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Friday, April 29, 2011

Tornado Tragedy at Latonia, 1915

The devastating tornadoes that ravished the South this week represent humanity’s worst nightmare: our inability to avoid Mother Nature’s wrath. No matter how technologically advanced we become, there are simply some things ultimately beyond our control.

Sadly, the same thing was true on July 7, 1915, when a series of tornadoes struck the Ohio River Valley—Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio—particularly devastating the city of Cincinnati where the death toll reportedly neared 40 people. Church steeples topped, riverboats overturned and commercial buildings collapsed. Nearby, Latonia Race Track suffered nearly $15,000 in damage, including portions of the clubhouse’s roof and grandstand blown off, as well as the roofs of nearly every stable on the grounds. (DRF, July 8, 1915)

Latonia Race Track in better days

Among the dead that day were three stable hands who, in addition to 15 other injured men, were among those riding a Pennsylvania Railroad train carrying racehorses that derailed near Terrace Park, Ohio. En route from Latonia to Windsor, Ontario, the train carried a number of horses belonging to Colonel Edward R. Bradley and W.W. Darden. The July 9 Daily Racing Form noted that when the two owners later arrived at the accident scene, “and saw the mangled and mud-encrusted bodies of their blooded race horses scattered in grotesque attitudes along the right of way of the Pennsylvania railroad, they could not keep back their tears."

An account in the Cincinnati Enquirer laid out the gruesome scene in the wreck’s aftermath:

“Mortally wounded animals lashed out with their hoofs in every direction in the dense darkness, kicking other horses and men. Looking through the hole in the car the men saw Bennie Eberson, of Louisville, a white stableman, lying under the body of a dead horse. Eberson recognized them, smiling faintly. The smile was still there when a big racer, pinioned in the wreckage, crushed the man’s chest with one blow of his hoof. Eberson had also been disemboweled. The two negroes were mangled by hoofs.”

A survivor, Walter Hurley noted:

“It was enough to break the heart of a horseman. The first thing I knew I was lying on the top of a pile of horses. I was kicked several times, but I knew they didn’t mean it. A wreck like that makes a human being go crazy, so what can you expect of a horse?”

Eleven horses died, including two Helmet fillies—2-year-old Blood Test and 3-year-old Brig’s Sister, both winners in consecutive years of the prestigious juvenile Clipsetta Stakes at Latonia. In a strange twist of fate, Margaret D, runner-up to Brig’s Sister in the previous year’s Clipsetta, also died on the train. Lost too was Dortch, recent third-place finisher in the Latonia Derby who, a mere two months earlier, was rumored to be one of the “best backed maidens that ever started in a Kentucky Derby” (DRF, May 6, 1915). Unfortunately, he turned out to be a well-beaten eighth, more than 14-lengths behind the filly Regret.

Among the horses injured by the twister’s devastation was Colonel Bradley’s promising unraced juvenile Blind Baggage who suffered a severed artery in his leg. However, by the next spring, he had apparently healed, as Bradley reiterated his enthusiasm for the colt’s Kentucky Derby chances. Alas, it was not to be, as Blind Baggage it turned out, was a terrific sprinter. All told, he ran 16 times at age three, finishing out of the money only three times. He returned as a 4-year-old, tying the 6-furlong track record at Lexington in the Winchester Handicap, and winning a total of eight sprint handicaps, toting as much as 126 pounds.

Another of the tornado survivors was a tough old gelding named Gabrio, owned by George Arvin. Nicknamed the “Plow Horse” due to his former profession of working fields, Gabrio eventually (and successfully) made his way onto a race track prior to the accident. Thrown clear of the wreckage, the gelding was found five days later, half-starved but none other the worse for wear and, after time off on the farm, he made a winning return at the Fair Grounds the next January—and continued to race successfully as late as 1918, in claiming races at the bush track in Cheyenne.


John said...

A unique story you won't find anywhere else. I like it when you're on summer break :-)