What’s in a (Race) Name? A Filly Named Mother Goose

Belmont Park’s Mother Goose Stakes, named after the 1920s-era champion, is a highlight of its spring/summer meet. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Many years ago, the richest and arguably most prestigious race in the United States wasn’t the Kentucky Derby, nor the Preakness or Belmont Stakes. The race most owners and breeders wished to win was the Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park, a six-furlong sprint for 2-year-olds that carried a very rich purse – more than $60,000 in the early 1890s.

Since the race carried so much prestige, it was not uncommon to see fillies contest the race – after all, if you owned a filly with the talent to be competitive in the Futurity, it was hard not to take a shot!

In 1924, Harry Payne Whitney had the good fortune to own four talented fillies capable of winning major stakes races; in fact, three of them would be recognized as the three best 2-year-old fillies of the year. Among the best of these fillies was Mother Goose, a daughter of Chicle that had won the Fashion Stakes earlier in the season. Whitney already had the colts Candy Kid and Reminder to run in the Futurity Stakes.

A record-breaking 29 horses were entered in the 1924 Futurity Stakes, marking the largest field in the history of the event. The Whitney runners received plenty of support in the wagering, and when the race began Mother Goose got off to a quick start and soon engaged in a battle for the lead with a runner named Single Foot; the good colt Stimulus was close behind in third place. In the end, the other 26 starters would have little impact on the race, for the three front-runners would settle the race between them, pulling five lengths clear early on and maintaining that advantage to the finish.

As the field charged down the straight course and approached the finish line, Single Foot was still in front and appeared to have every chance to win in gate-to-wire fashion, but Mother Goose wasn’t giving up. In the final strides, she edged past Single Foot and held off a late charge from Stimulus to win by a head, with Single Foot just a nose back in third place.

It was a courageous performance. In the “Here and There on the Turf” column published in the Sept. 16, 1924 edition of the Daily Racing Form, it was said that “Mother Goose had speed enough to take a good position early in that three-quarters and she had speed enough to hold that position. Then at the end, when it narrowed to a battle and a question of heart and courage she was tried and found not wanting. That is all that can be asked of a Thoroughbred …”

Although Mother Goose never ran again after her Futurity victory, her place in history is secure thanks to her courageous performance in the most prestigious race of her day. Belmont Park honors her legacy each year with the $250,000 Grade 2 Mother Goose Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies.

Several other famous fillies and champions are being honored with stakes races this weekend. Let’s recall some of their accomplishments!

Grade 2 Princess Rooney Stakes at Gulfstream Park

Princess Rooney would be remembered as a great mare even if she hadn’t enjoyed the good fortune of winning the inaugural Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff in 1984. After all, the Neil Drysdale-trained filly won the first 10 starts of her career by a combined 77 ¼ lengths, culminating with a victory in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. A handful of later defeats had little impact on her reputation, for she also ended her career with five straight victories by a combined 20 lengths, including the Distaff, which she won by seven lengths in a thoroughly decisive performance. In 1991, she was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame.

Grade 2 Dance Smartly Stakes at Woodbine

Defeating colts was no big deal to Dance Smartly. In fact, the Canadian-bred daughter of Danzig made a habit of beating male rivals during her 3-year-old season in 1991, scoring decisive victories in the Queen’s Plate Stakes, Prince of Wales Stakes, and Breeders’ Stakes to complete a sweep of the Canadian Triple Crown. A versatile filly that could win on dirt or turf and at a wide variety of distances, Dance Smartly also beat males in the Group 2 Molson Million Stakes, a precursor to a victory in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff that earned her the title of champion 3-year-old filly at the 1991 Eclipse Awards.

Grade 3 Singspiel Stakes at Woodbine

Although Singspiel lost seven of his first eight starts, the Irish-bred colt proved to be a force to reckon with as an older horse. As a 4-year-old in 1996, he won the Canadian International and Japan Cup (both Grade 1) and finished second in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf to be named Champion Turf Male of 1996 at the Eclipse Awards. The following year, he rose to even greater heights with a victory in the Dubai World Cup on dirt and wins in the Group 1 Coronation Cup and Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes in England, giving him major victories in four different countries.

Grade 3 Carry Back Stakes at Gulfstream Park

When Carry Back finished 10th in his debut – sprinting three furlongs in January of his 2-year-old year! – few could have ever expected how high the Florida-bred colt with an obscure pedigree would rise. But after four seasons of racing from 1960 through 1963, Carry Back retired as a millionaire (a significant accomplishment for the time) with victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Metropolitan Handicap, Whitney Handicap, and Florida Derby on his record. Carry Back ducked no one, beat the great Kelso on a couple of occasions, and even traveled to France to compete in the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. There wasn’t much that Carry Back couldn’t do!

Landaluce Stakes at Santa Anita Park

In a sport where “what might have been” is a phrase unfortunately heard all too often, the brilliance of Landaluce is impossible to forget. As a 2-year-old in 1980, the daughter of Seattle Slew won all five of her starts with unbelievable ease, including the Grade 2 Hollywood Lassie Stakes by 21 lengths and the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes by two lengths. Unfortunately, she fell ill before a scheduled start in the Hollywood Starlet Stakes and did not survive, leaving racing fans to wonder “what might have been.”

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