When thinking of Triple Crown winners, the mind often travels to those of the 1970s, namely Secretariat. But a quarter of a century before the big red colt hailing from Meadow Stud took the world by storm, there was a horse who had just the same become a household name; not for his fiery coat or an indelible 31-length romp in the Belmont Stakes, but for a rare grit and dominance displayed by few throughout the long and storied annals of racing.
“Big Cy,” as he was dubbed, was born on April 11,1945, at Warren Wright’s Calumet Farm. No strangers to victory, Calumet had already captured the Triple Crown with the quirky Whirlaway in 1941. Thus, hopes for the big bay colt were high to start.
By Calumet’s own stallion, Bull Lea, and out of the imported mare Hydroplane II, Citation would begin his career in the only fashion he knew how — with brilliant speed and indomitable heart. He prevailed in eight of nine starts as a juvenile and was named champion 2-year-old colt.
Citation won his first four starts as a 3-year-old at Hialeah Park, including the Seminole H., Everglades H., and the Flamingo. Soon afterward, his jockey, Al Snider, lost his life in a fishing accident. Eddie Arcaro, who had piloted Whirlaway to Triple Crown glory just seven years earlier, picked up the mount. Though their first outing as a team was not a winning one, greater things were just around the corner.
Just days later, Arcaro would guide Citation to an easy victory in the Chesapeake before going on to win the Derby Trial. Over a sloppy racetrack on May 1, 1948, he chased stablemate and leader Coaltown through the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby before pulling away. Citation scored by 3 1/2 lengths to wear the roses for Calumet, Hall of Fame trainer Ben Jones, and his son Jimmy, who trained him for nearly his entire career.
In the Preakness, Citation would again exude dominance in the absence of his stablemate’s early speed, and lead gate-to-wire, cantering to a 5 1/2-length win. For Citation and his connections, it was on to the Jersey Stakes, another win, and then to the Belmont, with racing immortality just weeks away.
Over a fast track at Belmont Park on June 12, 1948, Citation powered to an eight-length win, capturing racing’s grandest prize while tying fellow Triple Crown winner Count Fleet’s stakes record of 2:28 1/5. But his story didn’t end with a win in the elusive Triple Crown; his accomplishments had only just begun.
Citation would then win nine more starts as a 3-year-old before being named 1948’s Horse of the Year. With 1949 marred by injury, the strapping colt would take the year off. Returning a winner in 1950, he established a modern record 16 consecutive wins.
Although many of his starts as a 5-year-old ended in runner-up finishes, the aging Triple Crown winner collected two wins in 1950 and neared the million-dollar mark in earnings. After a few more losses, the champion would close out his career as the first equine millionaire with a final victory in the 1951 Hollywood Gold Cup. He retired at the place where it all began — in the heart of the Bluegrass.
Citation’s career as a stallion paled in comparison to his accomplishments on the racetrack. Nevertheless, he sired champion Silver Spoon and the 1956 Preakness winner, Fabius.
Inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in 1959, Citation died on August 8, 1970, at the age of 25. He was eternally laid to rest among the acres in which his life unfolded a quarter of a century earlier— beside the other greats at Calumet Farm.