Wayne’s Most Famous Resident-The Horse “Preakness”

By Alfred P. Cappio
Reprinted from PCHS  45th Anniversary Publication – 1971

“To Hester, whose research made this story possible.” – A. Cappio


Valley Road might be called the “Main Street” of Wayne Township.  Along it lie schools, public and parochial, a complex of municipal buildings, churches, shopping centers, a few farms and many homes, come very old, but most erected within the last decade.  The Valley Ridge Shopping Center occupies one corner at Valley Road and Preakness Avenue.  Customers on their way to the bank, the branch post-office, the A&P, or any one of a dozen specialty shops fill the large parking lot with their cars from sunrise to sunset.  This is Valley Road today.

It was not always so.  One hundred years ago, Valley Road, a sleepy country lane, running from French Hill to Ratzer Road, was the main street of Lower Preakness* as the area was then called.  Bordering it were several farms, a two-room schoolhouse and a gristmill.  The rich soil provided a comfortable living for sixteen families, Mitchell, Berdan, Terhune, Stagg, Traphagen, Doremus, Blaine, Berry, Allen, Demarest, Benson and Cassidy.  The Berry family had come with Major Anthony Brockholst and Captain Arent Schuyler in 1695 and, with them, were partners in the original “Preakness Patent.”  Most of the others had settled on their lands in the eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries.  Had any of these Valley Road farmers been interested, they might have learned that Valley Road was celebrating its on-hundredth birthday, having been dedicated by the Bergen County Board of Freeholders** on April lst, 1771.

* Pronounced “Prakeness” and so spelled by Washington during his stay at the Dey Mansion.
**The area did not become a part of Passaic County until 1837

But like the residents of today, who neither know or care that the road is now (1971) two hundred years old, they let the occasion pass unnoticed.  Most of them probably knew that Washington had ridden over the road when his headquarters were at the Dey Mansion.  It would be another twenty years before Dominie George Labaw would include historical data about Wayne in the sermons he preached twice each Sunday at the Preakness Reformed church.

The “Sandford Place” stood at the corner of Valley Road and Preakness Avenue.  Sandford was the latest arrival and the outsider.  On his lands he raised not vegetables, but racehorses.  A descendant of the Hollbrook family which had settled at Weymouth, Mass. In 1635, Milton Holbrook Sandford was born in Medway, Mass. On August 20th, 1812.  When his father, Samuel Sandford, founder of the first cotton-thread mill in the United States, died in 1831 young Milton, a student at Captain Partridge’s Military School in Middletown, Conn., had hurried home to assume charge of the business.  So successful was he that by the time he became of age two years later, he had amassed a family fortune of more than one hundred thousand dollars.  Although Sandford was personally wiped out in the Panic of 1837, he managed to keep the family fortune intact.  However, through his discovery of a new method of manufacturing jute and by his erection of a small mill in Southboro, Mass., he became one of the wealthiest men in New England.

A lover of fast horses, Sandford used his newly acquired fortune to build up a racing stable, and was one of the founders of the American Jockey Club.  His horse won many races, including the famous Jockey Club Handicap held at Jerome Park in 1867.  During the Civil War, Mr. Sandford had moved his offices to 46 Exchange Place in New York City, and had decided to establish a training farm for his horses.  Probably, because of its proximity to his office, he sought a location in the vicinity of Paterson where a racetrack was opened in 1864 that featured the Jersey Derby, the first Derby to be held in America.  There in the hills of Lower Preakness, he found what he was looking for.  On November 18, 1865, Sandford bought two tracts of land, one of sixty-four acres from Eno Van Saun* for $12,000 and another six acres from Henry K. Berry for $1,500.  Here he built three stables with forty-two stalls, a blacksmith shop, a training ring and a three-quarter of a mile track.  He selected dark blue as his racing color, hired a young Englishman, Billy Hayward to act at trainer and jockey, and named the place, “Preakness Farms.”

* The Van Saun family homestead now (1971) called “Lafayette’s Headquarters,” is one of Wayne’s historic homes.

Sandford held high hopes for his stable in 1871, particularly for a dark bay colt, four years old, that stood sixteen hands high.  The horse was a son of the great Lexington out of the mare, Bayleaf.  He had been bred by R. A. Alexander at the  Woodburn Stock Farm in Kentucky in 1867 and was purchased at auction the next year by Mr. Sandford for $4,000.  The colt had  been named “Preakness” after the stables in Wayne.  For his maiden start, Preakness had been entered in the “Dinner Plate States” at the inaugural meeting of the Maryland Jockey Club at the Pimlico track.  With one exception, this was the richest race yet contested in America and on October 25th, 1870, the bay colt won the $18,000 purse by finishing one length ahead of the two favorites in the betting ring.  The time, 3:14 ½ was very fast for the two-mile course.

Preakness did not disappoint his owner in 1871.  He entered seven races and won three, the Maturity Stakes and the Westchester Cup at Jerome Park, and the Pimlico States at Pimlico.  He finished second twice and was unplaced twice.

On August 3rd, Preakness opened his 1872 season with an easy victory at Monmouth Park.  On August 7th, he lost to Midday, and on the next day, started in the Hoey Stakes at three miles.  After leading practically all the way, the colt suffered a loin injury in the stretch, and although beaten by ten lengths, he still managed to finish second.  It was not until October 2nd that he was fit to run again.  Preakness entered six more races, working himself into condition in the first two, then finishing first, second, third and fourth in the others.

During the next four years, Preakness competed in nineteen races, winning nine.  He was second on six occasions, third, twice, and unplaced only twice.  His best season was 1874 when he won four times and placed second three times in the seven races he entered.  Probably the most famous race of his later years was the Saratoga Cup at Saratoga on July 29th, 1875.  This brought together the seven best handicap horses in America with none really featured in the betting ring.  At the start, Preakness and Springbrook, who had defeated him in the same race a year before by a nose, took the lead.  They ran side by side as through they were hitched together in a tandem.  The entire crowd was on its feet screaming like wild Indians as the pair raced across the finish line in a dead heat.  The time, 3.56 ¼ was the fastest ever run over a distance of two and a half miles.

The Saratoga Cup was the last race Preakness, now eight years old, ran in America.  In the fall of 1875, Mr. Sandford sent a string of horses to England to enter the races there the next spring.  Preakness raced four times winning one, placing second once, third, once and fourth once.  Following the colt’s victory in the Brighton Cup, Sandford offered the horses for sale at auction.

Preakness was purchased by the Duke of Hamilton, who put him to stud.  Among others, Preakness sired Fiddler, a winner of the Alexandra Plate.  Preakness was a high-strung animal, and evidently so was the Duke.  Following a set-to in the horse’s stall, the Duke in a fit of anger, shot and killed the colt.  This started a great furor throughout England that resulted in a reform of the laws and restrictions governing the handling and treatment of horses and other animals.

Thus Preakness would not have died in vain, even if the Maryland Jockey Club earlier had not used his name as the winner of the first stake race ever held at Pimlico to designate a new classic for three year olds which it instituted in 1873.  To add further interest to the race, Mr. Sandford donated the trophy won by Preakness in the original Dinner Plate Stakes for the new race.  This is the same trophy still contested for in the Preakness Stakes, the second of the famous “Triple Crown” of the American turf.  The other races are the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and the Belmont Cup run at Belmont Park.

On August 3rd, 1883, just seventeen days before his seventy-first birthday, Milton Holbrook Sandford died at his home in Newport, Rhode Island.  It was the eleventh anniversary of the victory by Preakness in the Trail Stakes at Monmouth Park.