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History Challenge: Laurel Futurity once a heavy hitter in its day
By Ron Hale
When the grading system for stakes was first introduced in the 1973 season, the Laurel Futurity was among a dozen Grade 1 races for 2-year-olds. The race retained that status for nearly two decades.
In recent years, with changes in track ownership and financial troubles plaguing the Maryland racing industry, the Laurel Futurity has not been contested in four seasons, was moved to the grass at various distances, and is now an ungraded event.
First held in 1921, when it was run at Pimlico and called the Pimlico Futurity, the race will be renewed Saturday at Laurel at 5 1/2 furlongs on the grass for a guaranteed purse of $100,000.
The Pimlico Futurity moved to Laurel in 1967 and was run as the Pimlico-Laurel Futurity through 1971, after which the Pimlico name was dropped.
Winners of the race over the years have included Triple Crown champions Count Fleet, Citation, Secretariat, and Affirmed, as well as Spectacular Bid.
The 21st century has not been totally unkind to the Laurel Futurity. In 2005, when the event was run on the grass, the ill-fated Barbaro won the race en route to capturing the Kentucky Derby the following season.
Test your knowledge of this historic Laurel stakes.
1. The first running of the Pimlico Futurity featured one of the most interesting rags-to-riches stories of the 20th century.
The winner was bred in California by sugar magnate Adolph Spreckels but was such an ugly duckling that he was sold four times before an owner had faith in him.
The brown colt’s first two races that season were in selling races (similar to today’s claiming races). Before the year was over, he had won all 11 of his starts, including the Saratoga Special and Hopeful Stakes as well as the Pimlico Futurity – at $50,000-added, the richest race that year for juveniles.
He went on to greater fame the following season. Name him.
2. Scan the list of horses who contested the Pimlico and Laurel futurities over the last nine decades, and you’ll see several Hall of Famers. Most won the race, but some – like Whirlaway, Devil Diver, and Alydar – lost.
The 1920’s produced a handful of classic winners, but no future Hall of Famers. That changed in the 1930’s when the first two winners of the period and the last two were later voted into the Hall of Fame. Name the Pimlico Futurity winners of 1930, 1931, 1938, and 1939.
3. Two days before the 1946 Kentucky Derby, the Maine Chance Farm of cosmetics queen Elizabeth Arden Graham lost nearly two dozen of its 2-year-olds in a tragic stable fire at Arlington Park.
On Derby Day, one of the farm’s juveniles, who had been shipped to Churchill Downs before the fire, made his initial start a winning one in the first race on the card, a five-furlong event called the Dixiana Purse. His trainer was Tom Smith, who conditioned the legendary Seabiscuit for most of that champion’s career.
On Nov. 8, this chestnut son of Blenheim II concluded his juvenile season (5 wins in 12 starts) winning the Pimlico Futurity by a neck. He was back in the headlines the following season. Name him.
4. Few champions ever win stakes races in five consecutive seasons, but this Tartan Stable-owned star did just that from 1958-1962.
This black colt captured the futurities at Belmont and Pimlico in his 2-year-old season. The following year, he was voted national champion sprinter despite racing at less than one mile only twice and never competing outside of his age group.
When he retired in early 1962, he was co-holder of the world record for one mile. Name him.
5. In 1943, Hirsch Jacobs claimed Stymie for $1,500. Stymie was voted champion handicap horse of 1945 and was the world’s leading money winner ($918,485) when he retired in 1949.
From 1926-1970, Jacobs trained the winners of 3,596 races, bred the winners of 3,513 races, and owned the winners of 2,947 races. This included multiple champions and Hall of Fame inductees, but he never won a Triple Crown race.
Among his last stakes winners was this homebred who captured the Pimlico-Laurel Futurity. Less than four months after Jacobs’s death, this colt won the Belmont Stakes. Name him.
See the answers HERE.
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