In addition to the lack of centralized authority, unified drug regulations, coordinated race scheduling and vision for the future of horse racing, add a lack of appreciation for racing’s history as an unfortunate casualty of the sport's slow demise. Only the Kentucky Derby still possesses for the general public the allure that the sport once enjoyed in its hey-day. I don’t mind Pimlico advertising the Triple Crown’s second jewel with “Get Your Preak On.” (you might want to turn the volume down if you click on the link) Purists might declare it offensive and pandering to the lowest common denominator, but, honestly, in a sport whose fan base is rapidly aging, isn’t any attempt to muster interest among the younger crowd a good thing—as opposed to doing nothing and permitting the sport to die? That's not to say I like the idea of filling the infield with drunken louts, but serious fans wouldn't be able to see the race from there anyways.
What I’m not crazy about is fiddling with what little historical significance remains in American racing, particularly those races run at the classic distances (9 furlongs +). D. Wayne Lukas recently told the Paulick Report he advocates shortening the distances of all three Triple Crown races because horses aren’t being bred to get the classic distances. Poppycock! That thinking reminds me of the trend in youth team sports of awarding trophies for just being part of a team or requiring that all players play regardless of talent. Forgive me if I don’t wish to bitch further about the general dumbing down of American culture having just finished the semester and about to embark on four months of vacation bliss...but the idea of shortening the classic races is offensive, and attempts to cheapen the achievements of those great champions of the past. If anything, we need to more wholeheartedly embrace the past, and find ways to make those great staying races even more relevant and important in the greater scheme of things.
For some incomprehensible reason, NYRA felt it necessary to move the Dwyer Stakes from early July to mid-May, purportedly to take the place of the temporarily-suspended Peter Pan Stakes as a Belmont Stakes prep race. Unfortunately, coming just one week after the Kentucky Derby, the seven-horse field leaves much to be desired (even with much-ballyhooed G2-placed Drosselmeyer). No Man o’War, Gallant Fox, Omaha, Johnstown, Whirlaway, Assault, Native Dancer, Nashua, or Damascus here.
First run in 1887 as the Brooklyn Derby, one of the more fascinating facts about the Dwyer is that it, unlike the other 3-year-old open company classics, has never been won by a filly. All three Triple Crown races, plus the Travers, Withers and now defunct Lawrence Realization have all been won by fillies. So too have other vintage races like the Haskell, Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass, and American Derby (*First run in 1964, the Jim Dandy has yet to produce a filly winner).
On May 26, 1891, the $20,000 Great American Stakes for 2-year-olds overshadowed the $6,000 Brooklyn Derby at Gravesend race track, so the filly Ambulance’s second-place finish behind stablemate Russell hardly merited notice. When Intermission finished second, three lengths behind Handspring in the 1896 Brooklyn Derby, the New York Times scoffed at the race as “really no Derby at all, as it is run over a course of a mile and a quarter instead of over the regulation distance of a mile and a half.”
In the 1907 edition (which was over 12 furlongs), only four horses challenged Belmont Stakes winner Peter Pan, trying “in turn to go out and take the track from the favorite, in the hope that if hard pressed Peter Pan would quit as he did in his first races of the year, but...the tactics failed, for the simple reason that none of the field could get to the favorite.” One who went with him, but never passed him, was Yankee Girl who finished third, losing second in the final strides by a neck to Paumonok, a colt carrying seven pounds less than the filly.
In 1935, Good Gamble (about whom I have written previously at Fillies First) finished just 1-1/2 lengths back of Triple Crown winner Omaha, while Gallorette was beaten by a head in the final stride by Wildlife in 1945. She had already won the Pimlico Oaks (now Black-Eyed Susan), Delaware Oaks and Acorn, and would subsequently win the Empire City Stakes against Belmont winner Pavot.
The last filly to place in the Dwyer was 1947 champion 3-year-old filly But Why Not, a Blue Larkspur daughter whose second dam was the great Black Helen (and third dam was the incomparable La Troienne). Among the field of nine that year Belmont Stakes winner Phalanx stood out; as post-time favorite, he had been defeated by Jet Pilot in the Kentucky Derby and finished third in the Preakness. But Why Not had won the Acorn and Pimlico Oaks, but was a beaten favorite in the Coaching Club American Oaks coming in. As James Roach described in the New York Times, they “were locked in a purse-stirring duel after having come on from back in the pack around the last turn, and there was little to choose between them at the end of the mile and a quarter.” Phalanx won by a head, and it was a distant six lengths back to the rest of the field. A few weeks later Phalanx repeated the feat, beating But Why Not by two lengths in the Empire City Stakes; he also won the 2-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup that year, defeating the great Stymie. But Why Not came back to win the Matron, and then defeated males in the $93,800 Arlington Classic in late July—repeating a feat achieved by Twilight Tear when she won the 1944 Classic.
“St. Florian Won $20,000 in the Great American Stakes Race at Gravesend” New York Times, May 27, 1891, p. 2.
“A Derby for Handspring” New York Times, June 17, 1896, p. 6.
“Peter Pan Victor in Brooklyn Derby” New York Times, June 16, 1907, p. S2.
“Phalanx Beats But Why Not By a Head in Dwyer” New York Times, June 15, 1947, p. S1.