May 2nd 2012 12:15 pm |
One of the many great things about the Daily Racing Form online historical archives is having access to the work of the great race writer Charles Hatton. Hatton wrote for the Morning Telegraph and Daily Racing Form during the golden age of American Thoroughbred racing. He wrote about his sport in a style no longer found in horse racing or any sport for that matter. His style, like another of my favorite race writers Joe Palmer, shared more with that of an English professor than a hard-boiled sports writer.
In reading the work of Hatton in the DRF archives, I have found that one of the causes he championed was high stakes racing for fillies and mares, an idea that came into its own during the 1950s. He was a champion of the Distaff Big Three, a series of stakes races for fillies and mares at Delaware Park. In 1957, he wrote a column advocating for the importance of the Kentucky Oaks. It is interesting that Hatton felt that one of the “virtues” of the Oaks was it diverted from the “exhausting” coverage of the Derby (I think many would agree with this today too).
Here is how Hatton touted the big race for fillies in the Daily Racing Form on Kentucky Oaks day over a half century ago:
…We used to resent the running of the [Kentucky] Oaks as a Derby Eve feature, an anti-climax to the Derby, feeling that this deprived it of some of the point and importance it held when it was decided as the piece de resistance of the sport, following the Derby. But it does have the virtue that it ‘changes the subject,’ diverting attention from the Derby, a subject that can be exhausting, indeed is pretty near exhausted for the moment, we should think. Besides, this department has for years carried on a little crusade for more filly-and-mare races. They need a champion, to a do a little bit of suffragette work and proselytizing if for no other reason than for the sound economy of racing and breeding. While that reason alone would seem ‘good and sufficient’ it turns out that the female of the species also have box office, and events such as the rich “Distaff Big Three,” Beldame, Top Flight, Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama are among the most appealing on the calendar.
Thousands of visitors here for the Derby may be oblivious of it, but victory in the Kentucky Oaks is a bond of quality to all racing men and breedersm It carries a great deal of significance as a criterion to the broodmares of the future. Moreover, it is fully as antique as the Derby, for it was introduced in the long ago of 1875. At some risk of appearing a “crashing” bore, it may be apropos to note that Modesty, the winner of 1884, became the grandam of Regret; Audience, the winner in 1904, was the dam of Whisk Broom II, and Kathleen, Untidy, Princess Doreen, Alcibiades and Two Bob are others who made an indelible impression on production. Two Bob is the dam of Twosy, Two Lea and Miz Clementine. The 1949 winner, Witsful, gave racing Gen. Duke as her very first foal. Even this cursory examination of ‘the record’ should suffice to prove the premise.
A more recent example to further Hatton’s half-century old premise is the 1982 Kentucky Oaks winner Blush with Pride. She produced Better Than Honour in 1996 who in turn foaled two consecutive Belmont Stakes winners in Jazil (2006) and Rags to Riches (2007). Rags to Riches also won the Kentucky Oaks.
Since Hatton published his piece in 1957, the tradition of the race has endured, a number of Kentucky Oaks winners have gone on to have Hall of Fame careers. The 1962 winner Cicada, owned by the Meadow Stable, went on to win the Acorn, Mother Goose, and Beldame Stakes. Susan’s Girl, Oaks winner in 1972, was named champion in her division three times and was elected to the Racing Hall of Fame in 1972. Davona Dale won the filly Triple Crown in 1979, sweeping the Kentucky Oaks, Black Eyed Susan, and the Acorn. She also added the the New York Triple Tiara in winning the Acorn, Mother Goose, and Coaching Club American Oaks. In 2009, the super filly Rachel Alexandra won the Kentucky Oaks by a record margin of 20 ¼ lengths before going to Baltimore and winning the Preakness Stakes.
While the Kentucky Derby gets all the attention, the Kentucky Oaks is just as historic and just as productive in producing great horses. This year’s Kentucky Oaks will be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network this Friday starting at 5:00 ET.
SOURCES, NEWS, AND NOTES
“Churchill Downs: Significance of Coveted Kentucky Oaks,” Daily Racing Form, 3 May 1957
Read more about Charles Hatton in this excellent piece from DRF
I’ll be back on Friday with a piece about the Kentucky Derby…
Thanks for reading