Sep 22nd 2010 12:40 pm |
For only the fourth time since 1888, The Futurity (now referred to as the Belmont Futurity) will not be run in New York this year. A constant of fall racing for over a century and a prestigious race for two-year-olds, the lack of a Futurity this year is an unfortunate subtraction from the 2010 racing calendar. In 2001, the race was cancelled as a result of 9/11. This year’s cancellation shares similarities with two previous cancellations in 1911 and 1912 when the state of New York ended all racing with anti-gambling legislation. This year, NYRA was forced to cut stakes because the same state government’s failure to name a slots operator for Aqueduct, resulting in a significant loss of revenue for New York racing.
While the Futurity has lost some of its luster over the years, it was at one time considered not just one of the most important races in the country but one of the most important races in the world.
A 1935 article in the Turf and Sport Digest had this:
“The outstanding races of the world are five in number, three of which are run in England, one in the United States and one in Australia…These five races have their imitators, but never their equals. They stand alone in the racing history of the world, and no other races compare with them…”
The races in no particular order were The Grand National Steeplechase, The Epson Derby, The Ascot Gold Cup, the Melbourne Cup, and, the only race in the United States, The Futurity. At that time, it was run on the final day of the Fall meeting, always on a Saturday at Belmont Park.
The inaugural running of the race came in 1888 at Sheepshead Bay. In the summer of 1910, rumors swirled that racing would be shutdown in New York as the result of state legislation essentially banning gambling at racetracks. With this realization, racing officials moved the Futurity to Saratoga that year. When racing resumed, two years later, Sheepshead Bay had closed, and the Spa hosted two more editions of the race in 1913 and 1914. In 1915, the Coney Island Jockey Club, operators of racing at the defunct Sheepshead Bay, turned over the Futurity Stakes to the Westchester Racing Association, the group that conducted racing at Belmont Park.
The move to Belmont was favored by horsemen according to an article in the New York Times on April 16, 1915:
“‘The Futurity will come back to New York’ This remark was made by one of a number of prominent horsemen, who were discussing the greatest two-year-old event of the year, yesterday at Sheepshead Bay….From a sporting view the Futurity really belongs in New York. It has always been a great event in this city for many years and one of the greatest attractions of the Coney Island Jockey Club…”
“…The Futurity will be a race of more than passing interest this year, owing to the many entries from some of the biggest stables in the country. As it was always the custom to have it decided over a straight course it would seem that this is another good reason for its coming to Belmont Park.”
The “straight course” the article refers to is the early configuration at Belmont that included a seven furlong straightaway. It started beyond — what we now refer to as — the clubhouse turn and finished in front of the grandstand. The straight course can be seen on this 1905 map of the track (Keep in mind, Belmont ran races clockwise during this era):
In 1926, the Futurity was run over a new straight course at Belmont Park. Named the Widener Course for the track’s owner Joseph Widener, it ran diagonally through the Belmont infield with the finish line near the main track’s final turn. This strange configuration (for an Amercian track, anyway) can be seen in this Universal Newsreel showing the 1936 Futurity won by that year’s two-year-old champion Pompoon:
[Sidenote: Pompoon had the unfortunate luck of running into War Admiral during his 3-year-old season. He ran second to the Admiral in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before finishing a distant sixth in the Belmont Stakes.]
Having said all that, the true measure of the Futurity’s significance can be found among the winners where you will find the names Domino, Artful, Colin, Maskette, Man o’ War, Mother Goose, Top Flight, Citation, Tom Fool, Native Dancer, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Secretariat, and Affirmed. The list of colts who finished second and third could round out any hall of fame stable: Salvator, Sysonby, Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Equipoise, Whirlaway, Devil Diver, Count Fleet, Buckpasser, and Alydar. Does that not say it all?
The Futurity lost some of its luster over the years with the attention of American racing shifting to the 3-year-old classics. The most devastating blow to the Futurity’s importance, however, came with the beginning of the Breeders Cup Juvenile. Like many of the great Fall races, the Futurity has been relegated to “prep” status for the Breeders Cup. A sad fate for an event considered one of the “great races of the world” in the 1930s.
The Futurity might be missing from this year’s Fall racing schedule but that doesn’t mean we can’t remember its important place in American racing history. Let’s hope its back in its rightful place at Belmont Park next year.
SOURCES, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS
“Futurity at Belmont Park,” New York Times, 1915 April 15
“Futurity for New York,” New York Times, 1915 March 8
List of winners of The Futurity from Pedigree Query
The layout of Belmont Park is from the official souvenir book of the inaugural meet in 1905. It can be viewed at the Internet Archive
The film clip is from my new favorite website, Critical Past. Watch it in full here
Less then two weeks away from Jockey Club Gold Cup day, one of my favorites days on the racing calendar. I have also booked my ticket to Churchill for this year’s Breeders Cup. Race fans have much to look forward to as we move towards the stretch run of the 2010 racing year.
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!