In honor of Preakness Week, we look back at one of the race’s historic winners from 1946, the improbable Triple Crown hero and “Little Chocolate Galloper,” Assault. Here’s one of our favorite quotes about his victory in the first leg of the Triple Crown: “Assault is the name, but he looked like Murder, Inc., today as he won the seventy-second running of the Kentucky Derby,” wrote Walter Haight for The Washington Post.
”Murder, Inc,” was an unlikely moniker for Assault, a small horse at 15.2 hands high who weighed in at less than one ton, but this “Club-Footed Comet” overcame serious injury to become a Triple Crown champion. As a foal, Assault split his right front hoof on a spike while in the Texas King Ranch pasture.
“Assault committed murder again in the Preakness today, just as he did in the Kentucky Derby last week,” Sid Feder wrote for the Associated Press in May 1946. “The club-footed comet from Texas turned on the steam after three quarters of a mile and hustled home a neck to the good in this richest race in history,”
Yet prior to the race, as the contenders filed out onto the Pimlico track for the post parade to the tune of “Maryland, My Maryland,” spectators may have balked at betting on Assault based on the looks of him. “With strips of tape on his left foreleg and right hind leg, he looked like an old inner tube,” Feder remarked.
It was the second-place finisher who was the looker—“The sleekest of the lot, in fact, was Lord Boswell, but then that’s only natural, because he runs for the Maine Chance Stable of Mrs. Elizabeth (Arden) Graham, the beauty treatment and mud-pack princess.” But this stunning colt was no match for Assault. “The sleek sturdy Lord Boswell was running clear all the way, and although he practically set fire to the stretch to come from next to last in the field of ten and run over the others to wind up second he wasn’t good enough to overhaul the Texas terror.”
Critics complained that Assault’s Preakness win by a neck “was scored in the practically milk-wagon time of 2:01 2/5.” With his Derby time being less than impressive as well (2:06 3/5), “Assault could have made it faster had he taken the subway, it is now fairly obvious that he is one of those haystokers who only runs as fast as he has to.”
This “kid from the wide open spaces”—another nickname we like of the many given to Assault—“proved to be a chip off the old block once more,” Feder wrote in reference to Assault’s sire Bold Venture, who had won both the Derby and the Preakness 10 years prior. “Unless [Assault] gets a sudden attack of measles, or some of the others come up with a new jet-propelled engine—he looks like death-and-taxes to become the seventh horse in the book to put that crown on his brown mane.”
The “Chocolate Champ” lived up to being as certain as “death-and-taxes,” doing his sire one better by seizing the Belmont Stakes and becoming the first—and still the only—Texas-bred Triple Crown winner.
Read more about Assault in the Turf History Times’ piece for American Racehorse, “Remembering a Texas Legend: Texas-bred Assault still attracts attention more than 70 years after his birth,” available online here.
Watch a video with footage of Assault’s Triple Crown victories here.