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Ben Ali (foaled 1883 in Kentuckymarker) was the winner of the 1886 Kentucky Derby and was named after his owner James Ben Ali Haggin, a man of Turkish heritage that had struck gold in the California Gold Rush of 1849. Ben Ali was a large bay colt sired by Virgil. His damsire was also the great Lexington, a major foundation sire of American thoroughbreds. Ben Ali is best known for his Derby win and a wagering snafu that ushered in a bad era for the Kentucky Derby.1

Wagering Monopoly and Boycott

In 1886, C. M. White purchased the pooling privileges (wagering rights) for the Kentucky Derby for $30,600 and demanded that all the Derby bookmakers pay him a $100 licensing fee to operate at the track.1 The bookmakers roundly refused and, as a consequence, there were no bookies at the 1886 derby to handle high-dollar bets. Unfortunately, James Haggin could not place a large bet on his winning stallion and was so upset that he threatened to bar his entire stable from ever racing in another Kentucky Derby unless bookmakers were reinstated at the track.1 The track director refused Haggin's demands replying, "To hell with him anyway"1, enraging James Haggin and causing him to shun the derby in favor of other stakes races.1 News traveled in the east coast horse racing circuits of Haggin's ill treatment in Louisvillemarker causing many Eastern horsemen to boycott the Kentucky Derby during the 1890s and early 20th century.1 Bookmakers returned for the 1887 Derby, but the field quality, and race profits, reduced dramatically over the years until Churchill Downsmarker was facing closure in 1903. Churchill Downs was sold to a syndicate led by Matt Winn in 1903.


  1. Jim Bolus, Run for the Roses: 100 Years at the Kentucky Derby, Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1974.
  2. Ben Ali's Pedigree[1]

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