Roamer: The “Mistake” That Became a Champion

August 22, 2022

Roamer won at distances from 4 1/2 furlongs to 1 ¾ miles, carried weights up to 133 pounds, broke more track records than any horse of his era, and was so cherished that a car was named after him. Yet his entire existence had been a mistake. Roamer wasn’t conceived from a carefully calculated breeding of blue-blooded Thoroughbreds, but rather from a lonely teaser stallion named Knight Errant jumping a fence to romance Rose Tree II, a blind broodmare. The resulting foal from this one night stand was a small, plain bay colt humorously dubbed Roamer. No one expected much from this four-legged “accident” so he was gelded at a young age.

Although Roamer broke his maiden first time out, he gradually descended into the $2000 claiming ranks as expected. Then he caught the eye of Life magazine founder Andrew Miller who was also the secretary/treasurer of Saratoga Racecourse. Miller bought Roamer outright for $2500 and sent him to A.J. Goldsborough, a respected horseman and former jockey. Miller’s bargain buy quickly proved to be a nightmare for his new trainer. Slender-framed and standing only 15.2 hands, Roamer was a finicky-eater that hated hay, barely ate enough oats to keep a donkey alive yet thrived on a strenuous training regimen. He was also smart – too smart. Roamer knew the difference between workouts and races and would refuse to exert himself in the mornings. But Goldsborough persevered with his “problem child”, winning the Saratoga Special Stakes and notching a second in the Lafayette Handicap in his two-year-old season. 

It was at the age of three when Roamer really took flight, breaking an amazing five track records including a ten-length romp in the Travers Stakes in 2:04 for the 1 ¼ miles. Incredibly, he would break his own track record four years later, winning the Saratoga Handicap in 2:02 4/5 at the tender age of seven. A front-runner who could carry his speed over long distances, Roamer won the seven furlong Carter Handicap, the1 ½ mile Midsummer Stakes and pretty much everything in-between. He was voted American Horse of the Year and Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse of 1914. 

 At four Roamer equaled the track record for nine furlongs in the Brookdale Handicap, won six stakes including the 1 ¾ mile Saratoga Cup and was selected Champion Older Male Horse of 1915. In 1916 he once again was voted Champion Older Male Horse – and had a car named in his honor. Manufactured by the Barley Motor Car Company and dubbed the “poor man’s Rolls Royce”, the Roamer automobile was almost as successful as its equine namesake when it came to racing and setting records. A total of 12,000 Roamers were manufactured before the company was dissolved in 1929 due to declining sales. 

Roamer wins at Belmont (Bain News Service/Library of Congress)

Meanwhile, Roamer the racehorse continued his assault on track records. His coup de grace came in 1918 at Saratoga when the seven-year-old was challenged to break the American record of 1:35 ½ for one mile. The record had been set twenty-eight years prior by the four-year-old Salvatore over a straight dirt course at Monmouth Park while carrying 110 pounds and using another horse to set the pace. Roamer would also carry 110 pounds during his time trial but his attempt would be around turns with a two-year-old colt named Lightning as his pacesetter. Turned out that Roamer didn’t need one. Roamer took the lead a few strides into the challenge and never let up. Despite setting his own pace and running over a track with turns, Roamer completed the mile in 1:34 4/5, shattering Salvatore’s record.

In 1919 age and infirmities finally caught up to Roamer and the eight-year-old could only manage one win in six starts. By now he had amassed over $98,000 in earnings with thirty-nine wins in ninety-eight starts. Since he was tantalizingly close to the $100,000 mark, Miller decided to rest up his old warrior and attempt to pass that milestone the next year. On New Year’s Eve of 1919, Andrew Miller suffered a heart attack and died. In a weird twist of fate, his “mistake” champion Roamer was euthanized a just few hours later after falling on ice and breaking his leg. Roamer was buried at Miller’s New Jersey home and inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1981. 

Photo: Roamer (Bain News Service/Library of Congress)

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