Teresa Genaro is a high school English teacher and freelance turf writer whose work has appeared in a variety of turf publications. A former and erstwhile resident of Saratoga Springs, she lives in Brooklyn and writes about New York racing at Brooklyn Backstretch.
On the first Saturday in June, three-year-old colts take center stage at Belmont Park. When we’re lucky, and when the horses are great, we await the Belmont Stakes to see whether, finally, we’ll get to see a 12th horse make history at the end of the road to the Triple Crown.
But earlier in the card, the fillies get their chance to shine, and for them, the road - an albeit less exalted road than the one taken by their male peers - is just beginning.
The Grade I Acorn was first run in 1931 and is the first leg of the Filly Triple Crown, sometimes called the Triple Tiara. Its traditional configuration is the Acorn, the Mother Goose, and the Coaching Club American Oaks; briefly earlier this decade, the Alabama replaced the Acorn, but in 2006 the original series was restored.
Some mighty impressive fillies have emerged victorious from the 1-mile Acorn: Top Flight, Twilight Tear (who as a 3-year-old beat older males en route to being named Horse of the Year), Gallorette, Shuvee, Davona Dale, Ruffian, Sky Beauty, among so many other notable fillies.
One of those notable female runners is Cicada, who won the 1962 edition of the race. A champion at two, three, and four, Cicada won the first time she entered the starting gate, and she must have decided that she liked the feeling: making sixteen starts as a 2-year-old, she hit the board in every race, ending her first season on the track with a record of 11-2-3.
She came back as a 3-year-old and resumed her winning ways; she was so good that her owners, Meadow Stable, considered running her in the Kentucky Derby after her impressive showing in the Florida Derby at Hialeah: she was beaten a nose by Ridan, who later that year would lose the Travers by the same margin to Jaipur. Cicada was in that race, too, finishing a distant seventh.
In between the Florida Derby and the Travers, Cicada took the Acorn on May 19th, 1962. She survived an inquiry, and while her trainer, J.H Hayes, was said by Edward L. Bowen to like “tough horses,” Cicada’s toughness was not what the Times chose to highlight in its Acorn recap:
"Cicada, the glamour girl of the 3-year-olds, who had her picture taken in the winner’s circle recently after two victories in Kentucky, was playing the same role at Aqueduct yesterday…
Cicada, wearing a blue-and-white brow band, her stable’s colors, was in front of the photographers again after having captured the one-mile contest for 3-year-old fillies."
Once Michael Strauss finished depicting Cicada as a starlet on the red carpet, he got around to mentioning that her final time of 1:35 3/5, oh, just happened to be a stakes record.
Cicada won on turf and dirt; she beat boys and girls. She won over fast tracks, she won in the slop; she won short (three, six, and seven furlongs) and she won long (a mile, 1 1/8 miles). William H.P. Robertson lamented that she never won beyond 9 furlongs.
She won the Schuylerville, the Spinaway, the Matron, the Frizette, the Kentucky Oaks, the Acorn, the Mother Goose, the Beldame, the Distaff, the Vagrancy, and the Sheepshead Bay.
She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967, and Bowen said that she “had been tested as thoroughly as virtually any modern filly or mare and had stood up to every challenge with speed, grit, and unwavering fortitude.” The Blood-Horse ranked her #62 in its top 100 racehorses of the 20th century.
Cicada didn’t win the Filly Triple Crown; after winning the Mother Goose, she lost the Coaching Club American Oaks by a half-length to Bramalea. The last winner of the series for 3-year-old fillies was Sky Beauty, in 1994, but no shortage of imagination-capturing females has given us hope in the Acorn: You, Round Pond, Bird Town, among them.
On June 5th, the featured race is the 135th running of the Belmont. But a bit earlier, watch the 83rd running of the Acorn. It could be the start of something special.
Update: Shortly after this post went up, the New York Racing Association announced that Betfair TVF will sponsor a new configuration of the Triple Tiara series. Should a filly win the three Grade I races of the series - the Acorn, the Coaching Club American Oaks, and the Alabama - Betfair TVG will present her owners with a $50,000 bonus to go the charity of their choice.
Further reading at Brooklyn Backstretch:
Cicada past performance information from Champions, published in 2000 by the DRF press
“Cicada,” by Edward L. Bowen in Thoroughbred Champions: Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century. Published in 2003 by Blood-Horse Publications.
Robertson, William H.P. The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America. Bonanza Books, 1964.