Faded Glory: Forgotten Kentucky Derby Winners (Lawrin, 1938)

May 31st, 2024

While the majority of the 150 winners of the Kentucky Derby were born in the Bluegrass State, 14 other states boast Derby victors of their own, with seven producing one each. New York has Funny Cide, Maryland gave us Kauai King, and in 1938, Kansas got its lone victory with a colt named Lawrin. 

Bred and owned by Herbert M. Woolf, this forgotten champion not only gave the Sunflower State its lone winner but also gave two Hall of Famers their first taste of victory in the Run for the Roses. 


Woolf’s business may have been making men look good, but his passions took him in a sporting direction. The Kansas City native had fallen in love with horses during a childhood stint in Arizona and parlayed his fortune from the Woolf Brothers stores into the 200-acre Woolford Farm. There, he raised cattle and show horses, later switching to Thoroughbreds after becoming disillusioned with the show circuit. 

In 1932, as the clothier worked on building his breeding program, buyer Rush McCoy, acting on Woolf’s behalf, spied Insco, a bay son of Sir Gallahad III, up for auction after a fractured ankle had forced his retirement. Storms delayed or drove away other bidders so Insco fell to Woolf for a mere $500, an investment that would yield far more. 

At Woolford Farm, Insco proved to be a stallion of merit, especially when paired with the mare Margaret Lawrence, a daughter of French stakes winner Vulcain. Like Woolf’s new sire, the brown mare had been an average racehorse, but she proved to be far better as a broodmare. She produced two stakes winners with other sires, but when paired with Insco, she produced a tall bay colt with four white socks and a spot of white on his forehead. Combining his sire’s and dam’s names, Woolf named the young colt Lawrin. 

Raised far from the Bluegrass, the Kansas-bred colt started his career with no designs on the Triple Crown classics. Yet the clothier turned breeder and owner was all in on building a good stable and put the Insco colt in the hands of two future superstars.


When Herbert Woolf decided to switch from show horses to racehorses, he put his considerable resources into building a program that would match his ambitions. To that end, he sought out Ben A. Jones, the Missouri horseman who had built a reputation turning his homebreds into winners. When Woolf offered Jones a job as private trainer for his new stable, he jumped at the chance, bringing his son Jimmy with him. 

Jones saw that Lawrin had a talent for eating and knew that the best way to keep this brawny colt in shape was to race him. The Insco colt raced twice a month from the first of April through the end of February the following year, amassing 23 starts and three wins in his two-year-old season and then wins in the Hialeah and Flamingo Stakes before Jones shipped him to Kentucky for spring racing. 

Lawrin’s stakes wins had Jones contemplating a turn in the Kentucky Derby, but that ambition was put in jeopardy when the colt developed a hoof issue. An infected left front hoof delayed preparations for the May 7 classic, so the trainer entered the colt in the one-mile Derby Trial four days before the big race. Jones put bar shoes on the colt’s front feet and sent him out against a field of nine others, where he just missed victory by a head. The trainer judged Woolf’s horse ready for roses and sought out the right rider for the task. 

Kentucky native Eddie Arcaro was still in the early years of his Hall of Fame career when Jones turned to him for the assignment. Under contract to Greentree Stable, Arcaro normally would not have been available, but Greentree did not have a Derby starter and allowed the young rider to ride Lawrin in the Derby. This was Arcaro’s second opportunity to ride in the big race after his 1935 try on Calumet’s Nellie Flag. Jones and Arcaro came to Derby Day relatively inexperienced and nervous but came out of it all smiles. 

Lawrin and Arcaro had their work cut out for them: the first for the 1938 Derby included Bull Lea, the future foundation sire for Calumet Farm; Menow, stakes winner and sire of Capot and Tom Fool; and Belair Stud’s Fighting Fox, a full brother to Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox. But the Insco colt proved to be the best of them all. Rating his colt off the pace, Arcaro waited for the far turn to send Lawrin after the lead, a move that might have been a bit premature. Three lengths in front at the top of the stretch, the tired colt began to bear out in the final yards as William DuPont’s Dauber loomed behind them. Under Arcaro’s urging, Lawrin held off Dauber to win by a length, the first and only horse bred in Kansas to win the Run for the Roses.


Lawrin’s upset victory gave Ben Jones his first of six Kentucky Derby victories and was also the first of Arcaro’s five. Herbert Woolf’s jubilation at his colt’s win was two-fold: not only had he won the country’s most famous race, but he also cashed on his winter book bets on Lawrin, reportedly to the tune of $150,000. Because he was not nominated for the Preakness or Belmont, Jones sent the colt west to the new Hollywood Park. There, he won the Hollywood Trial Stakes and the American Invitational, but bowed a tendon in the latter and was retired to Woolford Farm.

Though Lawrin was not a successful sire, Insco’s cross with Margaret Lawrence produced another classic winner, Inscolassie, who claimed the 1940 Kentucky Oaks. That win made Margaret Lawrence the only broodmare to produce both a Kentucky Derby and a Kentucky Oaks winner, both giving the Sunflower State a taste of roses and lilies.