Assault was an American Hall of Fame thoroughbred racehorse who won the U.S. Triple Crown in 1946.
Foaled at King Ranch in Texas, Assault seemed unlikely to amount to anything on the track, much less a Triple Crown champion. Described as being "on the delicate side" by his later jockey, Eddie Arcaro, the son of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Bold Venture was plagued with injuries and illnesses from the start. As a youngster, he stepped on what is believed to be a surveyor's stake, driving it through his front right hoof. The hoof was permanently deformed, and the colt developed an unattractive limp to accommodate the odd shape of his foot; however, the "Club-footed Comet," as he would later be dubbed, showed no signs of abnormality when he was at a full gallop. Throughout his career, Assault also overcame kidney, splint bone, ankle, knee and bleeding problems.
Aside from his physical troubles, Assault faced another major hurdle on his quest to the top echelon of horse-racing. He had been born and bred at King Ranch, a Texas farm that primarily raised cattle and quarter horses for racing. At the time, the vast majority of major stakes-winners were born and bred in Kentucky (indeed, Assault remains the only Texas-bred Triple Crown winner).
Under Max Hirsch's training, Assault made his racing debut as a two-year-old in 1945, unceremoniously finishing 12th. He wound up with a record of two wins in nine starts that year, surprisingly capturing the Flash Stakes in a four-way photo finish, but nothing to be overly impressed with. Early in his three-year-old season, he began turning things around. He was victorious in the prestigious Wood Memorial, but an off-the-board finish in the Derby Trial made him somewhat of an outside shot in the Kentucky Derby. With jockey Warren Mehrtens aboard, he blew past rivals to take the first jewel of the Triple Crown by eight lengths, the longest margin of victory to date. Rejuvenated by his impressive win, Assault was made the favorite for the Preakness Stakes a week later. Aggravated by traffic early in the race, Mehrtens decided to push Assault earlier than usual. He was four lengths in front with 1/8 of a mile to go, and quickly running out of energy. Assault just barely sustained a neck victory over closer Lord Boswell.
The crowds saw this as a stamina issue, and made Lord Boswell the favorite in the 1-1/2-mile Belmont Stakes. After stumbling at the start, Assault trailed the field throughout much of the race. Mehrtens allowed him to take his time and find his bearings instead of rushing him. In the final 200 yards, Assault exploded past the leaders to win the Belmont by three lengths. He was the seventh Triple Crown winner ever, and the third during the 1940s.
Two weeks after his Belmont victory, Assault won the Dwyer Stakes, and the general public opinion finally conceded that he was the best three-year-old in training (but that it was also a poor crop to choose from). However, his embarrassing last-place finish in the Arlington Classic made him "just an average horse" again. After the Arlington Classic, it was discovered he had a kidney infection and needed some rest. Assault returned to the track, but something had changed. He was running well, but not winning. After a string of seconds, thirds, and fourths, trainer Max Hirsch made the decision to change jockeys. Assault's original jockey Mehrtens was replaced by Eddie Arcaro. As if to reward Hirsch's judgment, Assault trounced his competitors in both the Pimlico Special and Westchester Handicap with Arcaro aboard, and was voted 1946 Horse of the Year honors.
Over the winter, Assault developed into a handsome, mature four-year-old. The colt was constantly hungry, charging grooms if he was not fed on time. He paid such close attention to his exercise riders that when it seemed that they were gazing off or not fully attentive, he would leap to the side, leaving them mid-air, and gallop around the track riderless.
As a four-year-old, Assault won five of seven races and never finished worse than third. He was victorious in some of the biggest handicap races in history, including the Brooklyn and Suburban Handicaps, while carrying weights of up to 135 pounds. During 1947, he and his rival Stymie battled for the top money-earner title, swapping it back and forth several times. However, in a $100,000 winner take all match race at Belmont Park on September 27, 1947, Arcaro and Assault were beaten by eight lengths by Calumet Farm's Armed, ridden by Douglas Dodson, who would earn 1947 Horse of the Year honors.
Assault wound up returning to the track as a five-, six-, and seven-year-old, although he never returned to the full winning form he displayed as a three- and four-year-old.
Assault was originally intended to be retired after his four-year-old season and stand stud alongside his sire at King Ranch. However, none of the mares he was mated with became pregnant; it was apparent that he was sterile. He was returned to racing until the age of seven, where he won a few more races, including one more running of the Brooklyn Handicap. He was then permanently retired to King Ranch. There were some rumors that he was allowed to pasture breed with some of King Ranch's quarter horse mares, but there are no records that any of those foals made it to the track. He did sire two quarter horse foals and they were registered with AQHA. Assault died on September 1, 1971, at age 28, at King Ranch, and the gravesite is on the King Ranch (in Kingsville, Texas).