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Who Was Whirlaway?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 August 2016
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Whirlaway was an American racehorse who ran from 1940-1943, distinguishing himself on the track as a unusually temperamental powerhouse. In addition to winning 32 of 60 starts, Whirlaway also proved to be very capable at stud, producing a number of famous horses in the United States and Europe. The horse was a popular public figure in the 1940s, when many Americans followed horse racing to distract themselves from the shadow of the Second World War.

The chestnut horse was foaled in 1938 on a farm in Kentucky. From an early age, his promise as a racehorse was recognized, and he was trained by Ben Jones, who also trained the notable thoroughbred Citation. Whirlaway competed in a number of important races, such as the 1941 Triple Crown, which he won, along with the Travers Stakes, Brooklyn Handicap, and Pimlico Special. He was retired at age five, and lived at stud until 1953, when he passed away at the age of 15.

On the track, Whirlaway was a very distinctive horse. The stallion had a tendency to run all over the track when competing, especially if he was in the lead, and he seemed to bore easily. Frequently, Whirlaway would hang back in the field, overtaking the pack at the last minute. Whirlaway was also very temperamental off the track, and he preferred routine, kicking up temper tantrums at small changes in his daily schedule.

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The horse was nicknamed “Mr. Longtail” after his long, flowing tail which resembled a banner when he got up to speed on the track. Some observers compared Whirlaway's tail to a mocking banner, teasing the horses he raced against, especially when he fooled around on the track out of boredom. His erratic behavior on the track actually cost him several races, and ultimately his trainer dealt with the problem by fitting Whirlaway out with special blinkers, in the hopes that they would keep him focused.

In both 1941 and 1942, Whirlaway was honored with a Horse of the Year Award. In 1959, he was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame, in recognition of his accomplishments on the track and at stud. His unique behavior on the track certainly made him a memorable horse, especially when he went on to win a number of challenging distance races despite his attitude. Many Americans who follow horse racing consider Whirlaway among the top 50 thoroughbreds of the 20th century.

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