09/26/2005 11:00PM

Beldame recalls some of the greats

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Ashado (above), fourth in the Personal Ensign, will face Alabama winner Sweet Symphony in the Beldame.

LAS VEGAS - A stakes winner at 2, 3, and 4, Beldame was one of the 20th century's early champion fillies. Racing from 1903 to 1905, often against males, she won the Suburban and Carter handicaps and the Saratoga Cup and was voted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in 1956.

Since the 1939 inaugural running of the stakes named in her honor, the list of fillies and mares who have raced in the Beldame reads like a Who's Who of racing greats. Most of these fillies went on to illustrious careers as broodmares, and their names are forever linked with some of racing's great Thoroughbreds.

One of the most memorable renewals was in 1965, which pitted no fewer than four champions and two major stakes winners: Affectionately, Miss Cavandish, Steeple Jill, Straight Deal, Tosmah, and What a Treat. Although there were only six entrants - and only four betting interests because of two coupled entries - it may have featured the strongest field of fillies and mares ever assembled in one race.

Tosmah was the reigning queen and favorite at slightly more than even money. She was the co-champion 2-year-old filly in 1963 with Castle Forbes, and the undisputed champion 3-year-old filly in 1964, when her 10 victories included the Beldame, Matron, Maskette (now renamed the Go for Wand), and Arlington Classic (defeating males). Tosmah began her 4-year-old campaign in January at Hialeah, finishing an uncharacteristic sixth in the Columbiana Handicap. She emerged eight months later winning an allowance race at Atlantic City by nine lengths and then was all out to wear down champion sprinter Affectionately in the one-mile Maskette. The Thoroughbred was a different breed in the 1960's, sometimes able to race week after week at the highest level. But even for a dual champion, racing in the Beldame exactly seven days after such a grueling effort took its toll on both Tosmah and Affectionately, who was never at her best over one mile.

The co-second choices were the Ethel D. Jacobs entry of Affectionately and Straight Deal (2.10-1) and George D. Widener's entry of What a Treat and Steeple Jill (2.30-1). To underscore the quality of this compact field, the longshot at 9-1 was Miss Cavandish, who in her career won the Alabama, Coaching Club American Oaks, Delaware Oaks, and Monmouth Oaks.

The 3-year-old What a Treat won by a nose over Steeple Jill, with the other 3-year-old filly, Straight Deal, another half-length back in third. Miss Cavandish was fourth, 1 1/2 lengths behind Straight Deal and one length ahead of a game but tired Affectionately. Tosmah was another two lengths back in sixth and last. The Daily Racing Form chart says it all: "What a Treat, displaying fine speed, moved with Tosmah to challenge Affectionately leaving the five-furlong pole, dueled for the lead racing between them, put these two away approaching the stretch turn, then holding on with rare courage, lasted to gain the nod over her stablemate."

It was a race that has stuck in my mind for 40 years, and What a Treat, Straight Deal, and Affectionately became important broodmares.

Tosmah, Steeple Jill, and Miss Cavandish never reproduced anything near their own quality. Owned by Eugene Mori's Briardale Farm, Tosmah had a difficult time as a broodmare. Barren in 1968, she produced four straight foals to Mori's New Jersey-based stallions Convex and Royal I.J., and one foal by Ribot, but never produced another foal, either being barren or producing dead foals over the next 10 years. Steeple Jill had nearly the same fate as Tosmah. Her first foal by Swaps died as a yearling. That was followed by seven years of Steeple Jill either being barren or producing dead or aborted foals. Miss Cavandish fared somewhat better, producing nine foals over 20 years.

A challenge to Ashado

While this year's field does not feature four champions, it will have high drama, as last year's 3-year-old filly champion and Breeders' Cup Distaff winner, Ashado, seeks redemption after a poor fourth-place performance in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga, where she suffered a bruised foot. Ashado will face Grade 1 winners including Dream of Summer, Happy Ticket, Island Sand, Society Selection, and Sweet Symphony.

Along with the older handicap horses, the once-deep 3-year-old filly division has been hardest hit this year by injuries. Smuggler, Round Pond, Summerly, Spun Sugar, Sweet Catomine, and Splendid Blended are either sidelined by injury or have been retired, and the lone 3-year-old filly in the Beldame is Sweet Symphony.

Sweet Symphony, undefeated in four starts, was an authoritative winner of the Alabama Stakes, and is an example of a late-developing filly who has tons of upside. A strong performance in her first effort against older fillies would send her to the Breeders' Cup Distaff. By A.P. Indy, she is out of the Distinctive Pro mare Brandy Rose, a half-sister to Horse of the Year Holy Bull.