It was April 2, 1974. It should have been April 1, for what better April Fool’s joke than telling someone that a filly who had just finished second in a four-furlong maiden race at Fonner Park, a five-furlong bullring track in Grand Island, Nebraska would one day be crowned a champion and elected into the Hall of Fame.
After all, any track run by the Hall County Livestock Improvement Association is not supposed to be the spawning ground for a future Hall of Famer, especially a smallish filly with nondescript breeding who sold for a mere $7,500 as a yearling.
But My Juliet was special. There have been few like this little package of dynamite who could outrun the fastest sprinters in the country and beat grade 1-winning males at 1 1/8 miles. She bounced around from barn to barn early in her career and was trained by names such as R.R. Ladd, Steve Long, who won four stakes with her and placed in three others, L.G. Ripley, and finally Eugene Euster. But she ran like the dickens for all of them.
It may sound strange, but I first fell in love with My Juliet after watching her finish fifth in the six-furlong Miss Woodford Stakes at Monmouth Park in May of her 3-year-old year. That’s right, fifth.
Following her head defeat at 9-1 at Fonner Park, she proceeded to rattle off five straight wire-to-wire victories, defeating colts at Hawthorne and Sportsman’s Park and winning the seven-furlong Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Following defeats in the Ashland Stakes at about seven furlongs and La Troienne Stakes at seven furlongs, Long decided to stretch her out to two turns in the Kentucky Oaks. After breaking from post 10 and tiring to finish fourth at odds of 29-1 (it was the only time she would lose three straight races in her career), she came back two weeks later to score an authoritative four-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at odds of 14-1.
In a most unusual move, Long brought her back 13 days later, dropping her back to six furlongs in the Miss Woodford. Waiting for her was an old nemesis, the lighting-fast sprinter Red Cross. The two had tangled twice, with My Juliet beating Red Cross by two lengths in a six-furlong allowance race at Keeneland, in which My Juliet had to run her opening quarter in an eye-popping :21 1/5 and half in an insane :43 3/5, while giving nine pounds to Red Cross.
They met again in the Ashland, and because of the about distance, no fractions were recorded. My Juliet again outran Red Cross, but her early efforts took their toll and she was nailed right on the wire by C.V. Whitney’s Sun and Snow, who would go on to win the Kentucky Oaks and finish third in the Mother Goose Stakes.
If ever Red Cross, who won the Dark Mirage and Grey Flight Handicaps, Regret Handicap, and Regret Stakes in her career, was going to outrun My Juliet, it would be in the Miss Woodford with her rival dropping back to six furlongs off two 1 1/16-mile races.
What happened next had to be seen to be believed. My Juliet, breaking from post 12, hooked up in a speed duel with Red Cross and the pair went the opening quarter in an unheard of :20 3/5. That was it for Red Cross, as she started to drop back, leaving My Juliet with a clear lead through a half in an even more astounding :43 flat. I had never seen a Thoroughbred run that fast early. Yes, the fractions finally got to her in the final furlong, but for My Juliet to finish fifth of 12, beaten only four lengths, while Red Cross staggered home in last, I knew this filly was something special, especially running that fast dropping back from two-turn races. I became a huge fan after that and followed her career with great interest.
By the time her career ended, she had:
* Won 24 of her 36 starts, 17 of those victories in stakes, while finishing in the money 30 times. One of her out-of-the-money performances was on the grass, so she was 24 of 35 on the dirt.
* Won from six furlongs to 1 1/8 miles on fast, good, sloppy, and muddy tracks, racing from ages two to five.
* Won at 14 different racetracks in 10 states (New York, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Nebraska, Delaware, and Michigan).
* Defeated Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Bold Forbes and nine-time stakes winner It’s Freezing in the Vosburgh Handicap in 1:21 4/5 for the seven furlongs after setting fractions of :44 3/5 and 1:08 3/5.
* Defeated Jockey Club Gold Cup winner On the Sly, Gulfstream Park Handicap winner Strike Me Lucky, and Arlington Classic and Cornhusker Handicap winner and Marlboro Cup runner-up Private Thoughts in the Michigan Mile and an eighth in 1:48 2/5, missing the track record by a second over a deep, dead racetrack.
* Defeated the lightning-fast sprinter Raise A King, who had defeated champion sprinter Gallant Bob in the Terrapin Handicap, in the 6 1/2-furlong Neshaminy Handicap in 1:14 3/5, shattering the track record by four-fifths of a second.
* Finished ahead of Preakness winner Master Derby when second in the Omaha Gold Cup, giving five actual pounds to the winner. She also finished second, giving eight pounds to six-time stakes winner and track-record holder Uniformity, in the San Carlos Handicap in 1:21 3/5, and finished third behind Swaps and Jim Dandy winner Forceten and five-time stakes winner Messenger of Song in the Malibu Stakes after battling on the lead in :22 and :44 3/5.
* Won the Las Flores Handicap at Santa Anita under high weight of 128 pounds; won the Vagrancy Handicap at Belmont, Ta Wee Handicap at Monmouth, and Endine Handicap at Delaware Park under high weight of 127 pounds, giving 12 pounds, 10 pounds, and eight pounds, respectively, to the runners-up. In the Vagrancy she defeated Shy Dawn, who won or placed in 18 stakes in New York. In a seven-furlong overnight handicap at Aqueduct, which she won in 1:21 4/5, she carried 126 pounds and gave 10 pounds to Let Me Linger, winner of the Delaware Oaks and Maskette Handicap and third in the CCA Oaks to Ruffian, and 12 pounds to Gazelle Handicap winner Land Girl.
* Ran her half in :44 4/5 or faster 10 times, winning seven of them. When she won the Michigan Mile and an eighth, she cut out fast fractions of :46 flat and 1:10 2/5 and still came home her last eighth in :12 1/5.
* Defeated Test Stakes winner and Spinster Stakes runner-up Ivory Wand in a six-furlong allowance race at Belmont Park.
* Won 10 of her last 11 sprint races, her only defeat coming when second against males in the San Carlos Handicap. Displaying her versatility, in between she beat the boys in the 1 1/8-mile Michigan Mile and an Eighth.
* Won eight of her first 14 starts under jockey Alan Hill, father of current jockey Channing Hill; won the Test Stakes under Jacinto Vasquez; won the Vagrancy Handicap under Jorge Velasquez; won the Cotillion Stakes under Don Brumfield; won the Fair Haven Handicap under Rudy Turcotte; won the Anne Arundel and Next Move Handicaps under Darrell McHargue; and won nine of her last 12 starts under Tony Black.
When she won a division of the Test Stakes, she ran the seven furlongs in 1:22 flat, the same time as the other division, won by the brilliant Hot n Nasty, who came closest of anyone to defeating Ruffian in the previous year’s Sorority Stakes, falling 2 1/4 lengths short while finishing 22 lengths ahead of the third-place finisher. Only 17 days after the Test, My Juliet and Hot n Nasty squared off in the 1 1/16-mile Cotillion Stakes, with My Juliet uncharacteristically coming from five lengths off the pace to defeat Hot n Nasty by a neck in the slop in one of her gutsiest performances. It was four lengths back to the hard-knocking Gala Lil, who won or placed in 19 stakes in her career.
My Juliet did it all, as you will hear from Tony Black, one of racing’s great storytellers, when he reminisces at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony Aug. 2. As anyone who listens to “At the Races with Steve Byk,” can attest, it will be a most entertaining speech from someone who loved and admired My Juliet…yes, even more than I did.
And now she enters racing’s hallowed halls. It’s been quite a journey, from the prairie of central Nebraska to immortality.