Willis Sharpe Kilmer
Exterminator was an American Thoroughbred racehorse and the winner of the 1918 Kentucky Derby, and in 1922 won Horse of the Year honors.
The lanky chestnut colt was bred by F. D. "Dixie" Knight (Mrs. M.J. Mizner, Knight's mother, was said to be the actual breeder) and foaled at Almahurst Farm near Lexington, Kentucky. Exterminator was sired by McGee who also produced Donerail, the winner of the 1913 Kentucky Derby. At the Saratoga Paddock sale of 1916, he was bought as a yearling for $1,500 by J. Cal Milam who trained his own horses. The big colt grew fast, reaching 16.3 hands at two but he was awkward and coarse looking. For this reason, Milam had him gelded. On June 30, 1917 at Latonia Race Track in Covington, Kentucky, Exterminator made his debut in a six-furlong maiden race that he won by three lengths. Sent to race in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, he suffered a muscle sprain and Milam gave him time off to grow into his size, which by now was 17 hands. Still, he had earned $1,500 and a potential nomination to the Kentucky Derby.
Before Exterminator could begin his third season, Milam sold him to Willis Sharpe Kilmer for $9,000 and a pair of fillies, quite a bit of money for the times...especially as Kilmer had only authorized his future U.S. Hall of Fame trainer, Henry McDaniel, to pay about $700 for a "workhorse." Kilmer bought Exterminator to help his prized colt, Sun Briar in his workouts. (Kilmer had purchased his colt at the same sale Milam bought his, but for $5,000.)
Kilmer didn't think much of his new purchase; he called him "that Truck Horse," or "the goat." Exterminator was supposed to stay behind Sun Briar merely to urge him on to greater effort, but he ran easily beside Sun Briar unless held back. Even then, it was no effort to match Sun Briar...and Sun Briar had topped his juvenile division, winning 5 of 9 starts. Henry McDaniel was impressed by Exterminator's understanding of his job. He pressed when he was supposed to, held back when necessary. McDaniel considered him the most intelligent thoroughbred he'd ever known. Unfortunately, Sun Briar, who had won U.S. Two-yr-Old Champion Colt honors, developed ringbone and Kilmer suddenly had no horse for the Derby. He was urged to run Exterminator by McDaniel, but wouldn't hear of running "that goat" in his colors. It took Colonel Matt Winn, president of Churchill Downs, to convince him. Winn had seen the colt's workouts and was very impressed.
The morning of the race, it poured with rain. The track was deep in mud. Not since he was a two-year-old had Exterminator raced, and none of his races could be considered a suitable prep for the prestigious Kentucky Derby. Ridden by a disappointed Willie Knapp, who'd expected to be up on Sun Briar, Exterminator went off at odds of 30-1 to the heavily favored War Cloud. Exterminator raced at the back until the field turned for home, then he turned it on, flying down the track, passing one horse after the other. Nearing the wire, he was coming on stronger than ever, taking on Escoba, who was all that stood between Exterminator and the roses. He won the Derby by a length.
Willie Knapp became an instant fan of the tall chestnut gelding. Many years later he said of the champion: "When he was at his best, Exterminator could have beaten Man o' War or Citation or Kelso or any other horse that ever lived on any track doing anything."
When Man o' War was three, Kilmer tried for a match race between the two horses. Somehow, Man o' War's owner, Samuel Riddle, although seeming to agree, never managed to have that happen.
As a gelding, Exterminator went on to compete in 99 races, winning 50, finishing second and third, 17 times each. His lifetime earnings amounted to $252,996. Beaten in the Brooklyn Handicap by Grey Lag, Exterminator got better as he got older and later defeated Gray Lag in the same race. The Daily Racing Form named Exterminator U.S. Champion Older Male Horse three straight times from 1920 through 1922.
100 Race Start Myth
Found frequently and in long time error is the assertion that Exterminator started in 100 races. Per the research and subsequent book (Exterminator - #18 in the Thoroughbred Legends series) author Eva Jolene Boyd reviewed all records of his starts and the record keeping by the Daily Racing Form and found evidence that he only had 99 official racing starts.
The 100th "start" was an exhibition run by himself alone at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero, Illinois September 1922. It was not for purse money and of his win, place or show finishes none are uplifted by this walkover effort in a public workout.
Racing until the age of 9, a relatively old age for a horse, Exterminator was called by his many fans "Old Bones," or "The Galloping Hatrack," (amongst the stable lads, he was "Old Shang"). He was retired in 1924 to a life of grass and leisure, with a succession of companion ponies, all named Peanuts, at his side.
Exterminator lived until he was thirty, passing away on September 26, 1945 in his stall at Sun Briar Court; which has since been razed. At the time of his death it was reported that he was buried beside several of the companion ponies (all named "Peanuts") although no markers exist today reflecting their grave. Exterminator's grave stone is in former La France Pet Cemetery now renamed Whispering Pines Pet Cemetery, Binghamton, New York and is shared with fellow Kilmer owned and raced horses: Sun Briar (b. 1915 - d.1943) and the mare Suntinca (b. 1929 - d. 1947).
In 1957, Exterminator was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame
The Blood-Horse ranking of the top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century, put him at #29.
His career record of 33 stakes wins has never been broken by any thoroughbred raced in North America.
A children's book was written about him: Old Bones, the Wonder Horse written by Mildred Mastin Pace and published by McGraw-Hill in 1955 with illustrations by Wesley Dennis. It was reissued in 1983 as a paperback by the Scholastic Book Services.