World’s Richest Horse Race, 1919

Jan 28th 2017 08:03 am |

Washington Evening Journal, 11 October 1919

On Saturday Gulfstream Park will host the “world’s richest horse race” with the unfortunately named Pegasus World Cup. This got me thinking about other times in U.S. history when races were promoted as the “world’s richest.” Believe or not, in searching through millions of pages in various news archives, it’s a tag not used very often in North American racing, even though it played host to races that might have claimed the title.

In the 1980s, the Arlington Million could boast the title. In the late 1960s and 1970s, it belonged to a quarter horse race: The All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico. Other races like the Santa Anita Derby, the Arlington-Washington Futurity, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Belmont Futurity, the Garden State Stakes, and the Hollywood Futurity are a few of the North American races that had the distinction – at one time or another – of being “the richest horse race in the world” or the “world’s richest horse race.”

The News Scimitar (Memphis, TN) October 11, 1919

The phrase first came in common use during 1930s with the Santa Anita Handicap. Prior to that, it is tough to find, but I did come across one outlier twenty years prior to the Big Cap. It happened to be the first time – I could find – where the distinction of the “world’s richest race” was boldly claimed in a newspaper headline in the United States. While the location and name of the race might surprise, the person behind its promotion will not. In 1919 Colonel Matt Winn, the general manager of the Kentucky Jockey Club, led the marketing charge for the inaugural running of the $50,000 Latonia Championship Stakes for three-year-olds at 1 3/4 miles. Winn saw the 3-year-old race in Latonia as a compliment to that other big Kentucky race run in May at Churchill Downs.

In all of the sources I read about the 1919 race, only a few articles mention it being the “world’s richest race.” The reference to “world’s richest” did not appear in print until a few days prior to the Latonia race and the reference did not appear at in the Daily Racing Form coverage.  I’d guess that the source of the “world’s richest” claim came from Kentucky Jockey Club boosters, very likely Mr Winn himself, in an attempt to drum up publicity for a race that, in spite of its big purse, did not draw a field inline with the prize.

The nominations for the Latonia Championship closed two years prior, not a typical race condition but one in place for a few significant races of the period. An article in the Daily Racing Form, published on the day of the big race, referred to the advanced nomination process when it wrote this about it’s disappointing field:

It is common in the history of great races which close far in advance of their running to find that in some years their weighty results are fought out by fields of inferior race horses. The Epsom Derby, the St. Leger, the $50,000 Sandown Eclipse Stakes and the $50,000 Jockey Club Stakes all afford English instances. The American Derby won by Uncle Bob at Washington Park was contested by such a scaly band that even Dave Waldo’s runt Jed was deemed to have a right good chance. The Lawrence Realization has in some years dwindled away to two or three starters, and even the Belmont Stakes has been visited by the same bad luck.”

So it is not without precedent that the first running of the Latonia Championship Stakes should prove disappointing in some of its phases. Starting out with 471 nominations of the best bred youngsters of England and the United States, it was but reasonable to expect that such a nobly framed and richly endowed race would be contested, by a big field of the best three-year-olds of the year. Such is not its portion. The really high-class ones Sir Barton, Purchase and approximately that kind were not in its big entry list. The best of its eligibles on paper Eternal, War Pennant and Dunboyne went wrong, as did certain lesser lights, much to the detriment of the race. It has now come down to a point where Mad Hatter and Stockwell represent the best public form, and the wildest imagination cannot make them out to be anything more than ordinary colts.

Mad Hatter easily won the big purse with an eight length win over a muddy course against just five competitors. The late developing colt was just an ‘ordinary colt’ in 1919 when he won the Latonia Championship Stakes but he would go on to a stellar career that included a win in the Suburban and a pair of wins in both the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Met Mile. He might have been the best produce of the sire Fair Play had Fair Play not also sired Man o’ War.

The $44,000 winner stake of the 1919 Latonia Championship equates to approximately $600,000 in today’s dollars. A lot of money for most of us but the Latonia winners’ stake equivalent in today’s dollars wouldn’t even cover the million dollar nomination fee to enter this Saturday’s Pegasus.

Sources, News, Notes

Online newspaper archives searched: Library of Congress, Fulton County Postcards, New York Times, Daily Racing Form, and Philadelphia Inquirer.

Check the value of the dollar over time at

Quote from “Latonia Championship Stakes,” Daily Racing Form,  11 October 1919.

Thanks for reading and good luck

Filed in Latonia,Winn, Matt J.

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