May 12, 2010

The accomplishments of Nellie Morse are legendary—winner of the 1924 Pimlico Oaks (now Black-Eyed Susan Stakes) on May 8, followed up with a victory in the Preakness Stakes on May 12. She went into the May 31 Kentucky Oaks favored, but due to rough tactics by the rider of Glide, finished third (though placed second via disqualification) to Princess Doreen, a budding superstar in her own right. As a broodmare, Nellie Morse would produce (among others) the stakes-winning filly Nellie Flag whose daughter Nellie L won the 1943 Kentucky Oaks; her direct descendents include such champions as Forego and Bold Forbes.

What many don’t realize is that Nellie Morse’s racing career didn’t start out all that well—in her maiden effort as a 2-year-old on May 3, 1923, at Jamaica race track, she finished last of 10, well-beaten by 17 lengths. Just seven days later, however, she came back to win a five-furlong maiden special weight race, wire-to-wire, in open company over the same track. All told, during her juvenile campaign, Nellie Morse won four races, was second six times and third twice in 22 races—not exactly the stuff of legends, but Nellie Morse’s real forte it appears was on off-tracks, over which both her Pimlico Oaks and Preakness victories occurred.

A much lesser documented aspect of Nellie Morse’s story is that she was twice bested in track-record setting times by a little known bay filly called Outline.

Bred by Harry Payne Whitney, Outline was by Brooklyn Derby winner Chicle out of the Peter Pan mare Sketchy whose second dam was Artful, the terrific race mare who not only handed the champion colt Sysonby his sole lifetime loss (as a 2-year-old in the Futurity Stakes), but also (as a 3-year-old) defeated the great 4-year-old Beldame in the 1905 Brighton Handicap.

Purchased at the 1922 Saratoga yearling sale by oil baron Harry F. Sinclair’s Rancocas Stable, one of the leading money-winning stables in the country, Outline made her racing debut on May 16, 1923 in the five-furlong Rosedale Stakes at Jamaica. Trainer Sam Hildreth boosted jockey Earl Sande aboard for the ride. Here’s how the New York Times reported the race:

“Although eight horses went to the post in the seventh running of the Rosedale for a purse of $5,000, at the finish it was a two-horse race of the kind that lovers of the thoroughbreds delight to see. The final strides of the race were as thrilling as anything seen on the local track this season. Nellie Morse broke in front when starter Mars Cassidy sent the field on its way, with Anna Marrone 2nd next, and Outline in third position. Sande kept his mount in this same spot until the turn into the stretch was reached, where he sent her along and quickly overhauled the faltering Anna Marrone, but there was no cessation of the telling pace that the leader was setting.”

“Bit by bit, however, the flying Outline closed the gap. As the two horses raced through the final sixteenth, Nellie Morse was still in front, with Outline creeping up inch by inch. All this time Sande contented himself with giving Outline a vigorous hand ride, but in the closing steps he went to the whip, and just in time, for he had fairly to pick the Rancocas filly up to get her across the line a winner by the scantiest of noses.”

The two fillies finished seven lengths ahead of the rest of the field, and the winning time of :58 3/5 seconds smashed the previous track record by nearly a full second. What an auspicious beginning for Outline! [It should also be noted that Anna Marrone turned into smashing filly, defeating Nellie Morse in the Spinaway later that summer, and continuing to be stakes-placed through age 5]

The next time Outline and Nellie Morse would meet would be as 3-year-olds, in the six-furlong Lady Violet Handicap at Aqueduct on June 20. Prior to that race, on June 3, Outline had finished second by a head (as the 2-1 favorite) to Pimlico Oaks’ runner-up Relentless in the one-mile Ladies’ Handicap at Belmont Park.

Unfortunately for Nellie Morse, the spiriting distance of the Lady Violet didn’t suit; she finished a well-beaten fourth. Instead, the race was between the fleet Outline and the sole 4-year-old race entrant, Avisack. The two of them drew away from the field early, with Outline ultimately winning by nearly a length, with third-place finisher Ohone five lengths back. The race time of 1:10 4/5 shaved a fifth of a second off the old track record.

After the race, the Daily Racing Form called her “about the best filly in the three-year-old division that has been seen about New York.” Still, from what I’ve been able to piece together about her racing record, it’s apparent her connections had no illusions with the fact that Outline was pure sprint speed.

On July 18, she defeated a crack field of colts, including Knickbocker Handicap winner Lucky Play, in the Yankee Purse, a six-furlong allowance race at Empire City. As described in the NY Times:

“The field was sent away to a good start, Outline being the first to show after the barrier was sprung. Lucky Play, however, soon poked his nose out in front and opened a lead of a length, which the Fair Play colt held until they reached the turn for home. Then the filly again took command and came home to win cleverly by two lengths from Lucky Play. Noon Fire was always well placed in third position, but never could get on terms with the two leaders. He finished a length and a half back of Lucky Play. Nine ran, but the rest of them might as well have been in their barns. The nearest to them at the winning post was ten lengths back.”

It was Outline’s fourth straight victory and her sixth in only seven starts.

Wheeled back just four days later in the Unity Purse (a six-furlong allowance race), Outline was defeated by the multiple-stakes winning colt Wise Counsellor who needed to equal the track record of 1:07 4/5 in order to beat her and her stablemate Bracadale, third-place finisher in the 1924 Kentucky Derby. Accounts of the race note: “They got off to a good start, and Laverne Fator back in the saddle, took Outline out into the lead, with the evident intention of killing off some of the opposition with her dazzling speed and leaving Bracadale to come home with the money.” Evidently, that plan failed when Bracadale never got going, and Outline was beaten by a mere head in the end.

I couldn’t find any additional accounts of Outline racing beyond these eight races, but what a resume, setting two track-records and forcing an opponent to equal another. In 1926 she gave birth to a chestnut Lucullite filly named Design. Although unraced, Design produced eight foals, all eight starters and seven of them winners, including stakes-winners Challite and Blensign. One of Design’s daughters, Designate produced Hollywood Derby winner Specify, the last horse to defeat Seabiscuit.


“Another Fast Chicle: His Daughter Outline Makes a New Jamaica Record” Daily Racing Form, May 17, 1923.
“Outline Sets Mark to Win Rosedale” NY Times, May 17, 1923, p. 16.
“Here and There on the Turf” Daily Racing Form, May 24, 1924
“Outline Sets Mark in Aqueduct Race” NY Times, June 21, 1924, p. 11.
“Laurano At His Best. Shows Return of Form Displayed in Winning Metropolitan. Rancocas’ Outline Establishes New Track Record of 1:10 4/5 to Win from Avisack” DRF, June 21, 1924, p. 1.
“Two Fillies Score at Empire City” NY Times, July 19, 1924, p. 7.
“Wise Counsellor Equals Track Mark” NY Times, Jully 23, 1924, p. 12.


For an outstanding piece on Nellie Morse, see “Nellie Morse Wins the Preakness, 1924” by Kevin Martin, the incomparable “Colin’s Ghost.” Bennett Liebman also wrote a provocative post “The Fillies of 1924” over at the New York Times racing blog The Rail last year, about Nellie Morse and Princess Doreen.

While researching this piece, I discovered that just a month prior to Outline’s record-setting maiden race, Harry F. Sinclair suffered a devastating fire at his Rancocas Stock Farm which killed 60 stallions, broodmares and foals (“60 Rancocas Horses Lost in Stable Fire” NY Times, April 15, 1923, p. 1). Sinclair as quoted in the April 16 NY Times (“Promising Colts Lost in Rancocas Fire” p. 5):

“My breeding work at Rancocas has been set back at least five years. The stock destroyed represented most of the best breeding combinations on the farm and was the pride of my breeding operations. I do not know how I can replace them. You can’t go to another owner and ask him to sell you his brood mares and colts any more than you would go to a man and ask him to sell you his wife and children.”

After serving six months in prison for his role in the Teapot Dome scandal, Sinclair was eventually forced out of racing, selling his racing stable in 1931 and most of his breeding stock in 1932.


Anne S said...

Hi Valerie,

Read this heart warming story on today, and thought of you with your interest in American breeding and super fillies.


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