It was 65 years ago today that Citation won the Belmont Stakes and became American horse racing's eighth Triple Crown winner.
It would be 25 years before a horse won the Triple Crown again.
Only Man O' War and Secretariat rank ahead of Citation on Blood–Horse magazine's list of the top 100 racehorses of the 20th century — and deservedly so. He was the first horse to win $1 million.
Considering the affect that inflation tends to have on monetary amounts, there may be other horses who won the equivalent of $1 million in their day, but Citation actually did win $1 million. In fact, his career earnings were close to $1.1 million.
And, of course, he won the Triple Crown, which is something Man O' War never did — but that is probably because his owner didn't like racing in Kentucky so he didn't enter Man O' War in the Kentucky Derby. Man O' War did win the other two jewels of the Triple Crown, but it wasn't known as the Triple Crown in those days so I doubt it mattered to most people.
But when Citation came along about 30 years later, it did matter.
It's been my experience that the best, most successful thoroughbreds have their preferred jockeys who always ride them in the major races. I don't know why a horse has such a preference; it just seems that way. Affirmed, the 1978 Triple Crown winner, had young Steve Cauthen aboard. The year before, Jean Cruguet rode Seattle Slew to the Triple Crown. Secretariat had Ron Turcotte. And so on.
Citation won with more than one jockey. He didn't really seem to have a preference. He was quite successful with a jockey named Albert Snider, who rode him to his U.S. championship as a 2–year–old, but Snider drowned before the Triple Crown races were held in 1948. For awhile, Steve Brooks rode Citation, then Hall of Famer Eddie Arcaro rode him to the Triple Crown.
Arcaro, by the way, is the only jockey to win two Triple Crowns. He did it the first time a decade earlier aboard Lawrin (who, it is worth mentioning, did not make Blood–Horse's list). It was obvious to Citation's owner that Arcaro knew what he was doing.
Still, Citation was able to win no matter who was riding him. Granted, he did lose his first start with Arcaro aboard — but he didn't lose again for a couple of years. Arcaro said Citation was the best horse he ever rode.
A lot of horse people said — and many still say — Citation was the best of all time — better even than Secretariat or Man O' War. He was before my time so I'm not really qualified to make that assessment, but I can say that, based on the film footage I have seen, he was clearly one of the best — if not the best.
Citation probably would have won the Kentucky Derby (which he did by 3½ lengths) no matter who was riding him, but Arcaro still made the generous gesture of giving Snider's widow half the Derby purse. Arcaro didn't have to do that, but Snider did most of the work in preparing Citation for his 3–year–old season and the Triple Crown. There was no legal obligation, but Arcaro clearly felt that there was a moral one.
Two weeks later, Citation won the Preakness by 5½ lengths — and three weeks later, on this day in 1948, he became the eighth horse to win the Triple Crown.