The prospect of a clash between the champions Citation and Shannon was mouth watering. Shannon an Australian import and Citation the latest American Triple Crown winner and both were in town. The time was December 1948 and both Citation and Shannon were to compete in the Tanforan Handicap over 9f. Tanforan is just outside San Francisco and, at the time, best known for its race track. The track was the home to both Phar Lap and Seabiscuit at one time during their careers. The race itself was one of the most important and richest races around.
Contender 1: Citation (Bull Lea-Hydroplane)
His breeding showed Carbine as a distant relative and the 3yo was sweeping all before him. He was the winner of the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby (10f), Preakness Stakes (9f) and the Belmont Stakes (11/2 miles)). Just to show what he could do; he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup over 2 miles beating the best of the older horses by 7 lengths.
He was going into the Tanforan with the record of his 3yo season to date as 18 starts with 17 wins; the last 12 in succession. A rare walkover in the Pimlico Special (now a G3) did nothing to help his preparation if he needed it. . For more riches and fame, he went west.
Contender 2: Shannon (Midstream-Blandford)
Shannon was a top-class racehorse in Australia. He had his major wins in the Sire’s Produce Stakes, Hobartville, Epsom, Theo Marks, and George Main. In the George Main, carrying 9st 3lbs, he set an Australasian record for a mile at 1.341/2
American, Mr N S McCarthy, purchased Shannon and he did his future racing in California. He got off to a slow start but at the time of the Tanforan he was in the best form of his life. His last 4 starts were 3 wins and 1 third (beaten by nk, h). In the three wins he equaled the world record for 9f (1.473/5), and a week later equaled the world record for 10f (1.594/5). This was the first time any horse had broken 2 minutes in America. In his last start he set a track record in the 9f San Francisco Hcp of 1.504/5 at Tanforan. Even as a rising 8yo, he was certainly rearing to go.
So, What Happened?
Behind the scenes his owner was negotiating sale of the horse to Spendthrift Farms. The deal was finalized at $300,000 (about $7.5m today). There was, however a clause which said the McCarthy could withdraw Shannon if he felt the weights allotted to Citation and Shannon were unfair to his horse. The handicapper allotted Citation 8st 11lbs (3lb> wfa) and Shannon 9st 1 lb (1lb>wfa). McCarthy thought the difference not enough and scratched the horse. Disappointment was universal. Californians though it was another East Coast trick to prevent their horse form beating an East Coast upstart. Just like the obstacles put in the way Seabiscuit v War Admiral some years earlier. The race went ahead, Citation won and Shannon went off to Spendthrift Farms to begin his new career.
Well, what could have happened? Firstly, Citation went on to record the most money won in America that year; Shannon was second. So in one sense evenly matched. Most critics believe the young colt on the way up would beat the old champion presumably on the way down. However, those in the Shannon cheer squad would remind those critics of the result of the T J Smith Stakes (6f) in 2009. A champion, Takeover Target, then a 9yo blitzed a G1 field which contained 6 G1 winners by 23/4 L and broke the race record. Never under rate champions -even against other champions.