Gallorette wins the Wilson Stakes at Saratoga. (Photo courtesy of Keeneland-Cook)
Long before Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra made it fashionable to bully the boys, there was a filly in the 1940s who was a four-legged feminist movement.
Gallorette, like most horses of her era, enjoyed a busy life on the racetrack. Tall and powerful, she raced 72 times in five seasons, winning 21 times and finishing second 20 times in a career that spanned 1944-48.
She won prestigious distaff races like the Beldame, Delaware Oaks, Pimlico Oaks (now the Black-Eyed Susan) and Acorn.
Yet she also defeated males in a number of the era’s best races. She faced males in 55 of 72 starts and beat them 13 times. She won the Metropolitan Handicap, Carter Handicap, Whitney Handicap and Brooklyn Handicap, among others, in her career. She faced the best horses of her generation, tackling Triple Crown champ Assault as well as Stymie, Busher and Armed. When she was retired in 1948, she was the sport’s leading money earner among fillies and mares with $445,535.
In a 1955 poll of American Trainers Association members, Gallorette was voted when the sport’s all-time best filly, eclipsing stars like Twilight Tear, Regret, Busher and Top Flight.
In time, her records were broken and others like Ruffian have nudged her down lists of the sport’s greatest distaff stars. Yet if you’re looking for a starting point to illustrate just how good a filly can be and how she can break through the barriers that can constrict a distaff runner, Gallorette would be a very worthy choice.
"She's not only the greatest mare, but the greatest Maryland-bred of any sex...She had a long, tough, career as a race mare, but if the jocks would have ridden her as instructed, she would have won a million instead of half a million," was how Eddie Simms, who assisted Edward A. Christmas in breaking and training Gallorette, described the great champion to Blood-Horse.
Considering the norm for her era, Gallorette made it to the races late in her 2-year-old season. Owned by William Brann and trained by Christmas, she was a daughter of Challenger II out of the Sir Gallahad III mare Gallette. The chestnut filly debuted on Sept. 14, 1944 at Laurel Park, and in what would be an oft-repeated scene, she faced boys. The bettors on hand that day thought little of her chances, dismissing the big filly at 46-1 odds. She proved them wrong as she led at the eighth pole before settling for third, 3 ¼ lengths behind the winner.
Six days later, she returned to face fellow fillies and led from gate to wire in breaking her maiden by two lengths. Two races later, she lost by a nose against males in the Maryland Futurity. Then on Oct. 14 in Laurel’s Selima Stakes she was third in a showdown against Busher, who won by three lengths and was eventually voted the year’s 2-year-old champion filly.
She finished her 2-year-old season with three wins in eight starts, then was given time off from November until May and blossomed during her vacation from the races. Off an allowance race, she tackled boys in the Wood Memorial and finished second by two lengths to Jeep.
After that, she returned to her own division and reeled off consecutive wins in the Acorn, Pimlico Oaks and Delaware Oaks.
Those would prove to be her final races of the year against fillies as she closed 1945 with eight straight races against males. In that stretch, she won the Empire City at Jamaica Park and lost by a nose in the Dwyer at Aqueduct.
All of those races against the boys came back to haunt her in the race for post-season honors as Busher was named the 3-year-old filly champion off a slate of 10 wins in 13 starts and victories over males in races such as the San Vicente, Arlington Handicap, Washington Park Handicap and Hollywood Derby.
Busher, who was based in the west, never faced Gallorette that year.
In 1946, Gallorette resumed her regimen of races against males as she opened the year with fourth-place finishes in the Excelsior and Grey Lag handicaps and then rallied from 10th to win the Metropolitan Handicap. Throughout the course of the year, she also won the Brooklyn Handicap and Bay Shore against boys and defeated females in the Beldame.
All told, she started a robust 18 times, with six wins, and was worse than third only five times while running in a slate of the East’s best races. She was honored that year as the champion handicap mare.
Off for five months, she started her 1947 campaign in mid-April but needed three starts to post her first win at five, defeating males in the Queens County Handicap. In a year that saw her finish second in the Whitney and Saratoga handicaps and the Beldame and third in the Carter and Ladies Handicap, the ultra-consistent runner won just three of 18 starts but was unplaced just four times.
In 1948 she was sold to Marie Moore for $125,000, and once again the quality of the races she competed in prevented Gallorette from assembling an impressive winning streak. She ran 15 times, winning four times, but among that quartet were the Whitney Stakes and Carter Handicap, two of the year’s most prestigious races.
The champion handicap mare honors for that year went to Conniver, who beat Gallorette by a head in the Brooklyn Handicap while receiving five pounds from Moore’s gallant mare.
On Oct. 12 at Jamaica Park, she ran ninth in the Questionnaire Handicap and that proved to be the final race for the remarkably durable mare
At stud, she produced two stakes-winning fillies, but neither proved to be the equal of their famous mom.
Then again, that’s an honor few in the history of the sport can claim.
Fun facts about Gallorette
- Gallorette was voted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1962.
- The only females rated ahead of Gallorette in Blood-Horse magazine’s ranking of the Top 100 Champions of the 20th Century were Ruffian and Busher. Gallorette was 45th overall, Ruffian was 35th and Busher 40th.
- Gallorette was bred by Hall of Famer Preston Burch, who owned Gallette. Brann was the co-owner of Challenger II and he and Burch entered into agreement under which Gallette would be bred to Challenger II and they would take turns owning the off-spring. The first foal went to Brann and that turned out to Gallorette.
- Pimlico stages the Gallorette Handicap on its Preakness undercard. The race is a Grade 3 stakes with a $150,000 purse for fillies and mares on the turf.