Just as he tamed a wild and unruly land to make it more productive, Captain Richard King and those who came after him tamed the Mustangs of the Wild Horse Desert, improving their genetic traits over time, and making them much-appreciated and worthy equine compliments to the great ranching endeavor.
His descendants and the descendants of the original Kineños continued this pursuit, and today, King Ranch is widely regarded as the historical birthplace of the finest quarter horses in America. The expertise garnered in these history-making breed improvement programs was also applied to the thoroughbred racing business, and these efforts paid off handsomely – producing 1946 Triple Crown winner ASSAULT and 1950 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner MIDDLEGROUND. In addition to garnering a great deal of notoriety and prestige for the ranch, King Ranch’s horse racing program was very successful financially – a rare phenomenon in the horse racing world. The much coveted Triple Crown trophy, commemorating ASSAULT’S victories, today graces the dining room in the Main House – a memento of past glories that inspires contemporary King Ranch to continue to strive for excellence.
King Ranch entered the thoroughbred industry in 1934 with the purchase of CHICARO, who was acquired to add his genetic qualities to the ranch’s quarter horse line. He was also crossed with thoroughbred mares bought in 1935, thus beginning the study and experimentation of crossing American and European strains and the use of line breeding to develop the ranch’s thoroughbreds. This technique has also been successful in producing King Ranch quarter horses. BOLD VENTURE, 1936 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, was added to the breeding program in 1939 and became the only horse to sire two Kentucky Derby winners, both out of King Ranch mares. In 1946, ASSAULT became the seventh Triple Crown champion in turf history and the only Texas bred horse, to date, to win the Triple Crown. MIDDLEGROUND, also by BOLD VENTURE, won the 1950 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.
The story of ASSAULT, with the breeding of a champion in his bloodlines, is one that epitomizes the heart and courage of a great racehorse. By BOLD VENTURE and out of IGUAL, he became the greatest of King Ranch’s major stakes winners, completing a racing career that brought eighteen victories and total earnings of $674,720. Health problems plagued him throughout his racing years. Not only did he suffer from kidney, splint bone, wrenched ankle, bad knee and bleeding problems; he overcame a major injury sustained as a foal, having stepped on what was believed to have been a surveyor’s stake, which caused the foot to become infected and the damaged hoof to be cut almost entirely away. He wore a special shoe on that foot for the rest of his life and limped at a walk or a trot, but at a gallop he ran perfectly: hence the nickname “The Club-Footed Comet.” It is incorrect to say that he was club-footed; when he was in a standing position, the misshapen foot showed no discernible defect.
To characterize ASSAULT, Max Hirsch, a native Texan who became King Ranch’s trainer in 1936, reminisced before his death, “He [ASSAULT] never showed any signs that it was hurting him… I think that when the foot still hurt him, he got in the habit of protecting it with an awkward gait, and then he kept it up. But he galloped true. There wasn’t a thing wrong with his action when he went fast.” Warren Mehrtens, the twenty-five year old jockey who rode the thoroughbred to the Triple Crown victory said, “He beat whatever they threw at him to race that year… ASSAULT was all heart… He was just better than all the horses around.” Eddie Arcaro, a Hall of Fame jockey, rode ASSAULT in some of his later races. He said in a recent interview, “ASSAULT was fun to ride. He moved up on you quick, then exploded.” Richard Stone Reeves, America’s premier equine artist said, “He was not what you’d call a picture horse. He was a liver chestnut but not very robust. He looked almost on the delicate side when I first saw him.”
Early in 1948, ASSAULT was retired and made an unsuccessful attempt at stud with thoroughbred mares. After running a few more races in 1949 and 1950, he retired for good, to a life of ease at his birthplace on King Ranch. He was twenty-eight years old when he died on September 1, 1971, and is still remembered for having brought honor to Texas with his courage and stamina.