Throwback Thursday: Aiken Steeplechase Edition

With the Aiken Steeplechase upon us this Saturday, March 19, we thought it only fitting that our Throwback Thursday post should honor a steeplechasing horse with an Aiken connection. We found this  cigarette card image of Kellsboro Jack, created in 1934 and published in a card set called the “Champions A Series”, and we thought we would share.

Kellsboro Jack was the third American-owned horse in history to win the Grand National at Aintree Racecourse in Merseyside, England, near Liverpool. He accomplished this feat in 1933, carrying 11 stone, 9 pounds, and he won in record-breaking time. He was a  long shot, going off at odds of 25-1 in a 34 horse field. The favorite, Golden Miller, lost his jockey halfway around the course and finished riderless.

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Kellsboro Jack coming to the wire. Golden Miller, the favorite, is actually finishing ahead of him, but riderless, and thus disqualified. Grand National, 1933.

The Aintree Grand National is the most famous, prestigious and difficult race in steeplechasing. It covers more than four miles, and is contested over 15 fences, each jumped twice for a total of 30 jumping efforts. It is famous for the height of its fences, the size of its fields, and often, for the number of horses that do not make it all the way around. For example, in 1928, on a misty, wet Liverpudlian day, 42 horses started the race, and 41 fell down. Two horses actually completed the course: the winner, Tipperary Tim, and the runner-up, Billy Barton, whose jockey managed to catch his horse, remount, and complete the race. Tipperary Tim’s odds were 100-1. Before the race, Billy Dutton, his jockey, remembered a friend teasing him that he would only win if all the other horses fell down. Turns out, he was right.

Kellsboro Jack was an English Thoroughbred originally owned by F. Ambrose Clark, a horseman and racing enthusiast who had homes, farms and stables on Long Island, in Cooperstown, NY and in Aiken SC.  Starting in 1923, he used to bring his racing stable to England every spring to participate in the prestigious  British circuit — he also rode to hounds there. In 1933, he felt that he was a jinx on his horses, and so, to the amusement of his trainer, Ivor Anthony, he sold Kellsboro Jack to his wife Florence (known as Meg) just before the race for one pound. Brose (as he was known) might have been onto something. He had another entry in the race, Chadd’s Ford, a horse to which he had retained title for the race. That horse finished second to last. Kellsboro Jack sailed under the wire in front by three lengths.

F. Ambrose Clark was a colorful and well-known figure in the racing and equestrian world, who was a fixture in the Aiken Winter Colony. It is somewhat ironic that his best known horse was actually owned by his wife at the time of his great victory. Whichever of them was the official owner, Kellsboro Jack clearly became an object of great affection for the Clarks. They renamed their Aiken home Kellsboro House after him. Then, when the horse died in the 1940s, he was buried in a grave at their farm in Cooperstown. When F. Ambrose Clark died in 1964, he was buried alongside him.

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Ambrose Clark was well known for his sartorial style and his enthusiasm for anything to do with horses.

Kellsboro Jack won’t be at the Aiken Steeplechase Spring meet this Saturday, March 19, but there will be plenty of action. There is even a local horse in the featured Budweiser Cup: Street Fight owned by Dogwood Stable and trained by Arch Kingsley.

The gates open at 9:30; races start at 1 pm. For more information, or to buy tickets, visit the Aiken Steeplechase website.