It was natural to think of the Middle Ages upon hearing his name. He embodied the qualities of a knight, showing bravery and fierceness when he competed. He was also durable and tough, earning respect for his achievements year after year. When he retired after sixty-six starts, he earned his status as a legend of Thoroughbred racing, and quite possibly the greatest when it came to running on the grass.
A son of Princequillo (later to be the damsire of Secretariat) and Knight's Daughter, Round Table crafted a career that was really a tale of two halves. The first phase began in the winter of 1956. He won second time out, graduating at Keeneland, after finishing off the board in his debut at Hialeah. The rest of the year proved productive, for he won multiple stakes and was second in the majority of his starts as a juvenile. He had his fair share of traveling that year, too, going to Arlington and Washington Park as well.
Touring the United States was a constant for the bay horse when he turned three. He visited Florida, California and Kentucky in preparation for the 1957 Kentucky Derby, winning the Bay Meadows Derby and Blue Grass Stakes before taking third in the Run for the Roses. He finished behind Iron Liege and Bold Ruler (the latter of whom was born on the same day as Round Table in 1954). One of the most significant races of Round Table's story during that period was the Santa Anita Derby. He did not win that race, but he experienced a change of barns, going from Moody Jolley's stable to William Molter's. The winner of multiple training titles at the Southern California tracks, Molter was known for training the California-bred stakes winner Imbros and 1954 Kentucky Derby champion Determine. As time would show, Round Table would easily turn into the best horse Molter ever conditioned.
Now owned by Travis Kerr (after being owned by Claiborne Farm), Round Table became part of the Southern California circuit, and he wasted little time in making his presence known. After a second in the Californian to follow up his Kentucky Derby effort, the bay colt was almost unstoppable for the rest of 1957. Of the remaining thirteen starts he had that year, Round Table won twelve of them, with the Hollywood Gold Cup, American Derby and United Nations Handicap among his victories as a sophomore. He also issued a forshadowing during late summer: the American Derby and United Nations Handicap were among three straight victories on turf for Round Table. Those were his first experiences on the grass, and the results gave him Top Grass Horse honors for the year.
As everyone would discover, however, that trio of races proved to be just a small offering of what would follow later on.
In a sense, Round Table's 1958 campaign commenced in 1957. He won the Malibu Sequet at Santa Anita in his three-year-old finale. The San Fernando came next, and finally the Santa Anita Maturity (later to be called the Charles H. Strub Stakes). That gave Round Table the distinction of becoming the first horse to win what would later be known as the Strub Series, which highlighted a horse's versatility at sprinting, middle distance and routing contests. The crowning achievement for the meet was saved for last, though. Building off that sweep, Round Table took the San Antonio Handicap before adding the Santa Anita Handicap to his resume.
While going undefeated at Santa Anita and winning those high-profile stakes was impressive enough, Round Table's accomplishment still stands by itself well into the 21st century. No other horse ever won those five stakes in the same season, and with the Strub Series now defunct, it is unlikely anyone will equal that feat.
While Round Table was a terrific horse when racing on dirt, he is best and understandably remembered for his amazing prowess on the turf. This really comprises the second half of Round Table's career, for most of his turf races came in that time. Of his sixteen starts on the grass, thirteen of them came after the spring of 1958, well into his four-year-old campaign.
Putting Round Table on the green turned out to be golden. In six starts on turf during 1958, Round Table took the winner's purse five times. As he did earlier in his career, he traveled throughout the country, adding turf stakes like the Arch Ward and Arlington Handicaps as his reputation grew. That reputation consisted not just of talent, but of durability. Round Table went to the races twenty times as a four-year-old, and he came in third or better in all but two of them. That gave him the year-end awards for Handicap and Grass Horse as well as Horse of the Year in a tour de force campaign.
Indeed, Round Table showed what he was capable of throughout the whole season. The Santa Anita sweep alone saw him win at four different distances, and he navigated six overall en route to victory. He won on dirt and turf, and visted the winners' circle at eight different tracks. One of those was outside the United States, too. Round Table traveled down to Mexico's Agua Caliente racetrack and took the venue's biggest race, the Agua Caliente Handicap at one mile. The whole year, for all intents and purposes, was stunning.
The 1959 season saw Round Table flash that impressive consistency that was a hallmark of the previous two seasons. While he did not compete in as many races as he did the year before, he was a busy horse nonetheless. He went to the starting gate fourteen times, winning nine of them. Again, he was almost invinicble on turf, taking five of six starts on the grass at four different tracks. That included a successful defense of the Arlington Handicap along with another United Nations Handicap. And the rest of the season? He was just fine on main tracks, getting first place in the Citation, Washington Park and Manhattan Hanidcaps, among others./p>
After a second in the 1959 Jockey Club Gold Cup, Round Table was retired after an outstanding career that saw him win forty-three of sixty-six races. Of the remaining twenty-three starts, he was second or third in thirteen of them. And he left the races as the top earning racehorse of all time, one of the first to break the million dollar barrier, and owner or co-owner of no less than fourteen track records, including two American records and a world record. While Horse of the Year eluded him in his farewell season, Round Table was a co-winner of the Handicap Horse award and earned his third consecutive trophy as Top Grass Horse in a highly decorated career.
Amazingly enough, Round Table had even more success after racing. Heading off to the breeding shed, Round Table transformed into a mighty stallion. He is credited with over eighty stakes winners, and among the horses in that category are Drumtop, King Pellinore, and King's Bishop (who interestingly won the 1972 Round Table Handicap at Arlington). Round Table also sired He's a Smoothie, a Canadian horse who captured multiple divisional awards and Horse of the Year in Canada between the 1966 and 1968 seasons.
He found himself ranked number one on the American general sire list in 1972 (and was a member of the list's top ten on several occasions), and reached the top ten on the American broodmare sire list several times, but Round Table's strength as a stallion was not limited to North America. He was also known on an international scale, getting into the top five on some English/Irish general sire lists and in the top ten in both an English/Irish broodmare sire list and French general sire list during his time as a stallion. And while Round Table never won a Triple Crown race, one of his descendants captured all three in the series. Twenty years after Round Table finished third in the Kentucky Derby, Seattle Slew swept that race, the Preakness and Belmont.
Just as he had staying power when he raced, Round Table had staying power in retirment, living to the age of 33. He passed in the summer of 1987, and is buried at Claiborne Farm, who bred him and initially owned him back in the 1950s.
Still considered one of the all-time greats in Thoroughbred racing, Round Table's legend looms large. He is arguably the greatest turf horse of all time, and one of the toughest and most durable. There was very little he could not do. He liked sprinting and routing, could outdistance his rivals or prevail by the slimmest of margins, win while carrying serious weight (he won sixteen races carrying 130 or more pounds, and one while hauling an astounding 136), and proved himself skillful at a plethora of racetracks. And he has a special place in Southern California for his accomplishments at both Hollywood Park and Santa Anita.
If one goes to the latter venue, they will find under the grandstand area a giant tribute to him that commemorates his Strub Series sweep and Big 'Cap win over the course of the 1957-58 season. When patrons visit Santa Anita, they get a glimpse of one of the very best and what he did in front of thousands all those years ago.
He is still thought of with reverence more than sixty years after retirement, but that is not enough to describe the son of Princequillo. Actually, neither is calling him a legend, though he is very much one. No, Round Table is among the few that reached the realm of immortality. Much like how the stories of knights have been passed down over generations, future racing fans will in time learn of the gallant and regal Round Table.
Round Table and Bold Ruler born on same day: Hunter, Avalyn. "Round Table." American Classic Pedigrees, http://www.americanclassicpedigrees.com/round-table.html
Round Table's fourteen track records: Conway, Terry. "Round Table: Champion on the Turf," America's Best Racing, July 13, 2020. https://www.americasbestracing.net/the-sport/2020-round-table-champion-the-turf
Round Table's stallion information: Hunter, Avalyn. "Round Table." American Classic Pedigrees, http://www.americanclassicpedigrees.com/round-table.html