Big-Race Showdown: Kentucky Derby Championship Series Visits Fair Grounds, Turfway
Once upon a time, not all that many years ago, there was a filly named Shuvee. When she was young, she won just about every race that she could reasonably be expected to win. Then, when she grew older, she won a few races that no one could have reasonably expected her to win, retiring as one of the all-time great mares in racing history.
Early on, no one could have guessed how high Shuvee would rise. After all, as a 2-year-old in 1968 she lost the first six starts of her career, all at distances of 5 ½ furlongs or shorter. In retrospect, this was much too short for Shuvee, who thrived at longer distances. She made this readily apparent when given a chance to stretch her legs over a mile or longer later in the year. After going just 1-for-10 sprinting, she rattled off wins in the Frizette Stakes and Selima Stakes to stamp herself as one of the most talented young fillies in training.
Of course, the best was still to come. Continuing to show an affinity for longer races, Shuvee casually won the Acorn Stakes, Mother Goose Stakes, Coaching Club American Oaks, Cotillion Handicap, Alabama Stakes, and Ladies Handicap as a 3-year-old in 1969, in the process completing a sweep of the New York Filly Triple Tiara, also known as the Filly Triple Crown. A couple of mid-season losses to longtime rival Gallant Bloom managed to cost Shuvee the championship title, but when Gallant Bloom went off form in 1970, it was Shuvee’s turn to take the spotlight.
At first, Shuvee kept things simple. An easy win in the Top Flight Handicap here, a hard-fought triumph in the Diana Handicap there, a cruising victory in the historic Beldame Stakes – she could seemingly do anything except sprint.
And so, went the reasoning, why not give her a try in the most prestigious long-distance race to be found in North America… the historic Jockey Club Gold Cup against males, then held at the testing distance of two miles? Certainly Shuvee’s heritage suggested that a tilt at the Jockey Club Gold Cup was hardly comparable to Don Quixote charging at windmills. Her sire, Nashua, had won the race in 1955 and 1956, and her damsire – Hill Prince – had cruised to a four-length victory in the 1950 renewal. Why not give it a try?
And so Shuvee tackled by far the longest race of her career, at the same time attempting to become the first filly or mare to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Facing four rivals, Shuvee wasn’t favored to win, but in retrospect she should have been. After all, she never gave her rivals a chance, winning easily by two lengths.
Winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup capped off a campaign that resulted in honors as champion handicap mare, but Shuvee wasn’t done yet. Back in action the following year, she added repeat wins in the Top Flight Handicap and Diana Handicap to her record, along with a third-place finish in the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga.
And – oh yes – she won her second Jockey Club Gold Cup by seven lengths, running the final quarter-mile in a quick 25 seconds to emulate her sire as a two-time winner of racing’s two-mile test of stamina. For her efforts, she also became a two-time champion handicap mare. Although more than 45 years have passed since her retirement, Shuvee remains the only filly or mare to have won the Jockey Club Gold Cup, as well as one of just 10 horses to have won it twice.
This Sunday, Saratoga Race Course will honor Shuvee with the $200,000 Grade 3 Shuvee Handicap for fillies and mares. At 1 1/8 miles in distance, it’s a race Shuvee herself would have relished. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and recall the history behind the names of a few other upcoming stakes races …
Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar
Although Bing Crosby might be best known as a highly successful singer and movie star (particularly in regard to “White Christmas,” both the song and the film), he was also a passionate fan of horse racing. In addition to owning horses through a partnership known as Binglin Stable, Crosby was among the founders of Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, which remembers Crosby each year with a Grade 1 race named in his honor.
Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga
Alfred Vanderbilt was the type of person that never feared trying something new and routinely delved into new pursuits with wholehearted passion. His involvement in racing – either as a fan or active participant –spanned more than seventy years, during which he campaigned the once-beaten two-time Horse of the Year Native Dancer, organized the famous match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral, managed a couple of prominent racetracks, and served as a member of The Jockey Club. Not surprisingly, Vanderbilt was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame as a “Pillar of the Turf” in 2015.
Grade 1 Betfair.com Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park
The Haskell Invitational hasn’t always been a race for 3-year-olds. Prior to 1981, it was a race for older horses known as the Amory L. Haskell Handicap, named in honor of Amory Haskell, who served as the first president of the current Monmouth Park. In addition to his racetrack management role, Haskell also bred and raced horses of his own at Woodland Farm in New Jersey; one of the best that he raced was Blue Sparkler, the champion handicap mare of 1956. In a nice connection to this year’s 50th running of the Haskell Invitational, Amory Haskell’s daughter Isabelle de Tomaso owns one of the race favorites in Irish War Cry.
Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga
Durable is perhaps the most fitting way to describe Jim Dandy. Over an incredible 11 years of racing, Jim Dandy ran in 141 races, and although he won just seven times, he earned a place in the history books thanks to his unprecedented victory in the 1930 Travers Stakes. Facing the Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox and regarded as a “no chance” runner at odds of 100-1, Jim Dandy shocked the world to win by eight lengths in one of the most legendary upsets of all time.
Grade 2 Nijinsky Stakes at Woodbine
During the last 82 years, only one horse has managed to sweep the elusive English Triple Crown comprised of the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby, and the St. Leger. That horse was Nijinsky, a son of Northern Dancer that achieved acclaim as one of the greatest horses ever seen in Europe after going unbeaten in his first eleven starts, including his memorable 1970 Triple Crown triumph. Handling the widely varying distances of the series (ranging from a mile to 1 ¾ miles) and overcoming an illness during the summer, Nijinsky won all three races with relative ease, ending an English Triple Crown drought that had spanned more than three decades. He later became a very successful sire, with his best foals including 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand.