01/01/2015 3:58PM

History Challenge: Jerome Stakes has always attracted the best


Leonard Walter Jerome was a grandiose figure in New York City in the last half of the 19th century. He made and lost fortunes in the stock market and was heavily involved in railroads and Thoroughbred racing.

Jerome was adored by thousands and had “fewer enemies than most men in his position,” wrote historian David Black in his 804-page biography of August Belmont I, “The King of Fifth Avenue,” published in 1981. However, Black wrote, Jerome “suffered as badly as August did from that terrible disease ... called exuberance.”

“People like Belmont and Jerome do not enter Society,” a newspaper critic of the time wrote. “They create it as it goes along.”

In 1865, Jerome bought 250 acres of the old Bathgate farm in Fordham, in the suburbs of Manhattan, for $250,000 and set about to build what would open in 1866 as Jerome Park. Writing in “Racing in America, 1866-1921,” the renowned racing official and historian Walter Vosburgh called Jerome Park “a shrine to which racing enthusiasts can turn with veneration, if not affection, as the birthplace of organized racing.”

When the track – with its odd B-shaped racing surface – opened, the Jerome Stakes was presented, making it the third-oldest stakes race in America still in existence today. The Phoenix Stakes (first run in 1831), now being contested at Keeneland, and the Travers Stakes (1864) are the only older ones.

In its second year, Jerome Park saw the first running of the Belmont Stakes, which would become its most important annual event. The American Jockey Club, which conducted racing at Jerome Park, moved to Morris Park in the present-day Bronx in 1890. Four years later, Jerome Park was torn down for a badly needed city reservoir.

With the 145th running of the Jerome Stakes scheduled for Saturday at Aqueduct, test your knowledge of early champions who won this historic event.

1. Leonard Jerome and August Belmont were the closest of friends, but the two were fierce rivals for the title of the king of high society in New York. Their mansions and coaches were among the largest and toniest in the city.

But Jerome was always playing catch-up. When he built Jerome Park, the American Jockey Club, which he created to oversee racing, elected Belmont as president, not him. And Belmont was determined to win as many races as he could at Jerome Park – most especially the Belmont Stakes named for him.

He didn’t have to wait long. He started two outstanding colts in the 1869 Belmont Stakes. He won with Fenian. He also was second with a horse who should have won the Belmont Stakes but later that season captured the Jerome Stakes. Name the horse.

2. Lexington was, without question, the greatest sire of the 19th century, and some might say of all time, given the small size of foal crops in that era. After a sterling career on the track, the son of the great Boston was eventually sold to Robert A. Alexander of Woodburn Farm in Kentucky for $15,000. The bay stallion quickly returned his purchase price and was the leading American sire for 16 seasons (1861-74, 1876, and 1878). He was blind for most of his life.

Among Lexington’s best runners was a horse whom Walter Vosburgh described as one of the two greatest and most prestigious celebrities of the era, along with the marvelous Longfellow. This chestnut, foaled in 1868, was champion at ages 2 and 3 and at one point won 14 races in a row, including the Belmont Stakes, Travers Stakes, Saratoga Cup, and Jerome Stakes during his undefeated season of 1871. Name the horse.

3. When Lexington finally was dethroned temporarily in 1875 as America’s leading sire, the new leader was Leamington, an English-bred called by many the most influential stallion imported into the U.S. during the latter 19th century.

Like Lexington, Leamington was moved around until he eventually found his final home at Erdenheim Stud in Pennsylvania in 1872. Before being sold that year, Leamington sired several important runners, including one out of the broodmare Sarong who would later be named for Erdenheim’s owner by breeder Hal Price McGrath of Lexington, Ky.

Racing for McGrath, this chestnut colt won three of his nine starts at age 2 in 1874 and was second in the Thespian Stakes at Monmouth Park. At 3, he won two important Eastern stakes, the Withers and Jerome, was second in the Belmont Stakes, and was third in the Travers, but he is best remembered for his win in what was considered then a minor Western event. Name the horse.

4. Of this light bay with a “short, snappy stride,” Vosburgh wrote, “Many considered him the best of Lexington’s sons.” Foaled in 1875, this colt lost his first start but won four of his next six as a juvenile, including four stakes: the Flash, Grinstead, Nursery, and Central.

At age 3, he demonstrated a level of greatness found in few horses. He won 11 of 12 starts that season, including the Preakness, Belmont, Withers, Travers, Kenner, and Jerome stakes. His only loss that year came in the Jersey Derby, in which he was defeated by Spartan. He came back to beat the favored Spartan in the Travers. Name this Hall of Fame champion.

5. When this filly won the Jerome Stakes at 1 3/4 miles on Oct. 13, 1888, she beat future Hall of Famer Hanover by three lengths. But beating Hall of Fame males was nothing for this champion female. In 82 starts over six seasons, she beat Hanover several more times, and for good measure, she beat future Hall of Famer Kingston twice.

In 69 of her starts, she faced the opposite sex. She won 47 lifetime starts and was second on 21 occasions. She was acclaimed champion female four consecutive years (1887-90). In 1890, she became the richest female in American racing history and the second to surpass $100,000 in earnings. Name this Hall of Famer.


1. Most observers in 1869 felt that August Belmont’s Glenelg was the best horse entered in the Belmont Stakes, then contested at 1 5/8 miles. But Belmont wanted his Fenian, under jockey Charley Miller, to win, and the colt did, despite the sloppy going. But according to one account, “Glenelg’s jockey almost had to pull his head off to let Fenian finish first.”

Fenian, who suffered from bad feet, never raced again. But Glenelg, who did not race at age 2, went on to be named champion that season and the following one. The Jerome Stakes was renamed the Champion Stakes after the first season, until 1872, when it reverted to its original name.

Also, the first five runnings of the Jerome/Champion were contested in one-mile heats. Glenelg lost the first heat Oct. 9, 1869, to Vespucius but won the second and third heats, leading from flag fall to finish in both races.

That victory, combined with his win in the Travers Stakes in August, cemented Glenelg’s claim to best 3-year-old. At age 4, he took down four stakes, including the Bowie and Excelsior. In the first start of his 5-year-old season, Glenelg was caught in the last jump by Preakness (for whom the famous classic is named) in the Westchester Cup. Glenelg returned from the race lame and never ran again.

At stud, Glenelg never was given a chance by Belmont, who had much better stallions – he thought. The horse was sold and resold.

When Glenelg finally wound up at Daniel Swigert’s Elmendorf Farm in Kentucky, he blossomed into the best stallion in the country. From 1876-88, he had 428 starters who won 997 races worth $843,233. He was the nation’s leading sire in 1884-86 and 1888.

2. After finishing third in his debut as a juvenile in 1870, Harry Bassett won his final three starts of the year. He won his maiden in the Kentucky Stakes at Saratoga (a race named for the winner of the first Travers Stakes, also a son of Lexington). He followed that by beating 14 rivals in the Nursery Stakes at Jerome Park and capped off the year by winning the Supper Stakes at Pimlico.

At age 3, Harry Bassett was undefeated in nine starts. His first race that year was a win in the Belmont Stakes on June 10. He then scored victories in the Jersey Derby, Travers, Kenner, Jerome, and Reunion stakes.

His stiffest test of the year came in his last appearance of the season – the Bowie Stakes, run in four-mile heats. Harry Bassett won the first heat in 7:54.75 and the second in 8:03.50. No third heat was required.

The following season, Harry Bassett ran his win streak to 14 before one of the most famous meetings of all time – the July 2, 1872, Monmouth Cup – a 2 1/2-mile race against Longfellow. The remaining nominees did not enter, making it a match race.

“It is doubtful that any other race of the century attracted greater attention,” Vosburgh wrote. “Throughout the winter and spring, it was the topic of discussion.”

A crowd of 30,000 descended on Long Branch, N.J., only to see Harry Bassett sulk after 1 1/2 miles. Longfellow went on to win easily. In their next meeting, Harry Bassett beat Longfellow by one length in the 2 1/4-mile Saratoga Cup.

Longfellow was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971 and Harry Bassett in 2010.

3. The Kentucky Derby might have been considered a small-time regional event “out West” during its early years, but it was won by a number of important horses. The inaugural Derby in 1875 was won by a son of the imported Leamington named Aristides. Owner and breeder McGrath named the diminutive chestnut for Aristides Welch, who had purchased Leamington.

In his first start at age 3, Aristides finished second on a muddy track to the future champion Ten Broeck in the Phoenix Stakes at the Kentucky Association Course. His next start was the new Derby being presented by the Louisville Jockey Club and Driving Park Association (the Churchill Downs name did not come into use for another decade).

Coupled in the wagering with another McGrath runner, Chesapeake (2-year-old champion), Aristides was expected to set the pace for his stronger stablemate. Chesapeake failed to fire, and Aristides led for nearly the entire 1 1/2 miles, winning by two lengths.

Victories in the Withers and Jerome stakes in New York and in-the-money finishes in the Belmont and Travers stakes proved that Aristides was no flash in the pan.

4. Two days before his only loss at age 3 in the 1878 Jersey Derby, Duke of Magenta was overheated after a strong workout on a warm morning. A groom reportedly threw a bucket of cold water on him.  The following day, the bay colt was feverish, with fluid in his nostrils. Unlike today, when horses race sparingly and scratch or retire with the least ailment, the Duke showed up for the Jersey Derby.

At the end of his 3-year-old season, Duke of Magenta was sold by George Lorillard to his brother, Pierre, and shipped by steamer to compete in England. During the voyage, he became ill and was returned to the states.

Duke of Magenta was paraded the following year at Jerome Park to the applause of thousands but never raced again. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2011.

5. The four-time champion Firenze (she raced several years as Firenzi) was owned by James Ben Ali Haggin, who purchased her for $2,600 from Elmendorf Farm. Firenze was a small filly at 15 hands. She was raced long and hard, as was the custom in that era. When she won the Jerome, her 20th start of 1888, reporters noted that she looked like a “scarecrow without an ounce of beef on her bones.”

She won in 3:09.75 and came back five days later to finish second to Kingston, and a week later, she finished second again. Firenze was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.

The Firenze Handicap was a major stakes in New York from 1948-85. It is run today at Saratoga as the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes.