PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- Fred Fitzsimmons, a support contractor for Project Manager Soldier Weapons, had a very special reason for being excited about Justify, this year's winner of thoroughbred horse racing's Triple Crown.
That's because "Fitz"--as he's known by his Picatinny Arsenal co-workers and friends--is the grandson of legendary Hall of Fame horse trainer, James "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons.
"Sunny Jim" trained 10 champions during his career, including the 1930 and 1935 Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox and Omaha. Fitz's grandfather also trained the renowned Seabiscuit, and Secretariat sire Bold Ruler.
"When Justify won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in May, I sensed we might just have another Triple Crown winner," Fitz said.
"Triple Crown winners are a rarity," added Fitz, who after 40 years retired from the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center in 2001. He has been a support contractor with PM Soldier Weapons at Picatinny Arsenal since 2003.
When Justify won the Belmont on June 9, he became the 13th Triple Crown winner in history. To Fitz's delight, Justify's win at Belmont also renewed public interest in his grandfather.
Three years earlier, American Pharaoh -- another great thoroughbred -- became racing's 12th Triple Crown winner, Fitz explained. Justify and Pharaoh both were trained by the same horse trainer, Bob Baffert.
The feat sent sports writers and fans to the record books, inquiring if any other trainers in history had trained two Triple Crown winners during their careers. Turns out one had: "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons. Fitz's grandfather had accomplished the same rare feat 80 years earlier. Moreover, he was the first trainer to do so.
Fitz said that he and the rest of the Fitzsimmons' clan were extremely pleased by the increased attention his grandfather received after Justify's achievement. Since then, family members have refocused their attention on their own horse racing enterprise, a stable of racing horses they own.
Their stable is appropriately named "Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons Racing." Fred said they began the venture five years ago in an attempt to keep alive their famous patriarch's name and racing tradition.
When a Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons Racing horse takes to the track, his jockey sports the cherry with orange cross sash colors first used by Fitz's grandfather 100 years ago. This year's highlight for Fitz will be the "Sunny Jim" descendant reunion at Saratoga Springs Racetrack, New York, in August. The reunion coincides with an annual race named for Fitz's grandfather.
After the race, Fitz and other family members present the trophy to the winning jockey and the horse's owner. It's become a family tradition that brings "Sunny Jim's" family together each year for wonderful memories and enjoyable times.
Members of the Fitzsimmons family have many stories to recall about "Sunny Jim." For example, in 1914, a close friend asked "Sunny Jim" to do him the honor of being the godfather to his first grandson. "Sunny Jim" quickly agreed.
That boy grew up to be Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers during the 1960s, when he led the team to three straight and five total NFL Championships in seven years. His team also won the first two Super Bowls.