The result of two of Maryland’s greatest breeding programs, Harry LaMontagne’s Conniver – a plain brown filly by Sagamore Farm’s influential sire Discovery out of William L. Brann’s modest stakes winner The Schemer, by *Challenger II– was too big, lanky and awkward to be considered much of a prize. Bred by Alfred Vanderbilt, she was pur-chased by LaMontagne as a yearling in 1945 for $2,500 while Vanderbilt was serving in the war in the Pacific. When she didn’t win at 2 and showed little to excite in 19 starts at 3, the 17-hand filly was offered to steeplechase trainer and polo player Pete Bostwick, but the deal fell through. The next year she was the nation’s champion handicap mare.
Deemed to be “as hard and rugged” as her sire, Conniver put together an 18-start campaign in 1948 in which she faced a number of the decade’s top handicap horses – male and female. Based in New York with trainer William Post, she began the year working her way through the handicap ranks at Jamaica and Belmont Park. In seven starts from April through early June, she won five times and was third twice. When she made her first stakes start of the year, she faced champion and future National Hall of Famer Stymie in the Aqueduct Handicap.
In receipt of 13 pounds from the veteran handicap horse, the gawky filly took the lead from Double Jay down the stretch and battled Stymie when he made his move. “He [Stymie] found a highly obstinate filly,” wrote Joe Palmer in the American Race Horses annual review. Conniver was beaten a neck but “the race showed the highest kind of courage,” Palmer added.
Over the next two months, Conniver continued to rise to the occasion. The Vagrancy Handicap, one of four stakes against her own sex that year, saw her defeat Suburban Handicap winner Harmonica by five lengths. Next out she faced Stymie and champion Gallorette in the Brooklyn Handicap, her first attempt at a mile and a quarter. She fought Gallorette the length of the stretch and beat her by a head, with Stymie third. Other stakes wins came in the Beldame over Harmonica and Gallorette, and the Comely over that year’s champion 3-year-old filly Miss Request. Conniver was the richest distaffer of 1948 with $162,190 in earnings.
Conniver returned to win or place in five of 13 starts in 1949, highlighted by a victory in the Butler Handicap over Palestinian and a handicap score over Loser Weeper. She retired as the second-richest Maryland-bred mare of all time, behind Gallorette.
As a producer, Conniver had offspring much like herself. Her first two foals, Plotter and Clandestine (both by Double Jay), didn’t record their first stakes wins until 4. Her son Brooklyn Bridge (by Swaps) was also 4 when he placed in multiple stakes. But she has had fast and precocious descendants, including Canadian champion 2-year-old filly Deceit Dancer and Breeders’ Cup Sprint-G1 winner Very Subtle. A lasting legacy for a filly bred at the top level.
Heading into the 1984 Triple Crown season, it was a foregone conclusion that Devil’s Bag would sweep the classics. He was so dominant at 2 that the racing world ran out of superlatives to describe him.
Devil’s Bag was campaigned by James and Alice duPont Mills’ Hickory Tree Farm, who purchased him as a yearling at the Keeneland July sale from the Windfields Farm consignment for $325,000. Undefeated and never tested in five starts as a juvenile, the bay trained by Hall of Famer Woody Stephens broke Seattle Slew’s stakes record in winning the Grade 1 Champagne, and ran seven furlongs at Belmont in 1:21 2/5 in the Grade 2 Cowdin. In his final start of the year he completed the Grade 1 Laurel Futurity’s mile and sixteenth in 1:42 1/5, just three-fifths off Spectacular Bid’s track record.
Devil’s Bag earned the Eclipse Award and was highweighted on the Experimental Free Handicap at 128 pounds, two pounds above the standard. He was named Maryland-bred Horse of the Year over the likes of that year’s Preakness winner Deputed Testamony, Belmont Stakes winner Caveat, Irish Derby winner Shareef Dancer, Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old filly Heartlight No. One and English and Irish champion 2-year-old El Gran Senor. By that December he was syndicated for $1 million per share (a total value of $36 million) and destined to join the powerful Claiborne Farm stallion roster at the end of his 3-year-old campaign. Retirement came much earlier than anticipated.
Devil’s Bag dominated his first start at 3, winning the Flamingo Prep by seven lengths at Hialeah. But the racing world reeled two weeks later when he finished fourth in the Flamingo-G1. Looking to calm the masses, the colt won an allowance at Keeneland in April by 15 lengths, and nine days later got his eighth career win in the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs, a week before the Kentucky Derby. However, the latter was considered a subpar performance, so he skipped the Derby in favor for the Preakness, but never started again when a bone chip was found in his right knee. The colt who won by an average margin of more than six lengths headed off to stud.
Bred by E.P. Taylor and foaled at Windfields Farm, by Windfields’ stallion Halo out of the sterling producer Ballade, Devil’s Bag was a top-class stallion, siring the likes of Devil His Due and 45 other stakes winners, as well as being the broodmare sire of more than 80 stakes winners. He remained at Claiborne until his death in February 2005 at age 24 and is buried on the farm.
J.O. Tobin was a champion at 2 in England and became a footnote in history when he won the Swaps Stakes-G1 the next year, handing Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew his first defeat. At 4, J.O. Tobin ran at distances of seven furlongs to one and one-quarter miles, on dirt and turf, and shared an Eclipse Award with Dr. Patches as champion sprinter. What a long, strange trip to a sprint championship.
Bred by Californian George Pope and named for one of Pope’s longtime friends, J.O. Tobin was foaled at Windfields Farm in Chesapeake City, Md., March 28, 1974, when his dam Hill Shade (by Hillary) was there to be bred to Northern Dancer (the resulting foal was stakes-winning filly Fairy Dance). Pope’s homebred Hill Shade was a multiple stakes winner in England and her first foal, *Mysterious, was one of the top 3-year-old fillies in England in 1973, counting five wins in eight starts, including the Epsom Oaks-G1 and One Thousand Guineas-G1, for trainer Sir Noel Murless.
A son of 2-year-old U.S. champion Never Bend, J.O. Tobin was sent to Murless and rattled off three wins in three starts in England as a juvenile. He earned his championship with easy scores in the Group 2 Richmond and Champagne Stakes. In his only start in France he was third in the Grand Criterium-G1 at Longchamp. Upon Murless’ retirement that year, J.O. Tobin was shipped to trainer John Adams in California to prepare for the U.S. classics.
The nearly black colt ran twice – placing second in a six-furlong allowance in his U.S. debut in March at Santa Anita, and winning the Coronado Handicap at one mile on the turf in April at Hollywood Park– before crossing the country for the Preakness Stakes. He finished fifth, beaten nearly six lengths by Seattle Slew.
Two months later in California, J.O. Tobin thumped the undefeated Triple Crown hero, scoring by eight lengths while setting every fraction of Hollywood Park’s mile and a quarter Swaps and finishing in 1:58.60.
J.O. Tobin’s speed was put on display repeatedly in 1978, as he finished in the top three in eight of nine starts, all stakes, through July after shifting to the barn of Laz Barrera.
He kicked off the year in the Grade 2 Malibu at seven furlongs, leading by daylight at every call to win by five and a half lengths. Four solid efforts beyond a mile (with wins in the San Bernardino-G2 on the turf and Premiere Handicap) were followed by a score in the seven-furlong Grade 2 Los Angeles, in 1:21.40 while carrying 130 pounds.
His final two career wins came in the mile and a sixteenth Californian-G1 at Hollywood in May and seven-furlong Tom Fool at Belmont in July, the latter handily by six and a half lengths in 1:20.80 while toting 129 pounds, a result which left a lasting impression on voters.
A Maryland-bred divisional champion at 2, 3 and 4, and turf champion and Horse of the Year in 1978, J.O. Tobin retired to Spendthrift Farm with a record of 21-12-2-2 and earnings of $659,555. His stud career was modest, with 24 stakes winners from 500 foals. As a broodmare sire his record was better, topped by champion sprinter Cardmania.