Triple Crown head-to-head: Gallant Fox vs Omaha

Apr 25, 2020 Kellie Reilly/

In anticipation of the virtual Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown, we’re analyzing several intriguing head-to-head match-ups. This first installment of the series pits Gallant Fox against his son Omaha.

Why Gallant Fox vs Omaha?

As the only father/son tandem in Triple Crown history, Gallant Fox (1930) and Omaha (1935) naturally provoke comparisons. Moreover, they shared the same connections, as homebreds campaigned by William Woodward’s Belair Stud and trained by Hall of Famer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.

The case for Gallant Fox

Gallant Fox sports a stronger record overall. He won 11 of 17 starts, including seven straight wins at his peak, and placed five times. His lone unplaced outing came as a 2-year-old, when he missed the start by gawking at an airplane. “The Fox of Belair” also had style. He enjoyed dispatching his foes with a burst before strolling home and making it look easy.

By contrast, Omaha won just nine of 22 career starts. He was capable of turning in impressive performances on occasion, but remained a hit-or-miss type. Unlike Gallant Fox, who beat older horses as a sophomore, Omaha was well beaten in his lone try versus elders at the same stage.

From the perspective of a one-on-one contest, Gallant Fox’s tactics would be advantageous. He typically took up a more forward position than Omaha, so the son would have to catch his sire in the stretch.

Finally, Fitzsimmons’ opinion must be respected. The astute horseman often rated Gallant Fox as among the very greatest he ever trained. Bracketed alongside Nashua and Bold Ruler in Sunny Jim’s judgment, he outstrips Omaha.

Omaha’s rebuttal

Omaha clocked faster times than his sire in all three jewels of the Triple Crown. His 3-year-old campaign was cut short by injury after a record-setting victory in the Arlington Classic, just as he was hitting his stride.

Unlike his sire, Omaha raced on the following year, but Woodward’s decision to send him to England in 1936 obscures what he might have achieved if staying home. It’s not clear that a 4-year-old Omaha could have turned the tables on the champion handicap horse, Discovery, who was far superior based on their 1935 meeting. Yet the more mature model of Omaha never had the chance to add to his stateside credentials.

Trained by Sir Cecil Boyd-Rochfort for his season abroad, Omaha won twice in England but is best known for near-misses. It took two classic performers to deny him. The previous year’s Epsom Oaks heroine, Quashed, nipped him in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot – a duel that still reverberates as one of the most exciting in history. In the Princess of Wales’s, Omaha was a neck shy of Taj Akbar, the runner-up in Mahmoud’s record Epsom Derby, while trying to give him 14 pounds.

The verdict

Gallant Fox’s winning habit makes him the more reliable proposition, and his flair adds to the appeal. If the two ever met physically on the racetrack, the sire’s tactical speed and handy acceleration would give him the upper hand. Omaha has a better chance of finishing ahead of his sire in the virtual Kentucky Derby, governed by algorithms that figure to emphasize their comparative times. But I’ll always regard The Fox as the superior of Belair’s two Triple Crown champions.

Portrait of Gallant Fox courtesy of the Keeneland Library Cook Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

  • Ticket Info

    Sign up for race updates and more