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Monday, March 2, 2009

Sallie Gardner: The Horse Behind the Photograph

In every major survey of Western art history book, you will find an image of Eadweard Muybridge’s classic ground-breaking photograph “Horse Galloping.” The story behind the photo is legend: former California governor and race horse owner/breeder Leland Stanford commissioned the English-born Muybridge to take a series of photographs to prove that when a horse runs, all four of its hooves are off the ground. This hypothesis could not be proven with the naked eye, so in June 1878, Muybridge set up a series of cameras on a race track at Palo Alto, with silken wires across the track which, when broken across the running horse’s chest, would trigger each camera’s shutter. Whether or not Stanford actually won a $25,000 bet on the issue has never been proven, but an assumption became fact that day, and Muybridge advanced a technology that eventually led to the development of motion pictures.

I’ve taught this image for years, but it never occurred to me to explore further exactly who Sallie Gardner was. What I discovered was fascinating, to say the least.

Bred in Tennessee by Arthur Towles, the chestnut daughter of Vandal was foaled in 1872, out of Charlotte Thompson by the Irish import sire Mickey Free. Her record as a racehorse is sketchy at best, but according to the 1875 American Racing Record and Turf Guide, she was among the 27 nominees for a race to be held by the Louisville Jockey Club on May 19 over 12f—the very first running of the Kentucky Oaks, with a prize of $1,175. While Sallie Gardner did not end up running in the Oaks, another daughter of Vandal, Vinaigrette, was victorious that momentous day.

It doesn’t appear that Sallie Gardner raced prior to September 1875. During the Louisville Fall meeting, running for Oliver Towles (her breeder’s son?), she failed to place in the September 23 Woodburn Stakes over 1-3/4 miles, finishing fourth, but two days later the filly came in third in two 8f heats, a consolation purse race for beaten horses. In Nashville on October 4, she finished out of the money in the two 8f heats of the Linck’s Hotel Stake. However, just four days later Sallie Gardner won a race for beaten 3-year-olds over 6f, carrying a mere 87 lbs!

Shipping to Gallatin, Texas where the Albion Jockey Club hosted a meeting, the 3-year-old filly won the two 8f heats that comprised the Granger Stakes on October 13. Just two days later, she won the $150 Jockey Club purse race at 12f, and amazingly, on the very next day (October 16) won three straight 8f heats in a $200 Jockey Club purse race. Thus, in just four days, Sallie Gardner ran—and wonsix races totally 52 furlongs, or 6-1/2 miles!

Of her subsequent racing record I could find no more information, nor did I discover how Sallie Gardner ended up owned by Leland Stanford. However, it was in 1876 that Stanford had purchased 650 acres and began the Palo Alto Stock Farm, a booming enterprise that eventually spanned 11,000 acres. According to Stanford's chief trainer Charles Marvin, it was common for Stanford to raid the best of Eastern thoroughbred race mares.

Sallie Gardner’s first recorded offspring for Stanford was a bay filly born in 1879 named Eleanor, the result of a cross-breeding with Stanford’s prized trotting stallion Electioneer, son of the great Hambletonian, whom he had purchased in 1876. Apparently, this was a typical experiment carried out by the breeder—breeding stamina-rich thoroughbred mares with trotters—and according to Joseph Cairn Simpson:

“Knowing that when Governor Stanford commenced breeding thoroughbred mares to his trotting stallions he was mainly looking to obtain half-bred mares to place in stud, I was not surprised to find that a majority of the colts were gelded and then sold, and that the fillies were placed in the breeding paddocks.”

Thus, Eleanor was bred to the trotter Nephew, producing a brown trotting mare in 1889 named Elden who birthed the trotting mare Eleata (1898) by Dexter Prince. While by no means a complete list, the harness racing descendents of Sallie Gardner through her daughter Eleanor including 1950s pacer Meadow Ace (by Adios), late 1970s-early 1980s California-bred pacer—and winner of over $770k—Courageous Red (by Peter Lobell) and 2000s champion filly pacer Midnight Jewel (by Keystone Raider).

Sallie Gardner’s second mate was another trotting sire, Mohawk Chief, but that brown colt of 1880 was gelded and died before being named. After being barren in 1881, the mare was bred to thoroughbred stallion Shannon, with whom she produced a bay colt named Garland (1882) and another bay colt (1888) named Homer, a talented racehorse who won the 1891 Iroquois Stakes at Saratoga. She was also bred three times to Flood, son of the undefeated Norfolk, producing a chestnut colt Gardey (1883), and two chestnut fillies, Sallie G (1884) and Amy Gardner (1886), the former to whom Leland Stanford continued mixed breeding with trotters Will Crocker (chestnut filly, 1888) and Liberty (unknown, 1889).

Thus, when she died on May 6, 1888, Sallie Gardner was much more than a horse made immortal by photographer Eadweard Muybridge—she was a talented race mare who produced both winning standardbreds and thoroughbreds.


Sanders Dewees Bruce, The American Stud Book (New York, 1889) Vol. 4, pp. 442-443.

W. G. Dorling, The American Racing Record and Turf Guide for 1875 (New York: 1876)

Charles Marvin, Training the Trotting Horse, Fourth Edition (Franklin, PA: Marvin Publishing Company, 1893)

Joseph Cairn Simpson “Trotting Bred Mares Lead” Wallace’s Monthly, Vol. XVIII, no. 3 (May 1892) pp. 185-191

Wallace’s Year-Book of Trotting and Pacing in 1892, by the American Trotting Register Association, vol. VIII-Part II, second edition Chicago: 1893


Anonymous said...

These images were part of the horse exhibit at the Museum of Natural History--they were cool! Thanks for the story behind them.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is great! When I was a young photo student I could barely stay awake for this part of photo history (I didn't wake up until Stieglitz).

What a nice surprise to finally be able to connect to this piece of photo history... thanks!

Sharon Crute said...

Fantastic research!

I looked for Sallie in my copy of "Animals in Motion" and I'm disappointed she's wasn't included.

Anonymous said...

Sallie Gardner ran 4 more times in 1876. (twice at Lexington and twice at CD) BTW, her races in 1875 at Gallatin most likely were in Tennessee at the Albion Jockey Club, mistakenly labeled Texas by the compiler of your source.

Anonymous said...

A hint as to how Stanford acquired Sallie Gardner was given in a New York Times article dated Feb. 24, 1879. The article decribed Standford Palo Alto estate and his breeding operation. The reporter writes that Stanford's stock stable foreman, H. R. Covey, "... made the last purchase of 19 blood broodmares in Kentucky ..." The article was not specific whether SG was in that last purchase, but the modus operandi was made apparent.