Coupled horses entered by the same owner aren’t a rarity and, for horseplayers, frequently offer a bargain “two-for-one” wagering opportunity. At times, one of the entrants serves as a “rabbit”, a pacemaker for their more talented stablemate; rarely (especially in stakes races) are two equally-talented horses entered by the same owner where (barring a dead heat) one of them is guaranteed to lose. Apparently, we’ll witness just such an event when George and Lori Hall enter G1 Louisiana Derby winner Pants on Fire and G1 Belmont Stakes winner Ruler on Ice—“Fire and Ice” as they have been amusing coined—in Monmouth’s G1 Haskell Invitational on July 31.
A similar situation took place in 1921 when owner P.A. Clark sent out the talented fillies Nancy Lee and Flambette to contest the Coaching Club American Oaks—although the suspect result would have caused bettors to burn down the grandstand if the two hadn’t been a single wagering interest.
Historically, the Coaching Club American Oaks is second only to the Kentucky Oaks as a dirt stamina test for 3-year-old fillies—thus, the decision made in 2010 to shorten it to a mere nine furlongs is a damn shame. Since its inaugural running in 1917, the CCAO has been won by a bevy of talented fillies—Top Flight, Vagrancy, Twilight Tear, Shuvee, Chris Evert, Ruffian, Our Mims, Davona Dale, Sky Beauty and My Flag, to name but a handful. It’s also a race that has served as a showpiece for fillies that later excelled in the breeding shed, passing on through their progeny and even further into the next generation, talent and stamina. In this regard, one would be hard pressed to find a more appropriate Oaks champion than Flambette.
A French-bred daughter of Epsom Derby winner Durbar out of unraced daughter of 15-furlong Grand Prix de Paris victor Ajax, Flambette possessed an obvious stamina pedigree, but prior to the CCAO, she had never been raced beyond one mile. She had, though, won three of six previous starts.
Her stablemate Nancy Lee was the more accomplished of the pair, having won as a juvenile the Demoiselle and United States Hotel Stakes, the latter against males. She had also twice finished behind the very talented filly Prudery in juvenile stakes races, and on May 14, Nancy Lee had set a newtrack record in defeated Prudery by a head in the Kentucky Oaks. This was exactly one week after Prudery had outraced her male stablemate Tryster, but finished a distant third behind (ironically) Edward R. Bradley’s coupled entry of Behave and Black Servant in the Kentucky Derby.
In the week leading up to the CCAO, Flambette had actually already raced twice—first, an open company allowance race going one mile (which she won) on June 6, and then, on June 13, another one mile allowance race, this time against older mares. As the highweight, she finished a distance fifth; two days later she entered the 11-furlong CCAO against her stablemate and two other entrants.
For bettors, there was no doubt that one of the Clark fillies would win; the entry went to post as the 1-5 favorites, although it was thought another filly, Ten Buttons, could prove better than Flambette. As the more seasoned horse, Nancy Lee toted the 121 pound highweight, eight and a half pounds more than Flambette, and in the end they both finished 10 lengths ahead of Ten Buttons. Surprisingly, it was Flambette who upset her stablemate, winning by a neck, although newspaper accounts suggest that, literally, the fix was in. According to the New York Times:
It was a rather hollow win for the Clark entry, as the pair had to race at their mercy at all stages, though there was some surprise at the end when Flambette rushed up and took the victory…Everyone looked for Nancy Lee to win at her pleasure and so there was some surprise when Flambette drew up beside her and began to make a battle. Mr. Clark had not declared to win with either of the fillies and in the last sixteenth of a mile both horses were under a drive, though in no danger from the other starters…There was some doubt whether Nancy Lee was extended fully, but at least McAtee did go to the whip and evidently made the filly do her best. Sande put up a strong finish on Flambette and rode her out to the end….It made little difference to the crowd which of the two won…
The Daily Racing Form was a little more to the point, claiming “Flambette was allowed to beat Nancy Lee by a neck. It was a question of penalty in the future.”
Whether true or not, apparently no action was taken (no penalty, no foul), and the very large and powerful Flambette subsequently validated her victory by winning the 11-furlong Latonia Oaks, once one of the most prestigious dirt stamina races in America. Her promising career ended, however, on August 30 when she broke down in the 10-furlong Wilton Handicap at Saratoga.
Happily, her story doesn’t end there. As a broodmare, Flambette produced the very good stakeswinner Flambino, a filly unable to match her dam’s CCAO win, but, after finishing third in the 1927 Belmont Stakes, Flambino did capture the Gazelle Handicap. Even more significantly, Flambino birthed, by Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox, another Triple Crown winner Omaha. As if that wasn't enough, two of Flambette’s daughters by Sir Gallahad—unraced La France (1928) and maiden Gallette (1929)—produced, respectively, 1939 Kentucky Derby winner Johnstown and the immortal mare Gallorette.
As a reine-de-course, Flambette’s legacy is seen in the damside bloodlines of Kentucky Derby winner Decidedly, Belmont Stakes victors Phalanx and Danzig Connection, as well as Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Saint Liam. And who says good race mares leave all their quality on the track?
It’s worth mentioning that, as a broodmare, the outstanding Prudery produced both a Kentucky Derby winner (Whiskery) and a Preakness winner (Victorian)—as her first two foals.