Before he was named the Champion Three-Year-Old Male of 1938, this charge of trainer Earl Sande entered the season without a win to his name. But as the old saying goes, what a difference a year makes. And the first part of that year saw Stagehand make his mark in California.
A son of two-time leading North American sire Sickle and bred by Eastern racing giant Joseph E. Widener, Stagehand's first year at the races yielded little to speak of. Based in New York, he divided his time between the Empire City Race Track (now Yonkers Raceway), Saratoga and Belmont Park. with a trio of minor awards being the highlight. But his schedule that year featured some common themes. First, every one of Stagehand's eight appearances came in sprints. Second, he frequently ran well off the pace. And third, he rallied late and made up lengths before the wire.
All of that seemed to indicate Stagehand would benefit from going longer, and he would get his chance. But first, he experienced a change of scenery.
Moving cross-country from New York to California, Stagehand took part in the 1938 Santa Anita winter meet. He would reunite with a jockey named Jack Westrope, who rode him briefly in the early portion of his career. It was with Westrope that Stagehand would experience his greatest successes.
Santa Anita went well for Stagehand right from the start--literally. After a second place showing going seven furlongs on New Year's Day, Stagehand finally received his opportunity at routing. And what happened next was a complete form reversal.
No one could stop Stagehand for the rest of the meet. He built a five-race winning streak, with each start consisting of a mile or longer. He saved the best for last as he became the only horse to win both the Santa Anita Derby and Handicap in the same year. Moreover, he finished the Big 'Cap in 2:01 3/5, which was at that point the fastest running time in the event's young history, and he set that mark while nosing out the legendary Seabsicuit, who was by far the most popular horse in the country. The upset also gave Stagehand the distinction of being the first and only three-year-old to win Santa Anita's most prestigious event.
Stagehand never raced in California again following the Big 'Cap, nor did he go back to sprinting. He and the connections headed back across America as they set their sights on the Kentucky Derby. After a third in the Derby Trial, Stagehand was scratched from the big race due to a fever, but returned to the races by summer. The rest of the year went largely well, with Stagehand finishing in the top three in most of his starts. He showed he could take his race with him, too, for he came from several lengths down to prevail in no less than three stakes, with the Empire City Handicap and Narragansett Special among them.
Every single win came going a mile and one-eighth or longer, and Stagehand's record for the year stood at eight victories, two seconds and three thirds in fifteen starts. It was the mirror opposite of his freshman campaign, and turf pundits knew it. After going winless in 1937, Stagehand went from maiden to champion as he took top three-year-old honors for his highly productive season.
Following one more stakes win in 1939, Stagehand took third in Hialeah's Widener Handicap (named in honor of his owner) before retiring with a record of nine wins, three seconds and six thirds in twenty-five starts. He went on to be a stallion in Kentucky and later California. He was not a prolific sire in terms of quantity or quality, however. According to American Classic Pedigrees, Stagehand fathered a total of 160 named foals, with 102 of them victorious. Only three of them reached the level of stakes winner.
Stagehand lived until the age of seventeen. He was in California at the time, stationed at Pacoima's Starlet Farm when he reportedly had a heart attack in 1952. Though he has not been around for many years, he lives on in racing history. He lives on because he was a champion three-year-old, and he lives on because of his unique status with the Santa Anita Derby and Handicap.
And because of his time out here in 1938, Stagehand made himself a racing legend in the Golden State.