By Nick Costa and Mary Dixon Reynolds
When perusing over the names of horses that participated in the 1920 Kentucky Derby, one will not see Man O’ War listed among the entrants. The absence of the original ‘Big Red’, who by far was the best three-year old of that year, and today considered the ‘Greatest Thoroughbred Horse of All-Time’, certainly lends itself as a plausible reason why the owners of the 17 horses in the 46th running decided to show up in Louisville.
In fact, four individual owners, each trying to boost their chances of winning America’s top racing prize, entered multiple horses. Owner Hal Parr was among that quartet, nominating his two, Blazes and Paul Jones, to participate.
The former registered five victories from 13 starts and was ranked second to Man O’ War on the Daily Racing Forms list of top three-year olds of the 1920 season.
The latter, named after a famous United States Navy Commander, went winless in his first six starts, including two defeats against Man O’ War by large margins.
Inherent qualities caused Paul Jones to possess a mean and nasty character, and his unruly disposition caused Parr to have the horse gelded. After castration, which can make a horse even tempered and easier to handle, Paul Jones outbursts were still part of his makeup. He lashed out at riders, and several were tried before jockey Ted Rice climbed aboard.
The horse accepted his new pilot and the pairing went smoothly. Under Rice’s guidance, Paul Jones won five races with two seconds and two thirds from 12 starts to conclude his two-year old season. It was a decent record, but nobody thought of him as a serious horse for the following year’s Kentucky Derby.
Both of Parr’s horses arrived in Louisville nine days before the Derby, and although Parr was pleased with the way Paul Jones had trained, he thought Blazes was the better horse. As an extra added attraction, Blazes would be ridden by Clarence Kummer, the regular rider of Man O’ War.
With a record crowd estimated at 60,000 looking on, the racing strip was wet and rated slow, enhancing the chances of the Parr horses who were both proven in the mud. Despite affinity for an off-track, the Parr entry went off at odds of 16-1.
Breaking from post 2, Paul Jones soared right to the front, and masqueraded as the expected rabbit. Rather than setting up the race for a late charge from Blazes, Paul Jones remained in front as the horses rounded the far turn.
When the field straightened into the stretch, a horse named Upset, who later that year in the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga became the only horse ever to defeat Man O’ War, began closing in swiftly on the leader with each stride and appeared poised to go bye. But Paul Jones dug in over a track surface to his liking and held on to win by a head. Blazes finished sixth, nearly 15-lengths behind his stablemate.
After the race, Parr said, “I guess Paul Jones is a better horse than we thought.”