Assault Triple Crown Winner

Assault
Jockey: Warren Mehrtens
Trainer: Max Hirsch
Owner: King Ranch
Career record: 42-18-6-8

Celebrated as the “Texas Flier,” Assault scored six wins in nine weeks and became the seventh horse to claim the coveted Triple Crown.

Assault was foaled on March 26, 1943, on King Ranch in Kingsville, Texas. He was described as unremarkable in looks and temperament, a dull chestnut with a body taller than long. Assault was barely 15.2 hands (a hand equals four inches) tall and weighed less than 1,000 pounds. He was also the first horse bred outside of Kentucky to win the Triple Crown and, to date, the only Texas bred to do so.

He was the son of Bold Venture, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 1936. Kleberg purchased the stallion for $40,000 in 1941. Assault’s dam was Igual, an unraced daughter of Hall of Famer Equipoise. Igual’s dam was out of Masda, the full-sister (same dam, same sire to Man o’ War).

Assault’s trainer was Max Hirsch, a native of Fredericksburg, Texas, who rode Quarter Horses at Morris Ranch until stowing away in a shipment of racehorses bound for Baltimore at age 12. Hirsch became a jockey at age 14 and won 123 races before weight gain forced him into training horses instead.

Assault suffered an assortment of illnesses and injuries. He stepped on a sharp stake and ran it through the front wall of the hoof of his right foreleg, leaving his hoof deformed and the horse crippled. It was an injury that could have resulted in the colt being euthanized, but with Assault’s regal breeding Kleberg and his vet insisted on giving the colt a chance. They worked on the hoof to the point where he walked with just a limp. The colt sometimes stumbled going to the racetrack, but once set to a gallop Assault was all business.

Beginnings

The colt made his first start at Belmont Park, on June 4, 1945, and finished 12th in a field of maidens (horses that have yet to win a race). It was not until his fourth start, on July 12, that he notched his first victory. It took him four tries to earn his first victory. When he went to post in the Flash Stakes at Belmont Park on Aug. 5, 1945, Assault started at odds of 70-1 and rewarded his supporters handsomely when he crossed the finish line first. After just two wins in nine tries as a 2-year-old, Assault was sent to winter in South Carolina.

Assault launched his 3-year-old campaign winning the six-furlong Experimental Handicap at Jamaica racetrack in April 1946 and then he won the Wood Memorial Stakes. He was shipped to Kentucky and finished fourth in the Derby Trial Stakes, casting doubt upon his chances of running in the Kentucky Derby.

His Road to the Triple Crown

Hirsch decided to take a shot at the Derby and on May 4, the colt was listed as the fourth choice among bettors. Spy Song was the early leader as Assault raced in midpack. He burst through on the rail and rolled home to a stunning eight-length victory. It equaled the largest winning margin in Derby history. His time of 2:06 3/5 was comparatively slow, five seconds off the great Whirlaway’s then-track record.

A week later Assault took the victory in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. Early traffic problems forced Mehrtens to use his mount early in the race. Turning for home in command, Assault was cruising four lengths in front of Lord Boswell in the stretch, but his rival closed strongly. Assault hung on gamely to win by a neck. He tackled Lord Boswell once more at the final stage of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes on June 1.

Assault won the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park two weeks later. The winning streak came to an end when he finished last in the Arlington Classic. His poor performance was attributed to a kidney infection. He was taken off the track for six weeks of rest, but failed to secure a win in his next five races. Hirsch put the great Eddie Arcaro on the colt in the Pimlico Special and Assault responded by whipping Stymie with a sensational stretch run. He closed out the season by winning the Westchester Handicap by two lengths.

Assault was retired to stud, but tests had revealed he was sterile. He returned to racing and was retired for good in 1950. Assault’s final record was 42 starts, 18 wins, six seconds, and seven thirds with career earnings totaling $675,400. He was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1964. Assault died on Sept. 2, 1971. He was buried at the King Ranch where he had been foaled.

ASSAULT WON THE 7TH TRIPLE CROWN IN 1946

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