1953: The Year of the Hundred-Grander

Jul 7th 2011 07:00 am |

Updated: July 8, 2010

The North American racing calendar this past weekend had twenty-five races with purses that exceeded $100,000. Next weekend, there are seventeen races on schedule with $100,000 purses. Today’s racing observer doesn’t think twice about six figure races.

In 1935 when Santa Anita established the Big ‘Cap with [a] the first guaranteed $100,000 purse, it was a momentous occasion. The race instantly became the one that owners, trainers, and jockeys coveted above all others. For many years the race simply became known as the ‘Hundred-Grander’.

[Update 7/8/2001: One of our fine readers sent me a correction via email to the idea that the Big ‘Cap was the first guaranteed 100k purse.  He wrote: “The 1926 American Derby at Washington Park was a well-advertised $100,000-added affair, with a large ad in the Daily Racing Form of June 28 taken by the Illinois Jockey Club. Won by the Bill Hurley trainee, Boot to Boot, the chart describes it as $100,000 added, run under allowance conditions.” Many thanks to T.J. for this correction.]

It would be another eleven years after the inaugural Santa Anita Handicap before the guaranteed purse for the Kentucky Derby reached $100,000. The Preakness and Belmont Stakes soon followed. But it was 1953 when the ‘Hundred-Grander’ became less a novelty and more of a benchmark for any big-time race.

Soon after the New Castle Handicap [soon to be the Delaware Handicap] became the first race in the world for fillies and mares with a $100,000 purse, the Associated Press published this under the headline, “Racing Boom Brings Big Pots,” on January 28, 1953:

The thoroughbred racing boom which hit a record peak in attendance last year, is reflected today in a big swing to the spectacular and lucrative $100,000 races.

“Action at Delaware Park in doubling the value of the New Castle handicap to $100,000, making it the richest race in the world for fillies and mares, brings to 18 the number of hundred grand races in this country.

In the last six months no less than eight races have joined the $100,000 class, as track management seeks to attract the top horses running in this country and abroad…

“…This spring for the first time, there will be four big hundred-grand races for the 3-year-old stars before the derby is run at Louisville May 2. They are the Santa Anita derby February 21, the Flamingo at Hialeah February 28, the Florida derby at Gulfstream Park March 21, and the Wood Memorial at Jamaica April 25. The last three were upped to $100,000 each this year for the first time…”

About a month later, another race was added to the list when Garden State Park in New Jersey announced the Garden State Stakes for two-year-olds. So not only did 1953 bring the first ‘hundred-grander’ for fillies, it also had the first for two-year-olds. In February, another milestone in the history of big money prizes saw two $100,000 stakes run on the same day. Here is how the Associated Press reported that event:

For the first time in American racing, and any place in the world for that matter, two $100,000-added races will be held Saturday with the Widener handicap at Hialeah park and the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita park.

“About a dozen older stars are expected to start in the 16th running of the mile and one-quarter Widener, now shaping up as one of the classiest fields for handicap horses in some years. It will be the first $100,00 race ever held in Florida…

…One week from Saturday, February 28, will see another pair of $100,000 races — the Santa Anita handicap and the Flamingo at Hialeah — making four hundred-grand classics in eight days…

“…One of this year’s scheduled-added races already has been held, the Santa Anita Maturity [now run as the Strub Stakes], won by Calumet’s Mark-Ye-Well. The 1951 Maturity, won by Great Circle, rates as the world’s richest race to date, with a gross value of $205,700. The winner netted $144,325.

The novelty of the “hundred-grander” wore off during 1950s. By 1963 forty-six races had $100,000 purses and the new novelty became the title of the “world’s richest race.”

In 1956, the previously mentioned Garden State Stakes for two-year-olds exceeded the prize for the Santa Anita Maturity with a purse of over $300,000. The Garden State Stakes lost the title of “world’s richest” to another race for two-year-olds in 1962 when the Arlington-Washington Futurity in Chicago offered a purse of over $350,000.

The Chicago race remained the richest in the world until 1965 when it was passed by the All-American Futurity for two-year-old quarter horses at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico. That’s right, a race for quarter horses remained the richest in the world for nearly two decades. In 1972, the All-American became the first horse race in the world with a purse of one-million dollars.

The title of the richest thoroughbred race changed hands a few times in the 1970s with a brief appearance overseas at the Arc de Triomphe in France in the early part of the decade. For a few years in the late 70s, the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park held the title. It wasn’t until the inaugural Arlington Million in 1981 that brought the beginning of the million dollar purse to thoroughbred racing.

The introduction of the Breeders Cup Classic in 1984 and the Dubai World Cup in 1996 brought the once unthinkable multi-million dollar purse and the title of world’s richest race back to the thoroughbreds. Those two events have held the title for the last quarter century and counting.


“Eighteen Events Have Reached One-Hundred Grand Class,” The Spokesman-Review, 28 January 1953

“Two $100,000 Races Slated for Saturday,” The Spokesman-Review, 20 Febuary 1953

“World’s Richest Race Set for Golden State,” St. Petersburg Times, 27 October 1957

“World’s Richest Horse Race Has a Field 13,” St. Petersburg Times, 8 September 1962

“Horse Earns $10,00 a Second in Capturing $419,460 Futurity,” New York Times, 7 September 1965

“French Horse Stops Nijinsky,” The Leader-Post, 5 October 1970

“10 Quarter Horses Eye Richest Purse,” The Victoria Advocate, 2 September 1973

I recently obtained a copy of Stephen Reiss’s just released
The Sport of Kings and the Kings of Crime: Horse Racing, Politics, and Organized Crime in New York, 1865-1913. I have really been looking forward to reading this one and am thrilled to finally have a copy in hand. I will be publishing a review here in the next couple of weeks.

This weekend is the Delaware Oaks and St. John’s River, who finished second in the Kentucky Oaks in her last start, will be among the favorites.  The following weekend brings a possible re-match between Havre de Grace and Blind Luck in the Delaware Handicap. If it happens, it will be one of the most anticipated editions of the Del Cap in many years.

Thanks for reading and good luck

Filed in Hundred Grander,thoroughbred racing history,Worlds Richest Horse Race

3 Responses to “1953: The Year of the Hundred-Grander”

  1. T.J. Connick says:

    Are futurity purses excluded when determining “hundred granders”? For several years from 1927, they raced for more than $100,000 in the Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park.

    Don’t know if we’re excluding contests south of the border, but they ran several for the magic number at Tijuana and Agua Caliente. The Coffroth Handicap of 1928 had such a purse, and others followed for a while. The 1929 Coffroth Handicap, won by Golden Prince, was a “hundred thousand added” event, and the 1931 Agua Caliente Handicap, won by Mike Hall, was run with a guaranteed winner’s purse of $100,000.

    Thanks for letting us participate; it’s a great site.

  2. Kevin says:

    Hey T.J.: Thanks for the info. I was looking at guaranteed minimum purses of $100,000 or more. Yes, the Big Cap wasn’t the first 100K race but it was (as far as I can tell) the first race in the U.S. that guaranteed a 100K purse. I updated the language for clarification — it was a bit misleading as it was written. Thanks again….always appreciate comments like yours! Kevin

  3. Kari Glisson says:

    My Grandfather, Gordon Glisson, won the very first $100,000.000 Santa anita Derby purse in 1950 in an upset win over Olympia when Citation was out that year. He rode to third in the Kentucky Derby…