Those of us who favor the distaff side have had quite the year and a half. Fillies and mares have stolen the headlines pretty regularly since last summer: Rags to Riches’ victory in the Belmont; Eight Belles’ impressive second in the Derby, followed by her shocking breakdown; Ginger Punch, Zenyatta, Proud Spell, Indian Blessing, Music Note. While the equine boys mill about in mediocrity and the human ones squabble over who will race where, we eagerly await the next appearance by one of the talented fillies and mares who are capturing our attention—most recently, Wait A While’s gorgeous win in Thursday’s Ballston Spa.
Though the connections of Music Note decided to keep her with her own sex, more than a few observers thought (and still think) that she’d have thrashed the boys this Saturday in the Travers. Had she gone in that race, she’d have been the latest in a long line of fillies who have taken on the boys in the Mid-Summer Derby. The second running of the Travers, in 1865, was won by a filly named Maiden, and in the first twelve runnings of the race, fillies won four times. In 1868, more fillies (three) than colts (two) had taken Saratoga’s prize.
In 1867, Ruthless did what Rags to Riches couldn’t: exit the Belmont as the victor and keep winning, going on to beat two colts in the Travers that year. Ruthless was a daughter of Eclipse out of Barbarity and one of five full-sister champions known as the Barbarous Battalion: Relentless, Remorseless, Regardless, and Merciless (National Museum of Racing). She raced eleven times, in not a single sex-restricted race, compiling a record of seven wins and four seconds. Michael Veitch provides some of the details:
Ruthless opened her three-year-old season at Jerome Park…winning the Spring
Stakes at six furlongs. The very next day, she won a purse event at 1 ¼
miles…She won the inaugural Belmont Stakes on June 19 at Belmont Park, defeating
three colts at 1 5/8 miles…Five days [after her victory in the Travers],
Ruthless won the Sequel Stakes at Saratoga…at the distance of two miles. (Foundations of Fame)
The 1867 Travers was run at a mile and three-quarters, and of the twenty-eight horses originally entered, thirteen were fillies. The New York Times explains that one of the reasons that the field was scratched down to three was that, “Mr. Alexander having retired from the racing turf, had no representative of his ten entries.” Ruthless entered the field as the favorite based on her “successful career…ever since she made her début on this course as a two-year-old.” The filly raced in second until the apparently unnamed “Lucy Fowler colt” came up beside her, at which point
“Gilpatrick letting his filly out, she shot to the front, and at the half-mile
pole was half a length ahead of the Lucy Fowler colt…Ruthless improved
her position on the third quarter stretch, and was a clear length ahead of her
pursuers as they swung into the homestretch, and without apparently being urged
to her highest speed, galloped home a winner of the race by two lengths.”
Time of the race: 3:13 ¼, “the first mile being run in 1:48 ½.” Value of the stake: $2,350 (New York Times).
Ruthless didn’t race beyond three; she was injured and retired to her owner’s farm in what is now the Bronx and lived until age eleven; her death hardly befits the champion she was:
One day a hunter went wandering through Morris’s farm near today’s Throgs Necks
Bridge. There was something in the distance. The hunter shot it. It fell. It was
the great Ruthless in her paddock, possibly the only famous thoroughbred killed
as game. (Hotaling)
Ruthless lives on at Aqueduct in an ungraded stakes named for her in 1974. Dill or No Dill won it this year, Xtra Heat in 2001. In the winner’s circle following Proud Spell’s victory in the Alabama last Saturday, Larry Jones said that, “selfishly,” he’d have liked to see Music Note go in the Travers, as it would be something of a vindication following Eight Belles’ death for another trainer to demonstrate that there’s nothing wrong with racing a filly against colts. I wanted to see Music Note and Proud Spell have at each other in the Alabama, so I was not among those wishing for a filly in the Travers this year; I would wish, though, for a time when such an occurrence is as unremarkable as it was when fillies were regularly racing against—and beating—the colts at Saratoga.
Hotaling, Edward. They’re Off! Horse Racing at Saratoga. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1995.
“The Saratoga Race Meeting.” The New York Times. 8 August 1867. Nytimes.com. 21 August 2008.
Troye, Edward. “Ruthless.” National Museum of Racing, Saratoga Springs, New York. 21 Aug 2008. http://www.racingmuseum.org/hall/horse.asp?ID=129
Veitch, Michael. Foundations of Fame: Nineteenth Century Thoroughbred Racing in Saratoga Springs. Saratoga Springs, NY: Advantage Press, 2004.