-- M Kizenko
Every spring, racing fans are reminded that the last horse to sweep the Triple Crown was Affirmed, who resisted Alydar to the last in 1978. When the 3-year-olds hit New York for the Belmont--Triple Crown on the line or not--the footage of Secretariat’s emphatic victory in 1973 is held up as the pinnacle of performance, and rightly so. But nestled between those two champions is Seattle Slew’s brazen run through the 1977 Classics, when he led every step of the Belmont to complete the Triple Crown while still unbeaten
Secretariat is honored with a Grade I race on grass at Arlington every August, and Affirmed will get his due this afternoon with a Grade III race for 3-year-olds that didn’t come to hand quickly enough for the Triple Crown trail. But why no love for Slew? He was a first-ballot inductee to the Hall of Fame, and established himself as one of the most fashionable and successful sires of his day.
Peter Pan. Jim Dandy. Hill Prince. King’s Bishop. Those aren’t exactly household names, but they all have graded stakes named for them at the New York tracks. When I was growing up, I was sure that the Peter Pan was named for the J.M. Barrie character who so memorably became a Disney movie. To my surprise, the race honors the 1907 Belmont winner. Jim Dandy surprised Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in the 1930 Travers, and is now memorialized at Saratoga. Hill Prince was the champion 2-year-old of 1949 who captured the Preakness the following season. King’s Bishop secured the Michigan Mile and One-Eighth H. and Pontiac Grand Prix S. at three before heading to New York and winning the GII Carter and GIII Fall Highweight as a 4-year-old in 1973. A sprint in his name was established at Saratoga in 1984 and quickly moved up the graded ranks before becoming the nation’s premier seven-furlong event for 3-year-olds.
Triple Crown winners Count Fleet (1942) and Whirlaway (1941) have black-type events named for them in the heart of the winter at Aqueduct’s inner track meet. Riva Ridge, the 1972 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner who toiled in the shadow of his stablemate Secretariat, had a sprint on the Belmont S. undercard from 1985-2005, when it was renamed in honor of Woody Stephens, who saddled five straight Belmont winners from 1982-1986.
The New York Racing Association has been quick to honor the best fillies to grace its tracks: the ill-fated Ruffian and Go for Wand are memorialized with Grade I events. The peerless Personal Ensign also has one (as do Beldame and Frizette), but it appears to be a different story for males. There have been a series of overnight stakes named for New York-based horses whose talents span the spectrum; the Easy Goer and Xtra Heat were recently contested, while the next condition book has races named for the likes of Once Wild and Rob n Gin.
Like NYRA, the California tracks mostly stick to locale names and racing personages for graded stakes in the Golden State, but Best Pal, Native Diver and Triple Bend did distinguish themselves enough for posterity.
It’s certainly a marked contrast to Fair Grounds, which is eager to give a nod to champions who passed through New Orleans. Risen Star, Mineshaft and now Rachel Alexandra are all graded stakes events.
But why not rename, say, the Peter Pan for Seattle Slew? His male-line descendants to have won that May contest include Slew O’ Gold, A.P. Indy, Purge, Oratory, Sightseeing and Casino Drive, while this year’s winner, Alternation, is out of a Seattle Slew mare.
The Travers, you’re good. However, if you’ve ever wondered who exactly the Wood Memorial, Jerome and Dwyer honor, I can recommend The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America by William H. P. Robertson. Of course, there’s Google and Wikipedia these days.