Gallant Fox. Count Fleet. Citation. Secretariat. Burgoo King?
If it weren’t for some lost paperwork, the horse named after a famous Kentucky stew could have been one of horse racing’s Triple Crown winners.
Burgoo King was born in 1929, the son of 1926 Kentucky Derby winner Bubbling Over. He was actually named for Lexington grocer James T. Looney, who was called the “Burgoo King” for his popular version of the stew.
Burgoo King didn’t make any headlines in his 2-year-old season in 1931, winning only 4 of his 12 starts; none of them were stakes races. As a 3-year-old, he lost his only Derby prep by three lengths to his stablemate, Brother John, whose victory was his maiden win.
Colonel Edward Bradley, who owned both horses, decided to enter both into a crowded Kentucky Derby field, judged by most to be the poorest in years. 9-5 favorite Tick On spent most of his energy trying to get in the gate; Burgoo King and Brother John were the double entries, third at 5-1.
Twenty went to the post, and it was like bumper cars: horses bumping into each other, clipping heels – five of the 20 horses entered were injured in the race.
Not so for Burgoo King, who drew clear and was stalking pacesetter Economic until the far turn, when 19-year-old jockey Eugene James asked the colt for more and he delivered. He drew away, winning by five lengths.
It was on to the Preakness, where Burgoo King had a bit more trouble; he was bumped at the start by Mad Pursuit and fought to regain command. with 3 1/2 furlongs to go, he was within a length of the leaders and passed a stubborn Boatswain. Tick On drove furiously to the wire, but Burgoo King won by a head.
Another Triple Crown in the making? Unfortunately, no. Bradley’s team had failed to submit the paperwork to nominate Burgoo King for the Belmont Stakes, so he was not eligible to run. Instead, trainer Herbert J. Thompson entered him in the Withers Stakes, where his luck ran out. He finished next to last.
About a month later, he bowed a tendon while training and spent almost two years nursing the injury. He came back in 1934 at the age of 5 and won 2 of 5 starts.
He was a dud at stud, producing only 6 stakes winners from 196 foals. His final record: 21 starts with 8 wins, 2 seconds and 3 thirds, winning $110,940.
In his book Derby Magic, writer Jim Bolus referred to Burgoo King as “Hoodoo King” for all the bad luck that beset him and his team. Of the four jockeys that rode Burgoo King, two committed suicide; the 19-year-old jockey Eugene James drowned a year after his Derby victory. None of the Derby entrants made it into the Hall of Fame. At least Burgoo King’s post position – 13 – proved to be lucky for him.