By Mint Julep


John Sanford Owner: One Kentucky Derby Winner

george smith 1916 kentucky derby winner

Key Takeaways

  • John Sanford, a member of the well-known Sanford family, played a major role in advancing thoroughbred horse racing.
  • In 1916, he clinched victory at the Kentucky Derby with his horse named George Smith, securing his enduring legacy in the world of racing.
  • The impact of John Sanford can still be seen today through events like the esteemed Sanford Stakes and ongoing initiatives to revive his once-famous breeding farm.

Early Life and Family Background

John Sanford was born in Amsterdam, New York on January 18, 1851. His parents were Sarah Jane Cochrane and Stephen Sanford. John came from a long line of prestigious ancestors, including Gov. Thomas Welles, the Fourth Colonial Governor of Connecticut.

As a kid growing up in the carpet manufacturing world with his father, John learned important values like hard work and determination that would shape his future success.

John’s love for thoroughbred horse racing began to blossom as he became an adult. He saw potential for greatness in this traditional and prestigious sport.

With each race bringing him closer to fulfilling his destiny—especially at Churchill Downs—John Sanford’s story started intertwining with the rich history of horse racing. It was a tale filled with victories waiting to be claimed under Kentucky skies where champions emerged victorious alongside dreams coming true.

Political Career

John Sanford had a successful political career, much like his accomplishments in horse racing. He served as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing New York’s 20th congressional district from March 4, 1889 to March 3, 1893. In addition to passing laws, he played an active role in shaping national politics by taking part in the Republican National Convention of 1892.

In Washington D.C., John Sanford smoothly navigated through power dynamics and debates on Capitol Hill with charm that rivaled his strategic moves on the racetrack. His influence extended beyond party lines and made a lasting impact on American politics during a time when leadership required both bravery and diplomacy. Whether fighting for constituents’ interests or supporting causes close to his heart, Sanford wielded influence with grace and integrity.

Amidst the noisy political discussions where words clashed fiercely like swords in battle, John Sanford stood out for his skill at reaching agreements without compromising principles—perhaps honed through spirited debates about foals or track conditions at Churchill Downs. Looking back now at those turbulent times in Washington D.C., one can draw parallels between navigating legislative complexities and guiding a spirited colt towards victory down the homestretch.

The connection between sportsmanship and statesmanship was embodied by John Sanford—a man whose legacy went beyond mere wins at races or votes cast on bills but reflected a deep commitment to excellence within Congress halls as well as under sunny skies at prestigious equestrian events like the Kentucky Derby—an enduring example of how passion can lead to success regardless of field or arena.

The Pros & Cons of Derby Legends


  1. Experience a rich history and vibrant tradition
  2. Watch thrilling races featuring top-tier horses
  3. Enjoy glamorous fashion and social gatherings
  4. Witness legendary performances by talented athletes


  1. Premium seating comes with expensive ticket prices
  2. The event can get very crowded
  3. Weather in Kentucky during May can be unpredictable
  4. It may be hard to find nearby places to stay

Thoroughbred Horse Racing

John Sanford left a lasting mark on horse racing that will go down in history. He took over Hurricana Stock Farm from his father and not only carried on the family legacy but also raised it to new levels. His biggest accomplishments came at the Kentucky Derby in 1916 and the English Grand National in 1923 with Sergeant Murphy, solidifying his status as a significant figure in thoroughbred horse racing.

John Sanford’s wins weren’t just about beating others on the racetrack; they were stories of hard work, smart planning, and genuine love for these amazing animals. Every step he made on those tracks showed a mix of talent and intuition that set him apart from everyone else in the business. Winning big races like the Kentucky Derby wasn’t just about being first across the finish line; it was about understanding every little detail about horses – their strengths, weaknesses, quirks – like solving an intricate puzzle where each piece mattered.

It’s incredible how John Sanford could move effortlessly through both political circles and turf tracks with equal skill. From handling estates to mastering race strategies, he wore many hats – all perfectly suited to match his wide range of interests. The fusion of politics and sports during that time created an exciting backdrop against which figures like John Sanford stood out brightly – his victories were more than personal triumphs; they represented an era where determination met opportunity head-on amidst thundering hooves chasing glory around racetracks worldwide.

Personal Life and Marriage

John Sanford lived a life deeply connected to thoroughbred horse racing. He married Ethel Sanford in 1892, starting a family tradition centered around horsemanship. They had three children who each played a unique role in continuing the family’s success in the sport.

Their son, Stephen “Laddie” Sanford, not only inherited his father’s name but also his love for horses. Laddie embraced this passion wholeheartedly and made significant progress in upholding the family legacy on racetracks nationwide.

Daughters Sara Jane Sanford and Gertrude Sanford Legendre brought their own charm to the mix – showcasing grace and determination both on and off the track. Their presence added an extra touch of sophistication to their already distinguished family history within horse racing circles.

Through marriages, births, victories, and setbacks—a story unfolded highlighting not just individual achievements but a shared dedication to maintaining high standards synonymous with the Sanford name. By seamlessly blending love, familial bonds, and athletic prowess together—John Sanford laid out a blueprint for future generations—an enduring tale set to race through time itself.

Sanford’s Life in a Snapshot: Key Details

Category Information
Born January 18, 1851 in Amsterdam, New York, U.S.
Died September 26, 1939 in Saratoga, New York, U.S.
Resting Place Green Hill Cemetery, Amsterdam, New York, U.S.
Political Party Republican
Parent Stephen Sanford (father)
Relatives John Sanford (grandfather)
Alma Mater Yale College
Occupation Businessman, racehorse breeder

Legacy in Horse Racing

The prestigious Sanford Stakes, held at Saratoga Race Course, is a shining example of John Sanford’s lasting impact on horse racing. This race stands as a tribute to his enduring influence on the sport. It honors his unwavering dedication and significant contributions that have shaped thoroughbred racing.

Sanford transformed his breeding farm into Sanford Stud Farms, setting a new standard for excellence in horse breeding. By importing top-notch stallions from Europe, he raised the bar for American bloodlines and left an unforgettable mark on the industry. His forward-thinking vision revolutionized breeding practices during his time.

The name ‘Sanford’ holds great significance in horse racing history, symbolizing a tradition of excellence and passion for equine athleticism that continues to inspire generations today. The deep connection between John Sanford’s family heritage and their involvement in horse racing paints a vivid picture of commitment evident in every stride taken by these magnificent creatures.

As horses thunder down racetracks across America, one can’t help but marvel at how John Sanford’s influence resonates through each hoofbeat. From humble beginnings to legendary triumphs at events like the Kentucky Derby, his legacy remains etched in every winner’s circle photo—a testament to resilience, determination, and love for this majestic sport.

By honoring John Sanford’s lasting legacy within global horse racing circles—amidst tales shared under starlit skies or whispered softly amidst rustling straw—we pay homage not just to a man who made history gallop faster but also celebrate an era where politics met sportsmanship with elegance akin to thudding hooves on hallowed ground.

Death and Burial

John Sanford passed away on September 26, 1939, at the age of 88 in Saratoga, New York. He was laid to rest at Green Hill Cemetery in Amsterdam, New York where his breeding farm once stood as a reminder of his legacy. Despite neglect over time, the “Friends of Sanford Stud Farm” are working hard to restore it.

When news spread about John Sanford’s death, horse racing enthusiasts everywhere felt the loss keenly. His dedication had left an indelible mark on thoroughbred horse racing and inspired generations that followed him. Memories of his wins at prestigious races like the Kentucky Derby continued to resonate long after he was gone.

As John Sanford found his final resting place among echoes of past victories and unrealized dreams at Green Hill Cemetery, there was a deep respect for a man who had shown unparalleled passion for horses and unwavering determination. The ongoing efforts by compassionate individuals to bring back life to Sanford Stud Farm serve as a symbol of hope—a tribute not just to one man but also honoring an enduring legacy deeply rooted in American horse racing history.

Colorful Tales of a Derby Champion’s Legacy

  1. Exciting Stories of a Derby Champion’s Impact:
  2. John Sanford, the proud owner of the winning horse at the Kentucky Derby, had a deep love for horses and racing. He inherited this passion from his father, Stephen Sanford, who was also a key figure in the world of horse racing.
  3. The Kentucky Derby champion owned by John Sanford went by the name “Oliver Lewis.” This exceptional horse stole the hearts of many fans with its impressive speed and unwavering determination on the racetrack.
  4. It is said that John Sanford took a hands-on approach to training and bonding with all his racehorses, including Oliver Lewis. This personal touch played a significant role in their success on race days.
  5. Despite facing tough competition at the Kentucky Derby, Oliver Lewis emerged victorious under John Sanford’s guidance. This win established Sanford as both an accomplished owner and trainer in horse racing circles.
  6. The enduring legacy of John Sanford and his Kentucky Derby winner, Oliver Lewis, serves as inspiration for upcoming generations fascinated by horse racing. Their story underscores how dedication and passion are vital ingredients for achieving success in thoroughbred racing’s competitive arena.


1. How did John Sanford’s success at the Kentucky Derby impact the world of horse racing?

John Sanford’s triumph at the Kentucky Derby not only confirmed his family’s esteemed reputation in thoroughbred horse racing but also boosted the sport’s status and captured the attention of audiences around the globe.

2. What were some of John Sanford’s most memorable victories at the Kentucky Derby?

John Sanford made a name for himself with a notable win at the Kentucky Derby, clinching victories with George Smith in 1916. These triumphs established him as a key figure in thoroughbred horse racing history.

3. How did John Sanford’s family history influence his passion for thoroughbred horse racing?

John Sanford comes from a family with a strong background in thoroughbred horse racing, where his father achieved success at the Kentucky Derby. This instilled in John a deep passion for the sport and motivated him to achieve great things within this field.

4. What made John Sanford stand out as a prominent figure in the early 20th-century horse racing scene?

In the early 1900s, John Sanford made a name for himself in horse racing by winning big at the Kentucky Derby. His family had a strong background in thoroughbred horse racing, and his impact on the sport continues to be felt even today.

5. How did John Sanford’s political career intersect with his involvement in horse racing, particularly at the Kentucky Derby?

John Sanford excelled in both politics and horse racing, particularly at the prestigious Kentucky Derby. His achievements as a breeder and owner boosted his reputation in these fields, demonstrating his skill in balancing both worlds effectively.

6. What lasting contributions has the Sanford family made to the sport of horse racing beyond John Sanford’s triumphs at the Kentucky Derby?

The Sanford family has left a lasting impact on horse racing that goes beyond John Sanford’s wins at the Kentucky Derby. They have built a strong legacy through their breeding and racing of top thoroughbreds, influencing the sport for many years to come.