We are familiar with the pattern: a horse builds a career winning races of note, like the Kentucky Derby, and then, when either injury or success calls for it, exit the track for the breeding shed. Once off the oval, we are left to enjoy them once again in vicarious attachment to their foals.
Occasionally, though, that retirement turns out to be temporary and they return with varying degrees of success. And then there’s Carry Back, a Kentucky Derby winner who retired to stud and then returned to the track to find the winner’s circle once again.
An Unlikely Hero
Jack Price and his brother had found success with their Cleveland, Ohio, tool manufacturing business during World War II, but, by the mid-1950s, Price shifted his attention from running his company to running a stable.
He and wife Katherine owned Dorchester Farm Stable, mostly running a small group of horses that they bred and owned at local tracks like Thistledown and Randall Park, and then shifted tack to Ocala, Florida. In 1958, his mare Joppy, who Price had acquired for a tiny price, gave birth to the couple’s best horse, a foal named Carry Back.
His sire was Saggy, the only horse to beat Citation in his 1948 Triple Crown season and the holder of the world record for 4 1/2 furlongs. Carry Back’s immediate pedigree did not scream classic winner, but both his sire’s and dam’s pedigrees included names like Blenheim II, Sir Gallahad III, and Equipoise, horses that stamped him with both durability and a predilection for distance.
The plain brown Carry Back ran an astonishing 21 times at age two, winning races like the Cowdin and Garden State Stakes. At three, though, this small brown colt carried the blue and white of the Prices to new heights.
Continuing the theme of durability, Carry Back won 10 of 16 starts in 1961, including the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, finishing seventh in the Belmont Stakes after striking himself early in the race. His late-running style made him a television star, as fans across the nation reveled in watching Carry Back mount a furious drive for the finish line, leaving viewers exhilarated and bettors exhausted by his antics.
His celebrity carried over into his 4-year-old season, where he capped off what seemed to be his last season on the track with victories in the Metropolitan Handicap and Monmouth Handicap (both over five-time Horse of the Year Kelso), before shipping to France for a try at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, where he finished 10th. Upon his return from Europe, Carry Back paraded in front of an adoring crowd at Tropical Park, saying farewell to the racetrack for good – or so they thought.
The dual classic winner covered a full book of mares during the 1963 breeding season, but Price wanted more for his champion stallion. He wanted to race Carry Back again, both to demonstrate the horse’s durability to potential clients and to satisfy a dare from an anonymous Kentucky breeder.
Could Carry Back return to the track after a season at stud and show that same turn of foot that had brought him so much fame and acclaim? Or was this return to training a fool’s errand?
In July, Carry Back departed Ocala for Belmont Park to restart serious training.
In August, he made his first start since his “retirement” at Randall Park in Ohio, one of the Prices’ old haunts, where he finished second in the Buckeye Handicap.
Carry Back would make five more starts in his return to the races, winning two, including the Trenton Handicap, which he had won at age three and then finished second in at age four. The experiment was over though: after a slow start and a mixed showing in his reappearance, Carry Back had never quite found the form that he had shown in his previous seasons. Another farewell ceremony at Garden State Park sent Carry Back off to stud for the second time. This time, it was for good.
In his time at stud, Carry Back sired 190 winners and 10 stakes winners, many carrying on the same durability he showed in his years on the racetrack. Several even ran in more than one hundred races, including Sharp Gary, who won the Gallant Fox Handicap (G2) in 1975 as well as the Michigan Mile and One-Eighth Handicap (G2) in 1976.
For a racehorse to retire and then return to win is a rare thing indeed. For a horse to win two Triple Crown races and other important events over multiple seasons and then return to the track to find success again is extraordinary. Carry Back’s tenacity and toughness showed us all why he was such a beloved figure in horse racing in the 1960s and beyond.
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