Hoist the Flag, 1970

Tom Rolfe has been our subject for the past two weeks. The best son of Tom Rolfe was 1970 champion two-year-old Hoist the Flag, who is profiled now in the words of Charles Hatton from the 1971 American Racing Manual.


Regarding the two-year-old colts, one saw nothing worth telling until Mrs. Stephen C. Clark Jr.’s gifted if disingenuous Hoist the Flag appeared with great eclat in September. What is called his campaign, to be charitable about it, comprised just four starts in as many weeks, all at Belmont Park. And yet he won the laurels in his division. Also the gratitude of those who were vastly relieved to be rescued from the ennui of the colts’ rather picaresque form. Hoist the Flag finished first, actually, in all his races including the Cowdin and the rich Champagne, only to be denied the latter purse on a disqualification.

In both the Cowdin and Champagne he came though the stretch ducking about in a weird pantomime, and the stewards felt they had no alternative but to place him last in the Champagne. Some observers thought him simply green, others ascribing his antics to bucked shins. But it was perfectly clear he was as exceptional as his veering was exceptionable, a genuine trump in a marked deck.

A most competitive colt, he broke from the extreme outside in a field of 12 assembled for the Cowdin, dashed through the field like a fox scattering a barn yard of chickens, and ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16 2/5, two-fifths behind the track record and two-fifths faster than Salem’s Futurity. The result was allowed st stand, but the stewards found his veering in the Champagne so offensive they felt obliged to place him last after he had come home in smashing style three lengths before the runner-up Limit to Reason.

That reversal concluded his first season. Sophisticated trainer Sid Watters Jr. said after: “It was a hard decision to make to start the colt in the Champagne. We had to work on him two hours a day, and he only breezed once in a month. But he had four races in 30 days.

Given Chance to Develop

“He showed he could run early, back at Middleburg, Va., in the spring, and we decided to take it easy with him, affording him every chance to develop. He is very growthy, but Mr. and Mrs. Clark have always had infinite patience with one who shows promise.

“John Gaines bought him from Mr. (John) Schiff as a weanling in a tax year and we got him for $37,000 at the Saratoga Yearling Sales.”

Hoist the Flag is not only intuitively a competitor, he inclines to be rather opinionated. Lead ponies are his anathema, odd as it may seem in an era when few of his species can be trusted to attempt anything without these escorts’ moral support, and fewer riders to keep their seats without a pony boy’s assistance. Hoist the Flag is customarily saddled apart from the herd of ponies attending his rivals.

The unsubtle nuances of form in the ranks of the two-year-old colts found Mrs. John Morris’ homebred Proudest Roman using the speed and precocity he inherited from Never Bend and his Roman dam to telling effect in the first half of the season. Among other things, he won the National Stallion, while bucking his shins, mark you, then captured the Hopeful in the mud. Just when it appeared he was about to set a seal, he fragmented a hoof in training and was retired to stud.

Unable to Handle Mud in Hopeful

Executioner won the Sanford with stylish verve and elan, then failed dismally to handle the mud in the Hopeful. The race exposed an aberration in his repertoire. Salem won the Futurity, then was beaten off by Hoist the Flag when he was injured in the Cowdin. A workaday colt called Limit to Reason was awarded the Champagne purse on Hoist the Flag’s disqualification. He then won the Laurel-Pimlico Futurity with the Clark colt conspicuous by his absence, only to fail of gaining a place in the Garden State Stakes, when it was said in extenuation he was in close quarters.

From this welter of hysterically contradictory ups and downs, there emerged Hoist the Flag, with a record blemished only by the stewards. His appearance on the scene resolved rather an untidy situation for the form students, and most were glad to concur in the opinion of the NTRA’s handicapper Trotter, keeper of the match book, that the Clark colt deserved the honors if not quite all the money for which he competed.

The Clarks’ exciting performer focuses flattering attention on former ambassador Raymond Guest’s emergent young syndicated stallion Tom Rolfe, a son of unbeaten Ribot and the mare Pocahontas, herself a clever two-year-old. She was got by Roman but came of How’s stout staying family and thus can have inherited elements which would not inhibit her foals from “getting the trip,” particularly when bred to such an agent of classicism as Ribot. Her son by Bold Ruler, Chieftain, was a good stakes winner at shorter distances. Tom Rolfe was less limited and indeed the acknowledged three-year-old champion of 1965. This was on fairly sound evidence, as he wore better than did some of his arch rivals. He was forced to check and yet finished third for the Derby, . . . won the Preakness [by a filthy snoot], then was narrowly beaten by the crooked hocked Hail to All in the Belmont, a race many thought him unlucky to lose. Subsequent to the American Triple Crown series, he won four consecutively in the Chicago theater.

It may sound gratuitous, not to say heretical, but for the sake of comparison Tom Rolfe in training was a colt of economical proportions, “pony built,” some said, and had a bay coat of the sort naturally rather lackluster.

We doubt if Tom Rolfe’s patrons need feel shattered by this description, as Ribot himself was nothing daunted for being on the small side. One may at least say he has never heard it complained any of the Italian’s progeny are too big and overtopped to train on.

Watters estimate Hoist the Flag at 16 hands, and like Graustark he is one of the rare life-sized horses got by Ribot. Also like Graustark, he is athletic rather than gross and encumbered with excess lumber.

Blue Grass Graustark’s Last Race

Yet again like the swift Graustark his running gear differed from the norm for Ribots, presenting some problems at two. It is to be hoped this does not prove prophetic. Graustark was sensationally fast but had a low threshold for the vicissitudes of campaigning. Unduly rushed for the Derby, he hurt himself at Keeneland and did not run after the Blue Grass Stakes [the only loss in his short career of eight starts].

Parenthetically, it is sometimes suspected on shed row that the enormously fast horses are fated to break down, and the quicker the sooner so to say. Generalizing, there would seem some basis for this in an age horses carry heavy imposts on frightfully hard racetracks.

Fewer horses bow than in the day of deeper courses, but the concussion of racing on modern surfaces comes to an appalling incidence of bad ankles and broken bones. One has the impression that were tracks harrowed deeper, there would be less clamor for analgesics. The legendary Old Rosebud and patriarchal Domino bowed in yearling trials. There are exceptions to all the rules of course, and Sarazen and Osmand wore reasonably well in fairly recent times, gifted as they were with superlative action and heavy, dense bone.

The curious thing regarding Hoist the Flag’s physical stature is that not only were his antecedents on the sire’s side rather diminutive, his maternal grandsire War Admiral was cast in the same mold. And we think it fair to say The Admiral was another little fellow whose displacement in terms of class far exceeded his physical dimensions. He stood in no rival’s shadow in the abstract of the form. But for those of us who like a well grown horse, Hoist the Flag will do.

The Clark colt’s dam, Wavy Navy, raced three season and won two of 35 starts. In production she has fared better, foaling Deck Hand and the hurdles record breaker Navy Blue previous to Hoist the Flag. Moreover, Deck Hand was by Cohoes, the other by Blue Prince.

The second dam was Triomphe, who was sired in France by the terrorist Tourbillon, a champion racehorse with an awkward disposition, especially when he was crosstied to do him in his box. Visitors were warned to keep their distance. Triomphe won on both the flat and through the field in France, then captured the New York Turf Writers Cup over hurdles on her importation.

The cross of Tourbillon in Hoist the Flag’s pedigree my have proven the catalyst, as our colleague Leon Rasmussen surmises. Hoist the Flag does not, however, have Tourbillon’s long, light waist and shocking sickle hocks.

Individually, our subject is a hard bay with black points and a small star as his only marking. He has well sprung ribs and is broad over the loins, while his underpinning is well placed. The scapula, humerus and well articulated elbow assure liberty of action, and he goes with a flowing plasticity that is a pleasure.

He is well but not too heavily muscled and his pasterns are of the best approved length, while the hooves are black and round, conjoined to the right sort of coronary bands. His head is notable for the width at the brain pan, between the eyes, and he carries it well.

In fine he is a workmanlike specimen rather than “all ruffle and no shirt.” He will be more professional with more experience, and it is noteworthy he races without blinkers or bandages of any sort. Intensely competitive, he runs hard. As he will be given the winter to mend and develop, one may hope he will add to the interest in 1971 racing. Things were incredibly dull until he enlivened two-year-old racing last season.


Hoist the Flag was widely expected to dominate the 1971 Triple Crown. He appeared well on his way to doing so after winning his first two starts of the season, an allowance race at Bowie and the seven-furlong Bay Shore Stakes by seven lengths in 1:21. He broke down shortly thereafter though, and fortunately he was saved for stud duties, at which he excelled.

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