Sir Barton Triple Crown Winner

Sir Barton

Jockey: Johnny Loftus

Trainer: H. Guy Bedwell

J.K.L. Ross

Career record: 31-13-6-5

Sir Barton was a chestnut colt prone to nips and kicks, that led all the way in sweeping the 1919 Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes; a remarkable feat, given he’d never won a race before. 0-for-6 entering the Derby, Sir Barton won by five lengths. A scant four days later, he captured the Preakness by four lengths, winning the heart of a post-war nation wanting heroes.

Sir Barton was royally bred, with English and American classic winners in his pedigree, in Kentucky by John E. Madden and Vivian A. Gooch at Hamburg Place Farm near Lexington. Madden raced him in his two-year-old season. He was entered in six races, winning none. Madden sold the horse in 1918 for $10,000 to Canadian businessman J. K. L. Ross.

Sir Barton lost all of his six starts as a 2-year-old, and the Kentucky Derby was his 3-year-old debut, so he was a maiden until he won the Derby. The colt also won the Withers between the Preakness and Belmont but would be overshadowed later that year with the emergence of 2-year-old Man o’ War, a horse many believe to be among the best of all time.

A horse that broke records

This horse broke track records, scored victories over other champions, and sparked the yearly pursuit of Triple Crown glory. His wins inspired the ultimate chase for greatness in American horse racing. Sir Barton rooted an elite group that would grow to include legends like Citation, Secretariat, and American Pharoah. After a series of dynamic wins in 1920, popular opinion tapped Sir Barton as the best challenger for the wonder horse Man o’ War and demanded a match race to settle once and for all which horse was the greatest.

Sir Barton seems to have qualified himself for the Derby primarily on the strength of a second-place finish in the Futurity at Belmont in September. Right after that, he was struck by septicemia and nearly died. By the time the Kentucky Derby rolled around in May, he’d had no prep races as a 3-year-old. By then, Ross and Bedwell also had Billy Kelly, named co-champion 2-year-old the previous year, and most turf writers believed the roses would go to Billy Kelly or his chief rival, Eternal. Sir Barton was entered as a rabbit for Billy Kelly.

It’s not clear what prompted Ross and Bedwell to think Sir Barton might be useful as a rabbit, except possibly his propensity for coming up empty in the stretch. At that point in his career, he was not a front runner, and in five of his six starts as a 2-year-old, he could do no better than fifth at any point of call. When he finished second in the Futurity in the fall of 1918, his best performance to date, he did so from off the pace. Jockey Johnny Loftus went to the lead as instructed, and to his own surprise as much as everyone else’s, never saw Eternal or Billy Kelly close on his heels, so he rode to the finish.

Since the Triple Crown had not yet been recognized as a series, it was not laid out in its modern schedule with two or three weeks between races. Sir Barton went to the Preakness next on four days’ rest and won, prompting declarations of historic greatness. Between the Preakness and Belmont, Sir Barton won the Withers, a feat only equaled among Triple Crown winners by Count Fleet in 1943. His success that spring significantly increased his handicap, however, and he gave up significant weight to his rivals for the remainder of his career. Additionally, Bedwell fell into the habit of racing Sir Barton frequently, even by 1919 standards.

Sir Barton’s Belmont win showed some versatility since he gave up the early lead in the tidy field of three horses and waited to strike until the end of the race, which was then 1 3/8 miles. His final time of 2:17 2/5 was also an American record at the distance.

Sir Barton Retirement

Upon retirement, Sir Barton was sold to Audley Farm in Virginia for $75,000. He’s often criticized as being a flop at stud, but he did sire Easter Stockings, winner of the 1928 Kentucky Oaks, along with seven other stakes winners. At some point, for reasons unknown, Sir Barton was sold to the Army Remount Service, which ran an expansive breeding program to supply the U.S. Cavalry and lived out his years on a Wyoming ranch.

Sir Barton died of colic on October 30, 1937, and was buried on a ranch in the foothills of the Laramie Mountains. Later though, his remains were moved to Washington Park in Converse County, Wyoming where a memorial was erected to honor America’s first Triple Crown winner.

First Triple Crown Winner Race Records


  • 2nd Futurity Stakes (USA, 6FD, Belmont)


  • Kentucky Derby Winner (USA, 10FD, Churchill Downs)
  • Preakness Stakes Winner (USA, 9FD, Pimlico)
  • Belmont Stakes Winner (USA, 11FD, Belmont; new American record 2:17-2/5)
  • Withers Stakes Winner (USA, 8FD, Belmont)
  • Potomac Handicap Winner (USA, 8.5FD, Havre de Grace)
  • Maryland Handicap Winner (USA, 10FD, Laurel)
  • Weight-For-Age Fall Serial #2 Winner (USA, 8FD, Pimlico)
  • Weight-For-Age Fall Serial #3 Winner (USA, 9FD, Pimlico)
  • 2nd Dwyer Stakes (USA, 9FD, Aqueduct)
  • 3rd Havre de Grace Handicap (USA, 9FD, Havre de Grace)
  • 3rd Autumn Handicap (USA, 10FD, Pimlico)


  • Rennert Handicap Winner (USA, 8FD, Pimlico)
  • Saratoga Handicap Winner (USA, 10FD, Saratoga; new track record 2:01-4/5)
  • Dominion Handicap Winner (CAN, 10FD, Fort Erie)
  • Merchants’ and Citizens’ Handicap Winner (USA, 9.5FD, Saratoga; new American record 1:55-3/5)
  • 2nd Kenilworth Park Gold Cup (match race with Man o’ War) (CAN, 10FD, Kenilworth Park)
  • 2nd Weight-For-Age Fall Serial #3 (USA, 9FD, Pimlico)
  • 3rd Marathon Handicap (USA, 8.5FD, Havre de Grace)
  • 3rd Laurel Stakes (USA, 8FD, Laurel)
  • 3rd Weight-For-Age Fall Serial #2 (USA, 8FD, Pimlico)

Sir Barton Honors

  • National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (inducted in 1957)
  • Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame (inducted in 1976 as part of the inaugural class)
  • American Horse of the Year (1919)
  • American champion 3-year-old male (1919)

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