Two different Amsterdam industrialists owned Kentucky Derby winners.
A horse named George Smith owned by Amsterdam carpet mill executive John Sanford won the 1916 Kentucky Derby. The trainer was Hall of Fame member Ollie Hughes, and the jockey was Johnny Loftus.
The Sanfords of Amsterdam operated one of the city’s largest factories. John Sanford’s father Stephen also founded the family’s horse farm. An organization called Friends of the Sanford Stud Farm is working today to preserve two barns remaining from the once massive farm on Route 30.
John Sanford had not bred the Kentucky Derby winner but purchased the horse in 1915. The animal was named for American gambler and pioneer racing handicapper George Elsworth Smith, who had died in 1905 from tuberculosis.
In the Derby, George Smith won by a neck over Star Hawk on a clear day. George Smith won some other races and was used for stud at the Amsterdam farm, producing no famous offspring. Sanford donated the horse to the Jockey Club’s Breeding Bureau in 1926, and George Smith ultimately ended up siring horses for the U.S. Army.
In 1929, an Amsterdam-owned gelding named Clyde Van Dusen, ridden by Linus “Pony” McAtee, won the Kentucky Derby, beating 20 other horses on a muddy track. Clyde van Dusen took the lead and never lost it. Naishapur was second and Panchio was third. The next gelding to win the Derby was Saratoga’s Funny Cide in 2003.
Amsterdam broom mill proprietor Herbert Gardner owned Clyde Van Dusen. Brothers William and Herbert Gardner worked for the Blood family’s broom shop in Amsterdam and went out on their own in 1893.
The Gardner Broom Company near the Chuctanunda Creek employed 250 hands in 1941 and was turning out 9,000 long-handled sweepers a day, according to historian Hugh Donlon. William Gardner also was a three-term mayor of Amsterdam.
Herbert Gardner lived at 301 Guy Park Ave. and had a local horse track, off Golf Course Road in the town of Amsterdam, behind the current location of the Fort Johnson fire station. Aerial photos were taken by amateur pilot and Amsterdam firefighter Bill Armstrong in 1961 showing the Gardner farm and its unusual raised racetrack. The Gardner racetrack no longer exists.
Clyde Van Dusen — first son of Man o’ War — was named for his trainer. Gardner’s horses usually were boarded and trained at Clyde Van Dusen’s Few Acres Farm near Lexington, Ky. Van Dusen, a former jockey, was quoted in newspaper accounts as saying, “Clyde is a little horse, and that is why Mr. Gardner named him after me.”
Gardner was in Amsterdam when his horse won the Derby, telling a reporter, “In 1916, you recall, George Smith carried the colors of the Sanford Stable to victory in this renowned stake, and it would please me immensely to bring a second Kentucky Derby to Amsterdam.”
After the Derby, the little horse never won another stakes race.
In the 1930s, trainer Van Dusen left Gardner to train horses for other owners in Kentucky. His horse Sweep All was second to Twenty Grand in the 1931 Kentucky Derby. In 1939, Van Dusen became trainer at the California stable of MGM movie studio boss Louis B. Mayer. Van Dusen was top trainer at Santa Anita Park in 1941, the first trainer to saddle four winners on a single card that year.
Also in 1941, man and horse Clyde Van Dusen were reunited in California. Van Dusen used the horse as an exercise pony. The animal was euthanized in about 1948 at age 22. Clyde Van Dusen, the man, died in Beverly Hills, Calif., of a heart attack at age 65 in 1951.
Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact Bob Cudmore at 346-6657 or email@example.com.