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William Lakeland

William Lakeland
Induction Year: 
1853, Manchester, England
Feb. 4, 1914, New York City
Career Years: 

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William “Billy” Lakeland didn’t seem destined for great success and national acclaim while growing up. Born in 1853 in Manchester, England, Lakeland’s family arrived in America a decade later and settled in Paterson, N.J. Possessing only a rudimentary education because he was sent to work in a cotton mill to help his struggling family make ends meet, Lakeland’s prospects seemed limited.


Then he found his way to the racetrack — and his calling in life. Lakeland got his foot in the door working in the horse stalls at the old Passaic track in New Jersey and quickly became an exercise rider for Capt. William Cottrill’s prominent stable.


Lakeland started riding in races in 1869 and developed a reputation as one of the finest young jockeys in America. He traveled throughout the country, winning several notable events. In California, Lakeland rode Wildidle to victory against Grinstead at four miles in the Wise Plate. His biggest victory in California was a stake at four-mile heats for $30,000 aboard Foster at San Francisco for Capt. T. G. Moore. As a jockey, Lakeland also owns the distinction of winning the first race ever contested at Churchill Downs, a $300 purse aboard Bonaventure on May 17, 1875. The next race in the card was the inaugural Kentucky Derby, but Lakeland’s mount, Ascension, was out of the money.


It was around that time that Lakeland started to become too heavy for flat racing. He rode some steeplechasers for a while and began to transition into training. Lakeland started buying his own horses to train while also working for other owners.


Lakeland’s top owners included prominent sportsmen James R. Keene and Marcus Daly. For Keene, Lakeland trained one of the greatest horses of the 19th century, Domino. Known as “The Black Whirlwind,” Domino won all nine of his starts as a 2-year-old in 1893 and earned $170,790, which easily bested the record career mark of $139,917 established by Kingston, which was earned in 138 starts. Domino’s wins that year included the Great Eclipse Stakes, Futurity Stakes (the richest race of the year with a purse of $48,910, drawing 19 runners), Great American Stakes, Great Trial Stakes, Hyde Park Stakes, Matron Stakes and Produce Stakes. In the Matron, at Morris Park, Domino set a new American record of 1:09 flat for six furlongs.


Domino began his 3-year-old campaign in 1894 with a victory over Belmont Stakes winner Henry of Navarre in the Withers Mile to stretch his win streak to 10. Domino won five of his next seven races, including a dead heat in a match race with Henry of Navarre before a crowd of 20,000 at Sheepshead Bay. Along with his win in the Withers, Domino won the Flying Stakes (setting a track record under 130 pounds), Culver Stakes, Ocean Handicap and Third Special.


Domino returned to the races as a 4-year-old in 1895, winning the Coney Island Handicap and Sheepshead Bay Handicap. He was retired later in the year because of a bad foot. From 25 career starts, Domino posted a record of 19-2-1 and earnings of $193,550. His career earnings mark stood until Man o’ War surpassed it in 1920 and his juvenile season earnings of $170,790 remained the standard for 38 years until Top Flight came along in 1931. Domino was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955.


Three years after Domino’s retirement, Lakeland took over the conditioning of Hamburg for the great colt’s 3-year-old campaign for Daly, who purchased the horse for a record $40,001. After finishing third in the Belmont Stakes in his first start of the year, Hamburg easily won the Spring Special and Swift Stakes before defeating Kentucky Derby winner Plaudit in the 1⅝-mile Lawrence Realization by two lengths. Hamburg then delivered a virtuoso performance in the 2¼-mile Brighton Cup against an accomplished field of older horses. Hamburg was sent to the lead early and cruised to an easy win, defeating Ogden, the 1896 Futurity winner, and Brooklyn Handicap winner Howard Mann. Hamburg was retired after the Brighton Cup victory with a career mark of 16-3-2 from 21 starts and earnings of $60,380. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986.


Based on available records, Lakeland won 110 stakes races between 1878 and 1908. He won the Coney Island Handicap four times, the Futurity three times and the Metropolitan Handicap, Brooklyn Handicap, Brighton Cup and Matron twice each. Lakeland also won the 1894 Preakness Stakes with Assignee.


In an era when stamina and durability were essential for thoroughbreds, Lakeland was famous for sending some of his horses out to race — and often win — multiple times on the same card. One of Lakeland’s horses, Little Reb, once achieved the incredible feat of winning three races on a single card and two more the following day.


An account from the 1898 book “The American Turf” said of Lakeland: “Probably no trainer in the country enjoys greater or more deserved popularity than Mr. William Lakeland. Nor, if results be the test, is there any man in racing circles of the present era whose professional knowledge, whether applied on his own behalf as an owner, or in connection with the great establishments of our modern turf magnates, has been more practical and successful. He is a representative of what perseverance and integrity can accomplish. Added to profound knowledge of horses, their nature and capabilities, he possesses an acquaintance with the respect for the best traditions of racing.”