Morvich and the Pimlico Futurity, 1921

Courtesy of Kevin Martin, Colin's Ghost

Fall racing for 2008 was missing what historically had been one of the marquee races for 2-year-olds. For only the fourth time since 1921, Maryland went without the Laurel Futurity. The list of past winners includes a collection of great champions: Equipoise, Bimelech, Top Flight, Count Fleet, Citation, Riva Ridge, Secretariat, Affirmed, and Spectacular Bid (just to name a few).

Run for the first time in 1921 at Pimlico, it was originally known as the Pimlico Futurity. Traditionally part of Maryland fall racing it had served as one of the final 2-year-old races of the season and played a role in crowning many juvenile champions. In 1969, the race was moved to Laurel and briefly became known as the Laurel-Pimlico Futurity. The race became simply the Laurel Futurity in 1972, the year Secretariat won by eight lengths to join stablemate Riva Ridge who had won it in 1971. Affirmed and Alydar faced each other for the sixth time in the 1977 running.

Its significance took a hit with the introduction of the Breeders Cup Juvenile. The race shifted to the turf in 1987 as part of a new Laurel Park fall turf festival (a move that Andy Beyer called a "lousy idea"). It returned to the dirt in 1994 but was back on the turf for 2005 when Barbaro won his second and final race as a 2-year-old. Let's hope that Barbaro will not be the last noteworthy horse to win the Futurity and it returns to its rightful place on the Maryland fall calendar next year.

The first running of the Pimlico (Laurel) Futurity brought with it the "greatest purse" for juveniles in 1921 and attracted, according to the Washington Post, the "winners of all, or nearly all, of the important 2-year-old specials decided through the summer and early autumn." The entrant drawing the most attention was the California-bred son of Runnymede who made his first two starts in selling (claiming) races. Coming into the Pimlico Futurity, Morvich had won all 10 of his starts. A race preview published at the end of October declared: "It is not necessary to go into Morvich's record. Many columns have been written about this fleet brown colt, which one or two discriminating students of juvenile form have declared to be as good a 2-year-old as Man o' War was in 1919."

Morvich didn't disappoint the crowd that packed into Pimlico on November 5, 1921. The Washington Post saw it this way:

"Out of a swirl of horses at the head of the Pimlico stretch today there came another Man o' War, another thoroughbred champion deserving to be placed in the same class as the retired equine king. Morvich was his name and he won the $50,000 Pimlico Futurity as only a great horse and a real champion could do. The victory put him in a class by himself in the 2-year-old division. But over and above that it indicated that he will go on to still greater triumphs. In other races he has shown speed. Today he proved to the satisfaction of the most exacting of critics that he possesses stamina and courage as well. Such a combination bespeaks the truly great thoroughbred.

"The Futurity was Morvich's eleventh race of the season. Also it was his eleventh victory. He has had few hard races in a career that apparently is destined to be on of the most brilliant in the history of the turf. But today he was really passed for a time. He had to be a great horse when the demand was made on his courage to keep unbroken his string of victories...

"...It is of the stuff he showed when called upon for the supreme effort that champions, man or beast, are made. Whatever his future racing career has in store for the California-bred youngster, he will go down in history as one of the greatest 2-year-olds that ever looked through a bridle.

"He has done everything asked of him in thorough fashion; has yet to be defeated; won over all sorts of tracks and under varying conditions, and earned for his owner, Benjamin Block, approximately $115,000. Not since the racing days of the great Colin has a 2-year-old gained so much prize money. His victory today was worth $42,750...

"...Out of the inaugural of the Pimlico Futurity there came, indeed, another Man o' War in the brown son of Runnymede, who started his racing career as a selling plater. Tonight he is hailed by all who saw his wonderful performance as the greatest 2-year-old of the year and one of the greatest juveniles in the history of racing..."

Morvich went into his 3-year-old season as the hype horse of 1922. In his first race of the year, he went to Kentucky and won the Derby as the 6-5 favorite becoming the first California-bred to do so. Then, to the shock of the racing world, Morvich never won again. He raced four more times but never mustered the same brilliance that had race fans ready to crown the next king. In an allowance race at Saratoga, he scared away 11 entrants but couldn't manage beating the one horse who lined up to face him. The headline in the New York Times the next day read: "Morvich Quits."

Morvich's knees, described as "gouty", likely played a part in his decline. On the announcement that he would be sent to Kentucky for the winter, it was reported, in addition to his problem knees, he had developed osselets on his ankle. Morvich's owner Benjamin Block told the Times that he would be bred to 15 mares while in Kentucky but would return to training in 1923 with the hopes of racing during the Saratoga meet. While he remained in the news, he never made it back to race and retired with a record of 12 wins from 16 starts.


Kevin Martin is the author of the racing history blog Colin's Ghost.  In the real world he is an archivist, historian, and destroyer of pari-mutuel tickets.

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