The breeding of Thoroughbred race horses is hardly an exact science; how, after all, can the same pedigree produce both Barbaro and Nicanor? Why did the talent of Secretariat and Chris Evert skip their offspring Six Crowns and re-appear a generation later in Chief’s Crown?
19th century horseman Francis Morris would likely not be able to answer such questions, even if he were around to do so, but he struck breeding and racing gold when he repeatedly bred his mare Barbarity to his stallion Eclipse, producing five stakes-winning fillies known as the Barbarous Battalion.
Ruthless, Remorseless, Regardless, Merciless, and Relentless, born between 1865 and 1873, won some this country’s most important stakes races, and one might argue that they were horses for the Saratoga course. Relentless won the Saratoga Stakes; Remorseless the Flash and the Special, and she was second in the Hopeful; most famously, Ruthless won the Travers after winning the inaugural Belmont.
Two of the products of this mating passed out of Morris’s hands and into those of Pierre Lorillard. Merciless (born 1873) and Regardless (1871) were owned by Lorillard, and we note them particularly today because they alone of the Barbarous Battalion won the Alabama Stakes for three-year-old fillies, run today at Saratoga for the 129th time.
In 1874, Regardless ran in the third renewal of the Alabama, and she took on a filly owned by William Cottrill, the man for whom the Alabama was created (that story here). His Bonaventure went to the post the favorite but finished fifth, while Regardless, who’d won the Flash here the previous year, won by a length and a half and set a new record for the race (2:00.2 for the mile and an eighth) while doing so.
Two years later, Merciless came to the race in which her full sister had triumphed. In a field of five, Merciless dueled with Patience, and the race recap reads like some subversive 19th century Christian parable, with the Christian quality getting the worst of it:
When they got under way Merciless immediately took the lead, and was followed by
Patience…Going around the turn Merciless shook off Patience…When they got near
the quarter pole, Hayward sent Patience to the head of Merciless…When they ran
down the backstretch Merciless showed her head in front, but Patience got even
with her, and when they reached the half-mile pole they were again yoked…When
they went round the lower turn Feakes encouraged Patience to do her best, and
for a moment she had her head in front, but Merciless was running well, and
before reaching the three-quarter pole she was once more in ahead. On the
homestretch Patience began to quail under the pressure, and Merciless forged
gradually ahead. Before reaching the end of the grand stand Feakes found it
necessary to use the whip freely on Patience, but she did not respond.
At least on the racetrack, virtue does not, after all, always triumph.
Neither Merciless nor Regardless achieved the status of their sister Ruthless, but their equine family and their stakes victories, particularly at Saratoga, ensure their place in racing history. William H.P. Robertson tells us that the colts produced by the Eclipse-Barbarity mating were “of no consequence,” but one must assume that the fillies of the Barbarous Battalion more than made up for the shortcomings of their brothers.
Robertson, William H.P. The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America. New York: Bonanza Books, 1964.
“The Saratoga Races: All the Favorites Beaten.” New York Times. 28 July 1876. 22 Aug 2009.
“The Turf: Second Day of the Saratoga Meeting.” New York Times. 29 July 1874. 22 Aug 2009.