Riding the Growth Curve

The timing was right in 1916 when the Kentucky Thoroughbred Horse Association formed and began publishing a newsletter that set the roots of what would evolve into Blood-Horse. The United States was a couple of years away from seeing an end to the economic turmoil churned by the First World War, and the recovery would bring several decades of substantial growth in both racing and breeding.

American racing already had a firm foundation at the time, with the oldest stakes races--the Travers Midsummer Derby and the Saratoga Cup--already having nearly 50-year histories each. The Belmont Stakes would see its 48th running in 1916, while the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks would run their 42nd editions each, and the Preakness Stakes would be contested for the 41st time.

Incidentally, a black colt named George Smith would win the Derby in 1916, ridden by Johnny Loftus, who wouldn't have to wait long to celebrate with roses again in 1919. Loftus' second Derby victory would be aboard Sir Barton, who later earned a place in racing history as the nation's first Triple Crown winner.

So much would change in the years after the KTHA formed. Within the next three years Maryland would ramp up its stakes programs at Pimlico and establish new racetracks Laurel Park and Havre de Grace. In 1919 Pimlico introduced the Pimlico Oaks and the 2 1⁄4-mile Pimlico Cup Handicap, of which Exterminator won the first three editions. In 1919 Havre de Grace also offered the inaugural Potomac Handicap, which was won by Sir Barton and Man o' War the following year.

The commercial market also was heading toward a boom time. In 1916, 426 yearlings were sold for a total of $396,975 and an average price of $931. The following year the average yearling price exceeded $1,000 for the first time, with more growth to come. The average price would reach $2,140 in 1919 and not fall below $2,000 from 1921 through 1929. Total yearling sales would exceed $1 million for the first time in 1922 and remain in this territory until the Great Depression. By 1931, total sales had been cut in half to $542,597 and the average price reduced to $570.

Economic growth spurred a flurry of racetrack construction, including Omaha (later named Ak-Sar-Ben, 1921), Hialeah Park (1925), and Arlington Park (1927). Even during the lean Depression years, the building continued, producing Tropical Park (later to become Calder Race Course, 1931), Longacres (1933), Santa Anita Park (1934), Narragansett Park (1934), Keeneland (1936), Del Mar (1937), and Delaware Park (1937).

Racing is a bottomless well of stories, so as Blood-Horse celebrates its 100th anniversary throughout the coming year, we look forward to exploring how racing's landscape has changed and how those changes have influenced our own evolution. These stories will appear in the magazine and online regularly throughout the year, collected and brought to life by former Blood-Horse editor-in-chief and respected historian Edward L. Bowen. You'll find his first installment on page 16.

We look forward to sharing these stories with those who share our passion for Thoroughbred racing, of which the Blood-Horse has proudly been an integral part for a century, and to chronicling the exciting stories that lie ahead for many years to come.

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