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History Challenge: Beldame history loaded with notable females
Seventy-five years ago, the $10,000-added Beldame Handicap was a new addition to the stakes calendar at Aqueduct. Charles Hatton, columnist for Daily Racing Form and its sister publication, The Morning Telegraph, later called this race the beginning of the sport’s recognition of the importance of older fillies and mares.
Delaware Park might quibble with Hatton. Two years earlier, that track had introduced the $10,000-added New Castle Handicap (later renamed the Delaware Park Handicap) for fillies and mares to its stakes lineup.
In announcing the New Castle on May 29, 1937, Daily Racing Form noted that 2-year-old and 3-year-old fillies had ample stakes races, but older fillies and mares “have been neglected. The older mares have had to do their running with stallions and, generally, they have been overmatched.”
Prior to 1937, there was only one important stakes race restricted to older fillies and mares being contested each year, the Ladies Handicap at Aqueduct – the nation’s oldest female stakes race – first run in 1868. (The Ladies was restricted to 3-year-old fillies until 1913.)
By 1942, in addition to the Beldame and New Castle, there were more than a dozen other new handicaps for older females, including the Black Helen at Hialeah, the Correction at Jamaica, the Santa Margarita at Santa Anita, the Top Flight at Belmont Park, and the Vanity at Hollywood Park. More importantly, these races had purses comparable to those offered to males.
With the 76th Beldame Stakes (it ceased being a handicap in 1961) set for Saturday at Belmont Park, test your knowledge of Beldame and some early winners of the race honoring her.
1. In 1956, Beldame (a foal of 1901) and Artful (a foal of 1902) were the first two females enshrined into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, NY. This was only the second year of inductions.
In 31 starts from 1903 to 1905, Beldame won 17 times, finished second six times, and third four times. In the 14 times she was beaten, 12 of them were in races against males. But in nine races against males, she was victorious.
Beldame was acclaimed champion 3-year-old filly and Horse of the Year in 1904 and champion handicap mare the following year.
She was bred and owned by one of the giants of the sport, but oddly did not race in his name and colors the year she was named Horse of the Year. Name Beldame’s famous owner-breeder. What happened to him in 1904?
2. Writing in the 1939 volume of “American Race Horses,” John Hervey called the “newly founded” Beldame Handicap “an experiment” whose outcome was uncertain.
All doubts were erased, Hervey noted, when “no less than 18 paraded to post for it – the largest field of fillies, older than two-year-olds, that, in all probability ever was brought together in the U.S.A.”
The field included the best fillies and mares on the East Coast, including the two horses eventually voted the year’s best 3-year-old filly and handicap mare.
The finish was a stunner. The winner was the lightest weight in the field (102 pounds) and the co-longest shot on the board, at odds of from 30-1 to 50-1. (This was the last year in which bookmakers operated in New York. They were replaced by pari-mutuels in 1940.)
Name the Beldame upsetter and the two champions who came out of the race.
3. Browse through the plaques on the walls at racing’s Hall of Fame and you’ll see the names of 15 fillies and mares who won the Beldame during their careers. They comprise 26 percent of all females inducted in the Hall.
Five of these inductees won the Beldame two times: Gamely in 1968-69; Susan’s Girl (1972, 1975); Desert Vixen (1973-74); Lady’s Secret (1985-86); and undefeated Personal Ensign (1987-88).
Four other fillies and mares won the Beldame twice – the most recent being Sightseek in 2003 and 2004, who had the misfortune of doing so when future Hall of Fame member, Horse of the Year, and three-time champion handicap mare Azeri was so dominating.
Name the first horse to win the Beldame twice.
4. In 1955, Delaware Park was in the midst of trying to be recognized as the hub for fillies and mares. Its New Castle Handicap was already the richest race in the world for older females. The track raised the purse to $110,000 added and changed the name to the Delaware Handicap. The New Castle Stakes became a prep for the Delaware.
To promote its efforts, Delaware conducted and widely publicized a poll of the American Trainers Association to name the best female in the history of the turf. This champion and winner of the Beldame Stakes in 1946 came out on top. Name the horse.
5. This two-time champion female’s two wins in the Beldame Handicap were not consecutive.
A brown filly, she raced against males in 13 of her 46 lifetime stars, and while performing well, beat them only one time. But, her defeats included running fourth to future Hall of Fame members Hill Prince (1950 Wood Memorial) and Noor (1950 Hollywood Gold Cup, run in December that year). In the Wood, she was only two lengths behind second-place Middleground, who went on to win the Kentucky Derby.
She also finished second, beaten a neck, in the 1951 Santa Anita Handicap.
Racing against her own sex, she won facing the likes of Bewitch and her stablemate Bed o’ Roses, both future inductees into the Hall of Fame.
Name this champion.
HISTORY CHALLENGE ANSWERS
1. August Belmont II was one of the first two inductees into the Hall of Fame’s newly established Pillars of the Turf category in 2013.
Belmont took over the breeding and racing operations upon the death of his father (for whom the Belmont Stakes is named) in 1890. For three decades, Belmont II was one of the most dominant players in the sport.
At his Nursery Stud, Belmont bred 126 stakes winners, seven of them champions. These included Horse of the Century Man o’ War and one of the greatest females of the century, Beldame.
Belmont sold Man o’ War at auction in 1918 because of his heavy involvement with the war effort.
Because of his many commitments to other ventures (he founded the Interborough Rapid Transit Co. – New York’s first subway – in 1902), Belmont leased Beldame to a friend and business partner, Newton Bennington, just before the end of the filly’s 2-year-old season. She returned to race in Belmont’s colors in her 4-year-old season.
At age 3, Beldame won 10 of 12 starts, beating older males four times, including the Carter Handicap at seven furlongs and the Saratoga Cup at 1 3/4 miles. She beat her own sex six times, including the Gazelle, Ladies, and Alabama stakes.
Racing exclusively against males in all 10 starts at age 4, Beldame won two stakes, including the rich Suburban Handicap, the most important race for older horses in that era.
2. Receiving a weight advantage of seven to 24 pounds from each of the other 17 fillies and mares, Nellie Bly laid just off the pace in the inaugural Beldame. At the head of the lane, she pulled even with the pacesetter, 5-1 co-favorite Unerring, and the two fought the entire length of the stretch.
Nellie Bly, under jockey Joe Renick, won “by the tiniest fraction of the tip end of her little nose,” John Hervey wrote. Fortunately for the placing judges, the photo-finish camera had just come into use in New York a few years earlier.
Unerring, a half-sister to 1938 Kentucky Derby winner Lawrin (both out of Margaret Lawrence), won three races at the newly opened Hollywood Park as a juvenile, including the Starlet Stakes. At age 3, she won five races and placed five times, to earn enough support to be voted champion 3-year-old filly.
Finishing sixth at 8-1 in the first Beldame was 5-year-old Lady Maryland, under jockey Eddie Arcaro. The mare started 23 times (five wins) at 10 different tracks in 1939. At year-end, she was voted champion handicap mare.
3. There was a significant mechanical change in New York between the inaugural and second Beldame Handicaps. The new electronic starting gate, with magnetic doors that flung open with the push of a button, was in use.
It took nearly 11 minutes for the 18 horses to load in the old door-less stall gates in the 1939 Beldame. Sixteen horses went to the post in 1940, and it required only 1 1/2 minutes for the field to load and be sent on its way.
The purse for the Beldame was also raised to $15,000-added in 1940, on par with many of the major stakes and handicaps of the time.
The 3-year-old Fairy Chant, under jockey Irving Anderson, was ninth early, but came on strongly around the turn and won going away as the 7-2 favorite. Fairy Chant was generally recognized as the year’s best 3-year-old filly, but voters in the Triangle Publications poll chose not to honor any filly in that category.
The following year, Fairy Chant went west in an attempt to win the $124,360 Santa Anita Handicap. The best she could do was finish ninth in a 16-horse field.
In her final start of the year and career, Fairy Chant again came from far back to win her second Beldame Handicap. She was voted champion handicap mare that season. (Interestingly, Nellie Bly and Fairy Chant were both sired by Chance Shot, a son of Fair Play, sire of Man o’ War.)
4. In response to Gallorette being named the best racemare in the history of the American turf by trainers, Joe Estes, editor of The Blood-Horse, wrote – likely with tongue in cheek – “but no one moved to make it unanimous.”
Estes's comment certainly wasn’t meant to knock Gallorette, but likely to imply that people tend to vote for what is most recent in their memories. (In 1999, The Blood-Horse compilation of the top 100 horses of the 20th century placed Gallorette at No. 35 – the third-highest female, behind only Ruffian and Busher.)
Gallorette, who was voted champion handicap mare in 1946, won only 21 of 72 starts, but she was a tomboy who regularly raced against the best males of her era. She beat Hoop, Jr. six weeks before that colt won the Kentucky Derby. She beat Stymie in the Brooklyn and Queens County handicaps.
Gallorette won the Beldame in 1946, was second in 1947, and third in 1948. She retired the world’s leading money-winning female ($445,535).
5. Alfred G. Vanderbilt will almost certainly be an early inductee as a Hall of Fame Pillar of the Turf. He was president of Pimlico and Belmont Park in his 20s. He put together the famous Seabiscuit-War Admiral match race in 1938. He was the youngest member of The Jockey Club.
At his Sagamore Stud, he bred, owned, and raced numerous champions, including Hall of Fame members Discovery, Bed o’ Roses, and the remarkable Native Dancer. The last two competed in the early 1950s, the same period when Vanderbilt campaigned homebred Next Move, 1950 champion 3-year-old filly and 1952 champion handicap mare in one poll.
In those two seasons, Next Move, a daughter of Bull Lea, captured the Beldame Handicap, winning “easily” both times, according to the official charts.