Skip to main content
Original Issue


Mighty Calumet won another Derby, but the nation still wonders what happened to its beloved Silky Sullivan. Did humidity cause the horse—and the dream—to fade?

Years from now, when Kentucky Derby visitors peer down at the fine print on their souvenir mint-julep glasses to note the 1958 winner, it may be that the name of Tim Tam will ring a quiet but very special bell. The true aficionado in the semimystical world in which the racetracker lives and works and talks will tell his children that Tim Tam's victory was the seventh for mighty Calumet Farm, but he may say it with the studied indifference of a man announcing that a baseball player named Stan Musial has just won another batting championship or that a prizefighter called Ray Robinson has regained the world middleweight title.

The expert asked to expound on Tim Tam's Derby could brush it off quickly: Calumet won the big seventh because Tim Tam is exactly the sort of colt that Calumet breeds for the specific purpose of winning Kentucky Derbies, because Calumet Trainer Jimmy Jones (SI, March 17) is one of the best—if not the best—trainer on any American race track today and finally, of course, because it takes much more than a run-of-the-mill 3-year-old to lick the best that Calumet and Jimmy Jones can put on the Churchill Downs course on the most important racing day of the whole year.

Nobody—not even the man who collected $6.20 on a Tim Tam win ticket—enjoyed the 84th Derby quite as much as the Calumet team, because even though the knowledgeable horsemen felt that Tim Tam had to be figured as the best horse in the 14-horse field, Jimmy Jones found his stable playing second fiddle throughout Derby week to a unique attraction in another barn. The attraction, of course, was California's Silky Sullivan, the wonder horse with the wonder finishing run and all the glamour and buildup worthy of a Hollywood premi√®re. No horse in history ever came to Louisville with Silky's popularity. Hundreds glued themselves to his every move. Cameras clicked at each step, and some even were put to grinding away inside his special stall after it had been outfitted with harsh floodlights. Through it all Silky reacted with the aplomb and dignity of an established star. He never appeared without fulldress uniform of bright red accouterments; and his enormous proportions and general good looks did nothing to erase the impression among his hero-worshipers that here indeed they had found the super-colt to whip Calumet and the other most feared rival in the race, Mrs. Elizabeth Arden Graham's Jewel's Reward.

To say that Silky did everything asked—or expected—of him would be an out-and-out falsehood. What was asked of him by his fans was to win. What was asked of him by his trainer, Reggie Cornell, and Co-owners Tom Ross and Phil Klipstein was please, not to disgrace himself. But poor Silky, like the actor building up for opening night and then fluffing his lines, did disgrace himself in the 84th Derby, for after a brief but electrifying burst of speed as he rounded the far turn Silky "died" in the stretch and finished an exhausted and dismal 12th—ahead of just two horses.

The observer may accept the excuse that suits his fancy. The I-told-you-so critics of Silky Sullivan's buildup and ability can always say that the big California hero simply tripped over his pedigree, and that despite his whirlwind finishes there was never any indication that he could last the Derby distance of a mile and a quarter against Derby-class competition and at Derby speed. Another school of thought has it that last Saturday's intense humidity in Louisville was the most damaging atmosphere imaginable for any horse with a wind condition. Wishfully, they will always be convinced that if Saturday, May 3, 1958 had been crisp and cool Silky would have written another tale. But Willie Shoemaker, who rode Silky, has yet one more pertinent explanation. Despite Silky's supposed fondness for any kind of going, this time, said Shoemaker, "I knew right away that he wasn't handling the track properly. He was slipping and sliding even going into the first turn, and I had a pretty good idea even then that we weren't going to be in the race."

The track (officially labeled "muddy") has a good bottom to it, and so rather than becoming holding after a rainfall it turned slick on top. There's no doubt that this affected a lot of horses in the race besides Silky Sullivan. For one, Eddie Arcaro said that his colt, Jewel's Reward, at no time ran to his full capabilities, and most of the other trainers and jockeys had—because of the track conditions—a ready-made excuse for poor showings.

None was offered by the owners of Silky Sullivan. In the paddock before the race, Co-owners Ross and Klipstein were hopeful rather than optimistic. Klipstein looked through the crowd standing 20-deep across from Silky's stall and said mournfully, "The awful thing about all this is that I'm the one guy who has never believed Silky is as good as most people think he is. I try to play him down when others play him up. Now just look at this mob out here. There are a lot of Californians out there. I know most of them. One fellow I can see from here came in a group of 16 people and between them they brought $25,000 to bet on Silky. I admire their loyalty, but I hate the thought of disappointing them."

When it was all over and Silky had been led quietly away from the cruel limelight on Tim Tam in the winner's circle, Klipstein walked slowly out of the stands. As a happy crowd barged by him, Klipstein paused for a moment. "He just didn't run worth a damn, did he?" he remarked to a friend. "And I don't have to have an excuse. Our horse just isn't good enough. I thought so before. I know so now."


If Silky Sullivan had run "his race,' he undoubtedly would have made last Saturday's Derby more exciting. But all week long Jones was loving the Silky buildup because he knew that he—and not Reggie Cornell—had the best horse. When he was asked if he didn't agree that Silky was a grand-looking colt, he'd chuckle a while and then fire back, "That may be so but, remember, they're not staging a horse show out here Saturday. This is a running race."

And a running race it was. Tim Tam, fearing neither track nor Silky Sullivan, had won the Derby Trial at a mile only five days before and was again ridden by Ismael (Milo) Valenzuela, substituting for the injured Bill Hartack. "The colts we've got to watch out for," said Jones to Milo, "are Jewel's Reward [Tim Tam's old nemesis at Hialeah] and that front-running Lincoln Road [who all but stole the rich Florida Derby before Tim Tam overhauled him in the stretch]."

Jones was half right, anyway. Jewel's Reward was never a threat. But Lincoln Road was—and a major one at that. Superbly ridden by Chris Rogers, Lincoln Road shot to the front at the start and stayed there, first dodging Warren G, then keeping ahead of Gone Fishin' and Ebony Pearl. While Silky was dropping back 27 lengths after one quarter, and 32½ lengths after the first half mile, Tim Tam was rolling along in eighth place, then in fifth and finally in fourth by the time Lincoln Road had covered a mile. As they began turning for home, Valenzuela got into his mount but good and the chase was on. Tim Tam, with exactly the dogged persistence that marked his sire Tom Fool—and has marked each of his own races this season—gradually wore the leader down, collaring him just about a sixteenth of a mile from the wire and then taking the pot of $116,400 by a neat half length. Back of Lincoln Road, who really turned in a remarkable race to prove that his near miss in the Florida Derby was by no means a fluke, was Noureddin, that good son of Noor who gave Jewel's Reward such a time of it in the Wood Memorial recently. Noureddin came up from 12th position to finish third, beaten only a length by the first two, and if he hadn't been carried wide around the final turn he might have made it a lot hotter for both of them. As it was, Noureddin finished faster than any horse in the race, and Arcaro remarked later, "He's the sort who might do his best running in The Belmont."

"Well he certainly didn't do his best running today," said Noureddin's Derby jockey, Jimmy Combest. "He must be a hell of a horse because he acted like he was going to fall down 40 times during the race—and still managed to get third money easily."

While all this excitement was going on up at the front end of the 84th Derby, Silky Sullivan was having a most unhappy time at the other extremity. From his position of 32½ lengths behind Lincoln Road after half a mile, Silky did a little improving, but not much. After three-quarters of a mile, he was trailing by "only" 23 lengths. An enormous roar went up as Shoemaker gave Silky the go sign, and "for a moment," said Willie, "I thought it was going to be like old times. We went by about five horses, but when we got to the quarter pole I knew we weren't going much farther. By the eighth pole he really flattened out and we were through." Silky's all-out run, which has been known to extend a half mile, this time was just about a sixteenth of a mile, and although he cut the leader's margin to 18 lengths with but a quarter of a mile to go, he then behaved in a most un-Silkyish fashion as he actually lost two lengths down the stretch run and wound up soundly beaten by 20 lengths. Clocked by quarters, Silky toured in 27 2/5, 52 2/5, 1:16 2/5, 1:40 2/5, and his final mile-and-a-quarter time was 2:09 2/5—unfortunately a far cry from the winning formula Reggie Cornell had hopefully set his eye on: the first three quarters in 1:12, and the last half in 50.

Jimmy Jones, of course, is about ready to be convinced that he may have another pretty good horse on his hands, and Tim Tam certainly looks like a reasonable bet to become the first Triple Crown colt since Calumet's Citation in 1948. There's the Preakness to come next week, and then The Belmont on June 7, and most of 'the Derby field will be back to try Tim Tam again.

Contrary to their original announcements that if Silky ran a bad race in the Derby he would be sent back to California, his owners made an about-face late Saturday night and have shipped him to Pimlico for the Preakness. A dejected Reggie Cornell summed up the feelings of many when he said, "This race was too bad to be true. He definitely deserves another chance."

Also back to cheer Tim Tam on Preakness day will be his owner, Mrs. Gene Markey, who, taken ill the morning of Derby Day, stayed home on the Lexington farm to watch the race on television. During her convalescence Mrs. Markey might want to figure out a way to enlarge one of the shelves in her trophy room. The one holding the massive gold Kentucky Derby cups is already filled to capacity. Number seven may have to hang from the ceiling for a while.





1 Benedicto

2 Noureddin

3 Martins Rullah

4 Ebony Pearl

5 A Dragon Killer

6 Chance It Tony

7 Gone Fishin'

8 Jewel's Reward

9 Flamingo

10 Red Hot Pistol

11 Lincoln Road

12 Tim Tam

13 Silky Sullivan

14 Warren G, completing the Kentucky Derby field



















Tim Tam's win brings as much joy to the historic Greentree Stable (owned by the U.S. Ambassador in London, J. H. Whitney, and his sister, Mrs. Charles Shipman Payson) as it does to Calumet. Sire of Tim Tam was Greentree's Tom Fool (here pictured at the age of two), an indomitable horse who was as contemptuous of his opposition as of weight or track conditions. Tom Fool won 21 of 30 starts and never finished worse than fourth. Another son, Jester (1957 Belmont Futurity winner), is among his first crop. He now demands a $5,000 stud fee.