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Longfellow (horse)

Longfellow photographed in 1874 at age seven

Longfellow (1867–1893) was one of America's first great Thoroughbred racehorses and the sire of great racehorses. A legend in his own time, he was out of the first crop of the outstanding imported English stallion Leamington.

Longfellow was owned, bred, and trained by Uncle John Harper of Nantura Stock Farm in Midway, Kentucky. Uncle John was worth perhaps a million dollars (a very great sum in the 1850s), yet he lived in a simple cottage on his 1,000 acres (4 km²) adjacent to Robert A. Alexander's famed Woodburn Stud in Woodford County, Kentucky. In 1856, Uncle John stood both Lexington and Glencoe, two of the country's greatest stallions. Combined, they led America's sire lists for 24 years.

Longfellow was sired by Leamington[1], the successor of Lexington, as noted: America's leading sire for 14 years. One of Leamington's best runners (out of John Harper's foundation mare Nantura[2] by Brawner's Eclipse), Uncle John believed Longfellow was the very best horse he'd ever bred. A brown colt with a white stripe, a white near hind sock, and white on his off hind coronet, Longfellow was foaled in 1867. When people asked Harper, born in 1800, if he had named his colt for the noted poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Uncle John replied, "Never heared much of that feller but that colt of mine's got the longest legs of any feller I ever seen." At maturity, Longfellow stood 17 hands tall and was said to have a 26-foot stride.

Longfellow was unraced at two while he matured into his size. Harper tried him out in the spring of his third year, entering him in the Phoenix Hotel Stakes—but he was still too green. He lost to another son of Leamington called Enquirer, who was enjoying an undefeated season.


Murder Most Foul

In 1871, Longfellow was entered into a match race at Lexington, Kentucky against a horse called Pilgrim. Due to the chicanery of the times, Uncle John was taking no chances. On the night before the race, he slept at Longfellow's head in a barn at the old Kentucky Association track. In the middle of the night, Uncle John was awakened by a stealthy rattling at the locked barn door. "Who's there!" demanded John Harper. The answer came in a disguised voice, "I've come to see Longfellow." "You can't come in here," replied Uncle John. "Go away!" Whoever it was tried the door once more but when it wouldn't budge, mounted a horse and rode away. Early the next morning came the news that Uncle John's sister Betsy and his brother Jacob, also both elderly, had been murdered in John's small cottage at Nantura. Both had been hacked to death with the bloody hatchet left on a pillow. All three were childless. If John had been home that night (which he normally would have been), and therefore no doubt killed along with his brother and sister, the estate would have been divided equally among several nephews. The nephew most likely to have done the deed, the one in debt and certainly the one possessed of a questionable character, was Adam Harper, who placed blame on the servants, perhaps going so far as hiring men to try to lynch them for the murders. Certainly someone persuaded a lynch gang to string up Uncle John's hired folk. Wallace Harper, another nephew, openly accused Adam of the crimes of both murder and attempted lynching. Even though considerable evidence mounted against Adam Harper, he was never charged. Upon his death, Uncle John (who'd had Adam investigated privately, but never revealed the results) left everything to another nephew, Frank Harper.

King of the Turf

"Ole Longfellow! Thah's a hoss 'At I des p'nounce The Boss...nuthin' like him anywhere, Skims the earth or flies the air!"
James Whitcomb Riley

Longfellow's real racing career began in autumn of 1871. After that, his ability went unquestioned. In sixteen starts, he won thirteen times, including the Monmouth Cup (beating Helmbold and Preakness), and the Saratoga Cup in 1871. In the Saratoga, he frightened off all rivals but one, Kingfisher. In his next race he was beaten by Helmbold, the horse he'd easily outclassed in the Monmouth Cup. Longfellow's great size proved a disadvantage at 4 miles in deep mud. He took the Wooley Stakes and again won the Monmouth in 1872 and placed in the Saratoga Cup in 1872.

Called "King of the Turf," Longfellow was America's most popular horse in the decade after the American Civil War. His final season was noted for his rivalry with the eastern champion Harry Bassett, the undefeated cream of the three-year-olds and winner of the 1871 Travers Stakes in Saratoga, New York. Colonel McDaniel, Harry Bassett's owner, challenged Longfellow to a match race. John Harper replied that anyone wishing to test Longfellow's mettle could do so in the Monmouth Cup of 1872. McDaniel entered his horse. Longfellow headed east in a special car on which a sign was hung that read: "Longfellow on his way to Long Branch to meet his friend Harry Bassett." Since all ten of the other entered horses had withdrawn from the race, it became a match. Longfellow beat Harry by over 100 yards. Harry Bassett went into a deep sulk and stopped racing after a mile and a half. Longfellow cantered in alone.

Their second meeting was in the two and a quarter mile Saratoga Cup. Approaching the start, Longfellow struck his left fore foot and twisted his racing plate. Coming round the first turn, it was obvious something was wrong with him...even so, his rider stood up in his stirrups and went for his whip, the first the four year old colt had ever felt. Responding with a powerful surge, for 18 furlongs, Longfellow relentlessly closed the distance—and with great courage, lost to Harry Bassett (who'd broken the track record by 2 and a half seconds) by only one length, leaving the track limping on three legs. His left front foot had been mutilated; the shoe had bent double during the race and embedded itself into the frog of his foot. This was Longfellow's last race.

Longfellow's Legacy

A leading sire in 1891, his progeny includes the great racemare Thora, champion three-year-old female in 1881 and herself dam of Yorkville Belle (born in Tennessee in 1889, who made 37 starts, and came in the money 30 times, 21 of them firsts). Thora won the Alabama Stakes, the Monmouth Oaks, and the Saratoga Cup. Longfellow also sired the Kentucky Derby winner Leonatus. Leonatus was the champion three-year-old male in 1883, losing only one race as a juvenile and never again beaten. As a three-year-old, and within a period of 49 days, Leonatus won ten stakes races, all in Kentucky and Illinois. Longfellow also sired The Bard, the champion three-year-old male of 1886 and winner of the Preakness. Later, his get included American Derby winner Pink Coat, Suburban Handicap winner Tillo, 1889 Travers winner Long Dance, Longstreet, who was the 1891 American Horse of the Year, and the very good mares Peg Woffington and Lady Longfellow.

Longfellow sired two Kentucky Derby winners: the aforementioned Leonatus in the ninth running in 1883 (who distinguished himself by eating his blanket of roses), and Riley in the sixteenth running in 1890. Among his fillies, he sired two Kentucky Oaks winners: Longitude in 1880, and Florimore in 1887.

A Long Life

Longfellow died on November 5, 1893 at the age of twenty-six. His grave marker is one of the first two ever erected for a racehorse in Kentucky. (The first was for Hall of Famer Ten Broeck). On Longfellow's marker are engraved the words: "King of Racers & King of Stallions."

New Jersey's Monmouth Park runs the $60,000 five and 1/2 furlong Longfellow Stakes for three-year-olds and up each year in June.

Longfellow was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York in 1971.


  1. ^ Out of the Irish stallion Faugh-a-Ballagh, Leamington sired Aristides, first winner of the Kentucky Derby, and Iroquois, the first American-bred winner of the Epsom Derby.
  1. ^ Uncle John Harper named his farm after her.


Pedigree of Longfellow
Sir Hercules Whalebone
Guiccioli Bob Booty
Pantaloon Mare
Pantaloon Castrel
Daphne Laurel
Maid of Honor
American Eclipse Duroc
Millers Damsel
John Henry Mare Henry
Young Romp
Bertrand Sir Archy
Lady Fortune Brimmer
Buzzard Mare (F-No.A14)



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