What’s in a (Race) Name? Saratoga and Stephen Sanford

Legends
The Sanford Stakes is one of several marquee races featured during opening weekend at historic Saratoga Race Course. (Eclipse Sportswire)

When Stephen Sanford passed away in February 1913 at the age of 86, Saratoga Race Course in New York wasted no time creating a race in his honor, and the first running of the Sanford Stakes was conducted that summer.

Some people might have known Sanford as a politician, as he served in Congress from 1869 through 1871. Others might remember him as a successful businessman, for he managed a carpet manufacturing business in New York that employed thousands of millworkers.

But in the sport of horse racing, Stephen Sanford was best known as a “staunch supporter of Saratoga racing since the track first opened,” as described by William H. P. Robertson in his book "The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America."

Sanford didn’t campaign the largest of stables, nor a roster of champions and Hall of Famers, but he could take a great deal of credit for the success he did enjoy. As the owner of Hurricana Stud, Sanford bred his own horses, and the horses he produced himself were the only ones he raced – he wasn’t one to purchase ready-made champions from others.

For Sanford, Saratoga was the focus of each racing season. According to Robertson, Sanford “began his campaign each year at the Saratoga meeting, preceded by a special holiday of races at his Hurricana Stud, for which his 3,000 millworkers were given the day off. No matter which important real races the Sanford horses were being trained for, they ran in these trials, and the contests were as serious as though a Derby were at stake.”

Among the best horses that Sanford raced was the filly Molly Brant, who won several important stakes races at Saratoga during the early 1900s, including the Merchants and Citizens Handicap (then a very significant race) against males. Such was Molly Brant’s significance at Saratoga that she was recently chosen for induction into the track’s Hoofprints Walk of Fame.

Fittingly, the Sanford Stakes has become one of the most important races of the Saratoga meet for 2-year-olds; among the notable winners are Regret, Tom Fool, Secretariat, Affirmed, and Afleet Alex. Following Sanford’s death, his son John took over the stable and enjoyed success of his own, with 1916 Kentucky Derby winner George Smith among the best horses that he raced.

Let’s take a look at a few other upcoming stakes races named for people and horses of the past …

Grade 2 Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar

Eddie Read was a part of Del Mar history. He was part of the team running Del Mar from the time the track opened in 1937, serving as a skilled and popular director of publicity for the majority of his years there. When he passed away in 1973, he was remembered for his sense of humor and enthusiasm for the sport. Bud Tucker, writing in the May 3, 1973 edition of Long Beach, California’s Independent, remembered that “According to Eddie Read, nobody ever lost a bet at Del Mar. Listening to him hold forth at the local Lions or Rotary Club, you were impressed by the incredible fact all races ended in nine-way dead heats. What was more, the payoffs were astonishingly generous under the circumstances.”

Wickerr Stakes at Del Mar

Who was the first horse to win back-to-back renewals of the Eddie Read Stakes? None other than Wickerr! Trained by Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, Wickerr was slow to develop and didn’t win a stakes race until 1981 (when he was 6 years old), but after that he rose to great heights, winning the Eddie Read in 1981 and again in 1982 while competing with consistency in other major California stakes races. All told, seven of his 11 wins (and all of his graded stakes wins) came at Del Mar, so it’s only fitting that Del Mar runs a race named in his honor.

Assault Stakes at Lone Star Park

How do you condense the feats and achievements of Assault into a single paragraph? Such a task isn’t realistic because, well, Assault’s race record is something straight out of a fairy tale. From humble beginnings he rose to win the Kentucky Derby by a record-equaling eight lengths and added wins in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes to complete a sweep of the Triple Crown. After next winning the Dwyer Stakes, he then lost six straight races, leading some to wonder just how good he really was. As if trying to shrug off his doubters, Assault proceeded to casually win the Pimlico Special, Westchester Handicap, Grey Lag Handicap, Dixie Handicap, Suburban Handicap, Brooklyn Handicap, and Butler Handicap in succession, a phenomenal win streak that saw him carry as much as 135 pounds while defeating the likes of future Hall of Famers Stymie and Gallorette. For good measure, Assault won another Brooklyn Handicap two years later and retired as one of the most durable and accomplished Triple Crown winners.

Concern Stakes at Laurel Park

It can be said that Concern was very good at picking the right times to turn in winning efforts. The talented, consistent, and tough-as-nails colt made 30 starts from 1993 through 1995, and while his wins were relatively few and far between, he did win four graded stakes races – the $3 million Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic, the $500,000 Grade 2 Arkansas Derby, the $250,000 Grade 1 Californian Stakes, and the $200,000 Grade 3 New Orleans Handicap. He also famously came within a neck of upsetting the great Holy Bull in a thrilling renewal of the $750,000 Grade 1 Travers Stakes. Never mind that Concern lost more races than he won – with 25 top-three finishes and more than $3 million in earnings, he was something special!

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