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Ben Ali (horse)

Ben Ali
Sire Virgil
Dam Ulrica
Grandsire Vandal
Damsire Lexington
Gender Stallion
Foaled 1883
Country United States
Color Bay
Breeder Daniel Swigert
Owner James Ben Ali Haggin
Trainer Jim Murphy
Record 40: 12-3-5
Earnings $25,090
Ben Ali is a thoroughbred racehorse out of Ulrica by Virgil. He was born around 1883 in the United States, and was bred by Daniel Swigert.
Major wins
Hopeful Stakes (1885)
Charles Green Stakes (1886)
St. Louis Derby (1886)
Ocean Stakes (1886)
Spirit of the Times Stakes (1886)
Winters Stakes (1886)
Free Handicap (1887)
Fourth of July Handicap (1887)

American Classic Race wins:
Kentucky Derby (1886)
Horse (Equus ferus caballus)

Ben Ali (1883- c. 1903) was the winner of the 1886 Kentucky Derby and was named after his owner James Ben Ali Haggin, a man of Turkish heritage that had struck gold in the California Gold Rush of 1849.[1] Ben Ali was foaled in Kentucky and was a large bay colt sired by Virgil. His damsire was also the great Lexington, a major foundation sire of American thoroughbreds.[2] Ben Ali is best known for his Derby win and a wagering snafu that ushered in a bad era for the Kentucky Derby.1

Wagering Monopoly and Boycott

In 1886, C. M. White purchased the pooling privileges (wagering rights) for the Kentucky Derby for $30,600 and demanded that all the Derby bookmakers pay him a $100 licensing fee to operate at the track.1 The bookmakers roundly refused and, as a consequence, there were no bookies at the 1886 derby to handle high-dollar bets. Unfortunately, James Haggin could not place a large bet on his winning stallion and was so upset that he threatened to bar his entire stable from ever racing in another Kentucky Derby unless bookmakers were reinstated at the track.1 The track director refused Haggin's demands replying, "To hell with him anyway"1, enraging James Haggin and causing him to shun the derby in favor of other stakes races.1 News traveled in the east coast horse racing circuits of Haggin's ill treatment in Louisville causing many Eastern horsemen to boycott the Kentucky Derby during the 1890s and early 20th century.1 Bookmakers returned for the 1887 Derby, but the field quality, and race profits, reduced dramatically over the years until Churchill Downs was facing closure in 1903. Churchill Downs was sold to a syndicate led by Matt Winn in 1903.

Ben Ali is reported to have died at around 20 years of age (c. 1903) at Haggin's Rancho del Paso stud in California.[3]


  1. Jim Bolus, Run for the Roses: 100 Years at the Kentucky Derby, Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1974.
  2. Ben Ali's Pedigree
  3. Daily Racing Form. "Careers of Kentucky Derby winners." May 19, 1910.


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