You never know where a nugget of information might begin and this one comes from Joe Clancy Sr., father of two-thirds of the team behind thisishorseracing.com, whose grasp of racing history starts far earlier than the racing history of his offspring.
Two weeks ago, I questioned the heretofore accepted fact that Jonathan Sheppard and Sidney Watters Jr. were the only two people to train American champions on the flat and over jumps – adding Peter Howe (1972 jump champion Soothsayer and 1976 older filly/mare champion Proud Delta) and James E. Ryan (1949 sprint champion Royal Governor and 1953 jump champion The Mast) to the list.
Another trainer, Morris Dixon, belonged in the club as well – or so I thought. Every historic list I could find listed Dixon as the trainer of 1952 steeplechase champion Jam and 1947 sprint champion Polynesian. The latter also won the 1945 Preakness Stakes, giving Dixon the rare distinction of training a classic winner, a steeplechase champion and a flat champion. Of course, Papa Joe (as his grandkids call him) threw cold water on that claim with a phone call this week. It seems that Dixon’s son, Morris Jr., trained Jam – the fact confirmed by some further deep dives into various books around the office. Somewhere along the line, possibly in 1996, the Jr. got dropped from the champions listing for 1952.
So the trainer-of-champions-on-the-flat-and-over-jumps list lost a member. Of course, the list of people to train a flat champion, train a classic winner and sire the trainer of a jump champion gained one.
Both Dixons were successful trainers, though the father was something of a Mid-Atlantic legend thanks to Polynesian and dozens of other successful runners on the flat and over jumps. Based on his farm in Pennsylvania, Morris “Pop” Dixon won the NSA training title in 1950 and his early stable included horses owned by Charlotte Dorrance Wright and the Widener family. Over jumps, Dixon won the Temple Gwathmey with Adaptable and Iron Shot and trained major winner Balustrade. Later, his top horses included Castlebar II, Master Irish II (my favorite steeplechase horse as a kid), Tib’s Eve and others on the jump circuit. Dixon was equally adept on the flat, even beyond Polynesian. His 1970s stable star Grey Beret ran 103 times, winning 22 and earning $386,241 with two graded stakes wins. He ran in Delaware Park’s Donald P. Ross Handicap five years in a row (winning in 1976, finishing second in 1977 and 1980) and made four starts in the William du Pont Jr. at Delaware (winning in 1979). Sea Dahlia, a granddaughter of Polynesian, won a dozen races and placed in a graded stakes.
So, four – not five – people trained American champions on the flat and over jumps though we’re still trying to sort out one more potential member of the club. Rouge Dragon, the 1944 steeplechase champion, raced for W.G. Jones and (according to some published sources) Hirsch Jacobs. If it’s Jacobs, he was also the trainer behind flat champions Stymie, Personality, Affectionally and Hail To Reason.
Dad came up empty.