The Story of Mort and Omaha

The Triple Crown. As the years expand into decades, the feat of sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes becomes more Herculean with each failed attempt, and those three words begin to take on more of a mystical quality.

While not as elusive at the Holy Grail, the quest to obtain the Triple Crown trophy and rediscover the glory of a time long passed continues to grow stronger. For those who witnessed Affirmed’s last Triple Crown sweep, it is hard to believe that a 40-year-old person today has no memory of an event that still seems so fresh in so many minds.

Prior to Secretariat, the well descends dramatically back to the glory days of the 1940s, when Count Fleet, Whirlaway, Assault, and Citation swept the Triple Crown. Those images are now captured only in rare black and white photos and decaying film footage.

We cannot even hope to capture the equine heroes of the 1930s, when the Triple Crown came of age. Gallant Fox, Omaha, and War Admiral are no more than imageless names that flow easily off our tongue, much like Ruth, Gehrig, and Foxx, and all athletes, both human and equine, who helped supply moments of relief to a nation during the Great Depression. 

Although the portal back to those early years of the Triple Crown has all but closed, there still is one person around now who had the “honor and privilege” of caring for Omaha and developing a close friendship with him during the last nine years of the horse’s life.

For 87-year-old Morton Porter, the memories still are indelible, as he recalls those magical years with the only internationally renowned Triple Crown winner, who not only left his mark in America, but also in Great Britain.

“It was something to remember for a lifetime, and of course it’s certainly my only claim to fame,” Porter said from his home in Omaha, where he lives with his wife Mary and close to his four children and 10 grandchildren. “I have fond memories of the nine years I helped take care of him. It was a spectacular event for all of us out here because he was a truly famous horse, and every year that goes by and we don’t get another Triple Crown winner, it puts him in a more selective class all the time.”

Following his Triple Crown sweep in 1935, Omaha, trained by the legendary Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, scored back-to-back victories in the Dwyer Stakes and Arlington Classic before being sidelined the remainder of the year with an injury. The colt’s owner, William Woodward Sr. of Belair Stud in Maryland had always wanted to race him in England, and in 1936, he sent him to trainer Cecil Boyd-Rochfort.

In his four starts in England, Omaha captured two races at Kempton, including the two-mile Queens Plate, before dropping a heartbreaking nose decision to Quashed in the prestigious Ascot Gold Cup, run over 2 1/2 miles. He concluded his career with a neck defeat in the Princess of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket.

In England’s Observer Sport Monthly, the Quashed-Omaha Ascot Gold Cup was named the greatest race of all time, beating out the famous Grundy-Bustino King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Secretariat’s Belmont, the Affirmed-Alydar Belmont, and Arkle’s victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Jack Leach, a top jockey who became a racing writer for the Observer, wrote: “To see Quashed and Omaha battle out the finish of the Ascot Gold Cup took years off a man’s life, though it was well worth it.”

In remembering Omaha, the Daily Racing Form’s noted turf writer who went by the pen name of Salvator, wrote: “In action, he was a glorious sight; few Thoroughbreds have exhibited such a magnificent, sweeping, space-annihilating stride, or carried it with such strength and precision. His place is among the Titans of the American Turf.”

It was Porter’s father, Grosvenor (Grove), who owned a small horse farm and apple orchard in Nebraska City, about 45 miles south of Omaha, and J.J. “Jake” Isaacson, general manager of Ak-Sar-Ben Racetrack, who ultimately convinced Woodward to move the then 18-year-old stallion close to the city for which he was named.

Omaha had always been a favorite of Woodward’s, especially being sired by Belair’s  pride and joy Gallant Fox, whose Derby, Preakness, and Belmont sweep in 1930 inspired Morning Telegraph columnist Charles Hatton to coin the phrase “Triple Crown.” Only Sir Barton in 1919 had managed to win all three races. Omaha remains the only Triple Crown winner to be sired by a Triple Crown winner, a feat not likely to be duplicated.

After standing at stud at Claiborne Farm and failing to become a top-class sire, Omaha was moved to small farm in Avon, N.Y., where he remained for seven years until 1950.

That is when Grove Porter and Isaacson went into action. The elder Porter had been instrumental in getting a law passed by the state legislature to conduct racing in Nebraska, and to be a non-profit organization, such as a state fair, where the profits from racing would go right back into the sport, rather than to some individual or private corporation. It was a unique law at the time.

Porter became a longtime racing commissioner, and is the only person ever to be named to the Nebraska Racing Hall of Fame and the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame. Morton continued in his father’s footsteps, playing football for Nebraska, as did his two sons.

“We’re the only three-generation family ever to play football for Nebraska,” Morton said. “One of my sons (Budge) suffered a spinal cord injury while making a tackle during practice that was considered a catastrophic injury, and he’s been paralyzed in a wheel chair, but is making a good life for himself.”

Morton was in college when his father and Isaacson finally convinced Woodward to move Omaha to Porter Orchards and Farm in Eastern Nebraska.

“Mr. Isaacson and my dad decided it would be wonderful to have the horse called Omaha in the state of Nebraska to stimulate Thoroughbred racing in this part of the country,” Morton recalled. “So, they approached Mr. Woodward and he nixed it right away. He said there was no way he would do that. It took maybe a year or two for them to soften the old boy up. He finally OK’d it, but stated we could only charge $25 for a breeding season, and we could only breed him to about 15 mares a year. It was just a matter of promotion to get people to breed to Omaha and show him annually at Ak-Sar-Ben Racetrack.”

Woodward also would not permit Omaha to be moved unless there was someone with him at all times. He was not to be placed in a crate, and had to be in a stall where he could move around freely. This is where Morton enters the picture.

A junior in college, it was Morton’s job to fly to New York, his first flight ever, and accompany Omaha on the train back to Nebraska.

“I went back with my dad and Mr. Isaacson,” Morton recalled. “We went to Avon, in upstate New York, and I got on a railroad express car with Omaha to take him back home. I built a partition at one end of the car and we came back on the train together; it was a wonderful, magnificent experience. I was blessed to be called upon to travel with such a great horse.”

Morton, who had ridden hunters and jumpers in horse shows when he was young, loaded hay, straw, and oats onto the car and off they went, chugging through six states. At every whistle stop, Morton would slide the doors open and let Omaha stick his head out. He would then tell onlookers and passersby about the famous Triple Crown winner that was passing through their town.

“Everyone loved seeing the horse and hearing stories about him,” Morton said. “At one point, I slipped out and got some lunch when the train was held up in Chicago for a little while, and, being an apple man, I got myself a couple of apples. I munched on my apple while he was happily eating alfalfa and he looked over at me like, ‘Boy, I’d like to have that.’ So I gave him the core, which he just devoured. Then I took the other apple out to eat it, and I looked at him and looked at the apple and decided to give him the apple. So, he took my second apple and the love affair began right there.”

When they arrived, there was a large crowd to greet the train. Once at the farm, there was a steady stream of visitors to see the great Omaha, who had now become the pride of Nebraska. Morton, who eventually took over the farm following his father’s death, was now the horse’s full-time groom and the two would remain inseparable for the next nine years.

Without top mares, Omaha had only limited success. Among his best progeny over the years were Bing Crosby Handicap winner Prevaricator and Louisiana Handicap winner South Dakota. However, his daughter, Flaming Top, became the great-granddam of England’s last Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky II, and his name can also be found in the pedigrees of three Kentucky Derby winners.

At least once, often twice, a year, Morton would take Omaha to Ak-Sar-Ben to show him off to the fans on Omaha Gold Cup Day and again at the Livestock and Rodeo Show, held in the adjacent arena.

“I would take him up there and parade him in front of the grandstand and lead him to the winner’s circle,” Morton said. “When the bell rang to start the race, he heard it, of course, and thought he was ready to run. It was all I could do to contain him. I had a shank in his mouth and a bridle and a bit and could barely hold him.

“Also, the floor of the winner’s circle in those days was sand, and one year it was a beastly hot day, flies were bothering him, and I know he was in misery with the heat, because I was. We were standing in front of the grandstand with a huge crowd looking on, and he wanted to roll in that sand. He’d start to go down and I’d take the crop and tap him with it. Finally, Jake Isaacson came down, and I told him I didn’t think I could keep him up very much longer; he wants to get in that sand. Jake says, ‘Well, go ahead and let him roll. We’ll hold up the mutuels until he gets done with it. If people like it, maybe they’ll bet more.’

“So, I let him roll, and you know, that old guy rolled clear over, which is unusual even for some young horses. He rolled over on his withers, got up on the other side and shook off some of the sand. That’s how he got rid of the flies. The people loved it.”

In October, Morton and Omaha would return for the livestock and rodeo show, which went on for 10 days. Morton would lead Omaha into the arena and walk him around in between events while the announcer would inform the audience of the horse’s accomplishments.

Although Morton and Omaha got along great over the years, there were times he had to be on his guard.

“He was a good friend and a lovable horse, but once in a while, though, typical of stallions, he could get a little bit riled up about something,” Morton recalled. “One time, it was way below zero one morning and I was brushing him and he reached down and grabbed my arm and if I hadn’t on about eight layers of clothes I think he would have pinched out a big chunk of flesh. When I undressed that night, I was black and blue from my shoulder down to my elbow. I don’t know why he did it, but he did. I smacked him for it, which I regretted. By and large, though we got along very well.”

Omaha continued to produce a small crop of foals each year. “We had a few broodmares and a few foals, and some people brought their broodmares to Omaha and we serviced them,” Morton said. “He was quite old then and it was no easy task to get that done. He was willing, and he did sire some promising offspring, especially hunters and jumpers. His grandchildren turned out pretty good. Of course, throughout his stud career he didn’t have any offspring that did anything close to what he did, but then again only 10 other horses have.”

By 1959, Omaha, now 27, still was pretty frisky and in good condition, but he was experiencing breathing problems, and Morton enclosed his stall and set up an oxygen tank, which gave him some relief. But on April 24, Omaha died in his stall.

“It was his time I suspect,” Morton said. “I really missed him. He had become a part of the family, and I have so many fond memories of him. I loaded him on a truck and took him to Ak-Sar-Ben, where he was buried right near the grandstand, with a stone monument and wooden grave marker. When the track built a clubhouse addition, the excavation was going to be right over the site where he was buried. We decided not to exhume the body and move it; this was the track he loved and where he was meant to be. They moved his monument and marker to the Circle of Champions near the grandstand entrance and displayed them there until the track closed down (in 1996).”

On the track’s site now is a real estate development called Aksarben Village. In the village, occupied by businesses, restaurants, and partially owned by the University of Nebraska Omaha, is Stinson Park, a small park-like area that now is the site of a historical marker and the stone monument that was moved there from the Circle of Champions. But the wooden marker that contained a lengthy tribute to the horse was not moved to the park.

One person who took a huge interest in the location of Omaha’s grave site was Janice Kehler Hollister. The Belair Stable Museum informed her that they knew nothing about Omaha’s life in Nebraska or of Morton Porter. She then began her search for the original wooden grave marker and a portrait of Omaha on suede in an oval frame that Ak-Sar-Ben had auctioned off when they closed. It was learned they had been purchased and given to Horsemen’s Park, a first-class simulcast facility that conducts three live racing days a year. The oval painting currently is on display at the track, while the wooden marker was located by the track’s caretaker in an old shed out in the mud on track property, lost and forgotten. With the help of Cindy Curran, Horsemen’s Park’s social media director, who was instrumental in finding the marker, it is currently being restored and will also go on display.

According to Nancy Castilow, assistant to the chancellor at the University of Nebraska Omaha, there is no way of ascertaining whether or not Omaha’s remains are on the former Ak-Sar-Ben property that is now owned by the university. Where his remains are located will forever remain a mystery.

As for Morton Porter, he and his wife have left the farm and now live in Omaha in order to be closer to their family.

Omaha, like his remains and grave marker, has been long forgotten. He has never been accorded the respect due a Triple Crown winner. In the Daily Racing Form’s “Champions,” book, there is a photo of every Triple Crown winner except Omaha. In 1935, there was no official Horse of the Year Award, which began the following year. But, although Omaha was recognized as the 3-year-old champion, it was the 4-year-old Discovery, who had defeated Omaha in the Brooklyn Handicap, who was recognized as Horse of the Year, making Omaha the only Triple Crown winner not named or recognized as Horse of the Year that same year. Part of that can be attributed to Omaha running back against older horses in the Brooklyn only two weeks after winning the Belmont Stakes. And this was after running in the Withers Stakes in between the Preakness and Belmont.

But what was most important to the horse was the respect and love he received from his longtime friend Morton Porter, and all the special moments they shared on the farm and at Ak-Sar-Ben.

“Those were fun times for me,” Morton said. “I can look back now, but I didn’t know at the time how great and special they really were. Every year around the Triple Crown, especially when a horse is trying to sweep all three races, people call and ask about Omaha. He deserves the attention.”

Morton is proud of his children and grandchildren and the life he has provided them. But he also takes great pride in something else; the one thing that defined him:

“I was the groom for Omaha.”


Morton Porter holding photo of him and Omaha at Ak-Sar-Ben. - Photo Cindy Curran, Framed Photo Ak-Sar-Ben Race Track


Morton Porter getting ready to parade Omaha at the Livestock and Rodeo Show. Photo Omaha World-Herald


Omaha in his earlier days as a stallion.


Omaha's wooden grave marker that has been found and restored. - Photo Cindy Curran


Morton Porter prepares to show off Omaha at Ak-Sar-Ben. - Photo Ak-Sar-Ben Race Track


Stone monument saluting Omaha at Stinson Park. - Cindy Curran

67 Comments

Leave a Comment:

robinm

So glad you are back, Steve.  I hope you had a good break.

Great story and thanks for the pics.  Omaha was quite the handsome fellow.  It's hard to imagine a horse could win the Triple Crown and not be Horse of the Year.  If it ever happens again, I expect the next TC winner will be Horse of the Decade!

Off topic, but I would love to hear reader comments about the BC venue.  I can hardly believe Santa Anita has been named the site for the BC World Ch. for the next several years.  Whatever happened to alternating the venue between tracks, thereby spreading the wealth, so to speak. It seems to me that horses based on the west coast will have an on-going advantage.

17 Jul 2013 9:01 PM
Deltalady

Well, that was short and sweet, your vacation I'm referring to!  Hope you got plenty of R&R, or maybe you just felt sorry for us and decided to mail one in! Whatever the reason, very much enjoyed this story about Mort and Omaha. Hope you are back for good, or soon will be.

17 Jul 2013 10:06 PM
RiderWriter

What a wonderful, wonderful story, told as only you could write it, Steve! I vaguely knew that Omaha wound up in NE, and had been buried there with a marker, but that was about it. How lucky we are to hear Mr. Porter's priceless memories of the great horse! I got very teary, thinking of the special bond they had. I wonder if he ever "threw a leg over"... I know I would have been sorely tempted, just to say to myself I'd sat on a Triple Crown winner. :) I'm glad Omaha is getting some respect and his marker is being restored. Hope I get to see it some day!

17 Jul 2013 10:36 PM
RiderWriter

P.S. Must you bring up how old we have to be to remember Red and Slew and Affirmed... seems like yesterday to me. Just kidding - actually, I'm very glad I was alive to see them and was old enough to appreciate! I feel sorry for the whippersnappers who have yet to see a Triple Crown.

17 Jul 2013 10:39 PM
Wic

Wonderful story and touching reminder of this great horse. Photos are fantastic! Thank you Steve.

17 Jul 2013 10:55 PM
Uncle Smiley

Steve:

You are the Dean of Thoroughbred Racing history!

US

17 Jul 2013 11:02 PM
jancatalona

As anticipated, very interesting article.  Thank you for your engaging essays.  Why wasn't Omaha's picture included in the review--what pretext? BTW, just finished your book on John Henry which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I feel as though I know him.

17 Jul 2013 11:44 PM
Brown brother

A magnificent story about a magnificent thoroughbred. Your love and respect for history pours out and warmed my insides and tear ducts.  The pride of mort and Omaha in the photos perfectly complement your beautiful writing. Superb. Keep em coming.

17 Jul 2013 11:58 PM
merasmag

kool

knot here...or toga...

but kool nontheless

18 Jul 2013 12:35 AM
Alex'sBigFan

Great stuff as always Steve.  I have chills reading it for I am one of the ones who has no recollection of a Triple Crown winner, never saw one.  I guess these were the days of the real iron horses!  Imagine Oxbow tooling around towns by train today!  I love these old stories and thank Mr. Porter for sharing his memories of Omaha.

Haskell field taking shape Steve!  Oxbow and Verrazano down the stretch.  Wonder if Oxbow will do what cous Paynter did last year?  Verrazano just won recently over the Monmouth track I think so he seems to like it there.  Any news on ItsMyLuckyDay, is he still recovering at Monmouth Park?  Hope to see you at the Haskin, ooops, the Haskell, Steve!

18 Jul 2013 1:01 AM
Owlbet

Welcome back, Steve.

Once again, a great write-up that takes the reader on a journey to a bygone era....

I truly hope there is another Triple Crown winner in my lifetime.  I wonder what horse, if any, will follow in the hallowed hoofbeats of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed?

I was 14 for Secretariat's Triple Crown.  So that gives you some idea of how old I am.

18 Jul 2013 2:03 AM
Kelso1966

Once again, a wonderful bit of history, thanks Steve-

Pat Diers

18 Jul 2013 6:41 AM
N. Dancer

Welcome back! I loved this story of Omaha, who has been just a name to me until now.

18 Jul 2013 7:05 AM
Bellwether

That was a great love affair between those two as can be seen in the photos...Omaha!!!..."Another Immortal One"!!!...ty for the wonderful story... javascript:WebForm_DoPostBackWithOptions(new WebForm_PostBackOptions("ctl00$Main$ctl06$ctl02$ctl01$WeblogPostCommentForm1$ctl01$btnSubmit", "", true, "CreateCommentForm", "", false, true))

18 Jul 2013 7:19 AM
Racingfan

Yaaaay!  You're back!  Been checking every day for a new post from you!  Hope you had a nice vacation!  What a great article!  Thanks for writing about him - always have felt like he didn't get the proper respect for a triple crown winner.  How nice to hear that he lived out his days with great care and love.  It is also so neat to get the "inside stories" that you write - things the average person never gets to hear about.  Thank you!

18 Jul 2013 9:35 AM
LanceS

Thanks for the wonderful story!  I don't think Omaha has been as forgotten as you think he has! Most racing fans I know are well aware of who he is, and the fact that he was the only Triple Crown winner to campaign with distinction in Europe.

The loss of his grave has always been one of the saddest things to me, the only Triple Crown winner to suffer that ignominious fate.  I always give the folks in my company's Omaha office a hard time over that!

Hope the graves at Hollypark don't suffer the same fate.

18 Jul 2013 9:53 AM
ponyace

Very cool pictures I hadn't seen before. If only the photographer had been credited...

18 Jul 2013 9:54 AM
Steve Haskin

I'm in the processs of trying to get photo credits. Obviously, it is not just one photographer. Sometimes, photo credits are hard to get on these old photos.

Thanks to everyone who enjoyed the story and for your comments. It was fun and enlightening for me.

18 Jul 2013 11:23 AM
Curlin Eyes

What a wonderful story about a TC winner that I didn't know much about.  How sad that his burial site is lost.  I loved the tales that Porter told about their years together.  Only you could do justice to this story.

18 Jul 2013 11:23 AM
Pedigree Ann

Two points -

1) Mr. Hatton did not "coin" (create, as in a newly minted coin) the term Triple Crown; he merely applied to the set of three races that now comprise the US Triple Crown. The term had been in usage in Britain for quite some time, as West Australian had been hailed as the first Triple Crown winner in 1853. There were subsequently 11 English Triple Crown winners before Mr. Hatton used it for a series of races in the US.

2) The Dwyer Hcp and Arlington Classic were both G1-type races at 10f, the first at Aqueduct and the second at Arlington. How many such races are there around post-Belmont, pre-Travers these days, on dirt? We don't breed as many 10f horses anymore because our racing calendar does not encourage breeders to do so.

18 Jul 2013 12:20 PM
Priscilla in Altadena

My morning just got a lot better!  Glad to have you back.

18 Jul 2013 12:40 PM
Love 'em all

Thoroughly enjoyed this story, Mr. Haskin, and welcome back. Needless to say, you have been missed.

Cheers to Omaha!  Gotta love a horse whose name begins with the letter "O", right?  Omaha's the only TC winner with that letter (we'd gladly welcome another one) ... but was one of six out of the 11 that was a chestnut.  After reading this story, had to search out his bio ... and read that his jockey Willie "Smokey" Saunders had been tutored in riding by George Woolf.  

Thanks to Mr. Porter for sharing such delightful memories of his good friend, and I'm so glad he shared that second apple with him!  Bet that train ride was fun for Omaha ... and Mort.  

18 Jul 2013 12:49 PM
Gary Tasich

Thanks Steve! What a nice article. I went to Ak-Sar-Ben as a boy with my parents. I would pass buy the Omaha monument and was always awestruck that he was buried there. I have many great memories of going to the track with my parents and he was one of them. We used to stay in what was called the Junior JockeyClub, a fenced area near the paddock. Back then you had to be 21 to go on the grandstand side. I remember the greatness of the Van Bergs and the majesty of the thoroughbreds. I now frequent Santa Anita and Hollywood Park because I live in Torrance, CA. I like photographing the horses and took a picture of you at Clocker's Corner during last years breeders' cup workouts. I see Jack Van Berg often and got his book autographed. There's a picture of a top Ak-Sar-Ben jockey from back when I was a boy in the book that affirms my recollection. His name is Bob Yeager. Recently, Prior to the final Gold Cup at Hollywood Park, I was fortunate to go in the paddock with Bob Baffert to get Joe Torre's autograph on a picture I took of Game On Dude. Bob Baffert was kind enough to include me in the winner's circle photo. Thanks again for the great article that touches my heart and rekindles fond memories!!

18 Jul 2013 1:30 PM
Steve Haskin

Pedigree Ann, certain things are implied. Obviously it referred to America. He coined the phrase applying it to those three races. Sorry if I was unclear.

18 Jul 2013 1:32 PM
Steve Haskin

The photo credits have been added.

18 Jul 2013 1:55 PM
20onthenose

Steve, as a boy who grew up in Omaha, and hopped the backstretch of Aksarben to walk horses during the summers of my youth, your story brought back a flood of memories.  I remember vividly the circle of champions and the Omaha tribute at what was one of racing's best and most celebrated race tracks of yesteryear. How I wish Aksarben could be revived....thanks for the tribute  

18 Jul 2013 1:59 PM
20onthenose

Steve thanks for the great article.  As a boy who grew up in Omaha, and hopped the backstretch fence of Ak-sar-ben race track to hot walk horses during the summers of my youth, I so vividly remember the tribute to the "horse" Omaha that adorned what was one of America's best racetracks back in the '70s and '80s. How I wish the track was still there . . .

18 Jul 2013 2:05 PM
spitting the bit

Lovely story about one of our "greats".  I enjoy stories of our old champions.  Maybe I am a romantic, but they just seemed greater, as the saying goes, "In the day"...Since the 80's we have had some good horses, maybe a few greats, some outstanding fillies and mares ( a couple come to mind as Greats!!) but the boys seem to be lacking.  Maybe it is because they go to Stud entirely too soon.  

Thanks Steve.....

18 Jul 2013 2:28 PM
Jim of G

Quashed, the filly who defeated Omaha, was deemed "not a thoroughbred" because her bloodline couldn't be traced.  Great article Steve despite what Bobby Frankel once said about your political views.

18 Jul 2013 2:48 PM
Sysonby1902

Very interesting. The situation involving Omaha's grave is somewhat similar to that of Sir Barton's grave, which is located in Douglas, WY. His monument there has been damaged significantly by graffiti, and very few in the area seem to realize its significance. Didn't know if anyone was aware of this.

18 Jul 2013 2:58 PM
TizAllie

Quashed (1932-Great Britain) is listed on the thoroughbred database www.pedigreequery.com

18 Jul 2013 3:32 PM
The Deacon

Ak-Sar-Ben, wow a forgotten name from the past. Nice little track.

Tanforan, Bay Meadows, Hialeah (now back somewhat)are just a few of our great thoroughbred heritage lost among the ruins of today.

Nice blog Steve, your storytelling is always second to none.

I wish Affirmed got more credit for being a great horse. He rarely gets mentioned among the all time greats. People may not remember but he did beat Spectacular Bid albeit Affirmed was 4 and the Bid was 3. Much like Seattle Slew when Slew was 4 and Affirmed was 3.

What a hard campaign Affirmed had at age 3, people forget how he ducked no one........

I personally believe Santa Anita is the perfect track for the Breeders Cup. Great weather, wonderful amenities and spectacular views of the autumn mountains.

Churchill Downs has the Derby, Belmont has the the 3rd Triple Crown leg, Saratoga has the Travers and Monmouth has the Haskell.

If Santa Anita has the Breeders Cup

then stamping that signature there is a good thing for the sport.

19 Jul 2013 1:34 AM
TizAllie

Sysonby1902, where can I read about Sir Barton's monument being damaged? Thank you.

19 Jul 2013 1:45 AM
Abigail Anderson

STEVE: I just loved this story about OMAHA & MORT. It's always so precious to me when these "up close & personal" stories are recorded because they make the sport come alive for me in a way nothing else can really match. I'm reading a fabulous novel at the moment by an Irish writer, John Banville and the narrative is organized around the idea that it is through stories that we create -- as well as remember -- the present and the past, while laying down "markings" for the future. This beautiful article, together with the photos, really turns Banville's idea into reality for me. You are a treasure, Steve. (P.S. I'm planning something quite different about Omaha for THE VAULT in the fall/winter 2013 that is, I believe, another lesser-known story related to Omaha's Triple....)

19 Jul 2013 10:46 AM
Bill Two

Pretty remarkable horse!  Not many American horses ever try Europe and to go through the rigors of our Triple Crown, win it, and then the next year take on Europe and to distinguish himself against their best distance runners is truly a major, singular accomplishment.  Some horse.

19 Jul 2013 11:59 AM
Sysonby1902

TizAllie: I can't seem to find any online record of its condition, and two very different images of the statue are common online. My information comes from personal experience, but based on the images the damaged statue may have actually been replaced since I was there.

19 Jul 2013 12:21 PM
BigRedFan

Great story. I'm a life long Omahan who grew up near Aksarben and remember the hustle and bustle of the track so well while growing up.  I currently work on the site of the old track and walk past the monument of Omaha a lot.  There is an historical marker there as well with the same verbage as the old wooden marker.  I also remember Mort's son accident as do many Husker fans..very sad.

Omaha had a good long life and was well-cared for by Mort.  He fortunately did not meet the sad fate of his great-great-great grandson Ferdinand. Just a note - Omaha is in the pedigree of 6 Kentucky Derby winners, 3 Preakness winners, 5 Belmont winners and 5 Breeders Cup Classic winners.  I've always refered to Omaha as the "Rodney Dangerfield" of Triple Crown winners...he didn't get any respect.

19 Jul 2013 1:25 PM
fritzrobertson

This is such a great article!  Thank you, Steve Haskin.  I have followed horse racing since I was a very young boy, and always loved going to Aksarben, a place that is very much missed here in Nebraska.  I knew Omaha was a great horse, but I had no idea he had gone to England to give such great efforts in 2 mile and 2 1/2 miles stakes races to finish his career.  

The story of his groom Mort Porter and how much he loved Omaha made me remember how much I loved grooming horses for my brother Hugh when I was in my teens and early twenties.  Hugh still trains in Arlington and Hawthorne, primarily, and there still is nothing quite like a visit to the barn to see the thoroughbreds, such wonderful individuals.

You are a fine writer, Mr. Haskin, one of the best in the business, and this tribute to Omaha was one of the best pieces written about horses I have ever read.

Fred Robertson

19 Jul 2013 1:42 PM
Bevo24

Thanks for your excellent article on this true champion.  He certainly deserves to be remembered, and we all can appreciate his accomplishments.

19 Jul 2013 4:06 PM
Old Bald Peg

Yet another wonderful column .I (of course) knew Omaha as a triple crown winner but you told his tale in a way that would make Laura Hildebrand proud Steve, you MUST publish these!

Hmmmm...which publisher put his money on 'Seabiscuit' Perhaps we should contact them. You DO have an agent don't you????

19 Jul 2013 5:57 PM
happyd

Very interesting story about Omaha.  I have a print of Gallant Fox on my wall and think of Omaha every time I look at it, wondering about his history.   Thanks for filling in the blanks, Steve.  

19 Jul 2013 6:19 PM
Linda in Texas

Omaha and Mort, a story that really happened. This one was another special heart tugger. Omaha, I never knew you. And Mr. Porter thank you for the memories. And Steve as only Steve can, thank you for the incidentals. No one does them like you and they just make the articles come to life.

Mr. Porter looked so dapper in his coat, jodphurs and riding boots as he was getting ready to parade Omaha at the Livestock Show and Rodeo. I love that photo. Handsome fella's both! Thank you all.

But one last question. Why is it not possible to locate the remains of Omaha? Unless they were built over. Reminds me of another horse whose remains were finally located and many of us donated to to bring him back to his home state where he is now buried. His were found in a field. I think that is really a shame. A Triple Crown Winner and we don't know where he is.

19 Jul 2013 6:21 PM
Steve Haskin

Thanks, Peg, but I have no publisher, and certainly no agent. Maybe Ron Anderson is available.

Thank you, Fritz, great to hear from you. Time to get your brother back on the Derby trail. It's been too long.

And thanks to all the Omahans who shared their comments. Glad to have provided a little more background behind the monuments and markers. Sad day when Ak-Sar-Ben closed.

19 Jul 2013 6:27 PM
Old Bald Peg

Steve, I can't believe That Blood Horse Publishing isn't beating down your door to publish a book of these columns. You -are- a 21st century Hatton/Palmer

19 Jul 2013 8:29 PM
Old Bald Peg

PS,

yup..

and a sad day when Jamaica, Tropical Park, the Widener Chute and others closed. Time marches/trots on however LUCKILY we have you to keep the past alive.

19 Jul 2013 8:31 PM
Steve Haskin

Peg, you are too kind. You're making me blush. It's difficult for me to respond to that other than to tell you how much I appreciate it.

19 Jul 2013 9:18 PM
Old Bald Peg

Haskin, I don't bet, I don't buy yearlings (or pin hook), for me.. it's 'the lovin' of the game' as the old song goes. The breeding, the stories of them all... and the beauty of a breed that runs for the love of it. Always hoping (of course) there are no 'milkshakes' or syringes hidden behind the oats, hay and water.

19 Jul 2013 10:54 PM
Paula Higgins

Another great story about a horse I knew little about. He looks like he was a real personality boy. Frankly, I am amazed more people don't get a chunk taken out of them when they work so closely with the horses. I am going to see if I can find a video on the Omaha/Quashed race. Thanks Steve and glad to see you back. Eblouissante is racing Saturday. Keeping my fingers crossed for her.

20 Jul 2013 12:20 AM
sysonby

As a native of Cincinnati, who was "raised" at River Downs, it was a jolt to see South Dakota mentioned...He held several track records for endurance races ( over 2 miles) around 1940...And since races like that simply weren't run any longer they became part of the permanent history of the track...tho the track itself turned out not to be permanent

20 Jul 2013 12:34 AM
TizAllie

Sysonby1902, thank you for the update on Sir Barton's monument.

20 Jul 2013 1:22 AM
Cindy Curran

Thank you so much, Steve, for letting me be a very, very small part of this article. I had my fifteen minutes of fame at work at Horsemen's Park today as everyone had read this and stopped by to chat with me about it.

One of the things every single one of them said was that no one writes about racing and people like you do, Steve. And, of course, I agree completely.

I had been trying to see Mort for about a year and a half and it never worked out. But the minute he heard "Bloodhorse" he wanted to do it. We had a great time talking about Omaha and I never wanted to leave him.

He agreed with me that his memories of Omaha are a treasure we can't lose, so we are going to do a video

very soon. I will keep you informed on it's progress.

Thanks again!!

20 Jul 2013 1:41 AM
Arts and Letters

I've got a bunch of Blood Horse magazines from the 30s and 40s that I've been reading, and the articles about Omaha's English campaign made me desperately want to go back in time to see his Ascot Gold Cup.

And now, on with the reading.  I've gotten to June 1941 and Alsab has just appeared on the scene.  Interestingly, the biggest concerns of the year seemed to be the lack of filly races and worry about how race distances were too getting short.  Ironic!

20 Jul 2013 2:06 AM
Pedigree Ann

You should know that I call myself a 'recovering perfectionist' and that I'm not always successful at the 'recovering' part. However, you would be surprised at the number of followers of US racing  who have no idea that there was an English Triple Crown before the US version was concocted. One even wrote in blog-post that the Brits were imitating us with their Triple Crown!

By the way, I still contend that Sir Barton was not a Triple Crown winner, since the Preakness was a 9f handicap in his day, not unlike today's classic preps, but not a classic itself. During the years when it was run at a New York track, it wasn't even for 3yos only. Not until the mid/late-1920s did the Preakness became a 9.5f, scale-weight, high-purse race that consistently attracted top-class colts and fillies.

Oh, for everybody else, Omaha has descendents not just through the 3rd dam of Nijinsky (also family of The Minstrel, Royal Ski, Mac's Imp, Far North, Doubledogdare, Sean Avery, etc.). He was also the damsire of Summer Tan, top 2yo of 1954 who couldn't beat Nashua and Swaps at 3 in the classics, but won some top races at 4 - the Vosburgh (7f), the Pimlico Special (9.5f) and the Gallant Fox (13f). Summer Tan became quite a useful sire and became damsire of champions like Typecast, Proud Truth, and Top Knight. Not an unusual stallion to find further back on a good damline.

20 Jul 2013 11:41 AM
Love 'em all

"Give it to Omaha"

>He [Omaha] was buried in the racetrack’s Circle of Champions when he died in 1957 [1959] at the age of 27. In 1995 [1996], when the track closed, the land was taken over by the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and his grave is now next to a home economics and culinary arts building. When a cooking project fails, the unfortunate student is told to "Give it to Omaha" – in other words, throw it out the window.<

Source:  belmontstakes.com/history/omaha

At this time, wish to thank Cindy Curran for all her help with the story of Omaha.  

20 Jul 2013 4:13 PM
Jean in Chicago

 Its so good to read that a horse spent the last years of his life with people who loved him.  He looks wonderful in the pictures with Mr. Porter.  Obviously very well taken care of.

  Forgotten grave sites are sad, but as long as we have writers like you, Steve, to recall them, the horses stay alive in our hearts and minds. They are so much more than just names on lists.  What a year that must have been with both Omaha and Discovery running!

 Omaha may have lost the Princess of Wales Stakes and  the Ascot Gold Cup in 1936, but the following year (1937) his full brother Flares won the Princess of Wales and the year after that the Ascot Gold Cup.  Pretty impressive for the sons of Gallant Fox.

20 Jul 2013 7:55 PM
quarterhossgal

Steve...as a life long racing fan here in Omaha, Ne I can tell you that while Aksarben was open for racing OMAHA had a place of honor! I saw him shown between races at Aksarben and back then we would have crownds numbering 35,000-40,000 for the Cornhusker Handicap.

Jack VanBerg was one of the top trainers and Mike Smith and Garret Gomez were starting their careers.

Regular race goers would stop at his grave and give him a salute after he passed away.  Local people were so proud to have a triple crown winner with the name of our city living in the state.  When he passed away the flags across the state were lowered in his honor.

20 Jul 2013 10:48 PM
TizAllie

Tiz a Myth. "Leave it to Omaha", though it can be found all over Internet, IS A MYTH.  Please read the following letter (below) from the Chancellor's office of The University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Below is the section of the letter

that dealt with this myth.

 Chancellor  Christensen asked me to respond to your question regarding Triple Crown Winner, Omaha.

The one urban myth I can clear up is that he is not outside a UNO Culinary Arts Builiding, as we do not offer that major, nor is there a building of that name on the UNO campus land, nor has there ever been on the former Ak-Sar-Ben property since UNO has owned it.    Interesting story, but completely untrue.

Thank you, however, for your inquiry.  The research into your questions has been interesting.

Nancy D. Castilow

Asst. to the Chancellor

21 Jul 2013 7:38 AM
TizAllie

After talking with Morton Porter and scads of Nebraskans, I knew exactly where Omaha was...in the hearts and minds of Nebraskans (Cornhuskers) who visited Omaha at Ak-Sar-Ben race track and the Grove Porter Farm.

Another Omaha Myth that abounds is that they placed children on Omaha's back for rides and pictures at Ak-Sar-Ben. When I asked Morton that question he said, "Are you kidding me? No one was allowed to ride Omaha at the track or on the farm."

Steve Haskin gets Omaha. This superb article has meant so much to so many that love Omaha and Mort. Steve took the time to really listen and understand Omaha's life in Nebraska.

21 Jul 2013 8:26 AM
ksweatman9

Lovely story, many thanks. As a Nebraskan, I won't ever forget the triple crown winner they called Omaha. Loved the part about the bell. He was aching to run, the heart of a thoroughbred. To think some people believe racing is cruel and unusual punishment for these horses. No, history hasn't been exactly fair to many of our equine heroes. Omaha wasn't a great sire, but a wonderful champion and he belongs in the elite group of triple crown kings.

21 Jul 2013 8:46 AM
Will's Way girl

Steve,

Thank you, thank you, thank you!  Janice and I met on the ""old"Zenyatta blog two years ago.  I posted a message there that while I was in Saratoga visiting the hall of fame, Omaha "spoke" to me in a way I cannot adequately describe...it was a very strange experience that changed my life.  She responded that she had always wondered about the fate of Omaha and we then began to email and speak to one another over the next few months.  

We first began with the idea of finding Omaha's grave and having him exhumed from obscurity and re-buried in a location "appropriate" for a TC winner.  Janice's unrelenting research found Morton Porter and the truth about Omaha.  I spoke to Morton and Mary a few times but illness and life delayed and finally stopped my forward momentum.  

Janice's remarkable research skills found Mort and you have now given Omaha the recognition and respect he deserves that overcame me that say in Saratoga.  

You and Janice have remarkable gifts and Omaha and Morton are the beneficiaries.  Their story is one of enduring love and mutual respect.  Omaha was a great, gifted and beloved race horse both here and in Britain.   You and Janice have made a dream into a reality.  Omaha is now known and admired by your readers and that gives me great joy.  Omaha is buried where he should be buried; in the city that welcomed him "home" and with the family who loved him.  WHat more is there to say...Omaha rests in peace.

Mary

21 Jul 2013 10:23 AM
Love 'em all

Thanks to TizAllie for setting us straight about the myths of Omaha.  Never thought to check snopes.com for that story.  

Who knew?  The name "Ak-Sar-Ben" is Nebraska spelled backwards.  Gee!  Why didn't I know that?  [laughing]  There's a web site that explains it all  ...

ak-sar-ben.com/  

21 Jul 2013 10:51 AM
Lexington Bloodstock

That's it...NO MORE time off for you. ANOTHER great piece.  Thank you.

21 Jul 2013 10:57 PM
TizAllie

I began the Omaha Project in October of 2011. Read about the Porter Farm early on and from there out, I knew there was a very good story that needed telling. Never dreamt that I would actually find and talk with Morton Porter. I researched Omaha and Mort on and off for 2 years. Steve, I am so thrilled that you answered my email to say you were interested and would write the article. It doesn't get any better than this. Thank you for adding your special touch to Omaha's Nebraska story.

22 Jul 2013 7:59 PM
Bellwether

"Long Live The King"!!!...Great Horse...Great Story...Great Blog...

23 Jul 2013 9:48 AM
Moodygirl

I know where there is a beautiful color movie clip of Omaha! It's in an old movie "Kentucky" 1938 with Walter Brennan and Loretta Young. I believe it is at the beginning of the movie and they show several thoroughbred stars, all T.C. winners I think. There is Omaha I remember for sure and think Gallant Fox and Man o'War too. I saved the movie for a long time just because of those clips of those horses. They were such beautiful movie shots of them. I saved the movie on the DVR for a long time just to see them again but alas I lost it. It's a good old movie too about the racing biz. Loretta Young saves the family farm and I think Walter Brennan plays the trainer or her father, I can't remember. I hope this adds to the list of pictures of Omaha.

23 Jul 2013 10:59 AM
TizAllie

For those of you wanting to learn more about Morton Porter's son, Budge, there is a very good Youtube video under Budge Porter Project.Budge and Family lost their home as his ability to work has diminished. The .com page no longer exitst, but both Budge Porter and the Budge Porter Project are on Facebook. The city of Omaha has worked very hard to build a new house for Budge. Contact information is on the Facebook page for those of you wanting to make a donation. All donations to this project are tax deductible.

26 Jul 2013 8:42 AM
LauraMartin

What a touching anecdote of the time spent with this hero of yesteryears. How sad to see the icon of courage, valor lost from the memory of many!

09 Aug 2013 12:44 AM

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