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Samuel C. Hildreth

Samuel C. Hildreth
Induction Year: 
May 16, 1866, Independence, Mo.
Sept. 24, 1929, New York City
Career Years: 

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Samuel Clay Hildreth, the youngest of Vincent and Mary Hildreth’s 10 children, enjoyed success as a trainer in the Midwest for owners Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin and Ed Corrigan before moving to New York in 1898 to work for William Collins Whitney. Hildreth’s path to the top of the sport became an interesting journey.


Hildreth was an immediate sensation training for Whitney and others in New York. His first major victory was in the 1899 Belmont Stakes with Jean Bereaud, who was owned by Whitney but campaigned by Sydney Paget. Hildreth’s association with Whitney, however, was brief, as was his initial stay in New York. In the spring of 1900, Hildreth got into a wild brawl with fellow trainer John E. Madden in the paddock at Morris Park, which led to an embarrassed Whitney dismissing Hildreth as his trainer and blackballing him in New York.


Fearing risk of Whitney’s disfavor, most prominent owners stayed away from hiring Hildreth for several years. Instead of success on the big stage in New York, Hildreth was forced to train in places such as Chicago and New Orleans and slowly build his business.


When Whitney died in 1904, Hildreth was able to return to the New York and establish himself as one of the sport’s top trainers. He won his second Belmont in 1909 with a horse he owned named Joe Madden. Hildreth then registered back-to-back victories in the Belmont in 1916 (Friar Rock) and 1917 (Hourless), both of whom were owned by August Belmont II. In 1921, Hildreth won the Belmont with Grey Lag, a horse he owned in partnership with Harry Sinclair’s Rancocas Stables. Hildreth again won consecutive editions of the Belmont in 1923 (Zev) and 1924 (Mad Play). Hildreth owned Zev and Mad Play was campaigned by Rancocas. Hildreth’s seven wins in the Belmont are second all time to James Rowe’s eight.


Along with a victory in the Belmont, Zev provided Hildreth with a win in a significant match race Oct. 20, 1923. At Belmont Park, Zev defeated Epsom Derby winner Papyrus by five lengths before a crowd of more than 50,000. Zev retired after racing in 1924 with the highest purse earning ($313,630) in American history, surpassing the previous mark owned by Man o’ War. 


America’s leading trainer in earnings nine times, Hildreth also topped the standings in wins twice and was the country’s leading owner in earnings three times. Along with his seven victories in the Belmont, Hildreth won seven editions of the Brooklyn Handicap and five runnings of both the Suburban and Metropolitan handicaps, among others.


Hildreth got sick during the 1929 Saratoga meeting and was forced to return to his home in Trenton, N.J. It was already a somber time for racing, as Rowe died in early August.


“Everything on the racetrack is changing,” Hildreth said in a contemporary account. “Jimmy Rowe is gone and I am going. Saratoga will never see me again.”


Hildreth was right. Less than two months after Rowe passed, Hildreth died at the age of 63 in late September 1929. He was buried a short distance from Saratoga Race Course at Greenridge Cemetery.