09/03/2010 4:12PM

All-time great once went 5 for 5 during meet at River Downs


Racing in the spring and summer at the same time as tracks such as Arlington Park, Saratoga, and Del Mar, River Downs gets limited attention. But over the years, the track, located on the banks of the Ohio River near downtown Cincinnati, has welcomed some of the sport’s greats.

Opened on July 6, 1925, as Coney Island Racetrack, the name was changed to its current one following the Ohio River flood of 1937 that inundated hundreds of towns and farms and left more than one million people homeless.

The immortal Seabiscuit and jockey Red Pollard raced at Coney Island twice in 1936, finishing third in both the Western Hills and East Hills handicaps.

In 1976, a little known 16-year-old apprentice jockey named Steve Cauthen rode his first career winner at River Downs. He crushed all riding records that season and went on to a Hall of Fame career.

River Downs’s signature race, the Cradle Stakes for 2-year-olds, first contested in 1977, will be run for the 34th time Monday.

Test your knowledge of River Downs and Ohio racing.

1. More than 10,000 people were on hand at Coney Island on opening day in 1925. The event marked the return of major Thoroughbred racing to the Cincinnati area for the first time since the short-lived Oakley Race Course closed two decades earlier.

The legendary Black Gold, winner of the 75th Kentucky Derby in 1924, thrilled the opening day throng by galloping before the races. While Black Gold did not compete at Coney Island that season, another future Hall of Fame member was undefeated in five starts at the meeting. Name the horse.

2. In 1926, for the first time in racing history, four Thoroughbreds each earned more than $100,000 in their 3-year-old season – a huge sum in that era.

This included the winners of the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, American Derby at Washington Park near Chicago, and the Coffroth Handicap at Tijuana, Mexico.

On July 26 that year, all four of these horses went to post for the second running of the Cincinnati Derby at Coney Island. Name them.
3. Two of the most exciting racehorses of 1935 were, in the words of celebrated Daily Racing Form writer John Hervey, “inseparably connected because of their sustained and sensational rivalry.”

The two sprinters had been so busy breaking track records that a match race was demanded at Hawthorne Race Course. It resulted in a controversial nose decision – there being no photo-finish cameras at that time. The public clamored for a rematch. It took place 17 days later at Coney Island. Name the two horses.

4. In 2005, Bellamy Road was sent to post the 5-2 favorite in the 131st Kentucky Derby off a resounding victory in the Wood Memorial Stakes. He finished seventh. Eight months earlier, the colt had scored a facile victory in the Cradle Stakes at River Downs.

Since its inception in 1977, the Cradle has produced a number of graded stakes winners, including one who went on to capture the Kentucky Derby and Horse of the Year title. Name the colt.

5. Ohio’s Thoroughbred breeding industry has declined in recent years as adjoining states, bolstered by alternative gambling, have supplemented their breeding programs. Today, fewer than 1 percent of North American Thoroughbreds are foaled in the Buckeye State.

Nonetheless, Harlan’s Holiday, an Ohio-bred and winner of the Cradle Stakes, was sent off as the favorite in the 2002 Kentucky Derby. He finished seventh. Name the only Ohio-bred to win the Louisville classic.

Answers below.

1. Miss Woodford, who retired in 1886, is generally recognized as the first American-bred and -raced horse of either sex to amass $100,000 in earnings. She finished her career with $118,270 in total purses won, which remained a record for a female Thoroughbred for 40 years.
In a career that spanned five seasons from 1923-1927 and 94 starts, Princess Doreen was the first female to surpass Miss Woodford, retiring with record earnings of $174,745.

Princess Doreen, bred by the legendary John E. Madden, was recognized by trade publications as champion female at ages 3, 4, and 5.
In 1925, Princess Doreen made five starts – all against males – at the new Coney Island track. She never lost.
Princess Doreen took down the Times-Star Handicap on July 11; an overnight handicap on July 18; the Commercial Tribune Handicap on Aug. 1; the Western Hills Handicap on Aug. 15; and the $10,000 Cincinnati Enquirer Handicap (under 129 pounds) on Sept. 7.

Princess Doreen was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Racing in 1982.

2. The 1926 Cincinnati Derby was arguably the greatest field ever to go to postward at what is now River Downs. The eight starters included:

◗ Horse of the Year Crusader, winner of the Belmont Stakes, Suburban Handicap, Dwyer Handicap, and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

◗ Display, winner of the Preakness Stakes and Latonia Championship.

◗ Carlaris, winner of 7 of 8 starts that winter at Tijuana, including the Tijuana Derby and $80,000 Coffroth Handicap (three years later, the first $100,000 handicap for all ages run in North America).

◗ Boot to Boot, winner of the American Derby, the first $100,000 race ever run for 3-year-olds.

Crusader, ridden by Earl Sande, won the Cincinnati Derby by three lengths, collecting $20,150, with Display second, and Boot to Boot third. Carlaris faded to fourth.

3. At Arlington Park in the summer of 1935, the filly Myrtlewood broke a 21-year-old world record, running six furlongs in 1:09.40, and the gelding Clang equaled the 29-year-old world record for seven furlongs (1:22).

The two 3-year-olds then met in a match race Sept. 25 at Hawthorne, with Myrtlewood winning by a scant nose, although many onlookers saw it the other way.

A rematch was held Oct. 12 at Coney Island. Before a packed grandstand, Clang beat Myrtlewood by a nose, setting a world record for six furlongs (1:09.20).

A year later, when the first formal polling was conducted for national champions, Myrtlewood took the honor for top sprinter.

4. In 1984, Spend a Buck captured the eighth running of the Cradle Stakes by an astounding 15 lengths. Later that season, he finished third to Chief’s Crown in the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

With Chief’s Crown favored in the 1985 Kentucky Derby, Spend a Buck turned the tables, taking the lead from the start and coasting to victory by more than five lengths.

Spend a Buck skipped the Preakness and Belmont Stakes in favor of the Jersey Derby and a $2-million bonus promised by the newly rebuilt Garden State Park. He won.

Spend a Buck was voted champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year.

5. On May 3, 1909, Wintergreen easily captured the 35th running of the Kentucky Derby as the betting favorite.

Bred in Ohio by his owner, Jerome B. Respess, Wintergreen had won 5 races in 10 starts at age 2, and finished third in one stakes race.
At age 3, Wintergreen prepped for the Derby with only one allowance race at the antiquated Association Course in Lexington, Ky. He finished second in what turned out to be a key prep. The first three finishers in the Derby all came out of that overnight race.

In all, Wintergreen raced six seasons, and while he was stakes-placed several times, the Kentucky Derby was his only stakes win. He remains to this day, the only Kentucky Derby winner bred in the Buckeye State.