Hillsdale was understandably unnoticed at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May of 1957. The Kentucky Derby, of course, was the main event, with that year’s Run for the Roses featuring future Hall of Famers Bold Ruler, Gallant Man, and Round Table being infamously upset by Calumet Farm’s Iron Liege. Hillsdale, meanwhile, was an unknown Indiana-bred making his second career start on the Derby undercard. Six days after he finished fourth in his career debut, Hillsdale went of at odds of 73-1 in a 4½-furlong maiden event. The bettors were right to ignore him — he finished 10th. Better days, however, were ahead.
Clarence W. Smith
Martin Fallon, Jr.
Hillsdale was understandably unnoticed at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May of 1957. The Kentucky Derby, of course, was the main event, with that year’s Run for the Roses featuring future Hall of Famers Bold Ruler, Gallant Man, and Round Table being infamously upset by Calumet Farm’s Iron Liege.
Hillsdale, meanwhile, was an unknown Indiana-bred making his second career start on the Derby undercard. Six days after he finished fourth in his career debut, Hillsdale went of at odds of 73-1 in a 4½-furlong maiden event. The bettors were right to ignore him — he finished 10th. Better days, however, were ahead.
By the time he was retired at the conclusion of his 4-year-old campaign in 1959, Hillsdale had won 23 of 41 starts — including 16 stakes — and ranked 13th all time in earnings with $646,935. Bred at Helen Kellogg’s Murlogg Farm, Hillsdale was named after Hillsdale Road, which ran past the farm, located near Evansville. Hillsdale was sired by Take Away, a workhorse who won 32 of 132 career starts in 10 years on the track. Hillsdale was out of the dam Johann, a daughter of Hall of Famer Johnstown.
Trained initially by Odie Clelland for Kellogg, Hillsdale was dropped into a maiden claiming race 12 days after losing his second start. Unclaimed, Hillsdale broke his maiden that day at Churchill before Clelland took him to race on the New England circuit with mixed results. From late May through November 1957, Hillsdale won five of 11 starts at Narragansett, Rockingham, and Suffolk Downs. His lone stakes victory was the Granite State Stakes at Rockingham.
Hillsdale began to show promise in the spring of 1958 when he finished a half-length behind eventual Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Tim Tam in an allowance race at Keeneland. By this time, Kellogg had sold Hillsdale for $25,000 to Clarence W. “Catfish” Smith, a former football player with the Chicago Bears who was the head of an engineering firm in Detroit. At the time of his purchase of Hillsdale, Smith had dabbled in horse ownership for the better part of a decade with minimal success.
Following his strong showing at Keeneland, Hillsdale was shipped to California and placed in the barn of former jockey Marty Fallon, a protégé of Clelland’s who had been the colt’s initial exercise rider at Murlogg Farm. That summer at Hollywood Park, Hillsdale won the Will Rogers Stakes and El Dorado Handicap, and also placed in the Westerner Stakes (later renamed the Hollywood Derby). Hillsdale then finished sixth in the American Derby and second on turf in the Atlantic City Handicap before going on a remarkable run of glory. In his next 16 stakes appearances, Hillsdale won 13 times and finished second in the other three.
Hillsdale concluded his sophomore year with victories in the Michigan Derby at Hazel Park, the Boardwalk Handicap at Atlantic City, and the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita. Journeyman rider Tommy Barrow took over in the irons aboard Hillsdale prior to the Boardwalk and proceeded to win 12 stakes with him in less than a year. The win streak stretched into 1959, with Hillsdale turning back Round Table by a head in the seven-furlong San Carlos Handicap while in receipt of 17 pounds. Victories in the San Fernando and Santa Anita Maturity (later renamed the Charles H. Strub) followed, giving Hillsdale the distinction of becoming the second horse to win the Strub Series (Round Table was the first to do so). Hillsdale’s only defeats in the early part of his 1959 season took place in the San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 14, when he was second by three-quarters of a length to Bug Brush, who set a new world record for nine furlongs, and two weeks later when he was a half-length back of Terrang in the Santa Anita Handicap.
Hillsdale was then unbeatable sensation at Hollywood Park, winning the Los Angeles Handicap, Californian, Argonaut Handicap, American Handicap, and Hollywood Gold Cup. The win streak reached seven with an overnight handicap victory at Belmont Park followed by a gutsy win over future champion Bald Eagle in the Aqueduct Handicap.
The win streak was snapped in the Woodward at Aqueduct in late September. In a thrilling finish, Eddie Arcaro masterfully piloted Sword Dancer to a head victory over Hillsdale. Round Table finished third. The victory gave Sword Dancer the Horse of the Year title and a split of the champion handicap honors with Round Table. The Woodward was a tough beat for Hillsdale, who never raced again and missed out on championship honors.
Hillsdale’s accomplishments, however, were still momentous. He retired with a record of 23-6-4 from 41 starts and his 1959 earnings of $502,090 were second only to Sword Dancer. The only older horse to earn more in a year to that point was Round Table, in 1958 ($662,780). Hillsdale stood at Claiborne Farm until the mid-1960s but was a disappointment as a stallion, siring only eight stakes winners.
His most noted offspring were fillies. Bravery II was one of Ireland’s top juveniles in 1965, winning the Anglesey Stakes. She later placed in the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket and Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot. In America, Hillsdale’s best daughter was Hi Q., winner of the 1971 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park. He also sired Acroterion, the broodmare sire of nine-time graded stakes winner Flying Paster.
Hillsdale died in 1972 at Three Rings Farm in Beaumont, California.
— First Indiana-bred inducted into the Hall of Fame
— Won 10 stakes at age 4 in 1959
— Defeated the likes of Hall of Famer Round Table and champions Bald Eagle and Jewel’s Reward
— Won 16 stakes races
— Won at 11 different tracks
— Earned $646,935 (13th all time at time of retirement)