On Sunday at Belmont, the Matron will be run for the 106th time – inaugurated in 1892, it was open to both fillies and colts until 1902. That year, it was run in two divisions: one for the colts, one for the fillies.
The purse for the race was divided among them, if not exactly fairly, with the colts getting $14,375 and the fillies getting $8,595. Would love to hear the rationale for that one.
The race was run at Morris Park in the Bronx on October 7, 1902, on a day characterized by “splendid attendance, fair weather, and spirited sport.” Eugenia Burch won the filly division “rather cleverly,” by a half-length; Grey Friar (sometimes spelled “Gray” in contemporary accounts) beat the other colts.
Less than two weeks later, the winners of the Matron would meet each other, again at Morris Park, this time in the Champagne Stakes. As he was in the Matron, a horse called Acefull was thought to be the horse to beat; as he was in the Matron, he was beaten…though neither of the Matron winners, running at equal weights, came back to repeat their victories.
Instead, a maiden, the “often-beaten colt” Meltonian sprung the upset, with Eugenia Burch in second and Acefull behind her in third…but not for long.
Eugenia Burch did her running from the back, and Acefull in this seven-furlong race went to the lead, tiring as he neared the finish line.
Acefull was staggering at this point and dropped back on Eugenia Burch, the filly striking him as she went on. The effect of the bump, however, aided Acefull more than it impeded him, for it actually jostled him forward and seemingly started him to be running again, while Eugenia Burch had to be pulled out a bit, and then went on once more for the stakes. She was in front in the next two strides, about a sixteenth of a mile from the winning post, but the jostle with Acefull cost her a few feet of her advantage over Meltonian, and the English colt, closing with a resolute rush in the last hundred yards, wore her down in the last jump and finished first by so scant a margin that the majority of the spectators back on the judges’ stand believed that the filly had won. (“Meltonian’s Big Stake”)
While this anonymous early century turf writer seems plainly to think that Eugenia Burch was disadvantaged by her bump with Acefull, that colt’s jockey put in a claim of foul, and the brown filly was disqualified to fourth, while Acefull was put up to second.
A few days later, the Daily Racing Form devoted a good deal of space to running a large excerpt from the New York Evening Sun, whose author made the case plainly that in a year in which the two-year-old division had no clear leader, Eugenia Burch had staked her claim in the Champagne.
“It was hoped,” wrote the author from the Sun, “that the running of the Champagne Stakes at Morris Park on Saturday would indicate unerringly the champion of the year, but the running of the Champagne Stakes did nothing more than to make confusion worse confounded (sic). For the running of this race introduced to the circle of claimants for premier honors a new figure in Mrs. L. Curtis’s filly Eugenia Burch.”
While the author felt that the filly had been rightfully disqualified, he nonetheless found hers the performance of the race and blamed her jockey for the loss. “…the glory of the race belongs to her,” he wrote, noting that she, Acefull, and Grey Friar all carried 122 pounds, while Meltonian carried 107. “If her boy had kept her straight she must have won…”
Earlier in the year, Eugenia Birch had won the Produce and the Montauk Stakes; she had been second to Grey Friar in the Albany Handicap at Saratoga. Between the Matron on October 7 and the Champagne on October 18, she won the Nursery Handicap on October 11, also held at Morris Park, at which she seems to have been a horse for the course.
Pedigree Query notes that she was named champion two-year-old filly, while most sources I’ve seen give her that accolade a year later, and the January 1903 edition of Outing suggests that the knotted juvenile scene referred to in the Sun remained unresolved when year-end honors were determined. Wrote Caspar Whitney, “The Champagne Stakes…put forth another candidate—Eugenia Burch—for two-year-old honors, and, as nothing developed subsequently to settle the moot question, the racing season of 1902 closed without fixing the season’s championship.”
One of the victories that would earn her a championship at three was in the Jerome—back at Morris Park—in September of 1903. She met her old rival Grey Friar…but no one else. The card came up short on opening day of the Morris Park meeting, and the New York Times writer lamented, all too familiarly to modern ears, that “…for reasons that were not apparent horsemen were not inclined to run their horses…”
That’s not all that will sound familiar about the Jerome, especially to those readers of the Times who had been present for the Champagne.
The two ran as one horse for a mile and a furlong of the mile and five-sixteenths course over the hill, Grey Friar then being driven to the whip and beginning to swerve, in which action the filly followed him in the next few strides, the pair bumping each other for twenty yards or so.
The filly emerged the victor by a half-length, an outcome that apparently displeased some viewers, as “a great crowd gathered about the judges’ stand in expectation of a claim of foul riding, but none was made.”
Eugenia Burch also won the Reaper and Dolphin Stakes that year; she raced until she was six years old, and even though she was the filly champion at three, it was as a juvenile that she seems to have been at her best. She was purchased by a Mrs. L. Curtis from a Mrs. T.J. Carson for $275, making her if nothing else a bargain, and a sound investment.
Quoted and consulted
1902 Matron charts, Daily Racing Form, October 8, 1902.
“Acefull Meets Defeat,” New York Times, October 8, 1902 (Matron victory)
“Amateur Rider Victor,” New York Times, October 12, 1902. (Nursery Stakes)
“Eastern Turf Gossip,” Daily Racing Form, October 14, 1902.
“Eastern Two-Year-Olds,” Daily Racing Form, October 25, 1902. (Champagne)
Eugenia Burch’s Pedigree Query page
“Fairview Horses Sold,” New York Times, October 7, 1902. (advance for the Matron)
“Fillies In A Fast Race,” New York Times, August 1, 1902. (Produce Stakes)
“Jumpers In A Dead Heat,” New York Times, July 10, 1902. (Montauk Stakes)
“Meltonian’s Big Stake,” New York Times, October 19, 1902. (Champagne Stakes)
“Morris Park’s Opening,” New York Times, September 29, 1903. (Jerome)
Whitney, Caspar. “The Sportsman’s View-Point.” Outing, Vol. 41. James Henry Worman, Ben James Worman, and Caspar Whitney. January 1903, Outing Publishing Company.