April 18, 2024

Challedon: Maryland’s first Horse of the Year

Challedon, with Jockey George Seabo, win the 1939 Preakness at Pimlico on May 13. (Photo courtesy of the Keeneland Library Thoroughbred Times Collection - Premission must be acquired before reuse)

When the 2021 Eclipse Awards are announced later this month, it’s widely assumed Knicks Go will walk off with Horse of the Year honors, becoming only the third Maryland-bred to do so. Most racing fans are familiar with the last one, two-time title holder Cigar (1995-96), but few probably know as much about the exploits of the first, who also earned racing’s top accolade in two consecutive seasons.

Historically overshadowed by his immediate Horse of the Year predecessors, Seabiscuit and War Admiral, as well as his immediate successor, Whirlaway, Challedon nonetheless was a worthy selection in both 1939 and 1940. He, too, was a Hall of Fame inductee, in 1977, and is generally considered among the top 50 American runners of the 20th century.

Campaigned by William Brann, who co-bred the colt with Robert Castle, Challedon was sired by *Challenger II, whom Brann and Castle had imported from Britain to stand in Maryland. *Challenger II also sired Brann’s Hall of Fame mare Gallorette and King Ranch’s Bridal Flower, the champion three-year-old filly of 1946.

Challedon was produced by the *Sir Gallahad III mare Laura Gal, who won only twice in 24 starts. In addition to Challedon, a union of *Challenger II and Laura Gal also produced the multiple stakes-winning filly Challadette.

Challedon was trained for much of his career by Lou Schaefer, an ex-jockey who had retired from the saddle only a few years before and whose signature win came in the 1929 Preakness aboard Dr. Freedland. Challedon was “not really exceptional in size (16 hands 1 inch) but appeared larger than he actually was because of a commanding presence,” according to turf historian William H. P. Robertson.

Challedon won four of six starts at two in 1938, losing only his debut at Delaware Park and the Eastern Shore H. at Havre de Grace, in which he was an inexplicably bad 12th in a field of 15. Challedon put that loss behind him quickly, closing out his campaign with three consecutive wins in the Maryland Futurity at Laurel for state-breds, the New England Futurity at Narragansett Park, and the Pimlico Futurity.

Challedon’s great rival for division honors in 1939 was Belair Stud’s Johnstown, who would win seven of nine starts at three before wind problems cut short his career. Challedon won nine of 15 starts by comparison, but longevity and success against older rivals ultimately worked in his favor. Challedon and Johnstown each won two races against the other that season.

Third in the Chesapeake S. at Havre de Grace in his 1939 debut, Challedon entered the Kentucky Derby with one fewer stakes prep than Johnstown, who had captured both the Paumonok H. and Wood Memorial at Jamaica. Although a lopsided second by eight lengths to Johnstown at Churchill Downs, Challedon reversed the form at Pimlico, winning the Preakness by 1 1/4 lengths while Johnstown finished a badly-beaten fifth over a muddy track.

Challedon in 1939 (Photo courtesy of the Keeneland Library – Permission must be acquired before reuse)

Johnstown went on to win the Withers and Belmont Stakes, while Challedon did not race again until the Dwyer in June. In his third clash with Johnstown, this time over 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct, Challedon’s relative lack of fitness perhaps betrayed him again as Johnstown scored a convincing win over the Maryland horse.

The tables were turned in the 1 1/4-mile Arlington Classic in July. Challedon was now the one with a fitness edge on his side, with three starts since the Dwyer including a victory in the Yankee H. and a fourth against older foes in the Massachusetts H. at Suffolk Downs. Passing the retreating Johnstown in upper stretch, Challedon went on to gut out a neck victory over Sun Lover, with Johnstown, running his last race, six lengths behind in third.

Although he dropped his next start, Challedon concluded the season with a flourish winning six in a row. Among the highlights were scores in the Hawthorne Gold Cup and two decisions over *Kayak II, the season’s top older horse, in the Narragansett Special and Pimlico Special.

Challedon’s four-year-old campaign in 1940 was not as long. Making only six starts beginning on July 9, Challedon won four. The Mass ‘Cap again proved his most lackluster performance as he finished third to Eight Thirty while conceding that rival four pounds, but Challedon rebounded 10 days later when making the trek to California and winning the Hollywood Gold Cup under 133 pounds.

Victorious by a nose in the Whitney at Saratoga in late August, Challedon made the final three starts of the campaign for new trainer Don Cameron after Schaefer’s resignation. Cameron would later gain fame as the conditioner of 1943 Triple Crown winner Count Fleet.

Second by a half-length in his Narragansett Special title defense, Challedon next won the Havre de Grace H. under 130 pounds and then beat one opponent in the Pimlico Special. With rivals like Eight Thirty, Seabiscuit, and the three-year-old Bimelech out of action late in the season, Challedon secured his second Horse of the Year title in the Daily Racing Form poll.

In contrast to Cigar and Knicks Go, Challedon’s form worsened the more he raced. Plagued in latter seasons by a tendon injury and quarter cracks, Challedon won twice and placed five times in 16 starts in 1941-42. He retired with a record of 44-20-7-6, $334,660.

Challedon died at the age of 22 in 1958, one year before a son, Ancestor, was voted champion steeplechaser. Among his best sons on the flat were Donor, a 14-time stakes winner in the late 1940s, and Tenacious, the Fair Grounds legend who won 11 stakes and is the namesake of the annual December feature at the New Orleans track.

Challedon himself has been honored with a stakes, which has been run sporadically at Pimlico and Laurel since 1966.

Challedon, with Jockey George Seabo, win the 1939 Preakness
Challedon, with Jockey George Seabo, win the 1939 Preakness at Pimlico on May 13. (Photo courtesy of the Keeneland Library Thoroughbred Times Collection – Premission must be acquired before reuse)