High Gun, 1954

I resume with Charles Hatton’s description of High Gun in 1954 from the 1955 American Racing Manual. Take it away, Mr. Hatton.


At the close of the 1953 season, it was the experts’ appraisal that the new generation of two-year-olds represented a truly “vintage crop.” But at three their form was more or less mercurial and unresolved until late in the year, by which time King Ranch’s High Gun had compiled a sufficiently imposing record that he could not be denied the honors. Turn-to, Determine, Correlation, Hasty Road and Errard King all strutted brief hours, then either vanished from view or anti-climaxed their early season form. In the end, it became a question of superiority among High Gun, Fisherman and Helioscope, and the first named had placed to his credit more of the major events.

Rather unobtrusive at two, though he won two or three races, High Gun emerged a steadily improving, increasingly important colt at three. He captured the Peter Pan, Belmont Stakes, Dwyer, Sysonby, Manhattan Handicap and Jockey Club Gold Cup. And he ventured out of his age division to defeat mature rivals in the Sysonby, Manhattan and Gold Cup. Additionally, he finished third in the Wood, Withers, Jersey Stakes and Arlington Classic, second in the American Derby. Altogether, the clipper-rigged bay son of Heliopolis made 14 starts under King Ranch’s “running W” colors, winning six races and finishing only once unplaced for total earnings of $314,550.

No other of the season’s campaigners accomplished quite so much, and indeed there was a disposition in some quarters to feel he had earned Horse of the Year honors, even among those who fully appreciated Native Dancer’s superlative class, and would not have backed High Gun to beat him at any odds. There was much to be said for the rectitude of their position, on the basis that the award is annual, and by the same token the candidates should be judged strictly upon their form during that particular season, not career-wise. For the Dancer, it was a retroactive honor.

In the course of compiling his singularly creditable season’s tally, High Gun proved himself a genuine and versatile colt, and gave the racegoing public some zestful sport. Who that saw it will forget, for instance, his bitter skirmish with brave little Fisherman over the last yards of the Belmont Stakes, in which he prevailed by exciting inches? Nor again his performance in the mile and a half of the Manhattan Handicap, in which he was the actual topweight under 123 pounds, and surged inexorably out of the pack to attack Bicarb and Subahdar in the last furlong, winning by a length and a half in a hard drive?

High Gun returned to the scales looking a distressfully tired, jaded colt and there were some who fancied that he would not recover in time for the Gold Cup. But in this “wfa” classic of two miles he led from end to end and won with the proverbial stone-in-hand, at the expense of his old rival, Fisherman. High Gun was to have represented the United States in the Washington, D. C., International which followed, but wrenched a hip training for that engagement and was retired. Fisherman “pinch hit” for him successfully in a duel with the luckless French filly Banassa.

High Gun falls into the crowded category of “bargain yearlings,” Bob Kleberg having acquired him at the Keeneland sale for a mere $10,200. Perhaps one reason why he was such a good bargain is the very reason he appealed to the master of King Ranch. The latter bred his dam, Rocket Gun, who is by Brazado, a King Ranch stallion to whose door nobody ever beat a path. Thus High Gun was not generally supposed to be one of the better-bred sons of the excellent Hyperion stallion, Heliopolis, offered at auction during the season. he was bred in Kentucky by K. M. and W. P. Little and Cary C. Boshamer, and was a foal of March 15, 1951 at the Littles’ Palmeadow Farms.

High Gun seems another classic illustration of the efficacy of crossing highly-bred imported stock with representatives of domesticated lines that afford a distinct outcross. It is theorized that this formula occasions a sort of hybrid vigor. This is the antithesis of inbreeding, which many breeders eschew as decadent, and it was employed effectually years ago by James R. Keene and Col. E. R. Bradley.

The three-year-old champion is a pleasing individual of some 15.3 at the withers, with attenuated, racing-like lines, moderate length and excellent underpinning. He customarily stands with “all four feet in a bucket,” as horsemen put it when they imply that a horse’s legs are set on well under him.

A dark bay with a prominent star and snip, High Gun has the lean, bony head and large, expressive eyes which suggest good breeding. He has fair rein length, accentuated a bit by the fact that at three he had not yet developed an apparent crest. His shoulder is deep and oblique, the sort one looks for in a stayer, and the muscular equipment there and about the hind quarters is of the long, supple variety most suitable for galloping big distances.

The middlepiece is not conspicuous for any unusual depth of girth, though the ribs are fairly well sprung, but it blends harmoniously with the rest of his format. There is no suggestion of weakness about the loin and there is not too much length between the back ribs and the stifle. The stifle, gaskins and forearm are strong without excess lumber. Perhaps his best points physically are his wonderful straight hind legs, and the soundness and toughness of fibre to carry on as he did throughout a rigorous campaign. Many of his rivals were often on the sidelines for lack of this quality, without which all the most fashionable bloodlines and class conceivable are of little or no avail.

High Gun’s even temper makes him an excellent “racing tool.” In many of his engagements during the season he proved readily amenable to rating, then accelerating at the word as the finish neared. In others, he forced or established the pace, as in the one-mile Sysonby and the Gold Cup of twice that distance. Nor was he partial in the matter of track conditions. He races without blinkers and his action is more notable for its length than the trappy, drum roll beat of the sprinter.

The King Ranch colt, out of a non-winner, has a non-winner called Venturina, by Eight Thirty, for a sister and a non-starter at two, in 1954, named King York, as a younger brother. These are all Rocket Gun’s foals of racing age to January 1, 1955. Thus, one may say High Gun represents an improvement in the breed.

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4 Responses to High Gun, 1954

  1. Lakotasblaze says:

    I love Charles Hatton’s descriptions of the conformation of these race horses! Since I have not had the benefit of a personal tutor on live horses, I have struggled reading conformation articles in many different publications and none are as helpful as these. Does Mr. Hatton have any books or other articles that we might have access to? I assume you got these from your own personal copies of The American Racing Manual?

    • ddink55 says:

      I am as conformationally challenged as anyone, but I did finger that the physical descriptions scribbled by of CH would be very appreciated by at least some readers. As far as I know CH did not write any books. His writings appeared regularly in DRF back when he was alive. He did live to see Secretariat and wrote about him in both 1972 and 1973. He received an Eclipse Award in 1974 and died on March 14, 1975, at the age of 69. Alas, I have only a few personal copies of the ARMs. I made copies of these stories from the 1954-55 ARMs while I was back slaving away at TJC last week. Glad to hear that someone enjoyed these reprints (retypes actually). Should I recycle more CH from the ARMs??????

    • Nicholas says:

      Very interesting, and I would certainly enjoy more CH.

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