The devil’s red and blue silks of Calumet Farm are as iconic as Yankee pinstripes or Notre Dame gold. In Preakness history, no other stable experienced the longevity or success of the Wright family’s juggernaut.
Warren Wright masterminded Calumet, backed by a fortune acquired by the success of the Calumet Baking Powder Company founded by his father William Wright.
The younger Wright immersed himself in the Thoroughbred world in the early 1930s after inheriting his father’s Standardbred farm and stable. In less than five years, Calumet Farm runners were appearing in the classics.
Wright’s first Preakness starter came in 1935 with homebred filly Nellie Flag, whose dam Nellie Morse won the Preakness in 1924. Wright purchased Nellie Morse with Nellie Flag in utero, and the filly became Calumet’s first champion as a juvenile. Sent off as one of the favorites in the Preakness (after running fourth a week earlier in the Kentucky Derby) she finished seventh behind eventual Triple Crown winner Omaha. That would be the worst finish of Calumet Farm’s 14 starters – who accounted for 11 top-three placements – from 1935 through 1978.
No other owner or breeder has more Preakness wins (seven). Modern-day Calumet Farm, now owned by Brad Kelley, added an eighth win as an owner with Oxbow in 2013.
Eighty years ago, a streak was launched in which every 10 years over the next four decades a Calumet runner appeared – resulting in three wins and a second – though that success on years ending in eight was just part of the story.
Calumet’s second Preakness starter, Bull Lea, purchased as a yearling by Wright, failed to hit the board in 1938, finishing sixth as torrents of rain turned the day into one of the most miserable in Preakness history. William duPont’s Foxcatcher Farms won with Dauber, who splashed home the easiest of winners. But Bull Lea eventually proved the brightest light, as the nation’s leading sire five times.
Calumet hired Ben Jones, later succeeded by his son Horace “Jimmy” Jones, in 1939 and soon began putting Preakness trophies on the mantel.
The first came in 1941 with popular Triple Crown winner Whirlaway. Pensive won in 1944. Bull Lea’s son Faultless won in 1947.
In 1948, Calumet star Citation (another son of Bull Lea) won the Preakness en route to the Triple Crown.
Wright died in December 1950, and his widow, Lucille, continued the operation. She married Gene Markey two years later, and the couple rode the ebb and flow of the stable’s fortunes for the next three decades.
Fabius took the 1956 race, giving the Kentucky-based farm five Preakness wins coming into the 1958 edition.
Tim Tam entered that Preakness off seven consecutive wins over the previous three months, including the Kentucky Derby, and easily captured his only start at Pimlico. He seemed destined to become Calumet’s third Triple Crown winner until finishing second (and pulling up lame) in the Belmont.
Right on schedule, Calumet’s next Preakness starter appeared in 1968. Sent off as a slight favorite, Forward Pass didn’t disappoint and won by 6 lengths.
The final horse to carry the devil’s red and blue in the Preakness for Calumet was Alydar – in 1978. One of the farm’s best, Alydar’s battles with Affirmed, including a second by a neck in the Preakness, remain part of racing lore. – Cindy Doubler