Most American horse racing fans focus on the annual spring Triple Crown races, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
Except for the cigar-chewing wiseguys who think they can beat the system every day, most of the other rest-of-the-year attendees don’t realize Gulfstream Park is located in Hollywood, Fla., not Hollywood, Calif.
Or that horse breeding, not college basketball, is the No. 1 sport in Lexington, Ky.
The average horse player gets revved up when a 3-year-old appears on the scene that just might be capable of sweeping those three special stakes races in May and June.
They understand it is an extraordinary achievement for a thoroughbred to be crowned a Triple Crown champion, but how many of them can name all those winners without internet search cheating?
If you are from Kentucky, Baltimore or New York, the odds are more likely to be on your side. But less so if you are a Cowboy from Wyoming.
Just walking down Sheridan Avenue in Cody and randomly selecting 10 residents, it would be surprising if one could tell you the name of the first of just 13 horses to win the Triple Crown and what his name was.
Never mind that the animal is actually honored and buried in Wyoming.
The answer to the trivia question is Sir Barton and 2019 is the 100th anniversary of Sir Barton’s year in the sunshine.
Recently, Big Horn Cinemas had a one-night showing of the new documentary “Born To Rein.” The film examines the life of Sir Barton, a key jockey, Johnny Lotfus, and trainers and owners with ties to Western Nebraska and Eastern Wyoming, which led to the famous horse being buried in Douglas.
Melody Dobson and Jody Lamp are co-producers. Dobson visited Cody and appeared with the film, answering audience questions and offering background on its characters.
Some research for this project dates to 2009, which more than anything illustrates how challenging making any kind of documentary can be. Unlike big budget Hollywood (the California one) flicks funded by large studios with bankrolls that allow for the hiring of famous actors and major marketing campaigns, documentary-making can be a hand-to-mouth existence.
The film not only highlights Sir Barton’s rise, but his human connections, several of whom were legendary in the horse racing world, including a few generations of Van Bergs, starting with Marion, his son Jack, both Hall of Famers, and Jack’s son Tom.
Plus, there was John Nerud, a trainer first and breeder at Tartan Farms in Florida for longer.
A who’s who of horse racing figures figured into the documentary, including Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas, Carl Nafzger, Bill Mott, Gary Stevens and Pat Day. All have been prominent at Churchill Downs and in the Triple Crown series.
When quizzed about her favorite horse, Dobson paused.
“Sir Barton,” she said at first. “I want him to be because back in 1919 he was America’s favorite.”
But American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown winner, stirred her emotions, as did Unbridled, the 1990 Kentucky Derby winner for Nafzger.
He was observed on camera solicitously narrating the victory to 92-year-old owner Frances Gentner because of her diminishing eyesight in an unforgettable television scene.
“Born to Rein” is lovingly made and brings to life a lost period of racing and a sports story that has been comparatively overlooked. As Dobson noted, Sir Barton thrilled the country a hundred years ago.
Sir Barton retired to stud in 1921 and in 1932 became part of the U.S. Army Remount Service, first in Virginia and then in Nebraska.
Douglas rancher J.R. Hylton acquired Sir Barton and moved him to his Wyoming ranch where he died of colic in 1937.
Originally, Sir Barton was buried at the foothills of the Laramie Mountains, but then the Douglas community, spurred by Gordon Turner, obtained Sir Barton’s remains and the horse was reburied in Washington Park where a memorial to his racing achievements was erected.
Maybe not to the same degree as he was at the height of his accomplishments and fame in 1919, but a century later Sir Barton is still a tourist attraction.