Lest We Forget

By Bennett Liebman
Government Lawyer in Residence

One of the most traditional sayings in horse racing is that “a good horse can come from anywhere.” In New York State, even before World War II, even before the inception of the New York bred breeding incentive program in 1973, and even with a paucity of breeding farms, a good horse could come from most anywhere in New York.[1]

Take the year 1922. A New York bred won a division of the Pimlico Futurity, offering the highest purse ever offered in racing. That same New York bred also won the Futurity, the most illustrious and prestigious race then being conducted in the United States for two year olds.[2] That same New York bred set a record for most earnings in a year by a filly or mare. She regularly defeated colts.  Her 1922 earnings of close to $95,000 were more than double that of any other two year old that year. The horse was Sally’s Alley, and she was bred in Binghamton.

Sally’s Alley in 1922 compiled a record unlike that of any New York bred in the 20th century.  She was the clear two year old champion of the year. She defeated males in a division of the Pimlico Futurity which was the “richest classic for which thoroughbreds have ever contested.”[3] She defeated a field of 11, and her time for the mile was three fifths of a second faster than the other division of the race.

She won the Futurity at Belmont defeating 22 other horses. She defeated second place Zev – one of the great stars of the 1920’s – by three lengths. Her six furlong time of 1:11 established a new record for the Futurity, lowering the previous mark held by both Colin and Maskette.

Moreover, Sally’s Alley was a true Cinderella story. Her sire, the unraced Allumeur was purchased for $375 by Sally’s Alley’s owner, Willis Sharpe Kilmer. Allumeur seemed to be of so little value that Kilmer gave the horse to the Federal Remount Bureau. (Allumeur was bought back by Kilmer from the Remount Bureau after the success of Sally’s Alley.) Kilmer acquired Sally’s Alley’s dam Salvolatile for $600.[4]

All told, Sally’s Alley won five of 11 races in 1922. She might actually have performed better, but a number of the significant races in 1833 were run on off tracks, and Sally’s Alley was not effective on wet tracks.

Unfortunately, Sally’s Alley three year old season was not a success. She won three of ten races and finished her career having earned $104,000. She became only the fourth filly or mare to win over $100,000.

Top Row

As unlikely a star as Sally’s Alley was, New York in the1930’s produced another improbable star in the excellent handicap runner, Top Row.  Top Row was bred in that hotbed of thoroughbred breeding, the Aknusti Stud in Lake Delaware near the village of  Delhi in Delaware County.[5]  In the 1920’s and 1930’s the Gerry family stood the multiple stakes winning horse Peanuts at their farm.[6] Top Row, born in 1931 was hardly considered to be a potential star. “If ever a horse was born on the wrong side of the tracks, it was this fellow.”[7]

In fact, he was winless as a two year old. Subsequently, in his three year old season, Top Row was claimed for $3,500 at Narragansett by trainer- owner A.A. Baroni.[8]  Top Row ended up defeating the great Discovery in three stakes races including the second running of the Santa Anita Handicap in 1936, which had the highest purse ever offered in racing.[9]   Top Row even set a world record for a mile and a sixteenth. He finished with earnings of $213,870 and 14 victories.

Other New York State Winners

It is not just rural areas of upstate New York that have produced thoroughbred winners before World War II.[10] There are two New York bred horses in the National Racing Hall of Fame. Both were bred in the New York City metropolitan area. The undefeated American Eclipse, the best horse of the first third of the 19th century, was born in what is current day Glen Cove in Nassau County.[11] The filly Ruthless who won the first Belmont (as well as the Travers) in 1867 was bred at Throgs Neck, which is now in the Bronx. That might only be fitting since the first Belmont Stakes was run at Jerome Park, also in the Bronx. Ruthless’ sisters all by the mare Barbarity – Relentless, Remorseless, Regardless and Merciless – all bred at Throgs Neck were also major stars of 19th century racing.[12]

Suffolk County was the home of Nursery Stud, August Belmont’s breeding farm. Belmont bred a number of top horses including Jack of Hearts, Forager, Jacobus, and Turco in Suffolk County. The Nursery Stud is now the location of Belmont Lake State Park. In Westchester, James Butler’s Eastview Farm produced Questionnaire who won 14 stakes including the Brooklyn and the Metropolitan.

Hurricana Stables, the breeding operation of the Sanford family, in Amsterdam produced Mohawk II, Caughnawaga and Molly Brant. In the 1905 Saratoga season, these three horses were virtually unbeatable.[13] Mohawk II won the Saratoga Special and the Hopeful. He would have been the favorite for the Futurity but turned up lame. In the 1906 Great Republic Stakes at Saratoga, the Daily Racing Form reported that 2,000 people had come up from Amsterdam to wager on Mohawk II, who finished last.[14] From western New York the breeding operation of C.L. Whiting, in Avon, was a formidable breeding force in the 1920’s.

How to Honor These Horses

With all these successes from limited breeding operations in New York State, you might think these top horses should be properly honored. For a time the Empire City racetrack ran a Questionnaire Stakes, which made sense since the Butler family, the owners of Empire City, also owned Questionnaire. That race is no more. NYRA does run a minor ungraded stakes race named after Ruthless It is not a race for New York breds, but even that race was discontinued for a time in the late 1980’s through the early 1990’s. Nor are there races named for the top New York-bred winners of the post-World War II era such as Mr. Right, Silent Screen and Young Peter.[15]

These horses deserve our tribute and attention. There are now plenty of New York bred stakes these days. Why aren’t they named for the likes of American Eclipse, Questionnaire, Ruthless, and Sally’s Alley and Top Row?  At a time when New York State is supposed to be honoring its heritage, whys shouldn’t we have historic markers indicating the birthplace of these top New York bred horses? If we are serious about New York breeding, theses estimable heroes of New York deserve not just our respect and praise but some official recognition.

[1] See Ed Comerford, “No Blue Grass in Oyster Bay … Not Yet, Newsday, September 26, 1969. “What they can do in Lexington, Ky., and Ocala, Fla, they can do in Huntington, St. James, Oyster Bay and Montauk Point.”

[2] The New York Times called the Futurity the “richest and most famous of the tests for two year old thoroughbreds.” “List of Futurity Winners Contains Many Famous Names,” New York Times, September 13, 1925. At the time of the 1922 running, the Times called the race “the country’s most notable fixture for the younger racers.” “Sally’s Alley Is Futurity Winner,” New York Times, September 17, 1922. The New York Herald Tribune called it the “spotlight of juvenile competition in America” whose winner “has been acknowledged undisputed champion of its age.”  See 9/10/33 “Futurity To Be Worth $100,000 If  20 Go at Belmont on Saturday,” New York Herald Tribune, September 10, 1933.The Baltimore  Sun called the Futurity “the classic of the Belmont Fall meeting.” Exterminator’s Stable Mate Wins the Classic Futurity,” Baltimore Sun, September 17 1922. One could have argued that before the Kentucky Derby achieved preeminence, the Futurity was the top race in the United States.

[3] WJ Macbeth “Sally’s Alley and Dunlin Are Favored in Pimlico Futurity,” New York Herald Tribune, November 4, 1922.

[4] See “Romance of Sally’s Alley,” Daily Racing Form, September 19, 1922.

[5] See “Gerry Confident of Ability to Raise Good Horses near Delhi,” Binghamton Press, October 16, 1926.

[6] “Peanuts, Gerry Stud Farm Favorite, Dies in Stall,” Hancock Herald, January 2, 1947. Later in 1947, another horse from Aknusti, Young Peter, would win the Travers Stakes.

[7] Horace Wade, “Golden Ugly Ducklings, Atlanta Constitution, October 4, 1947.

[8] “Autumn Crowd of 30,000 Thrilled by Brass Monkey’s Victory,” Boston Globe, October 13, 1934.

[9] The New York-bred Mr. Right would later win the Santa Anita Handicap in 1968 at odds of 19-1.

[10] “New York Stands High In Breeding Industry,” Washington Post, September 24, 1922.

[11] For more on American Eclipse, see John Eisenberg, The Great Match Race, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2006).

[12] See Joe H. Palmer, “Views of the Turf: It All Started in the Bronx,” New York Herald Tribune, January 26, 1947.

[13] “Sentiment in Racing Game,” Washington Post, September 5, 1905.

[14] “Tangle’s Great Republic,” Daily Racing Form August 19, 1906.

[15] Mr. Right won both the Santa Anita Handicap and the Woodward in 1968. Young Peter won the Travers in 1947, and Silent Screen was the top two year old colt of 1969.

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