American Pharoah vs. Beholder! People are already buzzing. Showdowns between males and females have come in many forms over the years, including battles between top 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, and older horses. Some have decided championships, some were hyped in the press going into the race, some came in Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup races, some came in traditional handicap races, and, of course, one came in a tragic match race.
With all the battles between males and females in the modern era, there has been only one major rivalry over a period of time. That was between Stymie and Gallorette from 1945-48. This was a memorable time for older horses, with the rags-to-riches Stymie, Triple Crown winner Assault, and Calumet Farm’s Armed all knocking heads in major handicap races. But few racing fans back then will forget the amazing rivalry between Stymie, a $1,500 claim by Hirsch Jacobs who became the leading money-winning horse of all time, and Gallorette, who ran against colts 58 times, 47 of them in stakes.
Stymie and Gallorette faced each other 15 times over a four-year period. Their record against each other was Stymie 8, Gallorette 7. They finished first and second four times, first and third once, first and fourth twice, and second and third five times. Once they were second and third behind Triple Crown winner Assault in the Butler Handicap and once they were third and fourth behind Horse of the Year Armed in the Pimlico Special.
In some of their more memorable battles, Gallorette beat Stymie a neck in the Brooklyn Handicap and beat him a neck in the Queens County Handicap, while Stymie beat Gallorette a half-length in the Aqueduct Stakes and by 1 1/2 lengths in the Edgemere Handicap. In the Met Mile, Stymie won with Gallorette finishing third, beaten two lengths.
There obviously hasn’t been anything even close to that kind of male-female rivalry since. As for a filly actually defeating a Triple Crown winner, a precedent has already been set. Although Assault defeated Gallorette on two occasions, in the Butler and Westchester Handicaps, and beat the hard-knocking 6-year-old mare Rampart by a head in an allowance race, the 1946 Triple Crown winner was indeed beaten by a filly when 3-year-old filly champion Bridal Flower held off Assault’s late charge to win the Roamer Handicap at Jamaica by a half-length.
Also, the 1935 Triple Crown winner Omaha was beaten a nose by the previous year’s Epsom Oaks winner Quashed in the 1936 Ascot Gold Cup.
Of course, 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation was beaten by stablemate Bewitch in the Washington Futurity, but that was as 2-year-olds, well before Citation swept the Crown.
Although there have been numerous male-female confrontations in the modern era, only two received extensive pre-race publicity and captured the public’s interest on a major scale.
In 1971, Garden State Park gave out buttons to racegoers, who had their choice of taking the one reading “I Like the King in the Garden State (Stakes)” or “I Like the Queen in the Garden State.” The King was Meadow Stable’s Riva Ridge, winner of the Flash Stakes (in 1:09 4/5), Futurity, Champagne, and Pimlico-Laurel Futurity, the last two by seven and 11 lengths, respectively. The Queen was Ogden Phipps’ Numbered Account, winner of the Fashion, Schuylerville, Spinaway, Matron, Frizette, Selima, and Gardenia, whose average winning margin was five lengths.
Roger Laurin had recently signed on as trainer for Meadow Stable and trained a promising unraced 2-year-old named Riva Ridge, but just before the colt’s career debut, he decided to accept the Phipps job and recommended his father Lucien to replace him. Lucien had pretty much retired after training the Claiborne Farm horses for years and this position originally was to be temporary. But Lucien, as it turned out, would have reason to hang around for a few years.
So, the 1971 Garden State Stakes was not only a battle to see who would be voted overall champion 2-year-old (male or female), it was also a battle between father and son. Little did the younger Laurin realize when he took the Phipps job he was giving up a Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner in Riva Ridge and the following year a Triple Crown winner in Secretariat.
As it turned out, despite Numbered Account’s sensational record and total domination of the 2-year-old filly division, she was no match for Riva Ridge, who won by 2 1/2 lengths, with Numbered Account finishing fourth, beaten 4 3/4 lengths, which was as much as one could have expected of her making her 10th start of the year and coming back only one week after winning the Gardenia Stakes.
Of all the male and female showdowns, nothing could match the hype that preceded the 1975 match race between the unbeaten and untested Filly Triple Crown winner Ruffian and the Kentucky Derby winner and 2-year-old champion Foolish Pleasure. Many were opposed to this race, including Ruffian’s trainer Frank Whiteley.
Following Ruffian’s victory in the Coaching Club American Oaks, NYRA was forced to cancel its proposed $300,000 “Race of Champions,” between Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure, Preakness winner Master Derby, and Belmont winner Avatar when Avatar’s connections decided not to travel east from California. Monmouth Park, meanwhile, had proposed a $400,000 match race between Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure. But when NYRA offered to change its original concept to a match race between the same two horses, Ruffian’s owner Stuart Janney accepted, much to the dismay of Whiteley.
Janney actually was not overly thrilled with the idea either, but he called Whiteley and said, “Frank, we’re going to have to do something one of these days and I’d rather do it in New York.” Whiteley balked at it, but Janney told him he felt obligated because the media and the public wanted to see it.
As I stated in a previous column, there was a strange feeling in the air that afternoon of July 6, whether it was something foreboding I can’t really say. The media was having a field day with the match race and you could feel the excitement and tension all afternoon.
I went to the backstretch and followed Ruffian through the tunnel to the paddock. As she walked down the ramp leading to the tunnel, Whiteley was in front of her and I was behind her. I took a photo, which has gotten lost over the years, of Whiteley turning his head back and looking down at Ruffian’s legs. That photo became too disturbing and I stopped looking at it after a while.
In all my years following racing up to then, I had never seen or heard of a top horse breaking down, and the thought of a horse suffering a fatal injury and having to be euthanized never crossed my mind.
So, when Ruffian was pulled up down the backstretch, it seemed at first surreal, and for a split second I thought Vasquez had simply eased her back off Foolish Pleasure and let him go, because the pace was so brutal. Foolish Pleasure wound going the half in :44 3/5 and three-quarters in 1:08 3/5, unheard of in a 1 1/4-mile race.
Whiteley watched the race with Janney and knew right away it was bad. He said he was too numb to think about anything except getting down to her. When he got to the track the guards wouldn’t let him on because Foolish Pleasure still hadn’t crossed the finish line. Veterinarian Jim Prendergast was at the gap and drove Whiteley to his stricken filly on the backstretch. Whiteley could see right away the fracture was compound, and when he saw all the dirt ground in there, he told Janney later, “We haven’t got a shot.”
No one in the stands knew how serious the injury was and I went to sleep that night not knowing Ruffian’s fate. It wasn’t until the following morning that I heard on the radio that the great filly had been euthanized. It was so hard to accept. For me, the age of innocence in racing was over.
Ruffian had come out of the anesthesia flailing her legs in all directions, despite being given tranquilizers. Two men had to sit on her head trying to hold her down. But she threw the cast off, and all that was left to do was operate again or put her out of her misery. Dr. Alex Harthill called Janney, who was staying with the Phippses, and Janney told him, “Don’t let her suffer anymore.”
Later that night, Ruffian was buried in the infield at Belmont Park. There were only four or five people there – Whiteley, assistant Mike Bell, Vasquez and Bill Rudy of the New York Post.
“They covered her up and Mike went down into the grave and put two blankets on her,” Whiteley recalled. “I was afraid the damn grave was going to cave in on him. The next day was tough, but what the hell, I had to go on. I never thought it would have the impact it has for so many years, but she was in a lot of people’s hearts.”
That was 40 years ago and Ruffian is still in a lot of people’s hearts, and there she will remain, a gust of wind that blew through the Sport of Kings all too briefly. From that day on, the words ‘match race,’ especially between a male and female, would send shivers down peoples’ spines. Even the mention of one would create an outcry of protest.
There have been too many male-female showdowns in the modern era to mention them all, but several stand out.
When Spectacular Bid roared through his 4-year-old campaign unchallenged, while setting a new world record for 1 1/4 miles and breaking three other track records, it seemed fruitless to run against “the greatest horse to ever look through a bridle.” Following his 10-length romp in the Washington Park Stakes at Arlington under 130 pounds in a track-record 1:46 1/5 for the 1 1/8 miles, The Bid headed to Monmouth Park for the Amory L. Haskell Handicap, which seemed like a mere formality, even having to carry 132 pounds.
But one horse who was not scared off by The Bid was the filly Glorious Song, who had won six of her last seven starts, including victories over the boys in the Dominion Day Handicap and Canadian Maturity, both at Woodbine, as well as the Michigan Mile and an Eighth at Detroit Race Course. Earlier in the year, she had won the grade I La Canada and Santa Margarita at Santa Anita and the grade I Top Flight Handicap at Aqueduct.
Sent off at 6-1, she was not considered a threat to Bid, who went off at 1-10. Glorious Song, carrying 117 pounds, and Spectacular Bid both made their moves simultaneously from the back of the pack, and it was obvious that Glorious Song was not going make things easy for Bid, who led by only a half-length at the eighth pole. Glorious Song hung on tenaciously before Bid began to gradually ease clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths in what was his toughest race and smallest margin by far that year.
Here is a trivia question: Name the match-up in which the two protagonists had captured five of the six Triple Crown races for males and females that year? If you guessed the 1974 Travers Stakes showdown between Preakness and Belmont winner Little Current and Filly Triple Crown winner Chris Evert you are correct. Both horses went into the Travers off shocking defeats – Little Current losing by a nose to Holding Pattern in the Monmouth Invitational Handicap, giving away 10 pounds, and Chris Evert dropping a neck decision to the speedy Quaze Quilt. This came following a 50-length romp over California’s Miss Musket in a match race at Hollywood Park.
In the Travers, run over a very sloppy track, Little Current, as usual, was far back, and as usual came flying down the stretch, but like the Monmouth Invitational, he came up a head short of catching Holding Pattern. It was another 4 1/2 lengths back to Chris Evert, who pressed the pace the entire way before tiring in the stretch to finish third.
Some of the other memorable male-female showdowns include the back-to-back battles between Precisionist and Lady’s Secret in the Philip Iselin Handicap and Woodward Stakes. In the Iselin, they both were at each other’s throat every step of the way in the slop and set it up for the late-running Roo Art, with Precisionist finishing second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Lady’s Secret. In the Woodward, Precisionist tracked Lady’s Secret and out-sprinted her to the wire to win by 4 3/4 lengths in a blazing 1:46 flat for the 1 1/8 miles.
In 1962, the Kentucky Derby trail received a treat match-up when Meadow Stable’s 2-year-old filly champion Cicada showed up in the Florida Derby against one of the leading Derby contenders, Ridan. Cicada set the pace, opening a four-length lead before being collared by Ridan at the eighth pole. Just when it looked like Ridan would go on by, she dug in and fought back and the two battled it out to the wire with Ridan winning by a nose.
In 1968. Dr. Fager journeyed to Hollywood Park for the Californian Stakes. Sent off at 6-5, he defeated the hard-knocking filly Gamely (10-1) by three lengths under 130 pounds.
In 1970, King Ranch’s brilliant filly Gallant Bloom came into the Nassau County Stakes at Belmont riding a 12-race winning streak, which earned her the championship in the 3-year-old filly and filly and mare handicap divisions. Facing her was Ogden Phipps’ brilliant Met Mile winner Reviewer. Gallant Bloom, unbeknownst to anyone, had the beginning of a chip fracture, which would end her career one race later in the Suburban Handicap. In the Nassau County, she never threatened Reviewer, finishing a well-beaten third in the slop in 1:46 4/5.
Later that year, Fort Marcy, coming off victories in the United Nations Handicap and Man o’ War Stakes, was looking to nail down the Horse of the Year title in the Washington D.C. International. A victory likely would make him the first pure grass horse to be voted Horse of the Year. Standing in his way was the classy French filly Miss Dan, who was coming off a strong third behind Sassafras and Nijinsky in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Fort Marcy took the lead midway in the race, but had to dig in when Miss Dan moved alongside to challenge at the eighth pole. She fought hard to the wire, but Fort Marcy eventually asserted himself to win by a length, clinching the title.
The Triple Crown saw several memorable battles between colts and fillies -- in 1988 when 3-1 Winning Colors, who had already romped in the Santa Anita Derby, just held on to defeat the fast-closing 9-2 shot Forty Niner to win by a neck, and in 2007 when Kentucky Oaks winner Rags to Riches out-battled Preakness winner Curlin to win by a head. Most recently we had Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra take on Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the Preakness, with Rachel asserting herself as the best 3-year-old in the country. Mine That Bird's co-owner actually attempted to keep Rachel out of the Preakness, conspiring with another owner to enter enough horses to keep her out, as a supplementary entry. That plan eventualy was aborted. Rachel would go on to defeat Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird in the Haskell Invitational and then defeated older males in the Woodward Stakes.
In 1980, Genuine Risk won the Derby, with no real male standouts, but it was her feat of finishing first in the Derby, second in the Preakness, and a gutsy second in the Belmont Stakes that truly stamped her greatness.
In the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, foreign fillies flocked to America year after year for the Washington D.C. International, but it was 1973 International winner Dahlia who the following year paved the way for a multi-race North American campaign, winning the Man o’War and Canadian International, and finishing a fast-closing third in the D.C. International. That laid the groundwork for 1983 Arc de Triomphe winner All Along, who came to America following the Arc to sweep the Canadian International (then called the Rothmans International), Turf Classic, and D.C. International and become the first European to be named Horse of the Year in America.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic has had its share of filly participation, with Zenyatta beating the boys in a wide-open running in 2009 at Santa Anita and then losing gallantly by a head to Whitney and Stephen Foster winner Blame the following year at Churchill Downs, snapping the big mare’s remarkable 19-race unbeaten streak.
Azeri, Horse of the Year in 2002, took on a powerful Classic field that included Ghostzapper, Roses in May, and he previous year’s winner Pleasantly Perfect in 2004 at Lone Star Park. The 6-year-old mare, who had been turned over to Wayne Lukas to train that year, did not have the best of trips down on the inside, but ran a solid fifth behind Ghostzapper, who set a stakes record of 1:59.
Two European fillies came over to tackle the Classic. The resilient and classy 4-year-old filly Triptych, who won or placed in an amazing 24 group I stakes in five countries, finished a non-threatening sixth in the 1986 Classic, won by Skywalker, but French 3-year-old filly Jolypha, trained by Andre Fabre, fared much better, closing fast to finish third, beaten 2 1/2 lengths, in 1992 behind A.P. Indy and Pleasant Tap.
These no doubt are just some of the memorable battles between a champion-caliber filly and a champion-caliber colt.
As the much-anticipated clash between Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and two-time champion and Breeders’ Cup winner Beholder gets closer, all the talk will center around these two remarkable horses, especially with Beholder having already annihilated the boys in the Pacific Classic.
If they can provide the same kind of excitement we’ve seen in previous male-female confrontations over the years, then Breeders’ Cup 2015 should be one to remember.,