Stage Door Johnny, 1968

Not sure why I liked Stage Door Johnny. Initially it was because I did not want Forward Pass to be a Triple Crown winner with an asterisk. I liked Greentree because they had owned Tom Fool. I liked most of the private owner/breeders of that day (Rokeby, et al.). I liked the way Stage Door Johnny progressed rapidly at three and won the Belmont in his very first start in a stakes race. Three-year-olds are still immature at this stage. It is a reminder that anything can happen in tomorrow’s Belmont Stakes.

So here is Charles Hatton on 1968 champion 3-year-old Stage Door Johnny from the 1969 American Racing Manual.

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A grand colt was Stage Door Johnny, bred and raced by J. H. “Jock” Whitney and his sister, Mrs. C. S. Payson. Winner of the Belmont Stakes, Saranac and Dwyer in a brief but meteoric campaign of five victories in six starts, the Greentree Stable runner earned the title among the 1968 3-year-old colts. He progressed from a maiden to a Belmont winner in a month and compiled earnings for the season of $221,765 before a bowed tendon put finis to his career.

Stage Door Johnny simply outstayed Forward Pass for the mile and a half of the Belmont, climax of the American Triple Crown events and the only one of the series in which he competed. He conceded weight and won the mile Saranac Handicap 28 days later, running in 1:35 2/5 in going a bit greasier than he really liked, and in the Dwyer carried 129 pounds a mile and a quarter in 2:01 3/5, giving runner-up Out of the Way six pounds.

Careful trainer John Gaver inclined to question if his charge was sufficiently seasoned and experienced enough for the Belmont. But after he won a nine-furlong allowance race very readily in front of the Belmont candidate Draft Card on May 23, one week ahead of the classic, he supposed there was nothing to do but let him take his chances.

“He is still green as a May apple,” the Maryland horseman said. “But he has been coming along very fast in recent weeks and he is a capable colt, I think.”

How Stage Door Johnny collared the impetuous front-runner Forward Pass as the Preakness winner headed for home and wore him down inexorably in a long stretch drive now is a matter of Belmont history. This little moment in time was one of the highest lights of the first meeting at the new $30,700,000 Belmont Park.

There is a theory among cosmopolitan jet age racing men that the best American-bred 3-year-old of 1968 was indubitably Raymond Guest’s smashing Epsom Derby hero Sir Ivor, but he raced here only once, winning the Washington, D.C., International on turf, and balloting is restricted to those horses based in America.

Well Bred by Any Standard

Stage Door Johnny has a pedigree which goes around the world, first cabin, and he is a well bred animal by any horseman’s definition. In certain particulars, as regards his family, the colt’s pedigree reads like an advertisement to “Come to France.”

He is by Prince John, largely because Greentree Farm manager Bob Green grew fond of that stallion when he was managing Elmendorf. Prince John won the Garden State and two other races in nine starts at 2, the only season he competed. He was in turn by Princequillo out of Not Afraid, by Count Fleet, thus his immediate antecedents give his pedigree presence.

Stage Door Johnny is out of Peroxide Blonde, a flaxy maned white-faced chestnut mare by Ballymoss, who won the Arc and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and also sired the 1967 Epsom Derby winner Royal Palace. Peroxide Blonde is a young mare who won one of two starts and the ’68 champion is her first hostage to fortune. The next dam, Folie Douce, placed in French stakes and her foals include the stakes winners Mi Carina, Mother Goose and Sweet Folly. The next dam, Folle Nuit, was a French stakes winner and good producer.

This is a family whose strength has not been bred out but is excelling in the present. Greentree farm manager Green also was responsible for its introduction into the Greentree Stud, by the way.

Physically, Stage Door Johnny is either a handsome specimen or one to be regarded with suspicion, depending upon whether one cares for blaze-faced blonde horses, or inclines to regard the recessive factors as regressive. In Stage Door Johnny’s case, his coloration is a hallmark of his family. One can only ask that a horse is a good example of his particular type. The rest is a a matter of personal taste.

Has Abnormal Chest Development

Stage Door Johnny’s head has something of the Arabian character and is “full of blood,” as they say, while his generous blaze is rather arresting. It is not accompanied by white about the legs, to which so many horsemen have an aversion. He has good rein length, abnormal chest development and his legs are set on admirably. Also he has fair length of torso, without any suggestion of weakness about the flank, while he is broad of beam.

His muscular investiture is of the long, supple variety rather than developed in bunchy, muscle-bound masses in the way of a sprinter. He has self confidence and pluck, races with his head uncovered and is amenable to rating. “Action makes the racehorse,” and Stage Door Johnny’s collected stride propels him across the loam with fluency and no waste motion. He tracks straight and true under stress of a drive, lowering his head in the most resolute fashion.

He is altogether a very stylish animal, with plenty of bone, substance and sinew. He came to hand late, and was uncommonly awkward as a 2-year-old, but underwent a rapid metamorphosis when he reappeared at 3.

The Greentree colt’s joints were large and his ankles were fired as a precautionary measure when he was 2. He was pointing for the Travers, in which he surely would have been favored, when he made a misstep and bowed, on Greentree’s private training course at Saratoga. His retirement to stud was announced immediately and he was partially syndicated in record time at a reasonable $60,000 per share.

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