Most folks who have been around UC Davis sports know that the official Aggie mascot is a blue mustang named Gunrock.
But did you know the mascot’s namesake, a thoroughbred named Gun Rock, was of blue blood?
Gun Rock was the son of royalty. He was sired by Rock Sand, a fleet competitor that, during the U.S. presidency of William Taft, won the English Triple Crown before retiring to stud.
It must also be noted that Rock Sand was the grandfather of American racing legend Man O’War and the great-grandfather of Depression Era dreamcatcher Seabiscuit.
Gun Rock actually was “stationed” at the University Farm campus in the 1920s as part of the U.S. Army’s old Remount Service, a branch of the Department of Agriculture that worked with universities and breeding facilities to keep the U.S. Cavalry in steeds.
The handsome bay came to town after he injured himself while training for the English Derby.
The unraced 2-year-old never made it to the track, according to a 1930s edition of the Aggie Alumni Association bulletin, but for 10 years lived the life of luxury in nearby pastures under the watchful eye of University Farm animal husbandry director C.E. Howell.
But the Army felt a horse standing too long at stud in one area thinned the impact of regional stock, so it “transferred” its prized stallion to Utah State in Logan.
Apparently, once an Aggie, always an Aggie …
After just four months away, Gun Rock broke a leg during an exercise session and had to be put down.
But his local name had been made, and when the Associated Students of UCD voted overwhelmingly to name the Aggies’ new-blue mascot Gun Rock, it assured that the horse that would be king lives on.
Gun Rock also had some accomplished immediate relatives.
Half-brother Fire Rock was a stakes winner that sold for the royal sum of $150,000 to a Santa Rose breeder in the Roaring ’20s.
A son, Oak Pont, won five of its first seven starts (including its maiden debut in Reno). Another youngster of Gun Rock’s, Elmer H, captured a handful of races at old Agua Caliente in Tijuana.
Elmer H’s big score, according to The Daily Racing Form, came in a $150,000 race at that Mexico track — a facility that rose to prominence when the mystical Phar Lap won the Agua Caliente Handicap (the richest horse race in history to date) in 1932.
Another son of Gun Rock, Howitzer, was an unraced thoroughbred who went on to be a star in the repopulation of America’s equine heroes.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Remount Services — which had seen its introduction by the Union during the Civil War — continued operation from 1908 until three years after World War II.
The Remount Service provided horses (and mules) for toting artillery, supplies, men and construction gear through battles, Army Corps of Engineers projects and across parade grounds.
According to “Bloodhorse” archives, as late as 1945, almost 500 government-owned stallions were “visiting” privately owned mares to produce about 8,000 cavalry foals annually.
Gun Rock — our own local role model — was one of the pioneers of a rarely mentioned (“Warhorse” comes to mind) branch of service that pulled more than its fair share of our Army’s weight.
So, far into the future, any spry Aggie fanatic who dons the Blue mantra/costume of UCD’s Gunrock brings to the court or the football field or campus/community events a legacy of which movies are made.
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.