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Warren Wright, Sr.

Warren Wright, Sr.
Induction Year: 
2019
Born: 
Sept. 25, 1875, Springfield, Ohio
Died: 
Dec. 28, 1950, Miami, Fla.

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Bio

Born in Ohio and raised in Chicago, Warren Wright, Sr. became chairman of the Chicago-based Calumet Baking Power company in 1914, taking the reins from his father, William Monroe Wright, the company’s founder. The younger Wright led the Calumet company’s rise to remarkable prosperity, eventually selling it for $40 million in 1929 to the company that became General Foods.

 

Wright’s father began the family association with horses with a standardbred farm in Libertyville, Illinois, which he moved to Kentucky in 1924. Upon his father’s death in 1931, Wright converted the Lexington operation, which bore the Calumet name, from standardbreds to thoroughbreds. One of the sport’s most prolific dynasties was born. During Wright’s 20-year reign as the master of Calumet, the farm enjoyed a period of success unequalled in the 20th century. Calumet became the New York Yankees of thoroughbred racing.

 

Wright bred and raced 10 champions in Calumet’s famous devil’s red and blue colors: Triple Crown winners Whirlaway and Citation, as well as Nellie Flag, Mar-Kell, Twilight Tear, Armed, Bewitch, Coaltown, Two Lea, and Wistful.  An 11th champion bred, Real Delight, became a yearling soon after Wright’s death and was one of the many distinguished horses raced by Wright’s widow, Lucille.

 

During Wright’s time, Calumet bred a total of 73 stakes winners and matched Col. E. R. Bradley by winning the Kentucky Derby four times. Of the 10 champions, five were Horse of the Year in at least one voting poll, and eight are in the Hall of Fame. Calumet was the leading owner in money won seven times (1941, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949), the leader in races won three times (1942, 1947, 1948), and the leading breeder in earnings six times (1941, 1944, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950) with Wright at the helm of the operation.

 

The foundation of Calumet’s success can be traced to the sire Bull Lea, who entered stud at the farm in 1940. Bull Lea became the leading sire in North America five times and leading broodmare sire four times. His progeny included 58 stakes winners, six of which became Hall of Fame members: Armed, Twilight Tear, Bewitch, Citation, Coaltown, and Two Lea.

 

Another key to Calumet’s rise was Wright’s decision to hire trainer Ben Jones and his son, Jimmy, to condition the farm’s racehorses. Ben Jones became a four-time leading trainer by earnings and won nine Triple Crown races, while Jimmy was a five-time leading trainer by earnings and won seven Triple Crown races. Both were inducted into the Hall of Fame.  

 

With his Calumet operation humming along, Wright also played a role in the sport’s leadership. He was elected to The Jockey Club in 1937. Three years later, the Thoroughbred Club of America recognized Wright’s contributions to the game as its Honored Guest. He also partnered with owner John D. Hertz to purchase controlling interest of Chicago’s Arlington Park at a time when it had been reported notorious mobster Al Capone had designs on acquiring the track. A member of the American Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, Wright was also an early contributor to the Grayson Foundation, founded in 1940 to support equine research.

 

In 1947, Wright became the first owner to surpass $1 million in earnings in a single year when Calumet won 100 races from 262 starts, an incredible 38 percent win rate. The following year, Citation followed Whirlaway’s 1941 hoofprints as the farm’s second Triple Crown winner.

 

Wright began to suffer from an illness in 1948 and died at his home in Florida on Dec. 28, 1950 at the age of 75. Mrs. Wright assumed control of Calumet and the farm continued its success with her and Admiral Gene Markey, whom she married in 1952.

 

The Blood-Horse paid tribute to Wright having been “deeply conscious of the obligation of people within the sport to act, individually and collectively, as agents for the good will of the public. He made Calumet Farm into a small outlet for his own public relations program, and the thousands of visitors there were received with unfailing courtesy — until at last their increasing numbers obliged the owner reluctantly to close the gates at certain times of the week.”

 

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