What’s in a (Race) Name? The Versatility of Bold Ruler

Bold Ruler wins the 1957 Preakness Stakes. (Baltimore Sunpapers Photo/BloodHorse)

You couldn’t really call Bold Ruler a sprinter, even if he was arguably the fastest horse of his generation, because he could run so much farther than the typical sprint distance of three-quarters of a mile. And you couldn’t really call him a distance runner either, because even though he could win big races at the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles—and did so repeatedly—his stamina was secondary to his speed.

But Bold Ruler’s blend of speed and stamina is what made him special, leading to extraordinary results on the track and—eventually—even more extraordinary results at stud. You couldn’t really call him a sprinter, or a distance runner, but you could call him one of the greatest horses in history.

Speed? He had plenty. He won the prestigious Futurity Stakes as a 2-year-old in 1956, and two years later he won the Toboggan Handicap and Carter Handicap at Belmont Park, two important sprints that would earn him the title of champion sprinter for 1958.

Stamina? Bold Ruler might not have been gifted with the deepest reserves of stamina, but he had enough to win the 1957 Preakness Stakes going 1 3/16 miles and the 1958 Suburban Handicap going 1 ¼ miles.

Weight-carrying ability? Bold Ruler toted 130 pounds or more on 11 occasions, winning the 1957 Benjamin Franklin Handicap by a dozen lengths under the staggering impost of 136 pounds, and his win in the 1958 Suburban Handicap was achieved with 134 pounds on his back.

Durability? Consistency? Although not the soundest of horses, Bold Ruler made 16 starts in 1957 alone, winning 11 on his way to Horse of the Year honors, and he would retire with an impressive record of 23 wins, four seconds, and two thirds from 33 starts.

It’s no wonder that Bold Ruler was ranked No. 19 on BloodHorse’s list of the top 100 racehorses of the 20th century, and if one considers stud records in addition to race records, Bold Ruler could have ranked even higher. As a stallion, Bold Ruler was the leading sire in North America for eight years, including seven straight from 1963 through 1969. The list of champions and major winners sired by Bold Ruler goes on and on, though his son Secretariat—arguably the greatest racehorse of all time—obviously stands out.

Considering his versatility on the racetrack, a race of just about any distance could be reasonably named in honor of Bold Ruler. However, it seems fitting that Belmont Park’s $200,000 Bold Ruler Stakes is held over seven-eighths of a mile, the same distance at which Bold Ruler won the Carter Handicap at Belmont nearly 60 years ago.

Let’s take a look at a few other upcoming races named for great horses of the past. …

Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm Handicap at Belmont Park

Turnback the Alarm was a force to be reckoned with at any racetrack, but she took her game to a different level when competing at Belmont Park. Six of her eight career wins came at Belmont, and five came in Grade 1 races—the 1992 Mother Goose Stakes and Coaching Club American Oaks, plus the 1993 Shuvee Handicap, Hempstead Handicap, and Go for Wand Stakes.

Comma to the Top Stakes at Santa Anita Park

Sprint or route, dirt, turf, or synthetic tracks—none of it made much difference to the versatile Comma to the Top, a Florida-bred colt that excelled under a wide variety of conditions during a busy career that spanned from 2010 to 2013. A graded stakes winner on all three racing surfaces, Comma to the Top was fast enough to win five furlong sprints in gate-to-wire fashion, but he could also carry his speed around two turns, as he did when winning the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity going a mile and a sixteenth. He even ran in the 2011 Kentucky Derby!

Rags to Riches Stakes at Churchill Downs

In the long history of the Belmont Stakes, only three fillies have managed to prevail in the historic “Test of the Champion,” and only one has done so in the last hundred years. That special filly was Rags to Riches, who won the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks in impressive fashion before running the race of her life in the Belmont Stakes five weeks later, out-dueling future Horse of the Year Curlin in a long homestretch battle to win by a head in an unforgettable performance.

Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs

For many years, winning both the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby seemed like an impossible feat. Then along came Street Sense, a colt with the precocity to dominate the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by 10 lengths and the stamina and durability to maintain his edge for six long months and prevail by 2 ¼ lengths in the 2007 Kentucky Derby. On both occasions, Street Sense was given daring rail-skimming rides by jockey Calvin Borel, which helped the late-running colt avoid trouble and complete the first-ever Breeders’ Cup Juvenile/Kentucky Derby double. In the years since, only 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist has matched the accomplishment.

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