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History Challenge: Comely enjoyed remarkable season in 1914
One hundred years ago, Belmont Park inaugurated the Autumn Highweight Handicap – the name was changed a decade later to the Fall Highweight.
Open to all ages, the six-furlong handicap on the original Belmont straightaway was won by the remarkable 2-year-old filly Comely, bred and owned by James Butler Sr., who also owned Empire City Racetrack in Yonkers, N.Y.
By the end of the 1914 season, Comely was almost universally recognized as the second-best juvenile filly of the year, behind only undefeated Regret.
In the early spring of 1915, Butler shipped his best 3-year-olds, including Comely and 1914 champion 2-year-old male Pebbles, to Kentucky to prepare for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks.
Pebbles finished second as Regret became the first filly to win the Louisville classic. Thirteen days later, heavily favored Waterblossom won the Kentucky Oaks, when Regret scratched and Comely had condition issues and did not enter.
Comely returned to New York and began her racing season in June. While she did eventually win another stakes, she never again attained the greatness she demonstrated in 1914.
In 1945, the heirs to the Butler estate that operated Empire City inaugurated a new stakes, the Comely. Since 1943, the Empire City meeting had been conducted at Jamaica, where it remained until the heirs dissolved the association at the end of 1953.
The Empire City track itself was sold in 1949 and reopened the following year as a half-mile harness track, Yonkers Raceway.
With the 65th Comely Stakes set for Nov. 29 at Aqueduct, test your knowledge of this filly and the race named for her.
1. Comely remains to this day – a century later – the only 2-year-old to capture the Fall Highweight and one of only a handful of 2-year-olds to defeat their elders in major American stakes races in the 20th century.
While many followers of the sport today have never seen a race open to horses of all ages, such races were not uncommon in America up to the mid-20th century. The Fall Highweight remained an all-ages event until 1959.
When the Oak Tree Racing Association ushered in its inaugural meeting at Santa Anita Park on Oct. 7, 1969, the opening-day feature was the Autumn Day Stakes, which was open for all ages.
How many other times did Comely face older horses in her juvenile season?
2. When the Empire City Racing Association dissolved at the end of 1953, many of the stakes for which it had been known, such as the Empire Gold Cup and Butler Handicap, were gone forever. Some of the stakes were later resurrected.
The Comely was not contested from 1954 through 1958 but returned during the final meeting ever conducted by Jamaica Racecourse in 1959.
The 1959 Comely was unusual in that it was the first and only time the race was contested for 2-year-olds of both sexes.
The winner that year was a colt who by the end of the season would be remembered for finishing second – beaten a half-length or less each time – in five of the richest stakes of the year. The following season, he would be remembered as the winner of the Preakness Stakes. Name him.
3. For more than a quarter-century, the name William Haggin Perry was synonymous with some of racing’s top fillies and mares.
In the 1960s, it was not unusual to see Perry’s blue-and-yellow silks on the first three distaffers crossing the finish line in major stakes.
In the 1968 Hollywood Gold Cup, Perry’s horse Gamely, a three-time champion mare and future Hall of Fame inductee, was odds-on to beat the boys but disappointed badly that day. The winner of the $162,100 race was Gamely’s stablemate, the filly Princessnesian.
Gamely was certainly the most honored horse Perry owned, but this filly, Perry’s first champion, might have been his best had her life not been tragically cut short. Name this Comely Stakes winner.
4. Run down the list of winners of the Comely Stakes since 1945 and the one name that is likely to stick out is that of Ruffian in 1975. Ruffian won the first 10 starts of her career by a combined 83 lengths – at distances from five furlongs to 1 1/2 miles.
The 1969 Comely Stakes may not be far behind in stature. The first two horses across the finish line were both voted champion two times and both were inducted into the Hall of Fame. One never won going farther than seven furlongs; the other twice won the then-biggest race of the fall, beating males going two miles. Name the two champions.
5. In 1985, the New York Triple Crown for fillies consisted of the Acorn, Mother Goose, and Coaching Club American Oaks. It was changed to the Triple Tiara in 1986 so as not to conflict with the newly formed Triple Crown Productions, incorporated by Churchill Downs, Pimlico, and Belmont Park.
This granddaughter of Bold Ruler captured the Comely Stakes in 1985 by 4 1/2 lengths and then rattled off wins in the Acorn by 3 1/2 lengths, the Mother Goose by 5 1/2, and the CCA Oaks by 2 1/2 en route to being voted the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly.
She was ridden by the first female rider to be aboard a Comely Stakes winner. Name this future inductee into racing’s Hall of Fame and her regular rider.
History Challenge answers
1. Comely’s victory in the Autumn Highweight of 1914 was not only impressive because she was a 2-year-old filly beating older males but because of the manner in which she won.
Second choice at 3-1 to the heavily favored Harry Payne Whitney colt Forum, Comely raced head and head with that colt for the first five furlongs.
“In the final furlong, the filly was so much the better of the pair that she shook off the Whitney colt and actually romped past the judges with only a hand ride and a length and a half in front of Forum,” The New York Times reported.
The Highweight marked Comely’s third stakes win of the season. She had earlier beaten juvenile colts in the rich Keene Memorial and Laureate Stakes at Belmont Park.
Five days after the Highweight, on Sept. 14, Comely met older males again in the rich Manhattan Handicap. She failed to win but was beaten only one length by the good 3-year-old colt Stromboli.
In her final race of the season, Comely finished third facing older males in the Columbus Handicap at Laurel. The winner was her stablemate, High Noon, the only other 2-year-old in the field of seven.
Comely finished 1914 with 4 wins, 6 seconds, and 1 third in 14 starts.
2. In his fourth start at age 2, Bally Ache captured the resurrected Comely Stakes at Jamaica by one length.
He gained a reputation for being a hard-luck, near-champion. He finished second in the Arlington Futurity, Sapling Stakes, Washington Park Futurity, World’s Playground Stakes, and Garden State Stakes – beaten by a half-length or less each time.
Joe Estes, editor of the Blood-Horse, noted that Bally Ache earned $170,390 in these five races. Had he won each time, Estes added, the same races would have netted him $717,947.
Bally Ache finished second in voting for juvenile champion to Warfare, who defeated him in the Garden State, Cowdin, and Champagne.
In 1960, Bally Ache rattled off wins in the Hibiscus, Bahamas, Flamingo, and Florida Derby.
At 8-5 in the Kentucky Derby, Bally Ache was a distant second to Venetian Way, whom he had easily defeated a week earlier in Churchill Downs’s Stepping Stone Purse.
Bally Ache came back a week later to win the Preakness Prep at Pimlico and a week after that, the Preakness Stakes – each by four lengths. He next captured the Jersey Derby, but the day before the Belmont Stakes, he wrenched his ankle. Later that year, he severely injured a foreleg. He then developed a massive intestinal infection and died Oct. 23.
Bally Ache lost the 3-year-old title and Horse of the Year to a gelding who did not start that season until June. His name was Kelso.
3. Lamb Chop was the first of 11 national champions sired by Bold Ruler. She derived her odd name from her dam, Sheepsfoot.
A late developer, Lamb Chop did not win her first stakes until age 3 in 1963 – the La Centinela at Santa Anita. Before the year was over, she won the Santa Susana Stakes (now Santa Anita Oaks), Comely Stakes, Coaching Club American Oaks, Monmouth Oaks, and Gazelle Handicap.
Lamb Chop was such a heavy favorite against older females in Keeneland’s Spinster Stakes that no wagering was offered. She won by 11 lengths. In the Jersey Belle at Garden State, she won by 12. She capped off the season beating older females again in the Firenze Handicap. She was unanimous choice for champion 3-year-old filly.
Lamb Chop was odds-on against males in her first start of 1964 in Santa Anita’s San Fernando Stakes. But future Hall of Fame member Gun Bow was just coming into his own and beat her easily. She came back to face Gun Bow again in the rich Charles H. Strub Stakes. As the horses entered the backstretch, Lamb Chop broke down badly and was euthanized on the track. She is buried at Santa Anita.
4. In the 1969 Comely, Ta Wee overcame a poor start to take a three-length lead in the stretch and just held on to beat the fast-closing Shuvee by a head.
A victory in the Vosburgh Handicap against males that fall wrapped up the title of champion sprinter for Ta Wee, a half-sister to the immortal Dr. Fager.
In 1970, Ta Wee never carried less than 131 pounds and finished the year winning a second Fall Highweight Handicap against males, under 140 pounds, and the Interborough Handicap, under 142 pounds.
Shuvee, champion older female in 1970 and 1971, won back-to-back runnings of the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, beating males by two lengths the first time and seven lengths the second.
5. Mom’s Command was the sixth and last filly to win the New York Filly Triple Crown. The others were Dark Mirage (1968), Shuvee (1969), Chris Evert (1974), Ruffian (1975), and Davona Dale (1979).
Owned by Peter Fuller, who campaigned Dancer’s Image, the only horse to be disqualified from first in the 140-year history of the Kentucky Derby, Mom’s Command was ridden in all three filly Triple Crown races by his daughter, 26-year-old Abigail Fuller. She was aboard the future Hall of Famer in all but two of the filly’s 16 starts.
Mom’s Command won two graded stakes at age 2 – the Astarita and Selima. She opened up her 3-year-old season winning the Flirtation Stakes at Pimlico by 19 lengths, followed by easy victories in the Cherry Blossom and Comely. She finished that championship season and her career, winning the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga.
Great column about the history of the horse and race...one thing I like about NYRA is they do not forget the history of horses and races...it is great to see the races still retain the horses names unlike at Santa Anita and Del Mar where horses like Swaps and Lady Secret loose their races and names of restaurants, furniture stores and two decade old dead Hollywood celebrities...
Thanks for posting this. I really enjoyed seeing all those great fillies mentioned, especially Ruffian.
That was awesome