What’s in a (Race) Name? The Greatness of Top Flight

Top Flight won 12 of 16 races in an illustrious career, including seven wins without a loss at age 2. (Courtesy of the Keeneland Library)

Ask any racing fan to name some of the greatest fillies and mares in the history of horse racing, and you’ll likely hear names like Zenyatta, Ruffian, Rachel Alexandra, and Personal Ensign. But if you turn back the clocks to the 1930s, one name might have stood alone atop the list: Top Flight.

A dark brown filly with a large white blaze, Top Flight was nothing short of sensational as a 2-year-old in 1931. Foregoing a typical run in a maiden race and instead starting her career in Aqueduct’s Clover Stakes, Top Flight won her debut with ease by a length, then shipped halfway across the country to Arlington Park and crushed fourteen rivals to win the Lassie Stakes by five lengths.

Back in New York, Top Flight beat colts in the Saratoga Special Stakes with “speed in reserve” according to the Daily Racing Form, then swept two of the biggest filly races in the country, winning the Spinaway Stakes and Matron Stakes with “speed to spare.” A mere ten days after the Matron, Top Flight faced colts again in Belmont Park’s Futurity Stakes, the most prestigious race in the nation at the time with a massive purse of $107,000.

One might have expected such an important race to provide some sort of challenge for Top Flight, but this was far from the case. Showcasing once again her remarkable superiority, Top Flight pulled away to win by an easy 2 ½ lengths. So amazing was Top Flight that W. C. Vreeland, writing in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of Sept. 20, 1931, was inspired to say “Hail the unbeaten queen of the fillies – Top Flight, tip your hat to the undefeated belle of the track, a fitting successor to the onetime queen of queens, [Kentucky Derby winner] Regret.”

Top Flight finished the season by beating colts again in the Pimlico Futurity, completing a 7-for-7 campaign that saw her earn $219,000, thus becoming the first filly or mare in history to surpass the $200,000 milestone.

As a 3-year-old, Top Flight wasn’t quite as dominant and failed to perform well enough to warrant a run in the Kentucky Derby, but she went 5-for-5 against other fillies and mares, including wins in the Acorn Stakes, Coaching Club American Oaks, and Alabama Stakes. She retired with a record of 12 wins from 16 starts, $275,900 in earnings, and a reputation as one of the finest fillies to ever grace the American turf. In a poll compiled by The Blood-Horse ranking the greatest Thoroughbreds of the 20th century, Top Flight ranked #66 overall and was ranked #9 among fillies and mares.

Since Aqueduct is where Top Flight’s glorious career began, the New York track annually hosts the Grade 3 Top Flight Invitational Handicap to honor her legacy. The race will be held this year on April 2, but Top Flight isn’t the only horse that Aqueduct will be honoring this weekend. Let’s take a look at a few other races named for memorable horses of the past…

Xtra Heat Stakes at Aqueduct

Speaking of fantastic fillies, no filly or mare in the history of North American racing has ever won more stakes races than the speedy sprinter Xtra Heat! Starting her career in a maiden claiming race, Xtra Heat won her debut and quickly rose through the ranks, winning a remarkable seven stakes races before she turned three years old. Eighteen more stakes wins would follow during the next three years, giving her a lifetime total of 25 stakes wins, a record that seems unlikely to be broken any time in the near future.

Among Xtra Heat’s biggest wins were the Grade 1 Prioress Stakes at Saratoga and the Grade 3 Phoenix Breeders’ Cup Stakes against males. She also finished second in the 2001 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (an effort that helped make her champion 3-year-old filly) and third in the 2002 Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen.

Caixa Eletronica (Eclipse Sportswire)

Caixa Eletronica Stakes at Aqueduct

The story of Caixa Eletronica is one of highs and lows. Running mainly in claiming races from 2007 through early 2011, he seemed destined to race in relative obscurity, far from the sport’s greatest spotlights. But after being claimed by trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole, Caixa Eletronica turned a corner and found success at levels that would have seemed impossible just a few months earlier. By the end of 2013, Caixa Eletronica was a four-time graded stakes winner with astonishing versatility. During a particularly memorable two-month stretch in 2012, he won the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic Stakes going a mile and an eighth, and later cut back in distance to win the Grade 2 True North Handicap sprinting three-quarters of a mile!

Sadly, Caixa Eletronica died when he collided with a loose horse during a training accident in January 2014. He departed with a record of 23 wins from 69 starts – exactly 33 percent – and a fond reputation as a tough-as-nails veteran that would give his best every time he ran.

Grade 2 Honey Fox Stakes at Gulfstream Park

Hialeah Park! Del Mar! Monmouth Park! Belmont Park! During the early 1980s a filly named Honey Fox traveled the country winning races at all of these tracks and more. While never quite successful enough to be named a champion, Honey Fox was a very capable runner on turf and won the Grade 2 Orchid Handicap at Gulfstream Park, along with several other stakes races.

Star Guitar Stakes at Fair Grounds

Although Star Guitar never had the good fortune to win a graded stakes race (his best effort was a third in the Grade 3 Alysheba Stakes), that hardly mattered to the many racing fans that appreciated his absolute dominance against fellow Louisiana-breds. From 2007 through 2012, Star Guitar won 24 of his 30 races, earned more than $1.7 million, and ended his career with ten consecutive stakes wins. His victories included four straight wins in the Premier Night Championship Stakes at Delta Downs, which helped lead Star Guitar to three straight titles as Louisiana-Bred Horse of the Year.

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