Arts and Letters, 1969

Ribot and his son Tom Rolfe ranked 14th and 15th respectively among the 20 most popular sires in the fourth generation of sales foals of 1999-2002. The best American-raced sons of Ribot were Tom Rolfe, Graustark, and Arts and Letters (in no particular order). The following is Charles Hatton’s description of 1969 Horse of the Year Arts and Letters from the 1970 American Racing Manual.


Paul Mellon, the suave and urbane Virginian, is the deserving and pardonably proud owner of Arts and Letters, the three-year-old champion, best of the handicap division, and Horse of the Year, 1969.

Arts and Letters symbolizes the ultimate triumph of sound, classical breeding and sympathetic handling over the fierce winds of chance which howl at horsemen’s stable doors. That Arts and Letters is an enormously capable colt of unfathomed depth and bottom is a matter of record. Offered in evidence are his races last spring, when he ran Majestic Prince to narrow victories in the Derby and Preakness, which took some doing, then turned the tables on his rival in the Belmont Stakes.

The Derby and Preakness were Art and Letters’ hardest races in 1969, not to say his only really hard ones. The Rokeby colt’s legions, however stricken at the time, should not have been permanently scarred by the fact their champion was beaten in two of three encounters with Majestic Prince. Certainly Arts and Letters was not.

Earns $555,604 in 14-Race Campaign

On the contrary, he went blithely on to place himself on the honor rolls of the Metropolitan, Jim Dandy, Travers, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup, in addition to the Everglades and Blue Grass Stakes, and he concluded his 14-race campaign with earnings of $555,604.

Arts and Letters was brought along with infinite patience by trainer Elliott Burch, as his owner christened high hopes for him from the beginning, just as any other horseman would have done with a straight, alert colt by Ribot from a $175,000 mare, All Beautiful, who was carrying the colt when Mellon acquired her.

Arts and Letters won two of six experiencing little races at two, earning $18,898 while he learned. Vividly recalled is an August day he was stripped beneath the trees for a Saratoga race, Mellon and James Cox Brady inspecting him intently. This did not take long, for he then was a gauche, fat little fellow, who vouchsafed no hint of the athletic figure he cut saddling under the very same trees for the 1969 Travers.

Arts and Letters’ progress was uninterrupted and he gained in confidence and sophistication with racing, while the increasing distances threw his innate talents into bas-relief. He was a good doer and the most willing horse imaginable, rarely off the bit at exercise and indeed impressing railbirds as one of the hardest pullers in training. He wore a figure eight rather than blinkers, which may tell you something of his disposition. And he was rather more misanthropic than a stable pet to whom visiting strangers fed sugar.

Not surprisingly, his competitive nature and solicitous handling by trainer Burch are reflected in his great regularity as a performer.

Beaten in Flamingo and Florida Derby

In all candor, Arts and Letters could not cope with Top Knight in either the Flamingo or Florida Derby, although he had upset that colt earlier in the Everglades. But he still was somewhat backward, and had the Triple Crown and a New York campaign as his principal objectives. In order to restore his ego after his Florida reversals, he was sent against a weak field in Keeneland’s Blue Grass. He treated the opposition there rather shabbily, winning by 15 easy lengths in an esthetic 1:47 4/5 for 9 furlongs.

Arts and Letters now was Arts and Letters. While he caught a Tartar in Majestic Prince, who took the Derby and Preakness from him in passionate finishes, the Rokeby colt never looked back. Conversely, Majestic Prince came back jarred after the Preakness and lost his action utterly in the Belmont.

Thereafter, all the breaks, and indeed the rest of the season, were Arts and Letters’. Mention of his name was the evocation of terror, shingles and heartburn the length of the shedrow. His phenomenal soundness, and the tender loving care lavished on him, enabled him to make capital of the stamina and quality with which a benevolent nature endowed him.

Arts and Letters is not a big horse, on the contrary looks rather like an Indian pony. We dare say there were larger yearlings offered at last summer’s auctions, but he was “plenty big enough” as W. S. Vosburgh may have said, and he thrived with competition and grew normally throughout his three-year-old campaign.

The liver chestnut was weighed periodically, and was reputed by his more avid fans to have tipped the beam at 1,100 last fall. But he seems never to have been measured comprehensively. For one thing this might have disturbed and unsettled him, and for another it was perfectly [obvious] none of the points of his conformation represented any abnormal development. His curriculum was never needlessly disrupted.

Made Like Highly Precisioned Watch

Arts and Letters appeared barely 15.2 hands when he won the Belmont and scarcely 15.3 when he won the Gold Cup. He was made all of a piece, like a highly precisioned watch. Northern Dancer, War Admiral, Seabiscuit, Peanuts, Roamer, Black Gold and many other champions, on back to American Eclipse and Sir Henry were cast in the same physical stamp. The colt’s sire, Ribot, is not a big horse, nor was his maternal grandsire Battlefield. Both are or were rather opinionated animals, but Arts and Letters has yet to do anything foolish.

Our subject has a masculine head, albeit a bit long in the bridle, with a broad muzzle, bold, imperturbable eye and flat jowls. His neck is of moderate length and rather straight than arched. The withers are low but mascular, the coupling short and strong about the loin, while has fair muscling about the ilium and a pelvis of only average length.

He does appear to girth a good deal for one of his inches and he has adequate substance, which he carried well throughout his arduous campaign. His limbs are a study, as they set on in the best approved fashion, and the bone is broad, flat and apparently dense. His granddam Parlo had no feet, so that hard tracks sometime stung her and some of her most distinguishing races were in the mud. Arts and Letters seems to have escaped this impediment.

We wish that we might tell you he has the smart, airy manner of going compatible with his homogenous bodily lines, but he is fairly short-legged and when he is asked for the supreme effort he appear to scramble madly, which makes one wonder if he could sustain a flat out drive for long. At such times, he is the embodiment of grim determination rather than graceful co-ordination.

It is what is in Arts and Letters’ head and heart that count most heavily for him, so that the total of his capacity is more than the sum of the structural parts. Sr. Tesio used to say, “A horse runs with his legs and resists with his heart.”

Actually, it is suspected the Rokeby’s colt wear-and-tear qualities are owing in a measure to his economical proportions. It is well said, “A good big horse can beat a good little horse,” but the little fellows are less prone to becoming track sore.

Sire Ribot Inherits Hyperion’s Mantle

Arts and Letters’ sire, Ribot, needs no introduction as he long since has established himself as the world’s most reliable source of classicists, inheriting the mantle of that gay, puckish little horse Hyperion.

It is the irony of Federico Tesio’s career of about 60 years of breeding and racing thoroughbreds that he did live to see Ribot realize his ambitions. “I don’t want just a good racehorse,” he said. “What I want is a superhorse.” He wished to create a Nietzschean prototype, a Wagnerian divine animal, a Carlylean hero of the turf. He always smiled politely when other owners told him happily they had a colt who someday would win some Italian purse. Those were provincial ideals, not worth wasting one’s live on. The only goals were the big races in France and England, where the best in Europe met. He wanted to win them not in a dramatic photo finish, but easily and comfortably, with a horse that could run ahead like a whippet in front of a pack of terriers.

The unbeaten Italian won two Arcs and a King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, this last through sheer nerve and class, as he could gain no acceptable traction in the boggy going. Most Ribots are “on the small side,” and yet they seem nearly indefatigable, though few have quite exhibited Arts and Letters’ bottom when they attempted two hard races too close together.

Ribot is perhaps 15.3, but his chest development required a specially tailored girth. His outside lung capacity supplies the heart with extraordinary quantities of oxygen and, as happens with leading human distance runners, his heart beat is low, 35 to the minute, 85-90 after a race of 9 furlongs. He reaches a fatigue point considerably later than most horses. It is something of a systemic phenomenon that Ribot and most of his progeny seem to host few worms.

Ribot is himself lengthier of back and flank than is Arts and Letters, but they have the same superb running gear. Battlefield was a blocky little chestnut of great virtuosity but developed an awkward temper which transformed him into a performer of shocking irresponsibility. It was sometimes necessary to blindfold him and get behind him with a blacksnake whip to induce him to go along at exercise. His inbred sire War Relic was even less civil, indeed murdered at least one man, while his dam Dark Display was got by Display, who was notorious and made Mars Cassidy jump the fence to escape the treachery of his heels at the post. He worse a muzzle at stud, to prevent his skinning himself alive.

Of course Man o’ War had some of the same blood. He was mettlesome but not perilous. His groom, Frank Loftus, made something of a pet of him, however, teaching him to fetch and carry his hat like a dog. He was among the few horses who could abide a dog, adopting an Airedale called “Barry” as a mascot.

Parenthetically, Equipoise had a canine friend of the Schnauzer persuasion who slept in his box, but was made most unwelcome by all the other horses in the barn, while Epinard had an Airedale who became his boon companion. He used to pick him up and carry him about as a cat does a kitten, without ever really biting him. The French horse was a great gentleman, standing quietly with nobody at his head, as Colin and Ballot used to do while being rubbed out.

Horses were cared for differently and better in Big Red’s day. He was a good doer and it was necessary to equip him with a slow feeder to prevent his bolting his food and becoming colicky. He was fed two and a half quarts of clipped oats at 3:30 a.m., four and a half quarts at 11:30 and five quarts for supper. His feed tub was scalded daily, and thrice weekly he got a steamed mash of five quarts to one and a half quarts of bran.

Walked 40 Minutes Each Afternoon

Every 10 days he got a tonic of equal parts of cream of tartar, oil meal and sulphur. He was rubbed down with  a “dandy brush” of broom corn, and each afternoon he was taken for a 40-minute walk.

Arts and Letters and Man o’ War share some of the blood of those famous standardbred trotters Goldsmith Maid and Peter the Great, not to make too sharp a point of it. Goldsmith Maid, the first quadruped to win $100,000, was inbred to Messenger, and Arts and Letters derives the blood through Spendthrift with his cross of American Eclipse. The Lexington mare Lady Bess traced to Reel. Her own dam was Edith, fifth dam of Peter the Great.

Arts and Letters’ dam, All Beautiful, won two modest purses, but her dam Parlo won the Delaware Handicap at 10 furlongs under 128 pounds. She was a sweet-tempered little thing, by the Hyperion horse Heliopolis, the source of her shelly feet. The next dam, Fairy Palace, was by the emancipated teaser Pilate, whose coat was an anomaly of gray, red and black patches. He was a good handicapper in dry weather, when he did not choke up because of his respiratory condition.

Fairy Palace was out of Star Fairy, one of two mares Will du Pont retained when producers were a drug on the market, and breeders would give you one and a halter in which to lead her off the place. This is the family of Fairy Chant, who won two Beldames.

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