Enumclaw native led nations
five times during 1950s
by Kimberly French
n May 5, 1955, at about 4:35 p.m.,
Robert Hyatt Red McDaniel should have been on top of the
world instead of leaping from the highest span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.
For the previous five years, the 44-year-old
native of Enumclaw, Washington, had collected more victories than any other
trainer in North America, was the first conditioner to win more than 200 races
in one season and had, just in the previous February, captured one of
Americas richest races at the time, the $100,000 Santa Anita Handicap,
with the Irish-bred *Poona II.
The people closest
to him, including his widow Evelyn, never could determine what drove McDaniel
to take his own life, and no suicide note was ever recovered.
McDaniels suicide stunned California racing
circles, like it must have stunned horse people everywhere, wrote Ken
Cochranton in the Daily Racing Form the day after McDaniels death.
Scores of friends had chatted with him earlier in the afternoon and found
him as quiet, retiring and smilingly pleasant as usual. They were dumb-founded
on hearing the report of his self-destruction so much so that that they
believed this tragic report was an error or canard until grim
confirmation forced its acceptance.
The Early Years
was in early teens, he left his parents dairy farm to become a jockey. He
rode his first winner in 1926 (age 15) at Willows Park, in Victoria, British
Columbia, and although he enjoyed moderate success, he was never a top rider
like his colleague future (1958) National Racing Hall of Famer Johnny Longden.
After he broke his leg in 1929, McDaniel retired
from the saddle. For the next three years he trained a small stable for
Vancouver, British Columbia, resident George Slater at Agua Caliente in Mexico.
After Slater sold his stable, McDaniel worked as a jockeys agent and as a
yearling trainer at Rancho San Luis Rey in California. As an agent, his clients
included top rider Noel Richardson, 2002 Hall of Fame inductee Jack Westrope
and Red Pollard of Seabiscuit fame.
returned to training as a full time job in 1938 and maintained a small stable
of mostly cheap claiming horses until the end of World War II. His knowledge of
the condition book began to attract an increasing amount of attention around
Renowned as a halter man, or
someone who primarily races claiming horses, McDaniel was often affectionately
referred to as the Red Raider, because of his red hair and frequent
pillaging of everyone elses barns.
was known for his remarkable ability to make stakes horses from claiming
horses, among his successes were: Stitch Again, who McDaniel claimed for
$5,000, earned $97,000 and was beaten a nose by Olhaverry in the 1947 Santa
Anita Handicap; Blue Reading, a $6,500 acquisition, who collected over
$185,000; and Stranglehold, who bankrolled nearly $275,000 after being claimed
by McDaniel for $7,500.
McDaniel had an
uncanny ability to improve his claims, noted racing author
and Daily Racing Form columnist Leon Rasmussen told John McEvoy in 1999.
He also had the rare ability to keep his stock going month in and month
out without them becoming jaded or track-weary. The man was an outstanding
horseman. This was even though McDaniel was a firm believer in
constant racing to keep horses in shape, according to backstretch author
McDaniels 1953 Record-breaking Year
From 1946 to 1949, William Molter, who triumphed in the
1954 Kentucky Derby with Determine and conditioned 1958 Horse of the Year Round
Table, won more races than any other North American trainer and led the
continent in purses earned in 1954, 1956, 1958 and 1959.
McDaniel wrested the first of five consecutive training
crowns from his close friend and 1960 Hall of Fame inductee when he saddled 156
winners in 1950. Only the legendary Hirsch Jacobs (seven) and H. Guy Bedwell
(six) have won more successive titles.
In 1953, he
became the first trainer in the world to win more than 200 races in one season,
with a final total of 211 victories, and he collected 206 more triumphs the
According to the 1954 The
American Racing Manual in their write-up Records of Leading
Trainers, the Arcadia, California-based trainer campaigned at six
California courses during 1953, and was the leading trainer at all of them. He
started with 33 wins at Santa Anita, then tacked on, in order, 44 at Tanforan,
22 at Hollywood, 37 at Del Mar, 35 at Golden Gate, 38 at Bay Meadows
where he first smashed fellow Californian William Molters 184 record mark
then reached and passed the magical 200 figure, and finished the season
at Santa Anita, which opened on December 26, with two winners. McDaniel drew a
blank only at Agua Caliente where he started but a few horses from his vast
The Shoe Connection
McDaniel credited William Shoemaker as one of the
reasons for his rise to prominence. McDaniel had been one of the first to
recognize Shoemakers ability, and Shoemaker did most of his early riding
on McDaniel horses.
In 1949, The Shoe
set a record with 52 wins at the Del Mar meet and became the first apprentice
to win that venues riding title. In 1950, the first year he regularly
rode for McDaniel, the 1958 Hall of Fame inductee tied for the most riding wins
with 388. 1951 was the only time during their five-year alliance that he did
not have the most wins or purse money.
McDaniel collected a new Del Mar record of 47 victories during one meet in
1954, Shoemaker was in the irons for 42 of them. Nearly five decades later,
Macs standard has not been bested.
If there is any formula to my success,
McDaniel once said, it has been due to studying the conditions of races,
running my horses where they belong and riding Willie Shoemaker.
The Hundred Granders
1940s, $100,000 races were a bit of a novelty and only a few tracks had the
means to offer stakes races valued at that magnitude. One of those tracks was
Santa Anita and it was there that McDaniel trainees earned victories in two of
the high-end races.
The first $100,000 success for
the McDaniel stable came via Apple Valley in 1954. The California-bred had
first served note of his class after coming from far off the pace to win the
$15,000 Del Mar Derby. A month into his next season, Apple Valley
skyrocketed himself into stardom on January 30 after scoring a
runaway victory in the Santa Anita Maturity, the richest race in the world for
After running second in Santa
Anitas Big Cap in 1947, McDaniel brought a four-horse entry
of *Poona II, *Star of the Forest, Ole Travis and James Session the
largest in stakes history for the 18th running of the renowned 10
furlong stakes in 1955. The best of these being the Irish-bred *Poona II, a son
of *Tudor Minstrel raced by Herman H. Helbush, a highly successful building
contractor and electronics entrepreneur. *Poona II had begun his four-year-old
campaign on January 15 by impressively winning the $25,000 San Fernando Stakes
in a world record time of 1:40 4/5 for 1 1/16 miles. Among those runners in his
wake were the good Calumet Farm filly Miz Clementine and 1954 Kentucky Derby
winner Determine. Less than a month before the San Fernando, *Poona II, who was
bred by H. H. Aga Khan and Prince Aly Khan, had set a new American record when
taking a 10 furlong allowance race at Santa Anita in 1:47 2/5. The Thoroughbred
Record, which featured *Poona II on the cover of their January 29, 1955, issue,
called the Irish-bred probably the most talked about horse on the
American turf today . . .
IIs five-length tally in the San Fernando, his price in the Caliente
future book on the Santa Anita Handicap was cut to two-to-one. Some of his
backers fell off the bandwagon after *Poona II finished a lagging fifth in the
nine furlong San Antonio Handicap, run just three weeks before Santa
Anitas marquee race, but on February 26, *Poona II, with Shoemaker aboard
for another flawless ride, scored a one length victory in the $104,300 Santa
Anita Handicap before a crowd of 52,500.
Hebert wrote in the March 5, 1955, issue of The Blood-Horse there
was genuine admiration in the slight trainers voice whenever he mentioned
*Poona II, who many were wondering if he was as good as fellow import
*Noor, who had been the nemesis of Citation. McDaniel would later openly
declare that *Poona II was the best horse he had ever handled. After the race,
McDaniel and Helbush announced one big objective for their record breaker, the
$65,000 Washington, D.C., International at Laurel in November. Unfortunately,
that was not to be.
though he was well-liked and respected by the majority of his peers, McDaniel
certainly was not immune to malicious gossip. Stories of various illegal (drug)
concoctions from foreign countries frequently traveled throughout the backside,
but no proof of wrong-doing ever surfaced.
Magic drugs, Robert L. Baird, a former
jockey and father of 2008 Kentucky Derby partici-pant E. T. Baird, told McEvoy.
What a bunch of baloney! He was one of the most watched guys in
California racing. And he just kept getting better, winning more races and
improving his stock each year.
tumbled to his death, he operated the largest public stable in North America
and was getting $10 per day for each horse in his barns in training fees. His
barns housed 68 head, involved 21 different owners, employed 38 men and
possessed a $125,000 payroll. It cost him more than $600 a day just to maintain
Financial concerns, however, were not
an issue. During his career, McDaniel won more than 1,100 races and $4 million
dollars and was in the process of purchasing financial stock in Bay Meadows and
Golden Gate Fields.
He was known on the backside
as a loner, but never had a problem handing out money to those in
Dont worry about when you can
pay it back, he was known to say. You probably need it more than I
After McDaniels shocking suicide,
people close to him began to examine his behavior for clues and admitted there
may have been some warning signs.
bleeding stomach ulcers, he was ill throughout nearly all of 1955 and although
McDaniel rarely drank alcohol because it aggravated his condition, his
consumption increased throughout the months preceding his demise.
On the day he died, McDaniel wanted two of his staff
members to deliver a large amount of money he had on his person to his wife
Evelyn at their home in San Mateo. When one of the employees offered to take
McDaniel home after the races so he could perform his transaction privately,
the trainer revealed he did not intend to go home.
Immediately after he hoisted Ralph Neves (1960 National
and 2003 Washington Racing Hall of Fame inductee) into Aptos saddle for
the sixth race, McDaniel left the paddock for the final time and guided his
1954 Cadillac to the tallest segment of the Bay Bridge. He parked in the
outside lane, moved resolutely to the railing and roughly 15 minutes after
Aptos won his race, hurled himself over.
of Fame trainer W.J. Buddy Hirsch was one of three men who were
privy to McDaniels final moments. Jacobs told Baird he recognized his
fellow horseman, but had no time to derail McDaniels plan because he
moved so fast, we didnt have a chance.
His body was recovered by the United States Coast Guard
nearly 25 minutes later and when the police searched his car, they found his
wallet along with $3,000 of uncashed mutual tickets in the front seat. More
than 50 years later, the reason R. H. McDaniel decided to leave this world
remains unidentified. The stress of working from dusk to dawn every day for
almost four decades could have finally taken its toll, but the only one who
knows for certain is the horseman himself, and hes certainly not talking.
In addition to his widow, McDaniel left two young
children; son, Terry Lee, 5, and daughter, Carole Ann, 4.
It will never be known what caused McDaniel to
end his own life at a time when, apparently, he had everything to live
for, wrote Jack Shettlesworth on May 28, 1955. Somewhere in the
Book which establishes the universal code under which men live in close
society, it says: Judge not lest ye be judged. So be it.
Pennsylvania resident Kimberly French is a freelance writer whose work
has appeared in Thoroughbred, Standardbred and Quarter Horse publications. She
also freelances as a production assistant for ESPNs horseracing
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