Longfellow (1867–1893) was
one of America's first
great Thoroughbred racehorses and the sire of great
Longfellow photographed in 1874 at age
A legend in his own time, he was out of the
first crop of the imported English stallion, the outstanding
was owned, bred, and trained by Uncle John Harper of Nantura Stock
Farm in Midway,
Uncle John was worth perhaps a million dollars (a very great sum in
the 1850s), yet he lived in a simple cottage on his 1,000 acres (4
km²) adjacent to Robert A.
Alexander's famed Woodburn Stud in Woodford
In 1856, Uncle John stood both
, two of the country's greatest stallions.
Combined, they led America's sire lists for 24 years.
Longfellow was sired by Leamington
, the successor of Lexington,
as noted: America's leading sire for 14 years. One of Leamington's
best runners (out of John Harper's foundation mare Nantura
by Brawner's Eclipse), Uncle John believed
Longfellow was the very best horse he'd ever bred. A brown colt
with a white stripe, a white near hind sock, and white on his off
hind coronet, Longfellow was foaled in 1867. When people asked
Harper, born in 1800, if he had named his colt for the noted poet
, Uncle John replied, "Never heared much of that
feller but that colt of mine's got the longest legs of any feller I
ever seen." At maturity, Longfellow stood 17 hands tall and was
said to have a 26-foot stride.
Longfellow was unraced at two while he matured into his size.
Harper tried him out in the spring of his third year, entering him
in the Phoenix Hotel Stakes—but he was still too green. He lost to
another son of Leamington called Enquirer
who was enjoying an undefeated
Murder Most Foul
year 1871, Longfellow was entered into a match race at Lexington,
Kentucky with a horse called Pilgrim.
Due to the
chicanery of the times, Uncle John was taking no chances.
night before the race, he slept at Longfellow's head in a barn at
the old Kentucky
In the middle of the night, Uncle
John was awakened by a stealthy rattling at the locked barn door.
"Who's there!" demanded John Harper. The answer came in a disguised
voice, "I've come to see Longfellow." "You can't come in here,"
replied Uncle John, "Go away!" Whoever it was tried the door once
more but when it wouldn't budge, mounted a horse and rode away.
Early the next morning came the news that Uncle John's sister Betsy
and his brother Jacob, also both elderly, had been murdered in
John's small cottage at Nantura. Both had been hacked to death with
the bloody hatchet left on a pillow. All three were childless. If
John had been home that night (which he normally would have been),
and therefore no doubt killed along with his brother and sister,
the estate would have been divided equally between several nephews.
The nephew most likely to have done the deed, the one in debt and
certainly the one possessed of a questionable character, was Adam
Harper...who claimed it was the servants, perhaps going so far as
hiring men to try and lynch them for the murders. Certainly someone
persuaded a lynch gang to string up Uncle John's hired folk.
Wallace Harper, another nephew, openly accused Adam of the crimes
of both murder and attempted lynching. Even though considerable
evidence mounted up against Adam Harper, he was never charged. Upon
his death, Uncle John (who'd had Adam investigated privately, but
never revealed the results), left everything to another nephew, one
King of the Turf
Longfellow's real racing career began that autumn of 1871. After
that, his ability went unquestioned. In sixteen starts, he won
thirteen times including the Monmouth
(beating Helmbold and Preakness), and the Saratoga Cup in
1871. In the Saratoga he frightened off all rivals but one,
. In his next race he
was beaten by Helmbold, the horse he'd easily outclassed in the
Monmouth Cup. But Longfellow's great size proved a disadvantage at
4 miles in deep mud. He took the Wooley Stakes and again won the
Monmouth in 1872 and placed in the Saratoga Cup in 1872.
Called "King of the Turf," Longfellow was America's most popular
horse in the decade after the American Civil War
. His final season was
noted for his rivalry with the eastern champion Harry Bassett, the
undefeated cream of the three-year-olds, winner of the 1871
Travers Stakes in Saratoga, New
Colonel McDaniel, Harry Bassett's owner,
challenged Longfellow to a match race. John Harper replied that
anyone wishing to test Longfellow's mettle could do so in the
Monmouth Cup of 1872. McDaniel entered his horse. Longfellow headed
east in a special car on which a sign was hung that read:
"Longfellow on his way to Long Branch to meet his friend Harry
Bassett." Since all ten of the other entered horses had withdrawn
from the race it became a match. Longfellow beat Harry by over 100
yards. Harry Bassett went into a deep sulk and stopped racing after
a mile and a half. Longfellow cantered in alone.
Their second meeting was in the two and a quarter mile Saratoga
Cup. Approaching the start, Longfellow struck his left fore foot
and twisted his racing plate. Coming round the first turn, it was
obvious something was wrong with him...even so, his rider stood up
in his stirrups and went for his whip, the first the four year old
colt had ever felt. Responding with a powerful surge, for 18
, Longfellow relentlessly closed the
distance—and with great courage, lost to Harry Bassett (who'd
broken the track record by 2 and a half seconds) by only one
length, leaving the track limping on three legs. His left front
foot had been mutilated; the shoe had bent double during the race
and embedded itself into the frog of his foot. This was
Longfellow's last race.
A leading sire in 1891, his progeny includes the great racemare
Thora, champion three-year-old female in 1881 and herself dam of
Yorkville Belle (born in Tennessee in 1889, who made 37 starts, and
came in the money 30 times, 21 of them firsts). Thora won the
, the Monmouth Oaks,
and the Saratoga Cup. Longfellow also sired the Kentucky Derby
. Leonatus was the champion three-year-old
male in 1883, losing only one race as a juvenile and never again
a three-year-old, and within a period of 49 days, Leonatus won ten
stakes races, all in Kentucky and Illinois.
Longfellow also sired The Bard
champion three-year-old male of 1886 and winner of the Preakness
. Later his get included American Derby
winner Pink Coat, Suburban Handicap
winner Tillo, the 1889
winner, Long Dance, Longstreet
, who was the 1891 American Horse of the Year
well as the very good mares Peg Woffington and Lady
Longfellow sired two Kentucky Derby winners, the aforementioned
Leonatus in the ninth running in 1883 (who distinguished himself by
eating his blanket of roses), and Riley in the sixteenth running in
1890. Among his fillies, he sired two Kentucky Oaks
winners, Longitude in 1880, and
Florimore in 1887.
A Long Life
Dying on the 5th of November, 1893 at the age of twenty-six,
Longfellow's grave marker is one of the first two ever erected for
a race horse in Kentucky. (The very first is for Hall of Famer
). On Longfellow's marker are
engraved the words: "King of Racers & King of Stallions."
New Jersey's Monmouth
Park runs the $60,000 five and 1/2 furlong Longfellow Stakes for three-year-olds and
up each year in June.
was inducted into the National Museum of
Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New
York in 1971.
- Midway is home to a major thoroughbred race horse breeding
operation, the Three Chimneys
Farm. Long the home of the great triple crown winner
Seattle Slew, today, amongst others:
Point Given, Dynaformer (no 17 in leading stallions), Yes It's
True (no 16), and Smarty Jones stand
there at stud.
- Out of the Irish stallion Faugh-a-Ballagh, Leamington sired Aristides, first winner of the
Kentucky Derby, and Iroquois,
the first American-bred winner of the Epsom
- Uncle John Harper named his farm after her.