Former Junction livery owner trained Kentucky Derby winner
With the 2017 Kentucky Derby done, another horse has a chance to win the Triple Crown, 98 years after Sir Barton became the first horse to win the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Sir Barton was owned by Canadian railroad heir J.K.L. Ross, but he was trained by a former Grand Junction livery stable owner.
H. Guy Bedwell — later nicknamed “Hard Guy” — became one of the leading Thoroughbred horse trainers in the country after leaving Colorado. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1971.
But trouble plagued him in Grand Junction and in the racing world.
Bedwell was born in Roseburg, Oregon, in 1876, and worked as a cowboy there. He arrived in Grand Junction in the 1890s.
His brother, J.B. Bedwell served as Mesa County Clerk prior to 1898. J.B.‘s assistant, Henry Nichols, succeeded him as clerk.
In that election, a job was arranged for Guy Bedwell. On Sept. 14, 1898, The Daily Sentinel reported that Guy became Nichols’ assistant in return for withdrawing as a candidate for clerk, “which left the place open for Henry Nichols.”
Nichols soon fired Bedwell, claiming Bedwell was ill and unable to perform his duties. Bedwell maintained he was never sick or unable to work. The real reason for his firing remains unclear.
By 1904, Guy Bedwell operated a livery stable at the corner of Colorado Avenue and Second Street. His home was nearby, at 253 Colorado Ave.
But newspaper accounts indicate ongoing problems, such as the death of an infant child in 1901 and the theft of one of his horses in 1904.
Bedwell’s most serious local difficulty occurred on Christmas Eve 1904, when he used a knife to cut fellow racehorse owner J.A. McLuen. Perhaps the “Hard Guy” nickname originated then.
The two men had been arguing about who owned the fastest horses. McLuen, a larger man, called Bedwell “a dirty liar,” and said if Bedwell were his own size, he would wallop him.
Witnesses said McLuen struck or pushed Bedwell, who left the saloon, but returned with a knife. He cut a gash in McLuen’s face.
Bedwell was charged with assault with intent to commit murder, but the following March, he pleaded guilty to simple assault, paid a fine, and the case ended.
In addition to running his livery stable, Bedwell traded, trained and raced horses here. Years later, he recalled that in a single day of racing at Lincoln Park, he rode four horses and drove in six harness-horse heats.
While training in Grand Junction, Bedwell also earned a reputation for keeping racehorses healthy. He developed a particular knack for curing hoof problems.
It’s not known when Bedwell left Grand Junction. He was still listed in the Mesa County directory in 1907, but by then, he was racing horses at tracks from coast to coast.
In 1909 he won 122 races at recognized tracks, making him the leading trainer in North America.
However, in 1910, he had his first documented problems with horse-racing officialdom. He was accused of doping a horse with cocaine prior to a race. He was temporarily suspended from racing in Kentucky, but was reinstated by the end of the year.
For six consecutive years, beginning in 1912, Bedwell had the most total wins of any trainer in the country.
With such a record, it’s no surprise that Ross contacted Bedwell in late 1917, when he wanted to improve his racing stable. With Bedwell’s guidance, Ross bought horses that became some of the best racers of their time — Cudgel, Billy Kelly and Milkmaid.
Sir Barton was acquired in 1918, but he wasn’t highly regarded at first.
In fact, for the 1919 Kentucky Derby, Bedwell entered both Sir Barton and Billy Kelly, with Sir Barton only expected to set the early pace for his stablemate.
However, with Ross and Bedwell quietly betting heavily on him, Sir Barton won the Derby by five lengths. Billy Kelly was second.
The Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes were not officially known as the Triple Crown until the late 1920s, but all three were important races in 1919. So, with little rest between races, Sir Barton ran and won all three, adding a fourth victory between the Preakness and Belmont Stakes for good measure.
He also set a record with his time in the Belmont.
After those victories, Sir Barton continued to race, though he was tired and his feet were sore. He won a few, but lost key races. In 1920 he lost a match race to rising star, Man o’ War.
Still, with Sir Barton’s early victories, combined with those of Cudgel, Milkmaid and others, Bedwell was the leading trainer for 1919 and Ross was the leading owner.
But Bedwell’s problems soon resurfaced, first in a public argument with Sir Barton’s jockey, who hinted that Bedwell was doping horses.
Far worse was when Bedwell secretly asked the Man o’ War camp before the match race for a small share of the proceeds from the race if Sir Barton lost. That was a violation of New York state racing rules, and Bedwell lost his New York racing license. He wasn’t reinstated until 1938.
Bedwell and Ross parted ways after that, but Bedwell continued to train and race in other states. He worked into the 1940s, but he never regained the glory of his early years. He died in 1951 in Maryland.
Throughout much of his racing career, Bedwell journeyed often between the East and the West coasts. Whether he ever visited his one-time home in Grand Junction during those years is unknown.
Information for this column came from “Masters of the Turf: Ten Trainers Who Dominated Horse Racing’s Golden Age,” by Edward L. Bowen; “Wicked Western Slope,” by D.A. Brockett; The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame; the Museums of Western Colorado; The Daily Sentinel and the Grand Junction News.