by Lisa Harkema
He was undefeated in his racing career but is generally unknown. But in his day, Axtell was a formidable racehorse.
The smallish (only 15.3 hands) colt was bred by CW Williams of Independence, Iowa. Williams was the person who had built the unique and very fast kite-shaped track in Independence. Williams owned the mare Lou, by Mambrino Boy, and bred her to the three-year-old stallion William L in 1885 (the performances of Axtell meant that Lou could later be registered as a standardbred mare according to the studbook rules). William L was an unspectacular trotter but he was the full brother to Guy Wilkes and got some interest from broodmare owners as a result.
Williams trained Axtell himself and at 2, he was not only undefeated, he also lowered the two-year-old stallion world record to 2:23 which he trotted in Lexington (the 2:21 world record was initially held by the Californian Wildflower in 1881 but lowered by Leland Stanford’s Sunol to 2:20 1/2 and lawho would lower it to 2:18 later that year). When Axtell trotted 2:23, it was desribed as «late in the afternoon on a raw, unfavorable day and over a track by no means in condition for speed.» Several reports pointed out that with favorable conditions Axtell could be expected to trot in 2:20 at 2.
Axtell followed up as a three-year-old, again winning every start and again lowering the world’s stallion record, this time to 2:12 which he set in a time trial in Terra Haute. Axtell and Sunol lowered the world record for three-year-olds a whopping six times, reducing the record from 2:18 to 2:12. At the end of that year Williams sold Axtell for a record-breaking $105,000 to a syndicate, the highest price ever paid for a horse of any kind at that time. In December it was announced that Axtell already had a full book of 90 mares for the upcoming breeding season – despite being priced at a hefty $1000 stud fee.
At four he broke down and was retired to stud permanently. He failed to reproduce his great speed at stud and lost popularity as a sire. In November 1900 he was sold at the Old Glory auction for $14,700. In his next season at stud he would, however, produce the one horse that ensured his permanent place in breeding history, namely the foundation sire Axworthy.
He died on August 19, 1906 in Terre Haute, Indiana.