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In the final quarter of the nineteenth century, wealth and opulence really caught on in America. Barons of railroading, shipbuilding, banking, and other industries became philanthropists, perhaps to offset their sometimes ruthless business reputations. Thoroughbred horse racing, always a rich man's sport, continued to attract moguls with disposable cash, inviting them to spend their leisure publicly and lavishly. At the track, old money mingled with new money, lubricated by the meritocracy of their equine runners.

James Ben Ali Haggin, son of Christian Turk parents, became a lawyer in the East and moved to California. In those new lands, Haggin got involved in real estate and mining, eventually holding one of the largest fortunes in the United States. He was known as "the copper, gold, and silver king" because of his extensive operations in the Californian and Peruvian ranges. Like other millionaires, he collected Thoroughbreds. His Rancho del Paso was the largest racing stable in the world, at one point, with over a thousand horses. The ranch covered 40000 acres of what is now largely the city of Sacramento. Despite its many attractions, California was a long way from the established centers of horse racing in Kentucky, New York, and Maryland. So in 1897, Haggin bought Elmendorf Farm in Fayette County, Kentucky, from genius horse breeder Daniel Swigert. Elmendorf was later expanded from 544 to almost 10000 acres, and Haggin's mansion "Green Hills" which was completed in 1902 was one of the great homes of its era. The house was razed after Haggin's death in 1914 at age 92.1

With his amazing wealth, Haggin was able to keep many champion racehorses. His most famous colt was Salvatore, but other famous names included Miss Woodford, Firenzi, and Ben Ali. Ben Ali was a brown colt, born in 1883 on Swigert's farm in Kentucky, a half-brother to Hindoo and Vanguard. His mother was a daughter of Lexington.2 Haggin purchased the colt as a yearling for his racing stable and named him for his son, James Ben Ali Haggin, Jr.

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         |                  |                 | Glencoe by Sultan 
         |                  | Vandal          |                         
         |                  |                 | Mare by Tranby      
         | Virgil           |                 |                            
         |                  |                 | Yorkshire by St. Nicholas       
         |                  | Hymenia         |                           
         |                  |                 | Little Peggy by Cripple
Ben Ali -----------------------------------------------------------  
         |                  |                 | Boston by Timoleon        
         |                  | Lexington       |
         |                  |                 | Alice Carneal by Sarpedon
         | Ulrice           |                 | 
         |                  |                 | Young Emilius by Emilius   
         |                  | Emilia          |     
         |                  |                 | Persian by Whisker   
-------------------------------------------------------------------------    

When Ben Ali was three years old, he was trained for the Kentucky Derby, a race which was then just starting to become the first-class stakes race it is today. Haggin employed trainer Jim Murphy and jockey Paul Duffy for his horse. May 14, the day of the 1886 Derby, was partly cloudy with temperatures in the middle eighties by afternoon.3 Nine horses shared the track (rated fast) with Ben Ali for this twelfth running of the race. The Haggin colt was generally considered the favorite, although no official odds exist; bookmakers did not operate at Churchill Downs that day because they had failed to reach a license agreement with track management. Obviously, these were the days before parimutual betting was installed.4

Ben Ali carried 118 pounds to the post. At the start, a horse named Sir Joseph charged to the front but was easily overtaken by Masterpiece within the first 200 yards. Masterpiece tired after three-quarters of a mile. Ben Ali, who had been running just behind the leaders all the way, took over in the final furlong and won the race by a half-length. Blue Wing finished second and Free Knight was third. The others finished in the order: Lijero, Jim Gray, Grimaldi, Sir Joseph, Harrodsburg, Lafitte, and Masterpiece. Ben Ali won $4890 for his work and set a new race record at 2:36 1/2.5

The brown colt won twelve of forty career races, finished second three times, and third five times. He earned just over $25000. Some of his important races were: (firsts) Hopeful Stakes, Charles Green Stakes, St. Louis Derby, Ocean Stakes, Spirit of the Times Stakes, Winter Stakes, Free Handicap, Fourth of July Handicap, (seconds) First Special Sweepstakes, Champion Stakes, (thirds) Choice Stakes, Omnius Stakes, Westchester Handicap. He was later retired to the breeding farm but failed to produce any famous offspring. One grandson, Graziallo, finished second in the 1904 Belmont Stakes. There is now an annual Ben Ali Stakes (Grade 3) at Keeneland, in April, for horses four years old and older, at a distance of 1 1/8 mile.6

Notes:
1. http://www.kentucky.com/mld/kentucky/sports/columnists/maryjean_wall/4022129.htm
2. http://www.fortunecity.com/marina/commodity/1881/clasics.html
3. http://www.crh.noaa.gov/lmk/climate/derby.txt
4. http://www.kentuckyderby.com
5. The Blood Horse http://tcm.bloodhorse.com
6. http://www.tbcprojects.com/career.php

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