Majestic Prince was a Thoroughbred racehorse purchased by Calgary, Alberta oilman Frank McMahon at the Keeneland yearling sale in September 1967 for a then record price of $250,000. The California based colt, who grew to a powerful 1,120 pounds, was trained by another Albertan, Johnny Longden, a longtime friend of Frank McMahon who had retired in 1966 as the winningest jockey of all time.
Raced lightly as a 2-year-old, Majestic Prince won both of his starts in his 1968 fall campaign. Ridden by Bill Hartack, at age three, he quickly became the dominant 3-year-old in West Coast racing, capping it off with an eight-length victory in the most important Santa Anita Derby. Unbeaten, Majestic Prince headed for Louisville and the Kentucky Derby.
The Kentucky Derby
The 1969 Derby had a very strong field that deterred entries, and as such only eight horses went to the starting gate. Majestic Prince was the betting favorite, followed by Top Knight, winner of the 1968 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Two-Year-Old Male Horse. The 3rd favorite was the highly-regarded Claiborne Farm colt Dike, and Paul Mellon's Arts and Letters was the 4th choice. The remaining four horses entered were all at very long odds.
Majestic Prince drew the last post position, which meant he started from the far outside. Arts and Letters, racing along the rail, took the lead by the time they reached the mile pole and were about to head for the stretch run. Majestic Prince ran the entire race on the outside but pulled up alongside Arts and Letters into 2nd place as they came down the homestretch, then moved ahead to win by a neck. The victory made Majestic Prince the first unbeaten Kentucky Derby champion in 47 years. Johnny Longden became the only person in history to ever win the Derby both as a jockey and as a trainer, a feat that as of 2009 has not been matched.
The Preakness Stakes
The heavy favorite going into the second leg of the U.S. Triple Crown, Majestic Prince again met Arts and Letters, and the two dueled to the finish with "The Prince," as the media dubbed him, winning his ninth consecutive race by a head. However, the morning after his victory, trainer Johnny Longden advised the media that Majestic Prince came out of the race with a problem in the right front tendon. Longden stated the horse wouldn't be able to run his best in the Belmont Stakes and therefore he was being shipped back to California to be rested until the fall. When asked by a reporter, owner Frank McMahon said he concurred with Longden's view, adding: "We want a Triple Crown, not a Crippled Crown."
That the horse with the best chance in twenty-one years to win the Triple Crown was pulling out brought a frenzy of publicity and questions, particularly because Longden had said the injury was a developing problem but Majestic Prince could still run, although not at his best. The idea that someone in those circumstances would pass up the chance to achieve American racing immortality seemed incomprehensible.
The Belmont Stakes
To this day, much speculation abounds as to why owner Frank McMahon changed his mind and raced Majestic Prince in the Belmont, but the pressure from the press was intense, including Whitney Tower's article in Sports Illustrated entitled "The Prince Ducks the Big One". The decision never sat well with trainer Johnny Longden and despite his well-documented shouting match with the horse's owner in the days leading up to the race, Majestic Prince was still sent out to compete in the Belmont Stakes. The first horse in history to enter the Belmont Stakes undefeated made a valiant effort but finished second, beaten by Arts and Letters by 5½ lengths. Majestic Prince never raced again.
Jockey Bill Hartack told reporters: "The horse was hurting. We should never have run in [the Belmont]." Trainer Johnny Longden would later comment that Majestic Prince had what was called a check ligament in his right front [leg]. When he bore out in the Preakness, that was a warning. We never should have run him in the Belmont.” Longden said that he tried to bring Majestic Prince back to racing later in 1969 and then again the following year but could not and was sold to a racing syndication for $1.8 million. Retired to Spendthrift Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, Majestic Prince sired thirty-three stakes winners before he died of a heart attack in 1981. Among his progeny was Coastal, winner of the 1979 Belmont Stakes.
In 1988, Majestic Prince was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and in the 2000 Blood-Horse ranking of the top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century, he was ranked #46.