An Early Derby Winner/Another Derby Winner

Historical Marker #1295 in Harrodsburg notes the Mercer County origins of two Kentucky Derby winners: Leonatus in 1883 and George Smith in 1916.

Leonatus, winner of the ninth Kentucky Derby (1883) was noted for his stamina and durability. He was owned by George Morgan and Colonel Jack P. Chinn, both of Mercer County. As a two-year-old, Leonatus only ran one race, in which he came in second. As a three-year-old, however, the horse put together an amazing string of victories. A week before the Kentucky Derby, Leonatus won the Blue Ribbon Stakes in Lexington. At the Derby he won by three lengths. Less than a week after the Kentucky Derby, Leonatus won the Tobacco Stakes. Then, three days later, he won the Woodburn Stakes. Another win came at the Hindoo Stakes—later known as the Latonia Derby—and where he was ridden by legendary African American jockey Isaac Murphy. These wins were followed in close succession by victories at the Ripple Stakes, Himyar Stakes, Dearborn Stakes, Green Stakes, and Illinois Derby.

Leonatus's bloodline included famed sire Lexington, and like his famous ancestor, when his racing career was over, he was retired to stud. Leonatus lived out his days at Runnymede Farm in Bourbon County where he died in 1896. His most famous sire was 1898 American Derby winner Pink Coat.

The thoroughbred George Smith, winner of the 1916 "Run for the Roses," was foaled at Fountainblue Farm in Mercer County. Purchased as a yearling by Ed McBride, the promising black stallion was sold to John Sanford as a two-year-old. George Smith won the Aberdeen Stakes, Juvenile Stakes, Victoria Stakes, Spring Brewery Stakes, and the Annapolis Stakes.

In 1916, at the forty-second Kentucky Derby, the field of twelve was reduced to nine when three horses were scratched late. Favored were Dominant and Thunderer, but in the stretch run George Smith emerged as the leader and held on for a close victory ahead of Star Hawk.

George Smith had some success again as a five-year-old, winning the Bowie Handicap by beating two former Kentucky Derby winners. George Smith retired shortly thereafter and was studded at Hurricana Farm in New York. Not producing many significant offspring, George Smith was eventually donated to the U.S. Army Remount Service, where he sired horses for the military for his remaining days.