Hal Price McGrath was born poor in Woodford County, Kentucky and had gone west for the great California Gold Rush. He did well enough to open a gambling house in New York where he won $105,000 on a single night.
McGrath took those winnings and returned to Kentucky with the dream of raising racehorse’s, and just a short distance from Lexington purchased what he named McGrathiana Farm.
Aristides and Chesapeake
Aristides was an American Thoroughbred racehorse born in 1872 with a chestnut color as well as a white star and two hind stockings. He was bred by horse owner Hal Price McGrath.
He was sired by the great English racehorse “Leamington” which also made hime the half brother of “Longfellow.”
Aristides was named for Pennsylvanian horse breeder Aristides Welch, who owned Leamington.
At first, Hal McGrath didn’t consider Aristides to be first rate as he was foaled late in the season and was small, never growing taller than about 15 hands. Aristides’ half brother and stablemate Chesapeake was the racehorse that was expected to do well under the training of Ansel Williamson.
First Kentucky Derby
In 1872, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., the grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition had traveled to England and attended the Derby; the famous horserace that had been running annually since 1780.
From there, Clark had traveled to Paris, where in 1863, a group of racing enthusiasts had formed the French Jockey Club and organized the Grand Prix de Paris horserace.
Upon his return to Kentucky, Clark had organized the Louisville Jockey Club for the purpose of raising money to build a racing facility named Churchill Downs on land provided by John and Henry Churchill.
Then on May 17, 1875, 10,000 people showed up to watch 15 three year old horses race on the new 1 1/2 mile track.
Aristides and Chesapeake were both entered by Hal McGrath. Aristides was to be the “rabbit” and go out front fast and force the pace so that Chesapeake could stalk the front runners before coming from behind and vanquishing the exhaused field.
Aristides was ridden by Oliver Lewis, and just as planned, little Aristides broke in front and took the lead, however a horse called McCreery quickly overtook him near the end of the first quarter.
Aristides fought back to gain the lead again, while Chesapeake remained at the back of the pack. Just then, jockey Oliver Lewis who knew he was not supposed to win, looked over to owner McGrath wondering what to do. McGrath, wisely waved Lewis on.
In the final stretch, both Volcano and Verdigris challenged Aristides, but he overcame them and won by a length. Chesapeake finished eighth.
McGrath won the $2,850 prize pool.
The next day, the Louisville Courier-Journal wrote: “It is the gallant Aristides, heir to a mighty name, that strides with sweeping gallop toward victory…and the air trembles and vibrates again with the ringing cheers that followed.”
Later that year, jockey Oliver Lewis rode Aristides to a second-place finish in the Belmont Stakes.
Aristides went on to race 21 times with 9 wins, five places, and one show before he died on June 21, 1893.
In 1988, the Aristides Stakes was inaugurated at Churchill Downs to honor him.
Today, a life-sized bronze statue of Aristides by Carl Regutti stands in the Clubhouse Gardens as a memorial (see photo at top of this article).
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