Long Before Seabiscuit, a Civil War-era Racehorse Smashed Records and Sired Thousands of Colts

History Unplugged Podcast

Long Before Seabiscuit, a Civil War-era Racehorse Smashed Records and Sired Thousands of Colts

The early days of American horse racing in the pre-Civil War era were grueling. Four-mile races, run two or three times in succession, were the norm, rewarding horses who brandished the ideal combination of stamina and speed. The stallion Lexington, named after the city in Kentucky where he was born, possessed these winning qualities, which pioneering Americans prized.

Lexington shattered the world speed record for a four-mile race. He would continue his winning career until deteriorating eyesight forced his retirement in 1855. But once his groundbreaking achievements as a racehorse ended, his role as a sire began. Horses from his bloodline won more money than the offspring of any other Thoroughbred—an annual success that led Lexington to be named America’s leading sire an unprecedented sixteen times. Yet with the Civil War raging, Lexington’s years at a Kentucky stud farm were far from idyllic. Confederate soldiers ran amok, looting freely and kidnapping horses from the top stables. They soon focused on the prized Lexington and his valuable progeny.  Kim Wickens, a lawyer and dressage rider, became fascinated by this legendary horse when she learned that twelve of Thoroughbred racing’s thirteen Triple Crown winners descended from Lexington – plus the first seventeen winners of the Kentucky Derby. She is the author of the book “Lexington” and presents an account of the raucous beginning of American horse racing and introduces them to the stallion at its heart. We see what happens to Lexington and how he and his progeny has entered the bloodline of nearly every horse who ran after him.

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