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Thoroughbred Daily News (TDN)

The original article may be found here.


by Rinaldo Del Gallo III

This past Saturday, the gelding Send It In (Big Brown) won the GIII Excelsior H. Excelsior is Latin for “upward” or “still higher.” It is the motto of New York. The race was first run in 1903. It is one of the few American stakes races that has became longer over the years. Now run at the Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles, the race was run at 1 1/16 miles from 1903 to 1960.

100 years ago, in 1917, another gelding won the Excelsior, the Hall of Fame inductee Roamer. Then the Excelsior was run at the Jamaica Race Track, and Roamer set a new track record running the 8.5 furlongs in 1:45 2/5. Roamer came in second in 1918.

The story of Roamer is the stuff of legends. In this publication, much is made of the science and art of breeding. Here we read ads for studs and consulting services. Just forget about anything about careful planning when you think of Roamer.

Roamer was born in 1911, and foaled by a mare born in 1896 in Great Britain by the name of Rose Tree. Rose Tree, out of the 2,000 Guineas winner Bona Vista (b. 1889)–of which most modern racehorses descend in tail male from his son Cyllene– was claimed in England, but went on to win stakes races. She won the Wokingham H. in 1901 in England, a race that started in 1874 and is a listed race today. Shipped to America in 1902, Rose Tree won and placed in stakes in Illinois in short-lived stakes races that are now defunct.

Rose Tree went blind. Here is where the story may become apocryphal, but most believe it is true. Thoroughbred Champions, Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century puts it this way regarding his dam Rose Tree and his sire (the ironically named) Knight Errant: Ahe story goes that one or the other jumped a fence to accomplish the mating, thus the name of the offspring. (The irony is that “errant” is archaic for “traveling in search of adventure,” which Knight Errant certainly did.) Most have Knight Errant doing the jumping.

At the time, not much was expected out of Roamer, and he was gelded. Roamer started in claiming races. In fact he was actually claimed and had to be bought back. Eventually, Knight Errant was to sire a good stakes steeple chase stakes winner named Blankenburg (a descendant of Maggie BB), another Hibler who won the 1916 American Grand National steeplechase, and Lady Errant, a 3-year-old filly who beat the boys(even older boys) in the 2 1/4-mile Latonia Cup H. and set a new track record in doing so.

As fate would have it, Rose Tree is said to have been found blind when she fell into a well and had to be pulled out by other horses when she was pregnant with McGee. The daughter, Rose McGee won no notable races nor had any children, but the story of McGee is as equally impressive as that of Roamer. McGee was bred in England by Lord Bradford and imported as a 2-year old. And here is where the story gets interesting.

McGee was sired by a horse named “White Knight.” White Knight, born in 1895, never raced, although his sire, Sir Hugo did win the Epsom Derby. While Sir Hugo did win the Derby, the Thoroughbred Record, a weekly journal that was $3.00 a year or 10 cents for a single copy, in a Jan. 13, 1923 article comparing McGee and Wrack to American-bred studs, went to great lengths to enumerate Sir Hugo’s failure at stud, listing the dismal performances, crop-by-crop for every year.

Not much was thought of White Knight, an unraced horse from an undistinguished sire, and if you look at his listed progeny, you will see but one horse–McGee. It turns out that White Knight, like Knight Errant, was another gate jumper who mated with McGee=s dam, Remorse. Remorse was born in 1876, and she was no less than the positively ancient age of 24 years old when she gave birth to McGee in 1900. She had to be euthanized that year. Remorse’s dam was Vex (b. 1865), a full-sister to the mighty Galopin, an incredibly accomplished racehorse and sire.

But there was to be no remorse with McGee. He was a minor stakes winner, winning such races as the Memphis Club H. But in 1922 he was to become the leading sire in America. He sired Kentucky Oaks winner Viva America, Latonia Championship winner In Memoriam, 91-1 1913 Kentucky Derby winner Donerail, and one of the greatest racehorses that ever lived, the gelding Exterminator.

Such is the interesting case of Rose Tree. She foaled a horse that was of an unplanned mating with Knight Errant, and was bred to a stallion that was of an unplanned mating by White Knight. Does the reader know of any other great racehorses that resulted from unplanned matings where nature just took its course?

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