Born in 1886, Tenny was the son of French stallion Rayon d’Or and American mare Belle of Maywood. He was born with unconventional conformation, and as a consequence, was sold for only $100 as a yearling.
Much like the “People’s Horse” Seabiscuit decades later, Tenny became extremely popular as his career took off, his “ugly features” endearing him to the public who knew him as “The Swayback”.
A brilliant colt in his own right, Tenny is mostly remembered today for his rivalry with two time Horse of the Year and Hall of Fame member Salvator.
The pair first met in the 1889 Realization Stakes at Sheepshead Bay. Though Salvator won, his plain-bred and ungainly opponent more than gave him a run for his money. Tenny was only “half a nose behind” at the finish, and in fact, many in the crowd were convinced that the smaller colt had won. When Salvator’s number was posted as the winner there was “a chorus of hisses”, but Salvator’s supporters soon drowned out the boos.
At the start of 1890, Tenny rolled to victory in his first four races, while Salvator sat out the beginning of the year. They finally met in the Suburban Handicap, once again at Sheepshead Bay. Though it was Salvator’s first race of the year, he proved that he needed no prep, and won by a neck. Tenny was again the runner-up, and this time his owner D.T. Pulsifer challenged Salvator’s owner, James Ben Ali Haggin, to a match race to decide who was the better horse.
On June 25, 1890, the rivals met for the third time. Once again at Sheepshead Bay, and once again it was as close as could be. The pair went together through the first three furlongs, but Salvator opened up to lead by daylight going into the final turn. His fractional times for seven, eight, and nine furlongs equaled American records. It seemed that the match race was over before it really began, but Tenny wasn’t through yet. Once in the stretch, “Tenny came very fast and was overhauling Salvator”. As fans stood in the stands and screamed for their favorite, the two horses hit the wire seemingly as one.
The jockeys on both horses believed they had won, and chattered like friends as they rode back. The judges declared Salvator the winner by “half a head”, and his time of 2:05 was a new American record for a mile and a quarter.
Tenny and Salvator faced each other only once more, in the Champion Stakes at the new Monmouth Park. Their final meeting proved to be the most disappointing, as Salvator galloped to an easy four length victory.
Following the Champion Stakes, Salvator and Tenny were pitted in special separate events to see if either could best the American record for a mile. Tenny went first, clocking in at 1:40 3/4, which did not break the record of 1:39 1/4. Three days later, Salvator unleashed a furious sprint to stop the clock at 1:35 1/2, a record which stood for nearly 30 years.
Though Salvator was retired following the time trials, Tenny continued racing for two more years. Upon his retirement, he proved to be a disappointing sire, much like his former rival.
When it came to the end of their lives, the rivals were again only noses apart. In November 1909, the two 23-year-old stallions died within a few days of each other.
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