On March 26, 1943, a chestnut colt was foaled on Robert Kleberg, Jr.'s King Ranch in Texas, an establishment which dwarfed the state of Rhode Island. His sire was Bold Venture, who had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 1936, and his dam was Igual, an unraced mare by the two time Horse of the Year Equipoise. Igual's dam was out of Masda, the full sister of Man o' War.
The son of Bold Venture and Igual was named Assault in honor of the fact that his sire was a descendant of Commando, the 1901 Horse of the Year and sire of the unbeaten Colin. As a weanling, Assault stepped on a surveyor's stake, permanently crippling himself and providing the source of his future nickname, "The Club Footed Comet." When the oddly gaited horse first walked and trotted before Max Hirsch, the trainer doubted that he would ever make it to the post, let alone the winner's circle.
It took Assault four tries to break his maiden, and he lost once more before his first stakes victory. Wartime travel restrictions had encouraged the New York tracks to hold Saratoga's summer meeting at Belmont Park, and therefore when Assault went to post in the August 5 Flash Stakes, it was not at the historic spa. Assault started at odds of 70 to 1, and in a four way photo finish rewarded anyone who had been brave enough to risk the two dollars with a payoff of $443.20.
Assault raced twice more as a juvenile, running third behind Southern Pride and Tidy Bid in the Babylon Handicap, and finishing fourth behind Knockdown, Revoked, and Southern Pride in the Cowdin Stakes. After scoring only two wins in nine tries, Assault was sent to winter in South Carolina.
In 1946, Assault started the season by winning the Experimental Handicap from Islam Prince and Larkmead Andy, and then went on to win the Wood Memorial Stakes from Hampden, also defeating Flamingo Stakes winner Round View.
Shipped to Kentucky, he ran a badly beaten fourth behind Rippey, Spy Song, and With Pleasure in the Derby Trial Stakes, casting a shadow of doubt upon his already seemingly slim Kentucky Derby chances.
On the day of the Kentucky Derby, Lord Boswell was made the betting favorite, with Assault listed as fourth choice. Spy Song was the early leader, and Assault, with Warren Mehrtens in the saddle, caught and passed him to score an eight length victory, which equaled the longest winning margin in Derby history. His time of 2:06 3/5 was comparatively slow, however, missing Whirlaway's track record by more than five seconds.
On May 11 the crowd at Pimlico became the first to make Assault a post time favorite when he met Lord Boswell and eight others in the Preakness Stakes. Early traffic problems forced Warren Mehrtens to use his mount early in the race, and Assault was forced to waste ground as he passed Natchez in the backstretch. When the horses reached the top of the stretch, Assault was in front with Lord Boswell powerfully running four lengths behind. As the two raced down the stretch, Lord Boswell closed strongly, but Assault, despite his fatigue, hung on gamely to win by a neck.
In spite of Assault's wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, it was Lord Boswell who went off as the favorite in the Belmont Stakes. His impressive stretch drive in the Preakness seemed to indicate that he could handle the Belmont's mile and a half more easily than could Assault, who was the second choice in the wagering.
Assault stumbled at the start, leaving Eddie Arcaro and Hampden to claim the early lead. Warren Mehrtens waited until the head of the stretch to ask his horse to make a move, trailing by eight lenghts. He moved to the outside and asked his mount the question. Assault responded with a powerful stretch drive, catching Mrs. W.M. Jeffords' Natchez to win by three lengths. Although it had been an exciting race, the time was once again unspectacular and the public retained their doubts in the new Triple Crown winner.
Still seeking some respect, Assault won the Dwyer Stakes two weeks later. But his somewhat slow time of 2:06 4/5 did little to improve his image, and Assault was written off as simply the best horse in a poor group of three-year-olds. The assessment seemed to be a correct one when Assault ran a dull sixth behind The Dude in the Arlington Classic, but when he returned to the barn, the horse showed signs of distress, and a few days later a kidney infection was diagnosed. The resulting layoff lasted only a month, but it took longer for Assault to return to winning form.
Giving away weight each time, he finished third to Mighty Story in the Discovery Handicap, and a week later he ran second behind Mahout in the Jersey Handicap. Assault met the great Stymie for the first time on September 25, when the two ran in the Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park. Stymie, the Champion Handicap Horse of 1945, was a high headed chestnut who had spent his first two years running in cheap claiming events. He was famous for his seemingly impossible come from behind stretch drives, which were almost symbolic of his rags to riches racing career.
When Stymie and Assault clashed that fall, an exciting rivalry was born. Stymie won their first meeting, with Assault third behind Pavot in the Manhattan Handicap. After Assault was beaten a neck by E.R. Bradley's champion filly Bridal Flower in the Roamer Handicap, he challenged Stymie again, this time in the Gallant Fox Handicap. Once again, the Triple Crown winner was third behind the former claimer, but his performance was much improved.
The tables turned when they left Stymie's home town of New York and met in the Pimlico Special. Eddie Arcaro, riding Assault for the first time, was told not to make his move until Stymie came up on him. Following the trainer's orders, he waited for Stymie, and in an exciting stretch drive, Assault scored his first victory since the Dwyer Stakes, beating not only Stymie, but the filly Bridal Flower as well.
Assault's final start of 1946 came in the Westchester Handicap, which he won by two lengths over Lucky Draw. Winning the Triple Crown, together with his triumph in the Pimlico Special, outweighed the losing streak that fall, and Assault was named Horse of the Year. He was also the year's leading money winner, earning $424,195, with eight victories in fifteen attempts.
Over the winter, Assault matured, gaining the charisma and good looks that he had lacked as a three-year-old. His personality also underwent a metamorphosis. On the track, the change was a positive one, but in the barn Assault became permanently hungry and impatient, throwing tantrums that forced his handlers to feed him early in order to prevent a self-inflicted injury.
The Club Footed Comet began 1947 with a win in the Grey Lag Handicap, with Warren Mehrtens back in the saddle. Six days later, Eddie Arcaro rode Assault to victory in the Dixie Handicap. He then successfully gave away weight to both Stymie and Natchez, winning the Suburban Handicap by two lengths.
Under 133 pounds, Assault won the Brooklyn Handicap from Stymie, surpassing Whirlaway in earnings and becoming the world's new all-time leading money winner. Having won both the Suburban and Brooklyn Handicaps, Assault came closer than any other horse in history to winning both American Triple Crowns, although that year's Metropolitan Mile belonged to Stymie.
In his fifth race at the age of four, Assault met both Stymie and the great mare Gallorette in the Butler Handicap. At the top of the stretch, it seemed that his winning streak was over. Assault was stuck in traffic behind the two champions, but he took advantage of a virtually non-existent hole to beat Stymie by a head.
Stymie finally managed to put an end to Assault's seven race winning streak in the International Gold Cup at Belmont Park, but third money was enough to preserve Assault's title of leading earner.
In the meantime, a match race for $100,000 had been arranged between Assault and Calumet Farm's outstanding gelding Armed. The race was first scheduled for August 30, but when Assault was injured it was postponed until September 27. It probably should have been postponed again when Assault came back lame from a work on September 22, but the race was for charity, so Robert Kleberg decided to run the horse and "hope for the best." The day of the race, the ASPCA appeared and demanded proof that Assault was sound enough to run without being abused, but they allowed him to go to post. Too sore to keep up, Assault was beaten by eight lengths. Eddie Arcaro was not alone in stating that Assault shouldn't have been run.
As agreed upon, Warren Wright donated the purse to charity in the name of his winner, with half going to the Red Cross and the other half being given to the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund. With Assault out of the picture for the rest of the season, Armed was named 1947 Horse of the Year, and Stymie became the new all-time leading money winner.
After another few months of rest in South Carolina, Assault began his five-year-old career, and the vacation was extended after he finished fifth in the Widener Handicap. That August, he tried again, losing by only a nose, and then came back to win his second Brooklyn Handicap. The Club Footed Comet finished fourth in the Massachusetts Mile, developing a bleeding problem. He won the Edgemere Handicap, but after losses in the Manhattan and Grey Lag Handicaps, he was retired.
When plans were made for Assault to be retired to stud, tests revealed that he was sterile. Returned to Texas, he was turned out with eight Quarter Horse mares, and to the astonishment of his owners, Assault was blessed with two sons and two daughters in the spring of 1951. He also returned to the races, scoring a first, a second, and a third in three starts and raising his total earnings to $675,470 before he was permanently retired. Despite the Quarter Horse foals, Assault was still unable to get a thoroughbred mare in foal, and he lived out the rest of his life as a pensioner. When Assault passed away on September 2, 1971, he was buried at the spacious King Ranch where he was foaled.
Assault became a Hall of Fame member in 1964. Eddie Arcaro ranked him second only to Citation, and Max Hirsch stated simply "I never trained a better horse."
|Bold Venture||St. Germans||Swynford||John o' Gaunt|
|Maid of the Mist|
|Lida Flush||Royal Flush III|
|Lady Hamburg II|
Video by Carly Kaiser
This text protected by all applicable copyright laws. Do not duplicate or distribute without written permission. © Spiletta42.