if he was ever going to get beat..that would be the day. JO Tobin had the best race of his life and won...broke my heart!

21 Mar 2011 9:48 PM
Bill Daly

Richie, you were fortunate to groom for Dickie Dutrow and even more fortunate to have groomed Lexington Park.  Talk about endurance and stamina, that horse raced until he was 15 or so.  It is sad indeed that he wound up at GBF.  He was an important stakes winner [John B. Campbell in 1971 among others].  He was one of the ones that helped boost Dutrow's career and one of my all time favorites.  Like Jim French, he deserved a better end.

21 Mar 2011 10:04 PM
arazi

i used to love jim french... if i can remember didnt eddie belmonte ride him. What a closer. Thanks for another great article.

21 Mar 2011 10:05 PM
txhorsefan

Well you have certainly taken up another large part of another day, Steve!  And reading blogs I've already read - that's just the trouble with you - here I sit all day reading through the old blogs and all the old comments and lost in the reverie of those days gone by.  You have such a way with words to weave these stories for us, Steve, and even though it sounds like I'm griping on the one side, I hope you know how much I have really loved spending this time in reading your stories again today.  I can never say thank you enough for bringing these horses to life for me.  Thank you.

21 Mar 2011 10:38 PM
Deacon

Steve in St. Louis:  I as well was very fond of Graustark. In fact I had ongoing discussions with several friends and trainers at Santa Anita where my dad used to hang out about who was the better horse and who would do the best in the triple crown. My dad and most of the other folks favored Buckpasser. He would have been the favorite, he was quite a beast on the race track. I loved Graustark, he was lightly raced and I felt he was peeking at the right time. As far as workouts go, that is something I don't put a tremendous amount of stock in. Every trainer I ever met always seemed to have a different method of bringing a horse up to a race. To each his own, and what they believe works for them. We all know training and racing a horse was much different back then. I think Baeza would have rode Graustark if both horses would have raced, he always said that Graustark was one of the top 2 horses he ever rode. The other being the legendary Dr. Fager, trained by one of Mr. Haskin's favorite trainers John Nerud.

So ironically, neither horse ran and Kauai King ends up winning the Derby, who knew.

Such is horse racing.

21 Mar 2011 11:51 PM
Larry Ensor

I believe Jim French died of natural causes in the early 90’s, 92?

22 Mar 2011 9:01 AM
buzzatoga

I remember Jim French, but I didn't remember this remarkable series of races.  Thanks!

22 Mar 2011 9:52 AM
Convene

I remember Jim French and few gutsier horses have ever been foaled. Can you imagine today's hothouse flowers on a campaign even HALF as intense? I think that was a bit much in the opposite direction but the point is that he did indeed seem to thrive on it. Ironically, many horses of that time had campaigns that today would be unimaginable. I mean - 3 or 4 starts before the Derby? IMHO that's ridiculous!

Thanks for reminding me of Jim French. I saw him and cheered for him but somehow he did indeed slip from my memory - and he deserved to be remembered.

22 Mar 2011 7:16 PM
Ellen Zachary

What a great story...I did not know about Jim French...what a tough horse!  Steve, you are so right in that he deserved so much better after such an amazing career...wow..

26 Mar 2011 11:57 PM
Judi B

to HT Johnny:

Yes, it was a huge mistake to shiip Seatle Slew to Calif. for the

Swaps.  He had just won the Triple Crown (8 races/8 wins). He had a grueling campaign and didn't have

anything to prove at that point.

trainer, Billy Turner advised the owners that if they ran him in the

Swaps, he would quit the team.

Slew raced and lost, Turner quit as trainer.  

The owners had scheduled a series of stops on the way back to Kentucky, to "show" Slew to his adoring public.  I was at Longacres the day he did his "golden gallop".  He was a magnificent-looking colt and I have pictures showing how "washed-out" he was that day.  

When they finally got him back home

it was soon announced that he was very sick.  They almost lost him!

It took him almost a year to recover and return to racing.  He was never quite the same.  

I shudder to think that if he had died, we wouldn't have seen the great sirelines he has established

through A P Indy (you know who they are)and others. He also sired

many top fillies who are still giving us those bloodlines.  He was

special.  I've read that no one knows how fast he could go, because once he got the lead, he

only went as fast as was needed to win. It was wonderful to see a horse running free (Secretariat in the Belmont) and I have to wonder how Seattle Slew would have liked that, given the chance.  

Judi B

27 Mar 2011 12:24 AM
Dwayne

Wow! as a racing fan I am saddened that this Iron Horse retired in obscurity. This story chokes me up.

I can only hope his last days were happy ones

21 Apr 2011 2:47 PM

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