What’s in a (Race) Name? The Sultan of Saratoga

The field for the 2014 Fourstardave Handicap leaves the Saratoga starting gate. (Eclipse Sportswire)

For many Thoroughbreds, racing for eight consecutive years is simply not logical or feasible. For some, early success prompts retirement to stud; for others, injuries derail their careers before they can race for such an impressive duration of time.

To have the talent to reach the winner’s circle in eight consecutive years is even more remarkable, and certainly a rarity. Yet there was once a horse named Fourstardave that did just this, except that he took his incredible standard one step farther. In a feat that may never be equaled, for eight straight years Fourstardave won at least one race at Saratoga, where the competition is fierce and the meet relatively short.

No wonder fans called him “The Sultan of Saratoga.”

Fourstardave kicked off his streak at an early age. As a 2-year-old in 1987, he entered Saratoga’s Empire Stakes off a couple of solid efforts at Belmont Park and promptly won by 2 ½ lengths. That was his only run of the season at Saratoga, but he would be back in 1988, winning the Albany Stakes by a hard-fought nose.

By the time Fourstardave arrived at Saratoga in 1989, he was a multiple graded stakes winner with an obvious affinity for turf, but his streak almost came to an end when he was beaten in both the Grade 3 Daryl’s Joy Stakes and the Grade 1 Bernard Baruch Handicap. But ten days after the latter loss, Fourstavedave took a slight drop in class and won the West Point Handicap by a length.

There would be no waiting around in 1990 or 1991, for Fourstardave kicked off both meets with decisive victories in the Daryl’s Joy Stakes, extending his Saratoga win streak to five years. His win in the 1991 Daryl’s Joy was arguably the most impressive of his career, as he prevailed in gate-to-wire fashion by three lengths while posting a terrific time of 1:38.91 seconds for a mile and a sixteenth.

Fourstardave brought his 1991 record at Saratoga to 2-for-2 with a win in the West Point Handicap, and while he lost the same two races as a 7-year-old in 1992, he kept his streak alive by winning an allowance race toward the end of the meet, clocking nine furlongs in 1:45.94.

Six straight years of winning at Saratoga seemed incredible, but Fourstardave wasn’t done yet. In 1993 he was back as good as ever, finishing second in the Daryl’s Joy Stakes (the fifth straight year he competed in the event) before winning a handicap race to extend the streak to seven years. He also crossed the wire first in the West Point Handicap before being disqualified and placed fifth.

Nine more defeats would follow at tracks across the United States (and even one in Hong Kong), but Fourstardave’s annual voyage to Saratoga triggered an awakening. At the age of 9 in 1994, Fourstardave pulled off the seemingly impossible, winning an allowance race at Saratoga by five lengths with a career-best 111 Beyer speed figure. By that time, his “Sultan of Saratoga” nicknamed was widely known and inscribed upon a T-shirt that racing fans could purchase.

But age eventually caught up to Fourstardave. He emerged from a third-place finish in the Bernard Baruch Handicap with a hairline fracture in his left front leg, derailing his career for the rest of the year.

In celebration of Fourstardave’s eight-year win streak at Saratoga, Aug. 27, 1994 was declared “Fourstardave Day” in the state of New York, with the Aug. 23 edition of the Hartford Courant noting that Fourstardave “will be given the key to the city of Saratoga Springs and programs will have pullout posters of Dave.”

Incredibly, Fourstardave returned in 1995 to try and extend his streak for one more year, but after finishing fifth, fourth, and fifth in a trio of allowance races at Saratoga, he was retired with an impressive record of 21 wins and earnings of $1,636,737 from 100 starts. Nine of his victories were recorded at Saratoga, and when he died in 2002, he was buried at the track that made him a legend.

Fittingly, in 1996 the Daryl’s Joy Stakes was renamed the Fourstardave Stakes (later Handicap) in honor of Saratoga’s unforgettable sultan. The race has since become a Grade 1 event and has been won by such memorable horses as Da Hoss and Wise Dan.

Several other prominent races this weekend are named for racing legends of the past. Let’s take a look at some of the history behind the race names…

Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park

The Beverly D. Stakes is named for Beverly Duchossois, the first wife of Richard Duchossois, who has been involved with the ownership of Arlington Park for more than three decades. Beverly passed away from cancer in 1980, a few years before her husband took the helm at Arlington; in 1987, Duchossois inaugurated the Beverly D. in her memory.

Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park

1:59 2/5. 1:53 flat. 2:24 flat. During his historic Triple Crown sweep in 1973, the great Secretariat posted these record-breaking times in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, respectively. To this day, they remain the stakes records for the three most prestigious events in U.S. racing, a testament to Secretariat’s once-in-a-lifetime abilities. Yet as good as he was on dirt – and he was sensational, winning the Belmont Stakes by an unprecedented 31 lengths – Secretariat might have been even better on turf, ending his career with remarkably easy wins in the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes and the Grade 2 Canadian International.          

Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar

A career bankroll of $5,668,245 is impressive for any racehorse, but they were especially impressive for Best Pal, who became the richest California-bred racehorse in history after compiling a top-class record during the first half of the 1990s. One of the rare 2-year-old sensations to improve with age, Best Pal won the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes and Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity as a juvenile and finished second in the Kentucky Derby the following year. But it was later that summer – and for years to come – that Best Pal proved his worth, winning such significant races as the $1 million Pacific Classic, the Charles H. Strub Stakes, the Santa Anita Handicap, the Oaklawn Handicap, and the Hollywood Gold Cup while winning graded stakes races through the age of seven.

Grade 3 Groupie Doll Stakes at Ellis Park

Groupie Doll is one of the more recent stars to emerge in Thoroughbred racing. A very fast sprinter, Groupie Doll won five consecutive graded stakes races in 2012, including the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, to be named champion female sprinter at the Eclipse Awards. The following year, Groupie Doll lost two of her three preps before the Breeders’ Cup, leading some to question if she would be vulnerable in the championship showdown. But on the big day, Groupie Doll delivered a courageous performance, winning by a half-length to defend her title and earn yet another Eclipse Award. Following Groupie Doll’s retirement, the Grade 3 Gardenia Stakes at Ellis Park – which Groupie Doll won in 2011 – was renamed in her honor.

Polynesian Stakes at Laurel Park

The career of Polynesian was rather unusual, at least by modern standards. As a 3-year-old in 1945, the speedy colt had won the Preakness Stakes in gate-to-wire fashion, earning himself a place in history as a classic winner. That wouldn’t be the only time that Polynesian succeeded in a major route race – he also counted the Withers, the Riggs Handicap, and the Long Branch Handicap among his major wins going a mile or farther – but by the time he retired at the end of 1947, he was best known as a champion sprinter! He would later stamp his legacy as the sire of the legendary once-beaten Native Dancer.

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