Old Bones: His Amazing Career Record Was Never Broken

A thoroughbred who raced for nine long years before retiring. Did he start 99 or 100 races? It depends on who you ask.

Comments (29)|23 Liked It

Exterminator, an American Thoroughbred, was foaled on a farm near Lexington, Kentucky in May, 1915 and did not get the nickname “Old Bones”until he had gotten some years on him. In fact his final owner, Willis Kilmer, thought so little of him he nicknamed him “the goat” and used himto work with his Kentucky Derby hopeful, Sun Briar. Trainers, however, noted that it was difficult to keep the work horse behind Sun Briar where he belonged.

Exterminator had already won his maiden outing at a track in Covington, Kentucky as a two-year-old taking the six-furlong event by three lengths and making him eligible for nomination as a Derby entry. He was already 16.3 hands and growing. The new owner did not realize the mistake the previous owner had made at the time: he had Exterminator gelded.

composite photo of Churchill Downs- early 1900s
image via wikipedia

By Derby time in Louisville in May, 1918, Enterprise stood at 17 hands and Kilmer’s pride and joy, Sun Briar, the U.S. Two-Year-Old Championship Colt, developed ringbone and had to be scratched from the run for the roses. At first Kilmer absolutely refused to run “the goat” in Kilmer colors but was finally convinced by the president of Churchill Downs to put something on the track. JockeyWillie Knapp was totally dejected. The Kentucky Derby is a race for three-year-olds and Exterminator had not run for nearly a year. To make matters worse the sky opened up that morning and the track became a literal quagmire.

Exterminator (Old Bones) with Willie Knapp up
image via wikipedia

Exterminatorleft thegate at 30 to one odds against the heavily favored War Cloud. Kilmer’s last minute entry ran at the very back of the pack for most of the mile-and-a-quarter race until the horses headed down the home stretch. That’s when jockey Knapp loosened his grip on the reins and, one by one, Enterprise passed all the other entries and won the garland of roses by a full length. Years later Knapp would say, “Exterminator could have beaten Man o’ War or Citation or any other horse that everlived.” Kilmer was able to get SamRiddle, Man o’ War’s owner, to agree to a match race but somehow the event never took place.

Exterminator competed in 99 races. He won 50 of them and ran in the money 84 times. A claim that he started 100 races stems from the exhibition run he made at the Hawthorne Course in Cicero, Illinois in 1922 with no other horses on the track and no win, place or show money involved. He continued to compete until he was nine years old and his fans began calling him Old Bones–some, The Galloping Hatrack. Due to the unfortunate gelding he was retired to pasture with a succession of companion ponies, all named Peanuts.


Old Bones died in 1945 at the age of 30. A marker is located at Whispering Pines Pet Cemetery in Binghamton, New York and is shared with Sun Briar who died two years earlier. Old Bones isnot buried there, however. It’s said he is buried alongside several of his companion ponies in an unmarked grave somewhere at Sun Briar Court.

The Daily Racing Form name Exterminator U.S. Champion Older Male Horse three consecutive times in the early ’20s. His career record of 33 stakes wins has never been broken by any thoroughbred raced in North America and in 1957 he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame.

See his page in the Hall at http://www.racingmuseum.org/hall/horse.asp?

“Old Bones, the Wonder Horse,” by Mildred Mastin Pace, is a children’s book published by McGraw-Hill.

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  1. Posted September 2, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Must give love to the underdogs, even if they are horses…

  2. Posted September 2, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    That sounds like one hell of a horse! I like his whole story where he came from being the goat to the champ to the retired champ with a bunch of pony servants lol! As always a very interesting,informative peice that was very well written!Excellent work Ken but from you I expect no less!

  3. Posted September 2, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Great horse, great work!

  4. Posted September 2, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    great piece
    Keep sharing

  5. Posted September 2, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Interesting account.

  6. Posted September 2, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    What a horse! Great story Ken, I like it.

  7. Posted September 2, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Ken, what a racing horse, I hadn’t heard of him because I really don’t keep up with races. It would have been something to see him run.

  8. Posted September 2, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    One tough chap, thanks for sharing.

  9. Posted September 2, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Love horse stories. Great article!

  10. Posted September 2, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    I’d heard the name Exterminator, and knew he was a race horse, but I didn’t know the rest of this. Very interesting article.

  11. Posted September 2, 2009 at 8:51 pm


    Top notch reporting. Great write.

  12. Posted September 2, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    You composed this well

  13. Posted September 2, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    Horses are amazing animals, so beautiful. The exterminator sounds like one awesome racing horse.

  14. Posted September 2, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Like this! Great read!

  15. Posted September 2, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    I never know any racing horse before. Thanks for sharing the story. I enjoy it. Your story give me new knowledge.

  16. Posted September 3, 2009 at 1:25 am

    99 races and he won 50 of them! Great!

  17. Posted September 3, 2009 at 1:52 am

    He sounds like a great old horse. A real champion. An enjoyable piece.


  18. Posted September 3, 2009 at 8:19 am

    Another great article, well told, and packed full of information!
    Keep up the good work, you are entertaining the masses beautifully.


  19. Posted September 3, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Now this one I don’t remember but your article brought it to life for me. Well written.

  20. Collette Edwards
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Yes Ken Exterminator, Man o’ War and Citation were some of the greatest horses in time, My step father along with my mother by his side raised and raced thoroughbreds. Churchill Downs was one of the tracks they raced at, So we heard many stories of these horses. WEll done piece you have captured it well and brought back memories for me. Keep writing you should hav done this for a living, you are very talented. :D

  21. Posted September 3, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Impressive track record for this horse!

  22. Posted September 3, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    You know your horses Ken, another good one.

  23. Posted September 3, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    Your articles about race horses just keep getting better. I love horses :) Thank you

  24. Posted September 3, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Still unbroken? That’s pretty good considering how the breed them now. Nice read. j

  25. Posted September 4, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    nice article. Thanks for sharing.

  26. Posted September 5, 2009 at 12:23 am

    Ken, thanks for doing this article. I had thought about it, but didn’t quite get the time in. I am so glad that you did it though because I believe that you probably did a better job at telling the story than I would have. I remember reading the book, Old Bones the Wonder Horse when I was in fifth grade. I read every horse book that I could get my hands on.
    You did a wonderful job on a beautifully gifted race horse, and I thank you. Great article. I was glad to read it and see that you had done the research on it. As always well done.

  27. Posted September 7, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    A good informative read mate. Way to go!

  28. Posted September 15, 2009 at 11:06 am

    What a life. I think that horse led a more exciting life than I do!

  29. James
    Posted September 12, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Exterminator – the best yet!

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