On the night of April 6, 1954, two foals were born on Claiborne Farm, one about a half hour after the other. The first was Round Table, who later earned over a million dollars and was named Horse of the Year in 1958. The second was Bold Ruler, a skinny, accident prone colt who overcame numerous injuries to become a champion himself.
Bold Ruler's owner, Mrs. Gladys Mills Phipps of the Wheatley Stable, was one of the most successful owners of thoroughbreds in the nation. Her horses were trained by the great Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, who had conditioned the only sire-son Triple Crown winners, Gallant Fox and his son Omaha, for the Belair Stud. Mrs. Phipps kept her stallions and broodmares at Claiborne Farm, which was owned and run by her close friend Bull Hancock.
Bold Ruler was by Nasrullah, a European champion at two and a leading sire on both sides of the Atlantic. His dam was Miss Disco, a stakes winning daughter of the leading broodmare sire in America, 1935 Horse of the Year Discovery. In fact, the Horse of the Year in 1954 was Native Dancer, who was out of the Discovery mare Geisha.
Miss Disco was foaled in 1941 at Alfred G. Vanderbilt's Sagamore Farm. Her dam, Outdone, was by Pompey, the winner of the 1925 Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park. In 1942, Vanderbilt asked his staff to pick twelve yearlings to keep, and sell the rest. World War II kept him from making the selections himself. Of the twelve yearlings Sagamore kept in 1942, not one accomplished anything of any significance. The twelve sold included Conniver, the champion handicap mare of 1948, Miss Disco, and six other stakes winners.
Miss Disco was bought by Sidney Shupper, who raced her from 1946 until 1950. When the mare retired she had Usd 80,250 and ten wins to her credit, including the 1947 Test Stakes, the 1948 Interboro Handicap, and the 1948 New Rochelle Handicap. Upon her retirement, Miss Disco was sold to Bull Hancock, who intended to use her as a broodmare. However, when one of his oldest clients, Mrs. Gladys Phipps, took a liking to her, he reluctantly agreed to sell his new mare, since Mrs. Phipps was a close friend.
While Miss Disco was racing in America, Nasrullah was already a leading sire in Europe. Foaled in Ireland in 1940, Nasrullah was owned and bred by the Aga Khan. He was by the undefeated Italian champion Nearco, whose most famous victory was the 1938 Grand Prix de Paris, and out of Mumtaz Begum, a daughter of the 1930 Epsom Derby winner, Blenheim II, and Europe's flying filly Mumtaz Mahal.
Narullah quickly gained the reputation of a stubborn and ill-mannered horse. At Newmarket, they had to open an umbrella behind him to convince him to run. Despite his disposition, Nasrullah became the Champion Two Year Old in England in 1942, the same year Miss Disco was sold as a yearling.
After his three-year-old season, which included a third place finish in the Epsom Derby, Nasrullah was retired to stud and in 1947 his first foal crop hit the racetrack with explosive success. He was leading sire in England that year, and the next two years as well. Then in 1949, Bull Hancock bought him and imported him into the United States. He arrived in July of 1950, and was syndicated for a then impressive sum of Usd 340,000. When Nasrullah arrived at Claiborne, where he stood stud, Dr. Floyd Sager came to give him a tetanus shot. Nasrullah reacted so violently to the vet's presence that he could not be restrained. When he died nine years later, he was still without a tetanus shot.
During Bold Ruler's first two years of life, he developed a reputation for being accident prone, and Bull Hancock had such a hard time keeping him in good condition that he was kept in a back paddock so that farm visitors wouldn't see him. As a yearling, Bold Ruler came close to losing his tongue in a barn accident , and as a result, he always had a sensitive mouth. Not long after that, he just missed breaking a leg in a tangle with a water trough.
Somehow, Bold Ruler made it to the age of two, and when he arrived at Hialeah he quickly gained attention by working quarters in :22. He broke his maiden the first time out, on April ninth, winning easily by three and a half lengths at Jamaica. He won four more times before meeting with defeat for the first time, running second to Nashville, also a son of Nasrullah, in an allowance race. He returned to the winner's circle the next time out, however, and then went to the post for the Futurity.
Bold Ruler quickly became Mrs. Gladys Phipps favorite horse. She went as far as to have a St. Christopher's medal braided into his forelock before each race, and she wasn't even Catholic. When Bold Ruler won the Futurity at Belmont, it was not his winning performance that caught the attention of Charles Hatton, but rather his behavior. As he wrote in the Daily Racing Form:
"Mrs. Phipps was out at the gap to get him [Bold Ruler] and lead him down that silly victory lane they had there. And she must have weighed all of ninety pounds, and here is this big young stud horse -and she walked right up to him and held out her hand, and he just settled right down and dropped his head so she could get ahold of the chin strap, and Bold Ruler just walked like an old cow along that lane and she wasn't putting any pressure on him to quiet him down or make him be still."
It was one of the most amazing sights I've ever seen. It was incredible to me because anyone else reaching for that horse - and he was hot! - You'd have had to snatch him or he'd throw you off your feet or step all over you. But not with her. For her he was just a real chivalrous prince of a colt. He came back to her and stopped all the monkeyshines, ducked down his head and held out his chin, and here was this little old lady with a big young stud horse on the other end and he was just as gentle as he could be."
Bold Ruler wintered in Florida that year, exchanging blows with Calumet Farm's incredibly talented Gen. Duke, often called the Horse Time Has Forgotten. Many people believe that Gen. Duke was the fastest horse ever produced by Calumet, and considering some of the other horses produced by the famous farm, the Triple Crown winners Citation and Whirlaway to name just two, this is quite a compliment
After winning the Flamingo Stakes, and running second to Gen. Duke in the Florida Derby, Bold Ruler headed to New York. In April, Bold Ruler won the Wood Memorial from Gallant Man, and it was on to Churchill Downs.
The group of three year olds that were aimed at the Kentucky Derby in 1957 are considered to be one of the most talented group of colts in modern history. They included Gallant Man, Gen. Duke, Bold Ruler, Round Table, Clem, Barbizon, and Federal Hill.
Unfortunately, Gen. Duke didn't make it to the Derby, and neither did his stablemate Barbizon, but Calumet started their third stringer, Iron Leige, who incidentally was the horse used by Sports Illustrated in a series of articles about the life of a typical racehorse. The SI writers had gone to Calumet Farm and picked the mare Iron Maiden at random, with the idea being that they would photograph the birth of her foal and follow it in a regular column through its next three years of life.
In the first article, SI printed that the colt's Derby odds were somewhere around 1 in 10,000. After the Derby nominations in February of '57, his odds fell to 1 in several hundred. By Derby Day, only nine of the original 10,000 "Derby Candidates" foaled in 1954 remained as entries, and Iron Leige was now listed at 8 1/2 to 1. Gallant Man, Bold Ruler, Federal Hill, Indian Creek, Mister Jive, Better Bee, Shan Pac and Round Table were entered as well.
Federal Hill gained the lead at the break, and held it until the top of the stretch, where Iron Leige took over. Federal Hill faded to fifth, passed by Round Table and Bold Ruler as Gallant Man moved past Iron Leige. Then came the famous incident in which Bill Shoemaker misjudged the Churchill Downs finish line and began to rise in the stirrups. He realized his error instantly, but it was too late. He threw off Gallant Man's momentum just enough for Iron Leige to nose them out. Bold Ruler was fourth behind Round Table, the horse foaled only a half hour before him in the broodmare barn at Claiborne.
In the next of the classics it was a different story. At Pimlico, Bold Ruler beat the Kentucky Derby winner and won the Preakness Stakes by two lengths. Then came the Belmont Stakes, where Gallant Man avenged his own Derby loss by winning in 2:26 3/5. Bold Ruler ran a game third, and it was later discovered that the effort had strained his heart muscle.
After the Belmont and it's resulting layoff, Bold Ruler's wins included a six length romp in the Jerome Handicap, as well as victories in the Queen's County Handicap and the Ben Franklin Handicap, carrying 133 pounds in one and 136 in the other. In a muddy Vosburgh Handicap, Bold Ruler shattered the great sprinter Roseben's fifty year old track record with his nearest rival ten lengths behind. Finally, Bold Ruler beat both Gallant Man and Round Table in the Trenton Handicap, despite carrying 130 pounds, earning Horse of the Year honors for the 1957 season.
During the next season, Bold Ruler won the Toboggan Handicap and the Carter Handicap, carrying 133 pounds in each, before he met Gallant Man in the Metropolitan Mile. Bold Ruler, giving up five pounds, ran second, and was forced to redeem himself with a five length victory in the Stymie Handicap.
Then, in his greatest effort, the brave son of Nasrullah beat the talented Clem in a fiercely fought Suburban Handicap. Giving away a remarkable twenty five pounds, Bold Ruler caught the lightly weighted Clem at the half mile. At the top of the stretch, Bold Ruler was ahead by two, but Clem made a run on the outside, catching and passing him. Bold Ruler gamely fought back, when most horses would have quit, and regained the lead in time to earn a trip to the winner's circle. After one more win in the Monmouth Handicap, in which he carried 134 pounds, Bold Ruler badly injured his fetlock, finishing seventh in the Brooklyn Handicap.
When x-rays were taken, it was discovered that Bold Ruler had been running with a two and a half inch bone splinter lodged in his tendon, and had probably been in a great deal of pain for some time. He had also suffered arthritis, nerve problems, torn back muscles, and a heart problem during his career. When the bone splinter was detected, the game horse was sent back to his birthplace to begin his stud career.
At stud, Bold Ruler was even more impressive, siring such champions as Speedwell, Queen Empress, Successor, Bold Hour, Bold Lad, Bold Bidder, Boldnesian, Vitriolic, Wajima, What a Pleasure, and most importantly the 1973 Triple Crown winner and two time Horse of the Year Secretariat.
He led the American Sire's List eight times, and seven of the ten Kentucky Derby winners of the 1970's traced directly to Bold Ruler in their tail male lines. Bull Hancock found his offspring to share a unique trait:
"You can pick the Bold Rulers out on their conformation. I see the same musculature as Nasrullah. They all had an extra layer of muscle beside their tail running down to their hocks. It is a good sign when you see it in a Bold Ruler. It means strength and speed."
Bold Ruler died of a tumor on June 12, 1971, after cancer treatments failed, and was buried near Nasrullah and Miss Disco in the Claiborne Farm cemetery. His obituary began "The King is dead..."
Bold Ruler's Pedigree