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Exterminator: Beating The Odds To Become "Most Beloved Race Horse"

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BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -

The Kentucky Derby is just around the corner, which is why May's Legacy Landmark is not about a 'what,' but a 'who.' This year marks 100 years since a Binghamton horse beat the odds and won it all at the 1918 Kentucky Derby.

Exterminator. That's a name that sounds like victory, but before the 1918 Kentucky Derby, he was not just the underdog. In fact, no one had even heard of the horse.

It's a fascinating story.

— Brian Frey, WSKG Director of Operations and Special Projects

The horse was purchased for $10,000 by Binghamton millionaire Willis Sharp Kilmer. Kilmer is best known for his Swamp Root business, but was determined to have a prized race horse as well. Exterminator was not that horse. He was bought as a training tool for Kilmer's other thoroughbreds.

Exterminator after winning the 1918 Kentucky Derby.

"He would run against the other horses to encourage them to go on," says Gerry Smith, Broome County Historian.

That training happened at the Kilmers' private race track, Sun Briar Court. The same name Kilmer gave his favorite horse. Sun Briar was the one everyone was watching.

"Everybody's telling him that Sun Briar is gonna not only run in the Kentucky Derby, but is most likely going to win," says Frey.

Sun Briar was Kilmer's prized race horse and a favorite to win the race.

We can only imagine Kilmer's horror when race day came around and his trainer noticed a problem and pulled the horse from the race. Sun Briar was out and Exterminator, the horse Kilmer had called "old bones" and "an ugly horse," was in.

30-1 odds. Nobody knew this horse.

— Gerry Smith, Broome County Historian

When the starting shot went off, Exterminator proved everyone wrong.

"He was kind of held back and midway through the race, he takes off, passing everybody," says Smith.

Over a span of seven years, Exterminator ran in 100 races, winning 50 of them and placing in 34. He earned over $250,000 in his lifetime.

"He apparently won against almost everybody he ran against," says Smith.

When he was retired, he was brought back to Binghamton to spend the rest of his days at Sun Briar Court. That land is now where Lourdes Hospital sits. The Kilmers would throw birthday parties for him every year, attracting hundreds of visitors. 

Sun Briar Court is now Lourdes Hospital on Riverside Drive.

"Probably one of the most beloved race horses of all time," says Frey.

You can see his trophies, which are still on display at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga. Exterminator and Sun Briar are buried at Whispering Pines Pet Cemetery on Gardner Rd in Binghamton.