December 7, 2009

“The part that fillies and mares have played in the racing on the metropolitan tracks this season long ago marked the season as one destined to live in the memory of turfmen.”—New York Times (September 12, 1904) p. 10.

In every way possible, 1904 was a banner year for females in horse racing. In England, 3-year-old Pretty Polly captured the fillies’ Triple Crown—the 1,000 Guineas, Epsom Oaks and open company St. Leger—and won 7 of 8 starts. Two-year-old fillies Artful and Tradition finished one-two in the prestigious Futurity, defeating the promising colt (and later 1905 Horse of the Year) Sysonby—the only loss in his career—and a field of 13 others. The rich National Stallion Stakes, as well as the Spinaway and Hopeful, was won by 2-year-old filly Tanya who, the following year, became only the second filly to win the Belmont Stakes. Three-year-old filly Hamburg Belle captured the open company Fall Handicap over 1902 Kentucky Derby winner Alan-a-Dale, while 5-year-old Western-based mare Colonial Girl not only won the Clark Handicap, but also defeated Suburban Handicap winner Hermis and other top males in the $50,000 World’s Fair Handicap in St. Louis. For the first time ever, the Kentucky Derby winning colt Elwood was bred and owned by women, Mrs. J.B. Prather and Laska Durnell respectively.

However, it was the 3-year-old filly Beldame who emerged as the “Alpha Mare.” As a 2-year-old, first trained by John Hyland, and then Fred Burlew, she had posted a record of 3-1-1 in 7 races, including victories in the Vernal and Great Filly stakes for her owner/breeder August Belmont II. Late in her juvenile campaign, with major projects occupying his time, Belmont leased Beldame to his friend Newton Bennington who took the promising youngster to a whole new level during her 3-year-old campaign.

On April 15—opening day of the Aqueduct meet—Beldame defeated a field of 16 peers and older males, winning the 7f Carter Handicap. In addition to admiring the perseverance of 15,000 fans who braved the chilly weather, a New York Times reporter noted: “All three of the placed horses were three-year-olds, an occurrence rather unusual so early in the season, though the fact might well be explained by the rather ordinary class of older horses in the contest.” So, it wasn’t the greatest field, but it was a tremendous start for Beldame as she galloped home easily the winner.

Apparently there was no consideration for running her in either the Kentucky Oaks or Derby, as she next appeared on May 5, running in the 8f Metropolitan Handicap—the “Ascot of America,” so declared the New York Times. She finished third, behind top weight favorite Irish Lad (1903 Brooklyn Handicap winner) and Toboggan, as well as 14 others. Again, the New York Times was critical of the field’s quality: “The field, aside from Irish Lad, was not remarkably high class, even the most prominent of the three-year-olds basing their chief claims to consideration on performances as two-year-olds a year ago over short courses, but for all that the field was one that compared favorably with any that has run for the race since its distance was reduced to one mile.”

On May 21 at Morris Park, Beldame captured the 8f Ladies’ Stakes over Kentucky Oaks winner Audience. Reports noted:

“Beldame was on her bad behavior, and ran away nearly a half a mile up the stretch when starting to the post, and then, after being pulled up, bolted again, and ran away a second time while going up the chute for the start of the Withers mile. A gap in the fence saved her the chance of injury, as she switched through the opening with the agility of a polo pony, and ran on through the trees and around the houses until a stable hand caught her.”

Apparently her misadventures affected her not a bit, as she won wire-to-wire, and “all but pulled up when she got to the winning post.” Beldame next met, and defeated the nice sprinting mare Mamie Worth and six others in a 6f event at Gravesend on June 1.

By early June, four of the great Eastern handicap races had been run—the Carter, Excelsior, Metropolitan and Brooklyn handicaps—with two remaining (the Suburban and Brighton Beach). Each had been won by a different horse, but Irish Lad was tipped as leading Horse of the Year candidate, based on his Met win and head loss to The Picket in the Brooklyn, a race he had won the previous year. As for our heroine:

“Beldame is a marvelously fast filly, and some shrewd judges are willing to concede that she is the best of her age and sex, but there still is doubt of her ability to go a mile and a quarter.”

In the 8.5f Gazelle on June 9, Beldame proved she could stretch out, defeating “four moderate class opponents” over a sloppy Gravesend track, “romped in front to the end, winning pulled up by six lengths.” Less than two weeks later, she again crushed a field of her peers, winning the 9f Mermaid Stakes at Sheepshead Bay by a cantering 3 lengths, carrying 126 lbs and giving 5-15 lbs to her foes. As the press noted, “Beldame so far overshadowing her field and winning with so much ease that the result never was in doubt after the first furlong had been run.”

However, in an 8f race at Sheepshead Bay on June 30, Beldame’s incredible year was very nearly ended. Excused from parading by the stewards and flighty while in the starter’s hands, Beldame was all but left at the barrier when the race began, and then she was run into by Revane “with such force that Revane fell, and Beldame went away nearly a dozen lengths behind Hortensia.” Beldame straightened out and “went on with such an electrical burst of speed that when the first quarter pole was reached she had made up the ground lost at the start and was galloping two lengths in the lead.” She won by 2-1/2 lengths. Only her great physicality kept her from being seriously injured.

One week later, on July 6, Beldame faced the great 5-year-old horse Hermis, winner of the Suburban, in the 8f Test Handicap at Brighton Beach, and despite getting 18 lbs less than her competitor, Beldame finished second by one length—in a race won in track record time, and a fraction of a second off the world’s record. It was only the second (and last) time that year that she did not win.

Calls began for a meeting between Beldame and the other top 3-year-old filly, Hamburg Belle, but, when she would have conceded 18 lbs. to her rival in the Brighton Oaks, Beldame was held out of the race. As racing moved to Saratoga, Beldame won the 9f Alabama Stakes on August 4—against only 2 rivals, and minus Hamburg Belle. The two never did match up that year, as handicappers burdened Beldame with significantly higher weights than Hamburg Belle, and both refused to run in the October 10 Westchester Handicap when Beldame was given top weight of 140 lbs and Hamburg Belle 132 lbs—between 11 and 43 lbs to the rest of the field.

Just over 2 weeks later (on August 20), Beldame became the first 3-year-old filly winner of the 14f weight-for-age Saratoga Cup, over a sloppy Saratoga track. The runner-up was 4-year-old colt Africander, winner of the 1903 Belmont, Suburban, Lawrence Realization, and Saratoga Cup, while in third was the current Brooklyn victor (and Suburban runner-up) The Picket. Beldame led wire-to-wire, winning by nearly six lengths, as “her hoofs hardly sank into the sloppy going, so easily did she get over the ground.”

On August 30, Beldame easily defeated three others in the 9f open company Dolphin Stakes at Sheepshead Bay—carrying 126 lbs, and giving away 12-21 lbs to each competitor. She followed that up with a definitive victory over Belmont Stakes runner-up Graziallo and Lawrence Realization and Brighton Derby victor Ort Wells, as well as the filly Ocean Tide, runner-up to Beldame in the 1903 Great Filly Stakes, who acted as a “rabbit” for her stablemate Graziallo.

After her convincing September 19 victory in the 10f weight-for-age open company First Special Stakes, the New York Times noted:

“All through the year horsemen have tried to believe that Beldame simply was a filly with some pretensions of stoutness allied to a phenomenal burst of early speed, and the commonest prediction of the racing season has been that some day a fast horse with a heart in him would take hold of her and show where she belonged. If there is a horse with speed enough to take hold of her and heart enough to hold her, the racing of 1904 has not brought him into the light. Beldame, on her record for the year, is champion without the question of a doubt.”

That position was further solidified by her wire-to-wire victory in the 12f open company Second Special Stakes at Gravesend a mere 5 days later (September 24). According to press accounts, “Beldame went to the post looking as fresh and fiery as when she made her first appearance of the season away back in April, and so much in the humor of running that she tugged against the hold of the groom, who, following the custom with the filly, led her to the starting post several minutes in advance of the other horses.” As was her custom, she shot to the lead and never looked back, winning by 4 lengths over Travers victor Broomstick.

It would be her last race of the year. In all, 7 of her 12 victories were against open company, and 12 of her 14 starts were stakes or handicaps. Beldame won from 6f to 14f, amassing winnings of $53,525—less than 3-year-old colts Delhi ($75,910) and Ort Wells ($69,135), both of whom she defeated, and the 2-year-old fillies Artful ($55,235) and Tanya ($54,215). Odd, but true—Beldame ran mostly against older horses for lower purses, and missed the higher purses 3-year-old races enjoyed. It was unfortunate that so many quality racers that year failed to maintain form or were lost to injuries. Yet, the Horse of the Year title was clearly hers, as the Washington Post noted:

“With speed to burn, the courage of a lion, and the honesty of the sun, she completely captured the American public, and they hailed her as champion before the season closed. She could run any distance, and always won as if she was out for a playful frolic.”

As a four-year-old, Beldame won only 2 of 10 races, but one was the June 15 Suburban Handicap—only the second filly to do so (5-year-old Imp won the 1899 edition). A crowd of 30,000 saw her defeat a field of 10 opponents, including Brooklyn Handicap victor Delhi and eventual-second place finisher Proper, the latter to whom she conceded 23 lbs—all in near record time, a mere 3/5 second off the stakes record. It was a popular win, as the New York Times reporter noted:

“The spectators were in just the mood to applaud the popular mare’s triumph, and it was sufficient to cause another outbreak of demonstrations when the band greeted Beldame’s return to the stand by playing once more the old air ‘There’s Only One Girl,’ which last season was the inevitable sequel to each one of Beldame’s many winning races.”

Nine days later, on June 24, the great filly lost by a neck to Kentucky Derby winner Agile in the 11f Advance Stakes at Sheepshead Bay, and, on July 5, she finished second, a length behind Ort Wells in the Brighton Mile. Three days later, Beldame placed third behind 3-year-old filly sensation Artful and Ort Wells in the Brighton Handicap—11 lengths behind the winner. The New York Times account of the race poignantly termed her “the one-time queen of the turf.” What a difference a month made! On July 31, she finished third again, this time in the Saratoga Handicap, behind Caughnawaga and Waterlight, but ahead of Ort Wells and Belmont Stakes victress Tanya. Things didn’t get any better when, on August 8, she ran fifth in the 8f Delaware Handicap at Saratoga, but she did rebound to finish second to Caughnawaga in the 14f Saratoga Cup on August 19.

She retired sound in late August, but unfortunately, as a broodmare, Beldame did not replicate the success she achieved on the track. Even so, her legacy lived on. Aqueduct instituted a 5f Beldame Handicap for 2-year-old fillies, first run on November 14, 1905, and won by Flip Flap who, the following year, took out the Gazelle and Advance stakes. Winners in subsequent years include Veil (1906), Berry Maid (1907) and Imprudent (1909) after which the race apparently was retired.

In 1939, a newly-endowed $10,000 added 8.5f Beldame Handicap was inaugurated at Aqueduct—won by 50-1 longshot Nellie Bly. In the years that followed, the now-G1 Beldame boasted such spectacular filly and mare winners as Vagrancy (1942), Gallorette (1946), Conniver (1948), Next Move (1950, 1952), Cicada (1962), Gamely (1968, 1969), Shuvee (1970), Susan’s Girl (1972), Waya (1979), Lady’s Secret (1985, 1986), Personal Ensign (1987, 1988), Go For Wand (1990), Serena’s Song (1995) and Sightseek (2003, 2004). What better way to celebrate a truly magnificent race mare.

Sources Consulted:
• “Racing in New York Opens at Aqueduct” New York Times (April 16, 1904) p. 6.
• “Irish Lad Wins the Metropolitan” New York Times (May 6, 1904) p. 1.
• “Hermis, First Romping, Surprised Horsemen” New York Times (May 22, 1904) p. 13.
• “Season’s Handicap Winners” New York Times (June 5, 1904) p. 8.
• “Odds On Choices Beaten” New York Times (June 10, 1904) p. 7.
• “Beldame Won in a Romp” New York Times (June 23, 1904) p. 7.
• “Beldame Runs Fast Race” New York Times (August 21, 1904) p. 6.
• “Beldame Won in a Romp” New York Times (September 8, 1904) p. 8.
• “Beldame Shows Herself Champion of the Year” New York Times (September 20, 1904) p. 12.
• “Beldame Proved Her Title to Championship” New York Times (September 25, 1904) p. 10.
• “Bad Year for Racers. Many in the Older Division Went Wrong Early. Beldame Best of Her Year” Washington Post (December 25, 1904) p. 6.
• “Beldame’s Suburban Near Record Time” New York Times (June 16, 1905) p. 1.
• “Artful Always First in Brighton Handicap” New York Times (July 9, 1905) p. 5.
• “Racing in New York Ends in Three Days” New York Times (November 13, 1905) p. 10.

Other Recommended Blog Readings:
Brooklyn Backstretch
Colin’s Ghost


Anonymous said...

Beldame had one of the best three year old filly campaigns ever in history. Being assigned 140 pounds for any horse, let alone a three year old filly, is astounding! I thought I knew her story pretty well, but you brought out some great stuff.

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