Charles Hatton on 1952 champion handicap horse Crafty Admiral from the 1953 American Racing Manual.
Handicap racing has become an increasingly important phase of the Thoroughbred sport in this country during the past two decades. It is not prudent under the American system of racing to place the same emphasis on weight-for-age classics that Europeans do, because the crowded stakes schedule soon would determine the champion, who in turn would create virtual walkovers in engagements he accepted and reduce those he did not to races of negligible significance and appeal. The associations have offered so many valuable handicaps that almost all the classic three-year-olds developed in the United States are trained for them as mature performers. In this way our classic winners usually are tested more thoroughly than are those across the Atlantic.
The handicap division in 1952 was among the strongest in recent years, though not because of the presence of Count Turf, Bold and Counterpoint, who had won 1951’s Triple Crown events. Of these three, Counterpoint, voted 1951 Horse of the Year, set up the brightest record, winning three of four starts, including the Whitney at Saratoga, despite a series of misfortunes, which eventually sent him to the stud.
The most important handicap performers were developed from the ranks. Among them were Crafty Admiral, who had started only once the preceding season; Woodchuck, who had made his first acquaintance with racing in December; and Spartan Valor, who had been generally considered a useful sprinter. These confined their activities to the East and Midwest, and another upstart, Intent, scintillated in California.
At one time or another during the season, each was nominated by a devoted following for 1952 handicap honors. Spartan Valor swept through the McLennan, Widener, Excelsior, Gallant Fox, and Valley Forge in a tour de force during the first half of the season and appeared to have the clearest claim to the title. But he became palpably depleted at Chicago in midsummer, and his defeat by Crafty Admiral in the Washington Park Handicap changed voters’ thinking, with the result by the end of the year most of them were prepared to cast their ballots for the Charfran Stable’s four-year-old.
It has been observed that voters are prone to impart special consideration to late-season stakes. Perhaps there is some truth in this, but then racing is, after all, a matter of the survival of the fittest. Crafty Admiral and Spartan Valor both began racing during the winter in Florida, and Crafty Admiral wore a bit the better, improving rather than deteriorating during the late summer. Whether or not he could beat Spartan Valor when both were in form is questionable, yet he compiled a more impressive record.
Crafty Admiral’s story is the familiar phenomenon of the “Cinderella Horse,” a category including Assault, Stymie, Chase Me, and others far too numerous to mention. We may be quite sure they will be with us just so long as there is horse racing. When Turfmen no longer err in appraising horses’ worth there will be no more racing. Crafty Admiral has had three owners and has proved a bargain for each. He was bred by Harry Guggenheim, whose nom de course is the Cain Hoy Stable. Guggenheim maintains a stud at Claiborne near Paris, Ky., where William Woodward stands the stallion Fighting Fox. Among his mares in ’47 was Admiral’s Lady, who was best recommended by the fact she was by War Admiral. Admiral’s Lady was bred to Fighting Fox and in ’48 produced a rather leggy colt foal who was to give her a measure of posthumous distinction under the name of Crafty Admiral.
As a yearling, Crafty Admiral and other Guggenheim horses were offered at auction in the paddock at Belmont Park the day before the Futurity, won by Guillotine. The tax situation is such that almost all racing establishments periodically find it necessary to sell. A. B. Hancock, Jr., reared Crafty Admiral at Claiborne, liked him, and was among the bidders. Finally the colt was knocked down to H. A. Grant for $6,500. Crafty Admiral ran eight times for Grant at two, winning three overnighters and placing to Northern Star in the U. S. Hotel Stakes. At three his underpinning gave some difficulty, and indeed his ankles today “look like boxing gloves.” He ran only once, unplaced at that age, and was sold privately to Charles and Frances Cohen, in a transaction involving $14,000, it is said. Trainer Bob Odom acted for the Cohens’ Charfran establishment. Among others interested in having the colt was a Columbian Turfman who almost closed the deal. Had it been completed the Turf, and perhaps the stud in this country, would have suffered a considerable loss.
Odom is one of the most knowledgeable veterans among contemporary trainers, and Crafty Admiral emerged as a four-year-old literally”bigger and better than ever.” He won six of 1952’s major handicaps, accounting for the Palm Beach, Gulfstream Park, Brooklyn, Merchants’ and Citizens’, Whirlaway, and Washington Park. And in the course of his campaign, he showed extraordinary versatility, winning at sprint and middle distances, over all sorts and conditions of tracks. One Count and Mark-Ye-Well outstayed him at two miles in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. But at our “classic distance” of a mile and a quarter, Crafty Admiral could sprint the entire route with his weight up.
Altogether, Crafty Admiral won nine of 16 starts during a busy four-year-old campaign, placing in five others and compiling total earnings of $277,225. He was 1952’s leading money winner.
Crafty Admiral’s zealous manner of going made him one of the most exciting performers of the season. His Whirlaway performance will not soon be forgotten by those who witnessed it. Taking the track soon after the start, he completely spreadeagled his field, winning by lengths and lengths with speed in reserve. Eddie Arcaro, a blase and sophisticated judge, observed upon dismounting, “This is really a running horse.” In his next appearance, Crafty Admiral met his rival Spartan Valor, and they injected a dramatic element of suspense into the $100,000 Washington Park Handicap, going at one another hammer and tongs from the start of that mile. Spartan Valor cracked after five furlongs, thereby occasioning some marginal surprise among his followers, and the Charfran horse continued on, repulsing so good a mud horse as To Market. This was probably the most distinguishing performance Crafty Admiral gave all season.
The Charfran champion is not unlike some others of exceptional ability in that he compensates for a lack of physical elegance by an exaggerated development of material structural “fine points.” At a glance, Crafty Admiral is a bay brown, about 16 hands, with a curious marking. He has narrow blaze which originates between the eyes and wanders indecisively down the bridge of his nose to disappear in his right nostril. Whether heredity has anything at all to do with it, this marking is quite similar to that of Gallant Fox, who is Fighting Fox’s own brother.
On closer examination, one finds that Crafty Admiral’s entire physiognomy is that of the paternal side of his pedigree. He has the bony head and convex profile of the brothers Gallant Fox, Fighting Fox, and Foxbrough. And he is, like them, rather rangy, with a round barrel of considerable scope and good but not particularly pronounced development of hind quarters. His neck is long and is beginning to assume a crest.
Perhaps Crafty Admiral’s salient virtue, physically, is his loin. It is strong and arched, without, however, making him appear “goose rumped.” The muscular investiture of the humerus and scapula, or shoulder, and the stifle and tibia, or second thigh, is that of the middle-distance runner. Which is to say it is long and supple, rather than the bulging and heavy equipment of the one-dimensional sprinter. His legs “belong to him” in the sense his height at the withers appears approximately the same as his length. He has the length of forearm and from hip to hock to afford him considerable leverage in action.
Crafty Admiral’s one serious fault, so far as paddock connoisseurs can see, is the enlargement of the fore ankles. These appear “set,” however.
The Charfran colt’s disposition couldn’t be nicer. He seems poised and composed at all times, and has a mild eye and demeanor. Even when he is stirred by actual competition and returns to a winners’ enclosure crowded with his people, riders, valets, photographers, TV interviewers, and officials crowding about for the ritual of cup presentations. Any experienced horseman might cheerfully forgive a horse for lashing out in these circumstances, but Crafty Admiral is quite the gentleman.
Crafty Admiral has a pedigree to match his exploits under colors. His sire, Fighting Fox, won the Wood, Grand Union, Massachusetts Handicap, Paumonok, Carter, Fleetwing, and other historic events. Despite a deformed foreleg, which was twisted from one knee through the pastern and caused him to be sore at times. Though he was less sound, and less a classic horse than his brother, Gallant Fox, Fighting Fox was cleverer at sprint distances. In addition to Crafty Admiral, he has sired Bonnie Beryl, Subdued, Fighting Frank, and the English stakes winners Brown Rover and Turco. Many of the most promising and best bred of his yearlings have been shipped to England for racing there.
Crafty Admiral’s dam, Admiral’s Lady, had a better pedigree than racing record. She was by War Admiral out of Boola Brook, by Bull Dog. Neither of these mares distinguished herself under colors, though both managed to win at two. Admiral’s Lady produced the Johnstown filly, Water Queen, who placed at two, and the unraced Midshipmite previous to foaling Crafty Admiral. She died in 1949. Boola Brook’s best were Noble Creek and Dry Fly, each a winner of five races, the former finishing third in a National Stallion and the latter second in an Albany. The third dam, Brookdale, was by Peter Pan. Thus the Admiral’s pedigree is a miscellany of “native” and imported strains. He is incomparably the best racehorse his female family has given in generations.
Another word or two about this female family. Boola Brook became the second dam of Red God, the sire of Blushing Groom. Water Queen produced two stakes winners, most notably Beau Purple (1957 colt by Beau Gar), who won 12 of 32 starts and earned $445,785. Included among Beau Purple’s seven stakes wins were five “hundred granders,” most notably the Brooklyn and Suburban Handicaps and Man o’ War Stakes.
Crafty Admiral of course was the broodmare sire of 1978 Triple Crown winner and 1978-1979 Horse of the Year Affirmed and was leading broodmare sire in 1978. Both Affirmed and Blushing Groom figure in the pedigree of BC Juvenile (G1) winner Shanghai Bobby.
But by far the most popular source of Crafty Admiral in contemporary pedigrees is through Danzig. Crafty Admiral sired Admiral’s Voyage, who sired Pas de Nom, the dam of Danzig.
Danzig is of course the sire of Danehill, the broodmare sire of Frankel. And Danzig himself is the broodmare sire of 2012 BC Juvenile Turf (G1) winner George Vancouver (Henrythenavigator out of multiple G1 winner Versailles Treaty, who was 22 at the time she produced George Vancouver). Danzig also figures very remotely in the pedigree of BC Juvenile Turf Fillies (G1) winner Flotilla.
Which is not to say that Crafty Admiral has any positive “influence” on the contemporary breed. His is just another one of many, many names in pedigrees, more prominent than most of his contemporaries, but nevertheless destined for ultimate obscurity.