|This article relies too much on references to primary sources. (May 2010)|
1886 engraving by Henry H. Cross
|Breeder||John Henry Miller|
|Owner||Chin & Morgan|
|Trainer||Raleigh "Rolla" Colston
|Record||12 Starts: 11 – 1 - 0|
|Kentucky Derby (1883)
Illinois Derby (1883)
Latonia Derby (1883)
|American Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse (1883)|
|Last updated on September 15, 2008|
Leonatus was the son of Uncle John Harper's great racer and sire, Longfellow, himself the son of the imported English stud, the great Leamington. Leonatus' dam was the Daniel Swigert-bred Semper Felix, whose dam was by the greatest of all nineteenth-century American foundation stallions, Lexington, himself by Boston.
Purchased by the partnership of George Morgan and Jack Chinn, and thereafter stabled in Mercer County, Kentucky, Leonatus was trained by the African American horseman Raleigh "Rolla" Colston as well as by John McGinty.
Leonatus raced in a new world of English "dash" races on the kind of racetracks we recognize today.
Racing only once as juvenile, his losing effort was a second place. As a three-year-old, Leonatus won ten stakes, all in either Kentucky or Illinois within the space of 49 days. Although there were no official awards given until 1936, this saw him retrospectively regarded as the American Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse of 1883.
Winning the 1883 Kentucky Derby (run that year on May 23) was an accomplishment, but it did not hold the caché it does today. Leonatus took only the ninth running of the race but there were still quite a few years to go before the Derby was the plum of the racing season. Carrying 105 pounds and the 2-1 favorite, Leonatus was piloted by William "Billy" Donohue, the jockey who'd ridden Sligo in the 1881 Derby, coming in fourth. Running in mud on a clear cold day, Leonatus was up against the colt, Drake Carter, trained by Green B. Morris who hoped to take his second consecutive Derby (he'd won with Apollo in 1882). Drake Carter leaped into the lead but Leonatus caught him at a quarter of a mile. A quarter of a mile farther on, Leonatus was ahead by three lengths. In the homestretch, Lord Raglan made a strong bid, but though it carried him forward, he tired. Leonatus won over Drake Carter by that same three lengths. For his Derby, Leonatus collected $3,760.
Leonatus distinguished himself by eating the presentation roses. (Blankets of roses were not recorded being draped over the winning horse until 1896 when Ben Brush wore them.)
He was retired to stud at Runnymede Farm near Paris, Kentucky. Leonatus remained there until he was eighteen years old, dying in 1898. Before that day he proved a fine sire, producing the 1898 American Derby winner Pink Coat and 1898 Suburban Handicap winner Tillo. Leonatus lies in an unmarked grave on a bend of the Elkhorn Creek that runs through Runnymeade Farm. Near him lies Hindoo, Billet, and Sir Dixon.