Jul 2nd 2008 12:30 am |
On Saturday, Monmouth Park hosts the United Nations Handicap. In honor of the great American turf race, let’s look at a horse considered by many as the best turf runner in American racing history: Round Table.
Image: Round Table wins 1959 United Nations, Thoroughbred Record, September 26, 1959
But first a little background on the United Nations:
Run for the first time in 1953 at the Atlantic City Race Course, it was, at the time, the richest turf event in the U.S. A Chilean bred, Iceberg II, won the first running, breaking the track record for the mile and three sixteenths (1:55 4/5) in front of over 20,000 fans. The New York Times added these details to the story of the first U.N.:
“With the Chilean national flag fluttering overhead, the winning owner led the 7-1 shot into the victor’s circle. H.A. Luro, the trainer, and [jockey Jorge] Contreras patted his neck as a blanket of blue and white gardenia was draped on him….”
“Rudecindo Ortega Masson, Chilean Ambassador to Washington and permanent representative of his country at the United Nations, was joined by Mrs. Masson as he presented the trophy to the winning owner. The crown piece of the trophy is a clock, giving the time in all the world zones. It is set into a globe and surmounts a handsome pedestal
“The triple turf classic, carrying an aggregate of $100,00 in added money, a race series unique on United States turf courses, was inaugurated this year by the Atlantic City Racing Association. It has as its main purposes the fostering of better relations between nations and the selection, ultimately, of the ‘turf course horse of the year.’ The turf course here is one of the nation’s finest.”
One of the most historically significant United Nations was the 1968 running when Dr. Fager scored his only victory on turf, less then a month after his world record mile in Chicago. After being headed in the stretch and fighting back to win by a neck, Dr. Fager’s trainer John Nerud told reporters: “My horse is not a grass horse, he won on class and heart alone…I have to repeat: He is not a good horse on the turf.” Dr. Fager would run his final race just two months later, winning the Vosburgh by six lengths carrying 139 pounds!
Image: Cover of The Blood Horse with the 3-year-old Round Table winning the 1957 United Nations, September 31, 1957
Dr. Fager might be the best racehorse to ever win the United Nations but Round Table was the best turf horse to win it. It was on turf where Round Table carved his niche in racing history. Round Table won 43 of 66 starts. He won 14 of 16 starts on grass. Of those 15victories, writer John McEvoy called Round Table’s 1959 United Nations “perhaps his best race ever.” Round Table won the 1957 U.N. as a three-year-old and lost the race by a half length the following year. Prior to the running of the 1959 U.N., in what would be Round Table’s final turf start, the great writer Joe Hirsch wrote:
“Now, at 5, as he keeps winning the big ones with his weight up in the relentlessly professional thoroughness of the New York Yankees in Ruth’s day and DiMaggio’s, the applause grows louder with each passing hour until it is a crescendo of appreciation and admiration for one of the greatest performers in the history of U.S. racing.”
Chicago was one of Round Table’s many adopted homes (he won races at 15 different tracks). John McEvoy wrote a brilliant introduction to his book Round Table about his days watching and following his favorite horse as a Chicago area native. The Chicago Tribune reported on Round Table’s 14th turf victory in the 1959 United Nations Handicap:
“Atlantic City, Sept. 19 — Round Table stopped here Saturday on his coast-to-coast fund raising tour and picked up another quick $65,000. The world’s richest thoroughbred – his nest-egg now stands at $1,679,539 – captured the seventh running of Atlantic City’s United Nations handicap, just as he did the fifth edition two years ago…
“…In capturing his 30th stakes, and in moving closer to the two million dollar goal, set by owner Travis Kerr, Round Table carried the highest impost of his career over the mile and 3-16th on grass. By shouldering 136 pounds, including Willie Shoemaker, he conceded from 14 to 22 pounds to the classy opposition…
“…His time of 1:55 1-5 was only three-fifths over the course record set a year ago when Clem, under 113 pounds, beat Round Table by a half a length in the same race. Since Shoemaker had the mount that afternoon on Clem, Saturday’s success was his third consecutively.
“In winning his seventh race in eight tries since suffering a quarter crack at Santa Anita last February, Round Table got off alertly, with only Li’l Fella ahead of him. They ran in that order, with Tudor Era challenging, all the way around the grass oval until the favorite took charge turning into the straightaway. He got clear and finished driving, with Shoemaker never having to go to the whip.
“For Round Table, which will be shipped to New York Monday for next Saturday’s Woodward engagement with Hillsdale and Sword Dancer, this was the 42nd victory in 63 races. He has lost on the grass only twice – in the upset here by Clem and in the Washington’s birthday test when he was injured in the course of the race.”
Round Table ran his final three races at Aqueduct on dirt — losing the Woodward to Sword Dancer a week after the U.N., winning the Manhattan Handicap two weeks later, and losing again to Sword Dancer in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Round Table returned to his birthplace, Claiborne Farm, for stud duty and died in 1987 at the age of 33.
Good luck this weekend and a Happy 4th of July!
NOTES AND ADDITIONAL SOURCES
Iceberg II Breaks Atlantic City Record in Taking United Nations Handicap, New York Times September 19, 1953
Round Table Picks Up an Easy $65,000, Chicago Daily Tribune, September 20, 1959
Dr. Fager Catches Advocator at Wire and Takes U.N. Handicap by a Neck, New York Times, September 12, 1968
John McEvoy, Round Table: Racing’s Iron Horse (Eclipse Press : Lexington, 2002) — Thoroughbred Legends series published by Eclipse Press.
Quote from Joe Hirsch about Round Table originally published in Daily Racing Form, quoted here from McEvoy’s Round Table
Clip from YouTube showing Round Table in action
Round Table’s biography, pedigree, and racing record at www.thoroughbredchampions.com
List of past winners and brief history of the United Nations Handicap at Wikipedia
Thanks for reading!