September 6, 2009

Contrary to what some sources claim, Rachel Alexandra is not the first 3-year-old filly to win a route dirt race against older males in New York since 1887. In fact, five 3-year-old fillies have won the typically-season-ending Aqueduct Handicap over 1-1/16 mile—Wild Thyme (1903), Black Maria (1926), Black Mammy (1930), Coequal (1934) and Good Gamble (1935).

To 22-year-old Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt’s good fortune, he purchased Good Gamble for $4,500 at a mid-May Belmont paddock sale, and a few days later, ridden by jockey Sammy Renick, she won the Acorn by five lengths, at 30-1. Less than two weeks later, she finished third—a mere half-length behind Florida Derby victress Black Helen and her stablemate Bloodroot—in the Coaching Club American Oaks.

Black Helen would go on to be the first filly winner of the prestigious American Derby (over defeated Kentucky Derby favorite—and daughter of Preakness victress Nellie MorseNellie Flag) since Modesty in 1884. After a loss to Triple Crown winner Omaha in the Arlington Classic, Black Helen won the Maryland Handicap over colts en route to being named 1935’s champion 3-year-old filly, 1991 Hall of Fame inductee and producer of, through her daughters and their descendants, Princess Rooney, Pleasant Tap, and Go for Gin.

Surely, a tough act to follow. However, Good Gamble became quite a phenom herself with an ambitious campaign not even Jess Jackson would attempt, both in number of races and in the quality of her competition.

On June 29 at Aqueduct, Good Gamble challenged the top 3-year-old colts, and finished second by 1-1/2 lengths in the Dwyer—to Triple Crown victor Omaha.

Moving on to Saratoga, Good Gamble won the Test on August 2, and just five days later, she defeated not only her female rivals, but also 3-year-old males in the 1-1/16 mile Saranac Handicap at Saratoga, winning wire-to-wire over a field that included Wood Memorial victor Today.

The Saranac third-place finisher Esposa, one of her most persistent filly rivals, would go on to become a two-time (1937, 1938) champion handicap mare, counting among her many wins the 1937 Whitney Handicap and 1938 Hawthorne Gold Cup—as well as a win over Seabiscuit in the Bowie Handicap, and several second-place finishes behind Triple Crown victor War Admiral. Esposa also twice finished behind the great Discovery in the Whitney, including as a 3-year-old.

One week after her Saranac victory, shouldering a top weight 125 lbs, Good Gamble finished second, three length back, to 111 lbs lightweight Alberta, in the Alabama. As had happened several times before (and would again), Good Gamble’s bad behavior delayed the race start.

With Triple Crown winner Omaha on the sidelines, the Travers offered a tantalizing opportunity for the red-hot filly, but, as the 120 lbs top weight, Good Gamble failed to place, finishing fourth in a field of eight. The winner Gold Foam, a $5,000 claimer, was nearly as big an upset winner as 100-1 Jim Dandy had been in 1930 over Gallant Fox, while third-place finisher Count Arthur would become a stubborn adversary for our heroine.

Before 15,000 spectators at Aqueduct on September 14, the gutsy 3-year-old filly attempted to replicate the feat of her sire Chance Play, victor of the 1928 Aqueduct Handicap. In what turned out to be a “ding-dong” battle with Count Arthur, Good Gamble won by a nose, with heavily-favored 4-year-old top-weight champion miler King Saxon in third (he would be disqualified, however, and another filly Vicaress placed third). Good Gamble’s time of 1:43 3/5 not only set a new race record, but was a mere 3/5 second off the track record.

A son of Kentucky Derby winner Reigh Count, Count Arthur was no slouch—winner of that year’s Manhattan Handicap and Saratoga Cup, he also ran second in the American Derby and Lawrence Realization Stakes as well as in the Potomac, Washington, and Continental handicaps. Among the many additional wins Count Arthur would record over his next three years of racing was the 1936 Jockey Club Gold Cup.

A noted miler who occasionally won longer, King Saxon in 1935 won the Carter and Metropolitan handicaps (among others), and finished a distance second to Discovery in the Brooklyn (but ahead of Omaha).

Of the other older horses Good Gamble defeated in the Aqueduct, Only One won the Dixie and American Legion handicaps, finished second to Discovery in the Butler, and third in both the Metropolitan and Washington handicaps. 4-year-old Chicstraw had been runner-up in the 1934 Potomac Handicap, and finished second in the 1935 Delaware Handicap (before it was restricted to mares). Good Gamble’s 3-year-old stablemate Good Harvest won the Jerome and Yorktown handicaps, and, in the following year, would win the Metropolitan.

A mere week after her Aqueduct Handicap win, Good Gamble again defeated Count Arthur and a field of ten other 3-year-olds, this time in the Potomac Handicap at Havre de Grace—becoming the third filly to win in the race’s 17 year history.

As a 4-year-old, Good Gamble won the inaugural Queens County Handicap at Aqueduct before finishing second to her older stablemate Discovery in the Brooklyn Handicap—his third victory in that race. After a second-place finish behind Esposa in the Empire Handicap (giving Esposa a 10 lbs weight advantage), Good Gamble surprisingly turned the tables on her rival, breaking the Empire City track record by two full seconds in winning the 1-3/16 mile Butler Memorial Handicap on July 11—toting 119 lbs to Esposa’s 97 lbs.

To that point, Good Gamble had run 9 times in 1936, winning 3 times and running second 4 times, and this victory took her lifetime earnings over the $50,000 mark. Next out, however, she failed as the pacesetter in the Massachusetts Handicap, finishing last of eleven, but rebounded in capturing the seven furlong American Legion Handicap at Saratoga, over Carter Handicap place-getters Sation and Cycle.

Unfortunately, she was eased in finishing last of six against her stablemate Discovery in the Saratoga Handicap. Discovery next shouldered 143 lbs in the Merchants’ and Citizens’ Handicap at Saratoga—and finished last in a field of 5, with 4-year-old mare Esposa (with a mere 100 lbs) defeating Count Arthur (107 lbs). The second high-weight, Mantagna (108 lbs) finished third. Back down to 126 lbs, Discovery captured his third straight Whitney next out.

About a month before her Aqueduct Handicap victory, John Kieran of the New York Times did a special piece for his column Sports of the Times, called “The Vanderbilt Jewels.” Hanging out in Saratoga Barn 56, owner Alfred G. Vanderbilt and his trainer Bud Stotler introduce Kieran to the “White Diamond Express”—their champion Discovery, who would not only win the 1935 Horse of the Year title over Triple Crown winner Omaha, but also later, as a broodmare sire, produce Bold Ruler and Native Dancer.

After Discovery, what was the owner’s next choice in the White Diamond line?

Good Gamble—she’s the best filly around,” said the young owner.


“Belmont Purse Won by Good Gamble” The Washington Post, May 22, 1935

“Omaha, 7-10, First in Dwyer Stakes; Good Gamble Next” New York Times, June 30, 1935

“Good Gamble, 7-2, Breaks Empire City Track Record” New York Times, July 12, 1936.
John Kieran, “The Vanderbilt Jewels” New York Times, August 29, 1935

“Good Gamble, 10-1, Wins By a Nose at Aqueduct” New York Times, September 15, 1935 (with photo)

“Good Gamble is Victor at Aqueduct” The Washington Post, September 15, 1935.

“Renick Rides Vanderbilt’s Good Gamble to Victory in $10,000 Added Event” New York Times, September 22, 1935

“King Saxon Fourth as Good Gamble Captures Inaugural Feature at Aqueduct” New York Times, June 9, 1936 (with photo)


Colins Ghost said...

Great work! Sort of astounded that the Bloodhorse could get that so wrong. Also thought it was kind of odd that they would refer to a race in 1887 as a Grade I. Pretty bad all around.

Your writing and research has been a real joy to read.

sid fernando said...

Virtuoso piece of research and writing! And to think that The Blood-Horse, with a "professional" staff, can't get it right.

Keith - TripleDeadHeat said...

Nicely done! This really has been your year hasn't it!!

Go fillies go!

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