Once-in-a-lifetime pictures tell the heart-warming story of an obscure colt who has become one of the favored contenders in this year's Kentucky Derby
February 25, 1957

On March 10, 1954SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Picture Editor, Gerald Astor, and the famous naturephotographer, Ylla, walked through a cool evening to a foaling barn at CalumetFarm in Lexington, Ky. A mare named Iron Maiden indicated to her two handlers,Everett Plunkett and David Clark, that her time was near. At 12:50 a.m. shedropped a frisky colt into the aristocratic stillness of Calumet. Three minuteslater Ylla took the pictures (left and below) of the first delicate moments ofa Thoroughbred. Ylla did not live either to see the colt again or her picturesof him in print, for in 1955 she was tragically killed when photographing abullock race for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in India. To Calumet the new colt was onlyone of 31 foals of that year. To the impersonal Jockey Club in New York he wassimply to be one of 9,067 Registered Thoroughbreds of 1954, all of whom wereeligible for the Kentucky Derby of 1957. A decided interest in the colt wastaken by Calumet, for the bay foal was sired by Bull Lea, the stallion whoseblood has been passed on to many of Calumet's mightiest runners. Immediatelyafter foaling, Farm Manager J. Paul Ebelhardt filed a report about "a good,strong Bull Lea colt, of good proportions and size, typical of all Bull Leasthe way he gets around." The colt had every advantage which could be givenhim, notably the best possible care and handling. But the test of his futurewould depend mostly on himself; on his own heart, sinews and luck.

Two days passed before Iron Maiden and her foal were sent from the foaling barnto Calumet's brood-mare barn. Here the colt saw a little more of the world: redand white buildings, leisurely painters creosoting 21 miles of white oak fencesaround his 980-acre home, intriguing shadows dancing in the sunlight, and otheranimals. His third day brought a new strangeness. A halter was put around himto accustom him to walking with men. All was happy until the ninth day, whenhis mother was taken from him to be mated again. For the first time he endureda desperate loneliness, but mother returned fairly soon and the two scamperedtogether through the fields. The only regulations rigidly imposed on the coltwere feeding times at 2 p.m., 13 p.m. and 4 a.m. His father, Bull Lea, took hisexercise some 200 yards away, on the other side of a sturdy fence; stallionsare not allowed to romp with foals, whom they might bite or injure. Another sonof Bull Lea, but full-grown, was in another nearby enclosure: a horse calledCitation, in 1948 the third of Calumet's five Derby winners (the others:Whirlaway, 1941; Pensive, 1944; Ponder, 1949; Hill Gail, 1952). On Sundays,visitors came to stare at some of these great names. As yet, no one spared aglance for Junior.

Exactly six months after foaling—Sept. 11, 1954—the colt was definitivelyseparated from the mare. He was officially one year old on Jan. 1, 1955, and inJuly was turned over to Yearling Trainer Robert Moore. He first learned thecourtesy of the track (waiting his turn, standing immobile while othersthundered by), then was loaded into vans for short trips so he would get usedto shipping without panicking and injuring himself. But he wasn't goinganywhere yet. If he showed Moore he could become a good racer, he would leavefor Florida with the Calumet string in November. Ebelhardt already thought wellof him: "You know, you might see five girls walking down the street, andyou might like the conformation of one of them. It's the same with horses."And Moore told H. A. (Jimmy) Jones, Calumet's highly successful trainer: "Ireally think this is the one we've been looking for."

He got a name. First it was Iron Lea, but Calumet's owner, Mrs. Gene Markey,changed it to Iron Liege. Iron Liege had a difficult winter. The coltcontracted a cough, which slowed his training and delayed his first race untilAugust 21, 1956, at Washington Park. He broke slowly and finished sixth.Trainer Jones said, "He just ran green. The clods of dirt kept coming backat him from the horses in front and he ducked them like a toad in ahailstorm." On Sept. 5, at Belmont Park, Eddie Arcaro took him out of thehailstorm to win a six-furlong race. Nine days later he was third; on Sept. 22he won again. Then he stuck his left foreleg through a canvas rack in his stalland sawed it almost down to the tendon. This could have resulted in a bowedtendon, which has ended racing for many Thoroughbreds. Famed VeterinarianWilliam Reed cured him ("He was a good patient"), but he didn't winagain. Nevertheless, Iron Liege was widely recognized as a "useful"colt and ranked 18th of his generation.

The alert, sensitive and mature head on the facing page now belongs to anestablished race horse. Iron Liege wintered well as a 2-year-old and early in1957 earned the title of one of the best of the 3-year-old crop. His first racewas on Jan. 19, when he was led from Stall 6, Barn AA, onto the Hialeah trackwhile Trainer Jones fidgeted thoughtfully. Calumet's agent, Dee Brooks, watchedand whispered to a friend, "I think he'll win." He did, by a length.Jubilation snatched Jimmy Jones for only a moment. He had been through this toooften to allow his elation free rein. Ten days later Iron Liege won aseven-furlong race, and on Feb. 9 he made the headlines by beating his highlyregarded stablemate, Gen. Duke, and setting a new Hialeah track record for amile and a sixteenth. Last week he finished a creditable third to the same Gen.Duke and Bold Ruler, the two leading Derby contenders at this time. In threemonths, since his last disappointing race on Oct. 27, 1956, Iron Liege hadfound within himself a flicker of flame which pumped new vitality into the3-year-old galaxy. The moments of anguish through injury and the months ofdrudgery were paying off. He has yet to penetrate the threshold of greatness,and may never do so. But Iron Liege is already a successful horse. The9,066-to-1 baby is now a man, and only a 15-to-1 shot for next May's KentuckyDerby.

TWO PHOTOSFirst timid look at the outside world (left) and loving licks from mother: these pictures were taken just three minutes after birth PHOTOBarely 30 minutes after foaling, eager colt unsuccessfully struggles to get up. His mother casually nibbles hay, but she stays close by PHOTOAfter 90 minutes, he is up and taking his food from mother PHOTOIron Maiden and son hold still for first formal family portrait PHOTOThe Bull Lea colt shows early alertness as he poses alone right PHOTORICHARD MEEKJoyfully romping in fields of bluegrass, Iron Maiden's son (left) was a carefree yearling until his hard schooling began in July 1955. All summer long he spent 18 hours a day in the open air PHOTORICHARD MEEKBefittingly solemn, the youngster (now accustomed to bridle and saddle) walks to one of his first workouts on the training track. At an early stage he revealed signs of an erratic temper PHOTORICHARD MEEKHead slightly bowed, colt stands quietly in Hialeah Park schooling gate PHOTOART SHAYBreakfast before his very first race: Chicago, Aug. 21, 1956 PHOTOART SHAYCo-star for a day (stablemate Gen. Duke ran with him), Iron Liege got VIP treatment from handlers the first time he went to the post PHOTOART SHAYThe boss (Trainer Jimmy Jones) attends to saddle adjustment before the unsuccessful debut PHOTOIron Liege set new Hialeah track record when winning on Feb. 9 PHOTOSharply urged by Jockey Dave Erb in last week's Everglades Stakes, Iron Liege runs third as Gen. Duke surges to catch Bold Ruler PHOTO

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)