He is one of the most towering Thoroughbreds the sport has ever known. You can call him consistent. You can call him dominant. You can call him a Triple Crown winner. Many will rightfully call him one of the greatest horses ever, and they would be right.
He was a warrior, always ready to take on the opposition. He handled them a lot of the time, but was still there even when he lost. Only once in his 45 career starts did he finish outside the top three, a remarkable showing of durability and class.
Most of his career took place in the East, but Southern California got to watch this grand horse in person several times. And in his finale, he did what no horse had in the history of the turf
Bred and owned by the powerful Calumet Farm, Citation was sired by Bull Lea, the outfit's cornerstone stallion, out of Hydroplane, by Hyperion. Interestingly, Citation had some Triple Crown blood in him from the start. He was a descendant of Gainsborough, who won the British Triple Crown in 1918, on his dam's side of the family tree. Looking back, that fact served as a foreshadowing of what was to come.
Trained by Jimmy Jones, the son of conditioner Ben Jones, "Big Cy" meant business from the beginning. Starting nine times as a juvenile, he won every race but one, finishing second in the Washington Futurity. Citation's 1947 season featured virtually everything one could ask from a racehorse. He won stakes; he was consistent; he won at five different tracks; he won on fast and off tracks; and won sprinting and routing. It was a smashing debut season, and it earned Citation a richly deserved honor as the year's Top 2-Year-Old Male.
As impressive as 1947 was for Citation, it turned out to be just a warm up for the strapping bay colt. In what is one of the truly greatest campaigns among 3-year-old Thoroughbreds of all time, the son of Bull Lea was a vitruoso in 1948. He went an astounding 19 for 20, at one point starting a 16-race winning streak (a new record), and finished second in his one defeat.
The major achievement that year was the Triple Crown, which Citation won with authority when he manhandled his foes in the Belmont Stakes by eight lengths. That gave both Calumet Farm and the Jones family their second Triple Crown of the decade after Ben guided Whirlaway's sweep in 1941.
Big Cy had won at nine tracks and over eleven different distances as a sophomore. Again, he won on fast surfaces and off tracks, and even captured the Jersey Derby at Garden State Park in between the Preakness and Belmont. It was also the year where the great Eddie Arcaro rode him for the first time, and the two teamed up to win a plethora of stakes and the Triple Crown, and to this day Arcaro is the only jockey to win racing's most elusive prize twice (his first came with Whirlaway).
It was at the end of Citation's 3-year-old campaign when he was sent out West. Competing at Tanforan in Northern California after giving the public a walkover in the Pimlico Special, he won both his starts at the San Bruno plant, highlighted by the Tanforan Handicap. From then on, Citation would race exclusively in California.
But, there was a wait before he raced again. Citation was found to have had an osselet, which kept him on the sidelines for all of 1949. He returned early in 1950, and though not the virtually unstoppable force he had been in 1947 and 1948, he was still amazingly consistent. There were wins, but Citation was finishing second far more often than he did before. Even so, the colt still won at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, adding to his stakes tally at the latter venue. It was also during this period that Citation met his greatest rival, Noor. The two went head-to-head five times in 1950, with Noor winning four of them in one of racing's most memorable rivalries.
Back at the races in 1951, Citation continued to pick up minor awards. For the first and only time, he experienced an off the board finish at Hollywood Park, taking fifth in the Premiere Handicap. But he was not done. The meet went much better after that.
Citation rebounded with a runner up effort in the Argonaut Handicap, then won his next two starts, the second of which came in the American Handicap. That set the stage for the biggest race the Track of the Lakes and Flowers had to offer: the Hollywood Gold Cup.
The story goes is that William Wright, the patriarch of Calumet Farm, wanted Big Cy to become Thoroughbred racing's first millionaire. Wright did not live to see that happen, but Citation was close to reaching the untouched amount when he was entered in the Gold Cup. By the time the 1 1/4 miles were run, Citation had broken the barrier. Harkening back to his 3-year-old season, Big Cy came up with one more win at 1 1/4 miles, becoming the first Triple Crown winner to win the Hollywood Gold Cup and the first Thoroughbred in history to earn over $1 million. He stood as the only member of that club until Nashua joined him later that decade.
With the money record now his, Citation was retired. He went on to stud, where he captured another Preakness when his son, Fabius, took the middle jewel in 1956. Interestingly, Fabius also emulated his father by winning the Derby Trial and Jersey Derby that same year. The champion also produced a champion, with Silver Spoon sharing Top 3-Year-Old Filly honors in 1959.
His record speaks for itself: 32 wins, 10 seconds, and 2 thirds in 45 career starts. While not as dominant as an older horse like he was in his first two seasons, Citation still ranks among racing's greatest winners and is one of its toughest and most consistent figures. Much loved during his racing days, Citation's stature in the pantheon of Thoroughbreds has only grown in the last seven deacdes. He went to the Hall of Fame in 1959, and exactly forty years later, the Blood-Horse named him the third greatest Thoroughbred of the 20th century on its top 100 list.
Though he left the world in 1970, Citation's natural prowess as a racehorse and his exceptional willpower to give the best effort possible has long since carried him into Thoroughbred immortality.