The victory of Instant Coffee (by Bolt d’Oro) in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds brings more than hopes of classic glory to the talented colt. It also reminds us of the fast and furious rivalry between Lecomte and Lexington, both sons of the great 19th-century American racehorse and sire Boston (Timoleon).
Lecomte and Lexington were foaled in 1850, the year that California entered the Union, and each was a racehorse of very high quality. Lecomte was unbeaten until his defeat by Lexington, and Lexington met his first and only defeat from Lecomte.
Lexington won the Great State Post Stakes from Lecomte, then the latter turned the tables in the 1854 Jockey Club Purse. At these races, the interstate rivalry was so intense that tens of thousands of dollars, probably hundreds of thousands, changed hands on the results. The deciding race was the 1855 Jockey Club Purse, when Lexington won the first four-mile heat and Lecomte was withdrawn from the second.
After Lexington had defeated Lecomte the second time, the bay son of Boston was retired due to failing eyesight and went to stud that year in Kentucky at W.F. Harper’s stud near Midway, Ky., for a covering fee of $100, $1 to the groom. Robert A. Alexander of Woodburn Farm had gone to England to purchase bloodstock, there met Lexington’s owner Richard Ten Broeck, and purchased the horse for $15,000, an American record price for a horse at that time.
As talented a racer as Lexington was, he proved even more important as a sire. He was the leading sire in the country 14 times in a row, with an additional two more sire titles for 16 total. The great blind stallion died at Woodburn in July 1875 at the age of 25, and his skeleton was preserved and is at the Kentucky Horse Park.
An interesting facet of Instant Coffee’s pedigree is that both these great rivals figure in the pedigree of the Lecomte Stakes winner.
The role of Lexington is not a surprise. He is present in essentially all pedigrees. Among other notable connections, Lexington is the sire of 1865 Travers winner Maiden, the sixth dam of Nearco (Pharis), and Mumtaz Mahal (The Tetrarch) has Lexington twice in her sixth generation because her second dam, Americus Girl, is by Americus, who was inbred 3×3 to Lexington through Norfolk and his full sister The Nun.
So Lexington is pervasive in pedigrees the world over, but the same cannot be said for Lecomte.
After Lexington ambled off to stud, the chestnut Lecomte raced on, although he, like his sire Boston, covered mares while still remaining an active racer. Lecomte was bred in 1855 and 1856, then after defeats from a horse named Pryor (Glencoe), was sold to Lexington’s former owner Richard Ten Broeck toward the end of 1856.
From breeder-owner Thomas Jefferson Wells, Ten Broeck purchased not only Lecomte for $10,000 but also his younger half-sister Prioress (Sovereign). Together with Pryor, the two offspring of the great producer Reel shipped to England as Ten Broeck’s troika to take on the best of English racing.
For Pryor and Lecomte, the trip was a disaster. Lecomte had a sore ankle and could not stand a proper training regimen; Pryor fell ill on the trip overseas and never recovered his form. Lecomte suffered colic and died on Oct. 7, 1857, and Pryor died 15 days later, per their obituaries in the Spirit of the Times.
The sole bright spot for this tragic expedition was that Prioress raced into a triple dead heat for the 1857 Cambridgeshire Handicap and won the run-off.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the final foals by Lecomte had been born in 1857. The best racer among these was bred in Kentucky by Ten Broeck. He was a bay colt out of Alice Carneal (Sarpedon) and a half-brother to Lexington by his great rival.
Named Umpire, this colt was taken to England by Ten Broeck, and he was notably successful, at one time the actual favorite for the Derby at Epsom. On the day, Umpire started as third choice 6-1 behind The Wizard, who had won the 1860 2,000 Guineas, and Thormanby. The bettors had the first two tagged but in the wrong order, as Thormanby won by 1 ½ lengths, and Umpire was seventh in a field of 30.
Later in 1860, Umpire raced for the St. Leger at Doncaster, with Thormanby favored, but after taking the lead, Umpire could not hold on and finished seventh behind the winner, St. Albans, as the fifth choice in a field of 15. Thormanby finished 11th.
Sound and athletic, Umpire raced on, winning the Queen’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1863, by which time he was owned by Lord Coventry.
Sent to stud, Umpire had some foals, and his son Decider earned a place in history as the sire of one of the best-named winners of the Grand National at Aintree: Wild Man From Borneo, the victor in the great steeplechase in 1895.
In the present day, however, pride of place goes to one of Lecomte’s daughters. This is the Lecomte Mare 1857 out of Edith, otherwise unnamed. She was bred by Wells and is the 15th dam of this year’s Lecomte Stakes winner Instant Coffee.
As with Instant Coffee, nearly all of the contemporary connections to Lecomte come through the Lecomte Mare’s granddaughter Mannie Gray, the dam of Correction and her full brother Domino. Together, they exerted an extraordinary influence on American breeding, especially in the first half of the 20th century, but are still present in pedigrees today.