Faded Glory: Forgotten Kentucky Derby Winners (Worth, 1912)

March 8th, 2024

1912 was a tumultuous year in world history. The RMS Titanic sank in the frigid North Atlantic on April 15. Fenway Park opened, but the racetracks of New York remained dark, shuttered by the Hart-Agnew Law’s prohibition of gambling. Racing limped along without the Gotham circuit, the Kentucky and Maryland tracks among those keeping the sport going during the two-year hiatus.

In Louisville, the big show went on as racing fans once again celebrated another Kentucky Derby, its victor a champion colt whose brief time on the racetrack left the sport wondering “what if?”

Bluegrass Beginnings 

On March 15, 1909, Miss Hanover foaled a brown colt with a wide stripe of white down his nose at Woodburn Farm in Kentucky. His breeder, R.H. McCarter Potter, stood sire Knight of the Thistle at his Pequest Stud in New Jersey but sent his mares to Woodburn for foaling. Both sire and dam were winners on the racetrack and counted horses like Belmont S. winner Hanover and Epsom Derby winner Voltigeur in their pedigrees. As a yearling, Miss Hanover’s colt went through the sales at the Kentucky Association racetrack in Lexington and sold for $425 to Charles T. Worthington.

Worthington sent his newest acquisition to the Gallaher brothers for breaking and training ahead of his two-year-old season. So impressed were the brothers by the brown colt, now named Worth, that they purchased him for $3,500 and took him south to Florida for racing. In March 1911, Worth made his first start at Jacksonville, finishing unplaced, before breaking his maiden later that month and then adding more when the Gallahers moved north to Kentucky. Worth’s first stakes win came in the 4 1/2-furlong Raceland Stakes at Lexington, and he followed that with a victory in the Bashford Manor S. at Churchill Downs.

Worth’s Raceland victory caught the eye of businessman Harry C. Hallenbeck. The wealthy New Yorker dabbled in real estate, buying and selling hotels and office buildings, and was the president and general manager of the Wynkoop, Hallenbeck, and Crawford Company, a printing firm that was a supplier to the United States Post Office until a corruption scandal would end their lucrative relationship. Hallenbeck escaped prosecution and went on to build a classic-winning stable. He authorized trainer Frank Taylor to offer the Gallahers $10,000 for Worth. The deal done, Miss Hanover’s son would finish his juvenile season with 10 wins in 13 starts and ended the year an early favorite for the 1912 Kentucky Derby

Damp Derby

Worth started the new season in a six-furlong handicap against older horses 10 days before his anticipated trip to the Derby starting line. He finished two lengths back of Grover Hughes, but the lone sprint did not deter the Derby crowd from making Worth the favorite for the 38th Kentucky Derby. Under a darkening sky, the field of seven went to the post for the 10-furlong classic.

The previous day’s rain had left the track heavy, unfriendly to any horse that preferred a fast track. Over a sloppy track like this, anything could happen, even with a horse like Worth among the starters. After two minutes of delayed starts, the field finally got away cleanly, jockey Carroll "Cal" Shilling sending Worth to the front right away. The Gallaher Brothers’ Duval stalked the pace in fourth as the Hallenbeck colt maintained his lead around the first turn and down the backstretch.

Around the far turn, Duval moved up to second, skimming the rail a length behind Shilling and Worth. The jockey could sense that his front-running colt was starting to tire in the sloppy going and urged his mount on as Oscar Fain rode Duval hard for the wire. Clearly tiring after a grueling 10 furlongs, Worth still managed to hold off Duval to take the Kentucky Derby by a neck.

Worth returned to the judges’ stand to the cheers of the crowd of 30,000 and stood quietly as the wreath of roses was draped over his neck. The rest of his three-year-old season was not as stellar as the previous year, his only other stakes win the Chesapeake S. at Pimlico.

In November 1912, jockey Frank McTaggart was riding Worth in the Stafford H. at Pimlico when he moved the Derby winner into the path of another horse and clipped heels. Three horses behind him went down and the injured Worth had to be pulled up. Taylor found that the colt had two severed tendons in his right hind leg. Despite all efforts to save him, Worth had to be put down when blood poisoning set in, ending a promising career on and off the racetrack.

After the Sorrow 

Owner Harry C. Hallenbeck would go on to have another classic winner in his stable when The Finn took the 1915 Belmont S. Jockey Cal Shilling, however, had his career in the saddle cut short when he struck another rider during a race and was ruled off the racetrack permanently. He later went on to work as an assistant trainer for H.G. Bedwell and was among the advocates for the maiden Sir Barton ahead of the 1919 Kentucky Derby. Shilling’s 1912 Kentucky Derby win on Worth was his lone win in a Triple Crown classic.