Gladiator, ‘The Big Bankroll’, and the Toboggan Handicap, 1921

Feb 3rd 2012 12:30 pm |

Of all the shady characters involved in American racing over the last century, few can match Arnold Rothstein, aka “The Big Bankroll.” Rothstein invested in just about every racket imaginable from his home base in New York City up until his death in 1928. He funded liquor operations during prohibition, was a major investor in the drug trade, ran gambling houses and “floating craps games” in New York City and Saratoga, and served as the primary connection between the corrupt New York political machine and the underworld. Of all his criminal accomplishments, perhaps his greatest ‘achievement’, his masterpiece, was his alleged role in fixing the 1919 World Series. Although, one could also argue that his most impressive feat was never serving any jail time in spite of the common knowledge of his criminal enterprises.

While he loved to gamble, he hated to lose. His betting scores playing the horses are legendary — with his largest wins counting in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many surmised that his hatred of losing led to him fixing races. However, like all of his criminal activity, it was never proven. He counted men like Samuel Hildreth among his friends and also partnered with August Belmont to build the Havre de Grace racetrack in 1912. That investment proved lucrative when the track was sold a few years later but Belmont came to despise the sight of Rothstein at his racetrack in later years. In an effort to build his reputation as a member of the legitimate elite, Rothstein founded the Redstone Stable on the advice of future Hall of Famer Max Hirsch in 1920.

Author Rommy Faversham, in an article for the Thoroughbred Times in 2007, compiled the statistics for Redstone during its two years of existence. Rothstein’s horses won thirty-nine times from one-hundred and twenty-two starts and banked a little over $85,000. Sporting Blood, winner of the 1921 Travers and second place finisher in the Belmont Stakes, remains the most well known member of his stable. He was ranked third among the 3-year-olds of 1921 by Joe Palmer. Sporting Blood was sold to Bud Fisher, owner of the 1924 Preakness winner Nellie Morse, for $60,000 a few days after winning Travers.

While Sporting Blood might have been Rothstein’s most well known horse, Gladiator was the fastest and the most favored of his horses. He won the first race for Rothstein’s stables and showed a great deal of promise in 1920 as a 3-year-old. He won three stakes and finished a heartbreaking second in the Latonia Derby. Rothstein’s wife wrote years later that the Latonia loss was “the greatest disappointment of her racing experiences.” Gladiator required surgery to his throat in the summer of 1920, ending his 3-year-old campaign and nearly ending his life.

Even with that set back, a stretch of his 4-year-old season brought the highest praise from the scribes of the day. For two months in the summer of 1921, some speculated that Gladiator had the potential to become one of racing’s all-time great sprinters. It all began with a start in the six furlong Toboggan Handicap at Belmont Park on May 30, 1921.

Just a few days prior to the Toboggan, Gladiator won the Olympic Selling Stakes in impressive fashion, setting off a reported “stampede” to buy the 4-year-old. While newspapers wrote that Gladiator had sold, a few days later, he ran again under the colors of Redstone in the Toboggan. Apparently, Arthur Rothstein had no plans on losing his sprinter even though he ran him under a selling (claiming) condition. Three days later, whatever Rothstein did to retain his horse paid off. His win in the Toboggan was reported in the Evening World:

Gladiator, at 8 to 1, in the Redstone’s colors, won the Toboggan Stakes this afternoon, showing some of his true form, by running the six furlongs of the straightaway course in 1:08 ?, and showing the way to Sennings Park of the Waterbury Stable, Mad Hatter, the Metropolitan Handicap winner, and seven others…Gladiator pursued a straight course throughout and won handily by a length at the end…

Gladiator’s final time of 1:08 4/5 at 6 furlongs was the Toboggan Stakes record on Belmont’s straight course until 1955.

After his Toboggan performance, Gladiator’s races brought this high praise:

“…Perhaps New Yorkers have not seen a sprinter of this quality since Roseben was at his best.” (Daily Racing Form, 8 June 1921)

“The Redsone Stable’s four-year-old colt Gladiator, which won the Toboggan Handicap on Memorial Day, came back with a performance at Belmont park yesterday which ranks him with Roseben, Kingston, and others of turf history as a great weight carrier”  (New York Times, 8 June 1921)

“…Gladiator fills the eye with his great and shapely proportions, glittering bronze coast, perfect general action and easy frictionless stride….Gladiator is the horse of the year and a champion if ever there was one.” (Daily Racing Form, 16 June 1921)

“Gladiator, who runs like a Man O’ War, made a show of his field in the Dunton Highweight Handicap, a six furlong dash down the straightaway.” (Evening World, 15 June 1921)

But a great sprinting career was not meant to be. By the time July rolled around, Gladiator had won his last significant race and all of the accolades and hyperbole vanished. By the end of the summer, all of the Redstone horses were reportedly for sale except for Gladiator. It doesn’t appear that Gladiator was doing any racing worth mentioning at the time, that is, if he was racing at all. We find his name a year later, entered in a selling stakes in New York running under different ownership. By 1922, Rothstein was publicly out of the racing business.

The precise end date of Gladiator’s racing days and career record remain in dispute (the three different sources I consulted all reporting something different). The only clue I could find to his ultimate fate comes from Pedigree Online, where it provides an unattributed claim that Gladiator became a “successful sire in the state of Washington [and] led the state sire rankings in both 1940 and 1941.”

Nearly a century later, the details surrounding Gladiator’s total career arc remain foggy. One thing is certain, he was the fastest steed for the biggest crook to ever own a race horse. Rothstein and Gladiator are long dead but the race they won back in May of 1921 will be run again this weekend in New York . The Toboggan will be the ninth race on Aqueduct’s Saturday card.

 

SOURCES, NEWS, NOTES

The quote from Rothstein’s wife is from David Pietrusza, Arnold Rothstein: The Life,  Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius who Fixed the 1919 World Series.  [This is an entertaining biography of Rothstein but frustrating with its lack of citations and the racing chapter has some chronology issues.]

Patrick Kerrison, “Big Stakes on Sure Things: Arnold Rothstein’s Saratoga and the 1921 Travers Stakes,” 2 August 2010, saratoga.com

Rommy Faversham, “Rothstein’s Shady Interests,” Thoroughbred Times, 6 October 2007

Gladiator at Pedigree Query

Joe Palmer reference to Gladiator from the Blood Horse Silver Anniversary Edition

“Grand Derby Outpouring,” Daily Racing Form, 13 June 1920

“Gladiator Winner of Olympic Stakes”, New York Times, 27 May 1921

“Gladiator Wins Toboggan,” Evening World, 30 May 1921

“Gladiator Scores in the Little Neck,” New York Times, 8 June 1921

“Handicap at Highweight is Won by Gladiator,” Evening World, 15 June 1921

“Gladiator Real Champion,” Daily Racing Form, 16 June 1921

Report of Rothstein selling off his stable from New York Times, 25 August 1921

Past Performances for Gladiator from the Daily Racing Form, 4 May 1922

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in thoroughbred racing history



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