The Evolution of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, 1919 to 1920

Sep 26th 2014 12:55 pm |

Newspaper advertisement, September 15th 1920

Newspaper advertisement, September 15th 1920

The first two years of the race(s) that would become the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1921 were marred by short fields, disinterested owners, and questionable decisions by the organizers of Belmont Park. The race that would become a key contest in deciding Horse of the Year could have easily been thrown into the forgotten trash heap of racing history after its first two years. Researching the evolution of the race through newspapers from 1919 to 1921 sheds an interesting light on one of the most important stakes in American racing.

Related post: The Jockey Club Gold Cup – Americas Greatest Race

On 11 May 1919, the New York Sun announced a new race on the calendar at Belmont Park for the upcoming fall meeting:

Scarcely a thoroughbred of note is missing from the list of sixty-eight names announced as entries for the Jockey Club Stakes, to be run at the autumn meeting of the Westchester Racing Association at Belmont Park. Entries for this event, which is a new fixture advocated and financially supported by the Jockey Club, closed on Friday, but the list was not complete until yesterday.

It is hoped that the stake will go a long way to deciding which horse is the champion of the year, as conditions call for weight for age over distance of a mile and a half and will be a run at a time when all the aspirants for the title will have opportunities to be thoroughbred fit for the contest.”1

Entries for the first Jockey Club Stakes included Mad Hatter, Purchase, Sir Barton, Omar Khayyam, Exterminator and Sun Briar but, by the time September rolled around, only a few appeared likely to make the the gate. The inaugural running of the race was overshadowed by the 30th running of the Futurity headlined by a colt named Man o’ War. A long and detailed preview of Futurity published on 13 September 1919 ended with a paragraph about the new race:

Half and hour after the juveniles finish their struggle in the Futurity a small but select field of three-year-olds will go forth to battle over the one mile and a half course in the Jockey Club Stakes. It practically will be a match race between S.C. Hildreth’s Purchase and P.A. Clark’s Dunboyne, which won the Futurity last year.”2

Even the low expectation of a match race went unfulfilled as only Purchase made it to the post.  Man o’ War’s easy win in the Futurity — the final race of his historic 2-year-old season witnessed by an estimated 25,000 fans at Belmont Park — dominated the day’s news. The New York Sun added the following after its detailed account of the Futurity:

The much heralded Jockey Club Stakes, for three-year-olds3, at one mile and a half, was a farce. It was a walkover for S. C. Hildreth’s Purchase…Although the Futurity was a great treat for the crowd, the walkover put a damper on the enthusiasm, and hundreds of racegoers roundly condemned the officials for not substituting another race. Some declared that the officials knew only Purchase would start and said it was unfair to the public to have only five races and a walkover.4

The following year, in August of 1920, The Daily Racing Form published a preview of the upcoming Belmont Park fall meet writing that it “compared favorably with the most attractive cards of the old flush days of Morris Park, Gravesend, and Sheepshead Bay.” The schedule included the second running of the Jockey Club Stakes, a weight-for-age race at 1 1/2 miles, as well a new race, the Autumn Gold Cup, a handicap at two miles. Both races had added money purses of $5000. The DRF wrote this about the new feature:

The Autumn Gold Cup, a race that is destined to great popularity, will be instituted to encourage the development of long-distance racing, which in the East has been neglected for some years.”5

A few weeks later, days away from the opening of the fall meeting at Belmont, the DRF elaborated further in a story headlined “Long Distance Racing Revival”:

September racing at Belmont Park will be characterized by a brilliant revival of old-fashioned long distance racing of the quality that made Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, and Morris Park tremendously popular gathering places of lovers of stirring sport in the days that are now but a sweet memory…

…Not in a quarter of a century have two American races to be run over a long distance of ground drawn groups of entries more formidable than those named to start in the Jockey Club Stakes and the Autumn Gold Cup. These races bid fair to bring into competition thoroughbreds capable of reviving by the quality of their racing the best traditions of the Annual Champion, the Century, the Brighton Cup, the Municipal Handicap, and the Belmont Park autumn weight-for-age race, famous specials at distances ranging from one mile and a half to two miles and a quarter that rarely failed in their successive renewals to bring together America’s best long-distance running thoroughbreds and develop spirited contests.”6

The races featured the best “running thoroughbreds” of 1920 but failed in the hope of “spirited contests.” Man o’ War won the Jockey Club Stakes and Exterminator the Autumn Gold Cup but the two races drew a combined five entries. The New York Tribune dubbed the Jockey Club Stakes the “Dodge Man o’ War Race.”7 He faced just one rival in an over-matched three-year-old named Damask. The condition of the Jockey Club Stakes that excluded geldings ruined any possibility of a match between Exterminator and Man o’ War.  And, of course, Samuel Riddle’s likely preference for running in a weight-for-age instead of a handicap.8

Counting the inaugural running of the Jockey Club Stakes in 1919, the races established to crown champions drew a total of six entries. In retrospect, the addition of the Autumn Gold Cup in 1920 undermined the initial intent of both races. Exterminator and Man o’ War running on back to back weekends was the result of a misstep by the Westchester Racing Association, the organizers of Belmont Park, in adding a second long distance race with the same purse money.9

On November 5th 1920, the New York Evening World reported the following:

The Autumn Gold Cup was such a success last fall that it was decided to renew it and combine it with the Jockey Club Stakes, a fixture for three-year-olds at one mile and a half which was a failure.10 The event for next year will be known as the Jockey Club’s Gold Cup,11 and will be a weight for age race for three-year-olds and upward at two miles. It will have an added value of $10,000 in addition to a gold cup valued at $2500.”12

After two years the organizers of Belmont Park finally got it right. The Jockey Club Gold Cup’s weight for age condition and two mile distance remained unchanged until 1976 when the race shortened to 1 1/2 miles. From 1936 to 1983, 40% of Gold Cup winners went on to win Horse of the Year. Among the eighty-one editions in the twentieth century, a future Hall of Famer stood in the winner circle thirty-two times. Needless to say, the intent to establish a race in 1919 to test the best succeeded.

  1. New York Sun, 11 May 1919 []
  2. New York Sun, 13 September 1919 []
  3. This is incorrect, race was open to 3-year-olds and up []
  4. New York Sun, 14 September 1919 []
  5. Daily Racing Form, 8 August 1920 []
  6. Daily Racing Form, 31 August 1920 []
  7. New York Tribune, 1920 September 12 []
  8. After getting beat by Man o’ War in the Jockey Club Stakes, Damask returned a week after the Jockey Club Stakes and finished second in the Autumn Gold Stakes behind Exterminator. The great gelding carried thirty more pounds then his 3-year-old rival. []
  9. Also worth noting the race condition that excluded geldings []
  10. This is a mistake – the Jockey Club Stakes was a weight for age race. They are, however, correct in calling it a failure in spite of it drawing Man o’ War. The race had a total of three horses in two runnings. []
  11. Yes, the original name included the possessive “Club’s” in the name []
  12. New York Evening World, 5 November 1920 []

Filed in Belmont Park,Jockey Club Gold Cup,thoroughbred racing history

6 Responses to “The Evolution of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, 1919 to 1920”

  1. Helene says:

    Thank you Kevin – this is one of my favorite races – and this year is a bit sad for me because I have been a hotwalker of the 2 horses who have won the last 3 runnings of the race – and I am missing their presence in the field….
    Helene Conway

  2. Teddy Lopez says:

    It is truly mindboggling how the great kelso won that max contest 5 years in a row, breaking the record in his first attempt and, then breaking that record his 5th and, last time at 3:19 1/5 on a sloppy track. If not for the sloppy track he would have done what 3:18 or even better? Common sense right? Yes. The jockey gold cup isn’t even 2 miles anymore and, it’s amazing how in it’s 87 or, more year history only 9 horses ever won it twice and, the great kelso did it 5 times and, in a row, breaking the record twice! ÓNCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS A HORSE NAMED KELSO BUT, ONLY ONCE,’ KELSOS’BIGGEST FAN, TEDDY.

  3. JJ says:

    One of the best days at Belmont
    6 stakes races in total , capped off by the marvelous Jockey Gold Cup

  4. Dale says:

    Geldings were not permitted in the JCGC according to articles in old Turf and Sport Digests of the 1940’s that I have read and also in the conditions of the race in the DRF chart books until 1957 when Bureaucracy a half brother to Buckpasser ran in it in that year.

  5. TJ Cassidy says:

    Two things:

    a) The JCGC isn’t even 12f anymore; since 1990 NYRA has run it as a BC Classic prep at 10f.

    b) The three-year-olds who won a Belmont-Travers-JCGC triple include:

    Man o’ War (1920)
    Twenty Grand (1931)
    One Count (1952)
    Gallant Man (1957)
    Sword Dancer (1959)
    Damascus (1967)
    Arts and Letters (1969)
    Temperence Hill (1980)
    Summer Bird (2009)

  6. Mary Ann Kolks says:

    What about Easy Goer (1989)? He won the Belmont-Travers-JCGC triple. Wait, lets make that a quintuple: Belmont-Whitney-Travers-Woodward-JCGC.