From Race Horses to Roses (Part One): Whirlaway

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‘Whirlaway’ Mini-flora King 2012 Reading-Berks Rose Show. Shown and photographed by Andrew Hearne.

David Clemons and his lovely wife Tammy grow award-winning hybrid teas, mini-floras and miniature roses at their Grant, Alabama, residence. David is a passionate amateur hybridizer that specializes in creating exhibition quality mini- flora and miniature roses. He fully admits his goal is to create and introduce roses that produce queen quality blooms, perhaps at the expense of being a top-notch garden rose. With that being said, I, like many others, can attest to his roses also being excellent in the garden. With the exception of ‘Joy’ (named after his Mother), each of David’s eight roses are named for a thoroughbred racehorse.

The Thoroughbred:

The chestnut thoroughbred Whirlaway was foaled at Calumet Farm in Lexington, KY on April 2, 1938. His sire was Blenheim II, the 1930 Epsom Derby winner and broodmare Dustwhirl. Early on in his career he gained the nickname Mr. Longtail for his unusually long thick un-thoroughbred like tail. Whirlaway was trained by the legendary Hall of Famer Ben A. Jones who trained six Kentucky Derby winners and two triple crown winners. Whirlaway was a stubborn racehorse who had an inability to run in a straight line, often covering a large portion of the track. In fact in 1940 Whirlaway crashed into the outer rail yet still won the race at the Saratoga Special.

Whirlaway shared with Our Boots the title of Champion Two Year Old Colts. In 1941 Whirlaway was given a one-eye blinker to help cure the colt of his wandering racing style. Jockey Eddie Arcaro rode Whirlaway to an 8 length victory and then record 2:01 2/5 at the Kentucky Derby, a time that would stand for more than 20 years. That record lead to accusations Whirlaway was drugged which was of course false.

At the Preakness, Whirlaway practically walked out of the starting gate and was “so far last that he wasn’t bothered by the dust the other horses were raising,” as Joe Palmer reported in the following week’s Blood-Horse. By the back stretch Whirlaway’s brilliant display of speed passed all the other horses and won by 5-1/2 lengths. The colt’s brilliance and raw speed scared away the competition as only four horses raced the Belmont Stakes. Despite the other jockeys setting a slow early pace Whirlaway took the lead at the half and never looked back becoming the 5th horse to win the Triple Crown and was named Horse of the Year. Only eleven horses have won the triple crown which was most recently won by Affirmed in 1978. Calumet Farm’s Citation won the Triple Crown in 1948.

Whirlaway after winning the Belmont Stakes to claim the 1941 Triple Crown. Photo courtesy of belmontstakes.com.

In 1942 Whirlaway won another 12 races and was once again named Horse of the Year beating rival Alsab once again. In all, Whirlaway raced 60 times with 32 Wins, 15 Places, and 9 Shows. Whirlaway is ranked 26th in The Blood-Horse magazine list of greatest thoroughbred champions of the 20th century. Ironically, jockey George Woolf rode Whirlaway in 1942 due to Eddie Arcaro’s year-long suspension. George Woolf is famous for riding Seabiscuit to victory in the famous 1938 match of the century race at Pimlico against then Triple Crown winner War Admiral. At the time George Woolf was replacing an injured jockey Red Pollard who was Seabiscuit’s regular jockey. Seabiscuit is ranked just one horse ahead of Whirlaway as the 25th greatest thoroughbred in The Blood-Horse magazine list. In 1959 Whirlaway was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

The Rose:

‘Whirlaway’ Queen of Show at Reading-Berks Rose Show. Shown and photographed by Andrew Hearne.

‘Whirlaway’ is the stunning mini-flora which is the epitome of David Clemons goal and success as a hybridizer. It is fitting that David’s finest mini-flora thus far is the only rose he has named after a Triple Crown winning thoroughbred. At the fall Atlanta National Rose Show in 2010 David’s wife Tammy told me her favorite rose was ‘Whirlaway’.

‘Whirlaway’ has large white blooms that can have a slight tint of green on the outer most petals. ‘Merlot’ and his own great mini-flora ‘Foolish Pleasure’ were used to create this beauty. Just like the great thoroughbred, ‘Whirlaway’ is a bit slower to establish in the garden its first year compared to its fellow mini-floras. Once the bush gets some “legs” watch out! ‘Whirlaway’ is an upright, vertical, powerful grower often growing as tall as some hybrid teas. The canes are very long and are nearly thornless with dark green beautiful foliage that has above average resistance to mildew and blackspot. I have noticed when grown on own roots the plant has a habit of not wanting to throw very many basal breaks but instead throws huge canes higher up the bush. I do have one ‘Whirlaway’ plant on Fortuniana rootstock and it tends to throw more low breaks than my own root bushes. I have noticed it still prefers to throw the larger canes higher up the plant, though overall, the Fortuniana plant is bushier and slightly more vigorous. The bush can be slightly tender during harsher winters. My own root roses of ‘Whilraway’ can be slightly prone to die back after the winter prune that the Fortuniana bush doesn’t suffer from.

As an exhibition rose there is no finer mini-flora. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration for me to say 9 out of every 10 blooms have excellent form. The booms are classically formed with very high centers complimented by that perfect large dark green glossy foliage. A “big” ‘Whirlaway’ can be as large as a floribunda. ‘Whirlaway’ has great refrigeration characteristics which it inherited from ‘Foolish Pleasure’. Of course the downside, like all white blooms, is being prone to spotting during damp weather and the attraction thrips have to the rose. Statistics complied by RoseShow.com have ‘Whirlaway’ as the top rated exhibition mini-flora in 2011 and 2012 and was the Mini-flora Queen at the 2010 Atlanta National (Fred Wright) and then the following spring at the 2011 Winston-Salem National (Andrew Hearne) and later that same year at the Milwaukee Mini Nationals (Karen Mezera). I personally have had more success with ‘Whirlaway’ than any other mini-flora at the rose shows. Even if I didn’t show roses, ‘Whirlaway’ is such a great garden rose and cut flower it would still be one of my favorite roses.

‘Whirlaway’ mini-flora Queen at 2012 Philadelphia Rose Show. Shown and photographed by Andrew Hearne.

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