Edward Riley Bradley was one of the great breeders in the history of thoroughbred racing. His Idle Hour Stock Farm in Kentucky churned out stakes winner after stakes winner, one hundred and twenty-eight of them in total, in a forty year period during the first half of the twentieth century. However he never once led a year end breeder’s list. Bradley bred eleven individual national champions in all. He never stood more than thirty broodmares on his farm, as he would cull the ones he did not feel were up to farm standards kept the population at a reasonable level.
His breeding program was based on the acquisition of mares from fine Europe families and well bred stallions based in America. From this foundation came many stakes winners that became generational homebreds which contributed to improve the breed on his farm and throughout the world.
Bradley considered the Kentucky Derby as THE RACE to win. He did so four times. Col. E.R. Bradley was one of the first major breeders to covet the Kentucky Derby as a target to which his breeding enterprise should aim for. By insisting that his best young steeds aim for the Derby, Bradley became a key figure in elevating the Kentucky Derby from a regional major race to a national major race.
Both Bimelech and Blue Larkspur were upset in their Derby attempts. That his two best colts did not win was a bitter blow to this transplanted Pennsylvanian, who became a proud Kentuckian. Blue Larkspur and Bimelech are considered as the two best colts he bred, although they were as different as night and day. Bimelech was a notoriously bad tempered sort, while Blue Larkspur was an easy going and calm horse.
Many consider the latter as the best horse Col. E.R. Bradley ever bred, and it is he who is the subject of this article.
Blue Larkspur represented three generations of Idle Hour breeding along his sire line and four along his dam line. The key here is broodmare Padua, a foal of 1886 by Thurio – Immortelle by Paul Jones. While none of these names leap off the page as shapers of the breed, and were not exactly fashionable back then either, Padua became a source of many stakes winners for Bradley.
Padua produced a filly by Laveno in 1906 that would be named Padula. She was eventually bought by Bradley who bred her to his home stallion Black Toney, a solid stakes winner by Peter Pan, which had been bred by another legendary breeder James R. Keene, and was a grandson of the immortal speed source Domino. Black Toney became the foundation stallion to Idle Hour and among his best get was the colt Black Servant. This one finished second to stable mate Behave Yourself in the 1921 Kentucky Derby, although he was the choice of the stable to take the win.
Padua produced in 1900 a filly by MacHeath, a son of Marconi that would be named Padilla. Bradley bought Padilla’s daughter by Fairman named Vaila which Bradley shipped to Kentucky from her home country Ireland. The Colonel was buying into the family a second time. He bred Vaila to his imported stallion North Star III, with the result being stakes winner Blossom Time, the dam of Blue Larkspur sired by Black Servant.
Blue Larkspur was inbred to Padua 3×4 and to Epsom Derby winner Galopin, the sire of the immortal St. Simon, 5×5 and also had a 5×5 inbreed to English classic winner Marconi in his pedigree. His bay coat covered a beautiful conformation that exhibited balance from front to back with excellent shoulders and hips, but was a bit light boned. Blue Larkspur possessed a wonderful, calm temperament and had an abundance of speed to tap into. His easy going and pleasant nature gave him the mind set to obey his rider and learn to conserve his speed for longer distances, which he would display on several occasions during his racing career.
Herbert “Derby Dick” Thompson was the trainer for the Idle Hour stable and thus became the conditioner for their latest solid racing prospect. The first race for the son of Black Servant came on May 27, 1928 on the old Widener chute course at Belmont. Blue Larkspur ran third in the four and one half furlong sprint. One week later he broke his maiden on the same track and then became a stakes winner when he went wire to wire in the Juvenile Stakes. The Idle Hour runner went on to take the National Stallion Stakes and the Saratoga Special, followed by a close second in the Hopeful Stakes to Jack High. Blue Larkspur carried 130 lbs, imagine that impost for a two year old nowadays, and had to negotiate severe traffic.
The final race of Blue Larkspur’s juvenile campaign was a calamity unto itself when he was kicked at the starting line by another entrant and hobbled to an eighth place finish. High Strung won the race and with it took championship juvenile honours. Blue Larkspur was co-second rated with Jack High. It was still a good year for Blue Larkspur and he became one of the early favourites for the upcoming Kentucky Derby, although he had not won beyond six furlongs. And of course Colonel Bradley would want “Derby Dick” to get this one ready for that first Saturday in May.
Blue Larkspur made one start before the Derby, an allowance win over Clyde Van Dusen at Lexington. The track at Churchill Downs on Derby day came up a greasy mess. Thompson was unavailable because of a bout with appendicitis so his chief assistant Chappie Hastings was in charge on the day. Hastings had ordered the blacksmith to shoe Blue Larkspur with mud calks, but due to previous riffs the two had in the past, the colt was not fitted with the special shoes. Needless to say, Blue Larkspur could not grip the track and slipped and slid his way to a fourth place finish behind Clyde Van Dusen.
The colt redeemed himself in the Withers Stakes and then was at the start of the twelve furlong Belmont Stakes, but again on a slippery track. This time the footwear for Blue Larkspur was the correct type and he won, despite most saying that descendants of Domino could not do the distance, by two and one half lengths in front of Jack High. Blue Larkspur had now added a classic win to his résumé.
Along with redeeming himself on an off track, Blue Larkspur had also won despite another kick at the starting line from a fellow competitor in the field. Blue Larkspur experienced filling in his leg from this latest kicking incident, and was also running a high fever so he missed some very valuable training. Thompson was worried that his star colt was developing a serious condition known as cellulitis. Vets however pronounced him fit enough to return to the track.
Grey Count defeated Blue Larkspur in the Dwyer Stakes on the latter’s return to the track. Blue Larkspur then captured the Arlington Classic in Chicago to get back in the winner’s circle. He bowed a tendon slightly in the race and was taken out of training for the rest of the year. Blue Larkspur had done enough in the minds of the voters for yearend honours and was named as the Champion three year old and as Horse of the Year.
Blue Larkspur came back for an abbreviated four year old campaign, winning twice from three starts, the Stars and Stripes Handicap and the Arlington Gold Cup, before he bowed his tendon again in training and was subsequently retired. His final racing tally was sixteen starts, ten wins, three seconds and one third and was named as the champion handicap horse for the year. Blue Larkspur now was to take up residence at Idle Hour Stock Farm for stallion duties. He would be even more successful in this role than he was on the track.
A fee of $1,000 was charged for stud services to the three times champion, and his book filled very quickly. From his first crop of foals to reach the races came five stakes winners, including the great sprint star Myrtlewood. Champion Handicap female and Champion Sprinter of both genders in 1936, Myrtlewood, a member of the Hall of Fame, then became a foundation mare to a very noble family. To a cover by Bull Dog, Myrtlewood produced Kentucky Oaks winner Miss Dogwood in 1939. This one in turn is the dam of Gold Digger by Nashua. Gold Digger is famous to all as the dam of the epoch sire Mr. Prospector. Raise A Native, the sire of Mr. Prospector, traces back in tail female to Padula (fifth generation), who is as you recall the dam of Black Servant, the sire of Blue Larkspur.
Another plum from Myrtlewood was her daughter Durazna, the Champion Two Year Old filly of 1943. Durazna was bred and raced by Brownell Combs and her legendary battles with Colonel Bradley’s great Horse of the year Champion Busher, from the La Trioenne family, made headlines. Durazna is the third dam to champions Highest Trump, Tudor Queen and Typecast. Additional daughters of Myrtlewood include Spring Beauty (third dam of Silent Beauty (Kentucky Oaks)) and Dragona, dam of Santa Anita Derby winner Royal Attack.
Another key future broodmare from the first crop of Blue Larkspur foals is Bloodroot. While only stakes placed, Bloodroot became a Broodmare of the Year in 1946 when her son Bric A Bac and daughters Be Faithful and Bimlette won many stakes that year. Be Faithful, carried on the female line with distinction through her stakes winning daughter Lalun (Kentucky Oaks, Beldame Stakes). Lalun then produced two major stakes winners and later top stallions in Never Bend and Bold Reason. Bimlette produced Wood Memorial winner No Robbery who later sired forty-seven stakes winners, and also Moulette, third dam of champion Tempest Queen.
Staying with the daughters of Blue Larkspur we find Alablue, out of the Sir Gallahad III mare Double Time. Alablue won three stakes and later became the dam of Middle Brother (Lawrence Realization, Discovery handicaps) and Alanesian (Spinaway Stakes, Astarita Stakes etc). Alanesian is the dam of Boldnesian, sire of leading sire Bold Ruckus and Bold Reasoning. The latter is the sire of Triple Crown winner and influential stallion Seattle Slew. Alanesian is also the dam of Princessnesian (Hollywood Gold Cup, Santa Margarita Handicap etc), who in turn is the second dam to group one winner Fordham.
Blue Larkspur’s daughter But Why Not came from the heralded family of Colonel Bradley’s great foundation mare to the entire breeding world La Trioenne. Her dam Be Like Mom is a non winning daughter of 1935 Campion Three Year Old filly Black Helen, by Black Toney, who is the daughter of La Trioenne from which But Why Not descends. But Why Not was herself a Champion Three Year Old filly and counts the Alabama Stakes, Beldame Handicap, Arlington Classic and Acorn Stakes among her twelve wins in her racing career, and is the dam of twelve times stakes winning gelding How Now.
La Trioenne met up with Blue Larkspur and produced a brown filly named Businesslike. Unplaced in two races, Businesslike produced a black filly by War Admiral bred by Ogden Phipps, who named her Busanda. Busanda won the Alabama Stakes, Suburban Handicap, Top Flight Handicap, Diana Handicap and twice took the Saratoga Cup. Busanda is famous to race historians as the dam of the impeccable champion and elite sire Buckpasser. Busanda is also the dam of Navsup (dam of Polish Navy), as well as Finance (second dam of champion Outstandingly), and Bupers (sire of champion My Juliet).
Elpis, by Blue Larkspur, won the Coaching Club of America Oaks and the Comely Handicap in her nine stakes winning career. Painted Veil was named as the Champion Three Year Old Filly of 1941. Renew, a full sister to But Why Not, won the Top Flight Handicap, and is the second dam to Suburban Handicap winner Buffle.
Blue Delight won the Arlington Lassie Stakes and the Arlington Matron Handicap. This notable daughter of Blue Larkspur in turn is the dam of Bubbley (Kentucky Oaks, Vanity Handicap), All Blue (San Antonio Handicap), Princess Turia (Kentucky Oaks, Acorn Stakes), as well as the 1949 Champion Three Year Old filly Real Delight. Real Delight won the filly Triple Crown (Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, CCA Oaks) and is the dam of three stakes winners. She leads to a distinguished family that includes leading sire Alydar and champions Our Mims and Christmas Past. Princess Turia is the dam of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Forward Pass.
Another notable daughter of Blue Larkspur to mention here is Our Page. This bay daughter, winner of the Spinaway Stakes, was from the 1940 crop and produced five stakes winners, all sons, and earned a Broodmare of the Year title. Among her foals were Page Boots, Sport Page, Bull Page, Navy Page and Brother Tex. Navy Page won the World’s Playground Stakes, Jerome Handicap, Toronto Cup and the Canadian International among his major victories. He was owned by leading Canadian turf patron E.P. Taylor, who also owned his older half brother Bull Page.
Bull Page became the Champion Horse of the Year in Canada and then a very influential sire. His son New Providence won the Canadian Triple Crown while Bull Page’s daughter Flaming Page was a Canadian Champion at three after her wins in the Canadian Oaks and the Queen’s Plate, the first filly to capture both. Flaming Page then produced the great English Triple Crown winner and leading sire Nijinsky. Flaming Page is also the second dam to another Epsom Derby and Irish Derby winner in The Minstrel.
The sons of Blue Larkspur are not to be forgotten. While he did sire many champion daughters that went on to big things as broodmares, his sons won some important races themselves. However Blue Larkspur did not sire an heir to his sire line. Among his top sons were; Blue Swords, Bluebeard, Skylarking, Revoked, Blue Flyer, Boxthorn, and Best Seller. Oedipus was a champion steeplechaser. They were as a group solid but unspectacular as stallions.
Blue Larkspur has rightfully taken his place as a wonderful sire in general, and a great sire of outstanding broodmares in particular. When all was said and done on his statistical stud career, Blue Larkspur sired one hundred and ninety-six winners (67.6%) of which forty-four (15.2%) were stakes winners from all named foals. He never won any sire championship in any category, but was always placed among the top percentages throughout his stallion career.
The influence of Blue Larkspur on future generations is also to be admired. Some elite runners and stallions have him prominently within their own pedigrees. Real Delight, Bull Page, No Robbery, Twilight Tear, Busanda, Cosmic Bomb, Cohoes, Princess Turia, Blue Prince, Mr. Prospector, Never Bend and Bold Reason are all direct descendants of Blue Larkspur daughters. Many of these have influenced a wealth of the top horses in training and breeding today, through the likes of Nijinsky, Alydar, Buckpasser, Quadrangle and more.
Colonel Bradley died from coronary troubles, which he had had for many years, in 1946. He was eighty-six. His breeding stock was sold via dispersal to turf icons Ogden Phipps, John Hay Whitney and Robert Kleberg. Blue Larkspur went to Whitney’s Greentree stud. The great stallion died the following year of a heart attack after he had covered a dozen or so mares. Blue Larkspur is buried near the judge’s stand on the land that used to be part of the old Idle Hour Farm’s private track. This land today is now part of Old Frankford Place.
Time tends to take away the memories of many wonderful and influential horses from us. As generations fade into the history books, only to be seen by those that have a penchant for such nostalgic days, the names of horses like Blue Larkspur slip back in pedigree charts and become less known to the new generations of thoroughbred fans. During his lifetime and for many years after he passed, Blue Larkspur was in the conversations of all who understood the important progenitors of the breed.
Blue Larkspur is a member of the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame. He left many gifts that keep on giving. Blue Larkspur was what we refer to today as a quiet superstar.
(Photo courtesy of Idle Hour Stock Farm archives)
(Photo of Blue Larkspur w/Mack Garner up, courtesy of DRF archives)