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.
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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.