In 1918, Willie Sharpe Kilmer sought to take the horse racing world by storm. He entered his prize horse, Sun Briar, in the Kentucky Derby. Needing a horse to work out with Sun Briar at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Derby, Kilmer acquired a gelding with a less distinguished pedigree by the name of Exterminator. But at the last minute, Sun Briar's trainer, Henry McDaniel, decided he was not ready for the race and convinced Kilmer to enter Exterminator instead. Ridden by jockey Willie Knapp, Exterminator overcame the 30 - 1 odds and brought home the roses!
When Exterminator returned to his home in Binghamton, he was received with a hero's welcome, complete with parade. His racing career spanned 100 races between 1917 and 1924. Of those races he won 50, took second in 17 and third in 17. That meant that he was "in the money" a remarkable 84% of the time. He held the record for longest stride until 1975, when it was broken by Secretariat's longer stride.
Though undeniably one of the greatest racehorses of all time, he had an ungainly, skinny appearance, earning him the nick name "Old Bones." Many attributed his greatness to heart and stamina. Being a gelding, he was never able to pass on his better qualities to subsequent generations.
Willie Kilmer died in 1940. Upon his death his estate sold off all 400 of his racehorses, with the exception of Exterminator, Sun Briar, and Suntica (sired by Sun Briar).
Exterminator was returned to Sun Briar Court to live out his final days. A companion pony named Peanuts was brought in to keep him company. Every May, Kilmer's widow would have a birthday party for Exterminator, and would invite the area school children to the event. Old Bones always loved the attention.
Exterminator died in 1945 at the ripe old age of 30. He is buried, along with Sun Briar and Suntica, in the town of Binghamton on Gardner road. They were buried in a private pet cemetery. Unfortunately, when the owner died, the cemetary was not kept up. It is slowly returning to forest. Recently it was suggested that Exterminator should be disinterred and reburied in Saratoga Springs as a more fitting location for the champion that he was. The suggestion came from someone associated with the horse racing hall of fame in Saratoga Springs, and has awakened the area to the historical treasure that they have.
The cemetery has been seized by the county for failure to pay back taxes. It has been suggested that the county create a park and fitting memorial for this outstanding competitor. I hope this comes about. This is too good a story to lose.
If you would like to see the burial place of Exterminator, here are the directions:
Take interstate 81/NY route 17 exit 4S and follow NY route 363 (North Shore Drive to NY route 434 (Vestal Parkway). Follow signs for Ross Park Zoo (left on Washington Street at number 5 restaurant, right on Vestal Ave., left on Park Ave., left on Morgan Road.) Continue past the entrance to Ross Park. When Morgan Road turns right, continue going straight on Gardner Road. Between 1/4 and 1/2 mile on the right is the cemetery behind some pine trees. Stop by the road sign that warns of a driveway entering to the right. The cemetery is right there. You could easily drive by without seeing it. Once you have stopped, you'll readily see the monument to horses about 40 feet back from the road among some planted trees. As you explore the plot of land see if you can find other grave stones flush with the ground and generally grown over. On your way to or from the cemetery stop at Ross Park for an encounter with some more horses from that era - the oldest carousel in Broome County. The price of admission is still just a piece of litter.
Let's fix up Exterminators final resting place and give him the honor and glory he deserves.