Photo Credits: ALEXA FONTANILLA / AGGIE FILE
Gunrock isn’t only the lovable Aggie mascot –– he was also a real-life champion breeding sire
With his white toothy grin, wide eyes and huggable navy blue fur, all UC Davis students know him well. But what is our mascot? An Aggie? A Mustang? He is actually Gunrock. His appearances are always well received at sports games and school events, as he can be seen high-fiving students, posing with children of alumni and cheering on sports teams with the Cal Aggie Marching Band-uh!
However, Gunrock is more than just the mascot all Aggies know and love. Gun Rock (yes, two words) was a real Thoroughbred stallion who lived at UC Davis from 1921 to 1931. Instead of navy blue, his coat was a golden chestnut color, matched with a white blaze on his face and white leg markings.
Born in 1914 as an offspring of the British Triple Crown winner in 1903, Rock Sand, and race mare Gunfire, Gun Rock lived his early years under the care of Clarence Mackay, his breeder who was a U.S. telegraph company mogul. With high-class breeding, Rock Sand was related to two American racing legends, as he was the grandfather of Man O’War and great-grandfather to Seabiscuit, according to Michael Mienaltowski, a professor in the animal science department. His mother Gunfire was the great-great-granddaughter of Lexington, another famous American racehorse.
With his prestiged racehorse pedigree, Gun Rock was owned by various wealthy sporting elite. Several millionaire race enthusiasts passed his ownership around, including Standard Oil heir Herbert Pratt and financier August Belmont Jr., who bred Man O’ War and built the famous Belmont Park racetrack in Elmont, New York, according to a UC Davis Centennial Article on Gun Rock.
While he never had any big racing wins, Gun Rock became a legend for other reasons. Since Belmont was a great supporter of the U.S. military, he donated Gun Rock and many of his other prized horses to the U.S. Army’s old Remount Service, according to Mienaltowski. This branch, within the Department of Agriculture, placed hundreds of breeding horses and mules on land-grant colleges and certain private farms across the country to provide horses for the cavalry.
Stationed at UC Davis, which in the 1920s was known as the University Farm campus, Gun Rock become a valuable military stud. He was bred with 476 mares, some owned by the university and the rest from varied farms across Northern California. According to a 1930s edition of the Aggie Alumni Association bulletin, Gun Rock lived a pampered life in pastures during his 10 years spent in Davis.
The cavalry bought most of the foals sired by Gun Rock, but many others ended up being used for other purposes, such as racing, showing, rodeos, ranch work or pleasure riding.
In 1932, Gun Rock’s time in Davis ended as he was moved to a facility in Utah. Shortly after his move, he passed away. Upon his death, a reporter at The Aggie in 1932 recalled him as “a beautiful animal with class and breeding evident in every line.”
As a sign of respect and to try and keep his legacy alive, the mascot for the university was named and modeled after him. The current mascot, named Gunrock, is a Mustang, however, not a Thoroughbred.
Gunrock has not always been the mascot, since Davis has gone through many different characters. But, to honor the agricultural heritage of the UC Davis campus, referring to students as the Aggies has remained a constant.
In 1924, Gun Rock, the actual horse, accompanied the men’s basketball team at games and rallies as their mascot. After Gun Rock moved away, a more traditional mascot also named Gunrock was used instead and persisted into the 1970s until Ollie the Mustang replaced him, according to a UC Davis Centennial Article on Gunrock. In 1993, the cow was adopted by students as the mascot, but the administration and alumni were not in agreement. After decades of not having an official mascot, in 2003, the mascot was officially identified as the Mustang once again. After students and community members voted in an online poll, the name Gunrock returned when it won with 98 percent percent of the votes.
Today, Gunrock continues to be the official mascot and ambassador of UC Davis and Aggie athletics. The legacy of the 1920s champion breeding sire still lives on every time his mascot version can been seen galloping around athletic games and community events, receiving smiles and cheers from everyone he passes.
“To put it simply, Gun Rock (and now Gunrock) represents traditions of agriculture, service and strength for UC Davis, the premier agricultural school in California and I dare say the nation and the world,” Mienaltowski said.
Written by: Margo Rosenbaum — firstname.lastname@example.org