What’s in a (Race) Name? Safely Kept’s Sprinting Speed

Safely Kept wins the 1989 Test Stakes. Her namesake race is this weekend at Laurel Park. (Bob Coglianese/BloodHorse photo)

It took a pretty fast horse to outrun Safely Kept over the first quarter-mile of any race, because—to put it simply—Safely Kept was one of the fastest fillies to ever set foot on a racetrack.

For Safely Kept, speed was the name of the game. During a career that spanned from 1988 through 1991, Safely Kept ran in 31 races and won 24 of them, all in identical style. She would burst out of the starting gate and sprint hard for the early lead—in 26 of her races she ran the opening quarter-mile in :22 4/5 or faster. Once in a while a horse would try to match strides with her, maybe even stick its head in front after that first quarter-mile, but her opponents could rarely keep up. Just ask Safely Kept’s beaten rivals from the 1989 Regret Stakes at Monmouth Park. None of them could even get close to Safely Kept as she ran the opening quarter-mile in a sensational :20 4/5 on her way to an easy victory.

Pimlico. Laurel. Garden State. Belmont. Monmouth. Saratoga. Gulfstream. Keeneland. Finger Lakes. Meadowlands. Arlington Park. Safely Kept was far from a “horse for the course” that excelled at one particular racetrack; she routinely traveled the eastern half of the United States and won races at 11 different tracks.

From the time she turned 3 years old until the time she retired, no filly or mare could beat her in a sprint race, and few colts could beat her either. She brought an eight-race win streak into the 1989 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and set a fast pace before losing by a neck to longshot Dancing Spree, a performance that earned Safely Kept the Eclipse Award as champion sprinter.

The following year, Safely Kept returned to the Breeders’ Cup, but a fourth-place finish in her final prep race caused bettors to jump off the bandwagon and allow Safely Kept to start at odds of 12-1. Underestimating her was a mistake. In one of the most unforgettable Breeders’ Cup races, Safely Kept battled from the start with favored Dayjur, with the pair drawing seven lengths clear with a furlong to go. In deep stretch it appeared as though Dayjur would prevail, but then he jumped a shadow on the track, not once but twice, and Safely Kept battled back to win by a neck.

Safely Kept raced on with success for another year before retiring to become a broodmare, and the foals she produced (eight of them winners) included the stakes winners Contrast and Peace Chant. In 1996, the Columbia Stakes at Pimlico was renamed the Safely Kept Stakes, and while the race has traveled to various tracks in the years since, settling in recent years at Laurel Park, it remains a competitive race that was won in 2015 by the graded stakes winner Hot City Girl.

Let’s take a look at a few other upcoming races named for racing legends of the past…

Grade 3 Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct

Walter “Red” Smith was a Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter who frequently penned columns about horse racing while writing primarily for the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Times. Among the numerous writing awards that Smith won during his decades-long career was the 1973 Eclipse Award for newspaper writing, and upon his death in 1982, the Grade 2 Edgemere Handicap was renamed in the Red Smith Handicap in his honor, a name it has retained ever since. In 2010, Smith was one of the inaugural inductees in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame’s Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor.

Richard W. Small Stakes at Laurel Park

Richard “Dickie” Small was a highly successful Maryland-based trainer who routinely achieved success on racing’s greatest stages. The memorable horses trained by Small included Concern, winner of the 1994 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Broad Brush, third in the 1986 Kentucky Derby and later the winner of such prestigious races as the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap and Grade 1 Suburban Handicap. Small also played an instrumental role in helping many young jockeys get started, including the two-time Kentucky Oaks-winning rider Rosie Napravnik.

Geisha Stakes at Laurel Park

Although Geisha wasn’t much of a racehorse—her owner and trainer, Alfred Vanderbilt, Jr., joked that perhaps his limited training abilities kept her from showing much talent on the track—the daughter of the great Discovery made a name for herself as a broodmare. Bred to the Preakness Stakes winner Polynesian in 1949, Geisha foaled a gray colt in 1950 that turned out to be Native Dancer, the two-time Horse of the Year and National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame inductee. Native Dancer, in turn, would ensure that Geisha’s name lived on in pedigrees by becoming a top sire, with his descendants including Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector.

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