Kauai King blossomed during the spring of his 3-year-old season in 1966, and over a span of six weeks went from first-time stakes winner to taking the first two legs of the Triple Crown. He remains the only Maryland-bred to officially win the Kentucky Derby.
Bred by Virginian Dr. Frank O’Keefe’s Pine Brook Farm, Kauai King was born at Sagamore Farm, the home to his classic-winning sire Native Dancer, when his dam, the aging stakes producer Sweep In, was there to be bred back to Globemaster. A daughter of *Blenheim II, she was 21 when she produced Kauai King in April 1963.
O’Keefe consigned the bay colt to the following summer’s Saratoga Yearling Sales, where he was purchased by Tom Gentry on behalf of Nebraskan Mike Ford for $42,000.
Named for one of the Hawaiian islands, Kauai King was stakes-placed at 2 from four starts and made $6,120. He opened his campaign at 3 with two allowance scores in impressive fashion at Hialeah, and headed for stakes competition. He was second in Gulfstream Park’s Hutcheson, won the Fountain of Youth, and after a fifth-place effort in early April in the Florida Derby, he headed to Maryland.
Two starts at Bowie yielded two wins – the Prince George’s Stakes over a sloppy track, and the rich Governor’s Gold Cup 10 days later.
Kauai King was sent off as favorite in the 15-horse Kentucky Derby field and led throughout, winning by a half length.
Two weeks later he recorded the second-fastest time in Preakness history (1:55.40), bettered only by Nashua, when scoring by nearly 2 lengths.
The Maryland-bred colt proved headstrong and rank in the Belmont Stakes and wound up fourth. He ran once more after the Triple Crown, finishing fifth that June behind Buckpasser (who set a world record for a mile) in the Arlington Classic after stumbling at the start and pulling up lame. He exited with a pulled suspensory, which forced his retirement. Syndicated for $2.16 million, at the time the second-highest price ever for a stallion, he entered stud at Sagamore Farm.
Kauai King won eight of 12 starts his 3-year-old season and was named Maryland-bred Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old.
The dark bay stallion stood at Sagamore until exported to England for the 1972 breeding season. He was purchased by Japanese interests two years later and spent the remainder of his life in Japan until his death on Jan. 24, 1989, at age 26.