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History Challenge: Brooklyn Handicap
In the winter of 1885-86, the Brooklyn Jockey Club was incorporated and soon thereafter purchased the Prospect Park Fair Grounds, which had primarily hosted trotting races during the previous two decades.
The track and stands were quickly rebuilt, and the club’s inaugural meeting opened Aug. 26, 1886. The track was renamed the Gravesend Course – the bay of the same name located two miles to the west.
Becoming a major player overnight, Gravesend the following year offered a lucrative stakes program topped by the $2,500-added Brooklyn Handicap (which grossed $7,350).
Modeled after the Suburban Handicap – first run in 1884 at neighboring Sheepshead Bay Race Track – the Brooklyn Handicap soon “became one of the most famous of our classics,” renowned racing official and historian Walter Vosburgh wrote.
For most of its first century, the Brooklyn Handicap attracted a who’s who of the sport, including dozens of champions, three Triple Crown winners, and almost 30 future members of the Hall of Fame.
But with the advent of the Breeders’ Cup in 1984 and top older stars being saved for racing in the fall, the Brooklyn has continued to decline in importance. The race now attracts few championship-bound horses.
On Saturday at Belmont Park, after being contested 125 consecutive times under handicap conditions, the Grade 2 Brooklyn will be run as an allowance invitational. In addition, it will be sandwiched in with nine other stakes – six of them Grade 1 races.
Test your knowledge of the race that for many years was a part of the celebrated New York Handicap Triple (along with the Metropolitan and Suburban handicaps).
1. Located near what today is the intersection of McDonald Avenue and Kings Highway in Brooklyn, the Gravesend Course not only played host to the top horses, trainers, and jockeys for 25 years but was home to the Preakness Stakes from 1894 to 1908. (Pimlico added these 15 runnings to its Preakness history in 1947, although no official records exist saying there is any connection between the two races, except the name.)
Gravesend was conceived and financed in large part by two men who began a stable together in 1874 and by the 1880s were the most dominant owners in the sport. They were represented in almost every major stakes run during the 1880s and won five Belmont Stakes and five Travers Stakes. Name the two men.
2. On May 31, 1910, Gravesend opened its 25th season with the $6,000 Brooklyn Handicap – the purse having been greatly reduced from the $25,000 of just two years earlier.
When Celt won the 1908 Brooklyn in track-record time before 20,000 fans, there were 312 bookmakers in place. Made illegal, there were none in 1910, and purse money plummeted.
The 1910 Brooklyn proved to be the final one contested at Gravesend. Sixteen days later, the final day of the season was contested under threatening clouds with a muddy track. Racing never returned to Gravesend.
The final Brooklyn Handicap at Gravesend showcased one of the stars of the day, whose victory assured him the honor for the second year in a row of being proclaimed Horse of the Year. Name him.
3. Over the years, the Brooklyn Handicap has featured many outstanding matchups of future Hall of Famers: Stymie beating Devil Diver in 1945 and then losing to the filly Gallorette in 1946 and Triple Crown winner Assault in 1947; Damascus beating Dr. Fager in 1968; Forego beating Foolish Pleasure in 1976.
But long before these giant matchups came the Brooklyn Handicap of 1917, featuring one of the finest fields ever to go postward to that point in time.
The 29th Brooklyn featured three future Hall of Fame members, and it marked the first time that three Kentucky Derby winners met in the same race. Name the Derby winners and Hall of Fame members.
4. The 1920s are often called the Golden Age of Sports. Americans, reeling from what was then called The Great War and a flu epidemic that claimed thousands of lives and affected millions of families, were looking for any escape they could find.
In racing, Man o’ War put on a season for the ages in 1920. A jockey named Earl Sande was hailed in newspaper poems, and his name became a household word. Magnificent Hialeah opened its doors.
The Brooklyn handicaps of 1921 and 1922 marked the meeting of two immensely popular iron horses of racing – competing against each other. Both were three-time champions, and each was named Horse of the Year in the season in which he beat the other in the Brooklyn Handicap.
Name the two Hall of Famers.
5. Mighty Forego won the Brooklyn Handicap in three consecutive seasons (1974-76) and won the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year each of those years. (In all, Forego collected eight Eclipse Awards – still the record for horses.)
The bay gelding carried more weight each time – 129, 132, and 134 pounds. In his attempt to win a fourth Brooklyn in 1977, Forego finished second to Great Contractor under a staggering 137 pounds.
Only one other horse has won the Brooklyn Handicap three times. Like Forego, he won the race in consecutive years with increasing weight each time. And like Forego, in one running of the Brooklyn, he beat another future Hall of Famer. Name the three-time winner.
1. Phil and Mike Dwyer were brothers who carried on a successful family business as butchers on Pacific Street in Brooklyn. They dabbled briefly with harness horses before buying their first flat runner in 1874 from one of their customers, August Belmont I.
By the 1880s, the Dwyers were buying and racing some of the sport’s best horses. They won the Kentucky Derby in 1881 with future Hall of Famer Hindoo, who won 18 consecutive races at age 3 and is considered by some historians as the greatest racehorse of the 19th century.
Other champions and future Hall of Fame members campaigned by the Dwyer Bros. included Miss Woodford, the first American horse to win more than $100,000; Hanover; Luke Blackburn; and Kingston.
The brothers split up in 1890, and Phil continued to be successful on his own, winning the 1896 Kentucky Derby with future Hall of Famer Ben Brush.
In addition to serving as co-founder and president of Gravesend, Phil Dwyer later was part of a syndicate that bought Aqueduct Race Track, where he served as president during the final 12 years of his life.
Mike Dwyer was a notorious plunger who thought nothing of betting $20,000 on the outcome of one race. He was confined to a wheelchair during the last years of his life and died a penniless invalid in 1906.
Phil Dwyer moved his beloved Brooklyn Handicap and Brooklyn Derby to Aqueduct following the demise of Gravesend and the dark period when there was no racing in New York from September 1910 to May 1913.
Following the death of Phil Dwyer in 1917, the name of the Brooklyn Derby was changed to the Dwyer Stakes.
2. The 4-year-old Fitz Herbert, owned and trained by future Hall of Famer Sam Hildreth, captured the 24th running of the Brooklyn Handicap in what Daily Racing Form referred to as “a remarkable performance considering he took up 130 pounds and forced the pace from start to finish.”
While Fitz Herbert recorded only two wins and two seconds in four starts in 1910, the Brooklyn win was enough for him to claim the Horse of the Year title for a second time.
In 1909, Fitz Herbert won an impressive 14 of 15 starts – finishing second in his only loss. His earnings that year were $34,757.
His victories included the Suburban Handicap and Lawrence Realization Stakes, both at Sheepshead Bay. In the latter, he ran what was described as one of the most exciting races of the season.
In the Lawrence Realization, the colt set a slow pace, fighting off one comer after another before finishing the 1 5/8 miles in 2:45 flat, eclipsing the world record by one-fifth of a second.
That fall, Fitz Herbert set another world record at Pimlico, completing two miles in 3:25.80.
3. The field of 11 horses in the 1917 Brooklyn included:
◗ Three-time champion, 1917 Horse of the Year, and 1914 Kentucky Derby winner Old Rosebud;
◗ Three-time champion, 1915 Horse of the Year, and 1915 Kentucky Derby winner Regret;
◗ Champion 3-year-old and 1917 Kentucky Derby winner Omar Khayyam;
◗ Two-time champion and 1914 Horse of the Year Roamer; and
◗ Borrow, ranked as one of the best handicap males in England in 1914.
Borrow, a stablemate of Regret – both being owned by Harry Payne Whitney – won the race by a nose.
Regret set the pace, with her jockey, Frank Robinson, easing her in the end, thinking that Willie Knapp, on Borrow, would not attempt to pass her. But Knapp had other ideas. The Brooklyn was Regret’s only loss at age 4.
Old Rosebud, Regret, and Roamer were later inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame.
The following year, three Kentucky Derby winners again met Nov. 12, 1918, in the Bowie Handicap at Pimlico.
George Smith, the winner of the 1916 Derby, beat Omar Khayyam by three-quarters of a length, with that year’s Derby winner, Exterminator, another half-length back in third. In the 96 years since that race, three Derby winners have never met on the track.
4. Six days after winning the Belmont Stakes in 1921, Grey Lag came back to defeat Exterminator in the Brooklyn Handicap. The winner carried 112 pounds to 129 for his older challenger.
A year later, in the 1922 Brooklyn, the 7-year-old Exterminator (under 135 pounds), making the 81st start of his career, battled the length of the Aqueduct stretch and beat Grey Lag (126 pounds) by a head.
When the judges posted Exterminator’s number, “. . .the crowd went mad. Hats were thrown in the air, and the applause was deafening,” wrote Daily Racing Form.
Exterminator competed eight seasons and won 50 of 100 starts. Grey Lag competed in seven seasons and won 25 of 47 starts.
5. Discovery, owned by Alfred G. Vanderbilt, was known as one of the great weight carriers of all time.
The chestnut won the Brooklyn Handicap in 1934, 1935, and 1936 – carrying 136 pounds the last time. In the 1935 Brooklyn, Triple Crown winner Omaha finished third to Discovery, who would go on to be accorded the title of Horse of the Year.
In the first year of official voting for year-end honors, Discovery was elected champion older male of 1936.
On 20 occasions, Discovery carried 130 to 143 pounds.
In addition to his exploits on the track, Discovery is best remembered as the broodmare sire of giants Native Dancer and Bold Ruler. Native Dancer went on to sire Raise a Native, whose son Mr. Prospector was one of the sport’s greatest sires.
Shoemaker rode a terrible race on Forego in the 77 Brooklyn. He never should have put him on the lead. He had nothing left for the stretch when Great Contractor easily blew by him. Forego showed his great class by holding on for second.
Thank you for a fantastic walk down memory lane. This is what makes horse racing a great sport. It's history is so deeply woven into the people and times of America.