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.
Tomorrow at Belmont Park, graded stakes step aside to make way for a day of New York-bred racing. Seven stakes races offering combined purses of $850,000 will be headlined by the first running of the $150,000 Commentator, named in honor of the New York-bred who won the Whitney Handicap in 2005 and 2008.
In 2003, Funny Cide did his home state proud when he became the first New York-bred to win the Kentucky Derby, going on to win the Preakness before finishing third in the Belmont Stakes. He got his start in New York-bred stakes races at Belmont, winning the Bertram F. Bongard and Sleepy Hollow Stakes in the fall of 2002 before jumping to open company in the Holy Bull that winter.
Had Funny Cide prevailed in the Belmont Stakes, he would have been the first New York-bred Triple Crown winner…but not the first state-bred winner of the Belmont.
That distinction goes to the filly Ruthless, the very first winner of the Belmont Stakes, in 1867, when the race was held at Jerome Park. By Eclipse and out of Barbarity, she was one of the “Barbarous Battalion” of five full sisters—the others were Relentless, Remorseless, Regardless, and Merciless—bred and owned by Francis Morris.
At two, Ruthless won the Nursery and Saratoga Stakes; at three, she took both of New York’s premier races when she won the Belmont and the Travers, setting a new stakes record in the latter.
Both Ruthless and her jockey, Gilbert W. Patrick, called “Gilpatrick” in contemporary accounts, were elected to the Hall of Fame: she in 1975, he in 1970.
The second New York-bred Belmont winner was owned and bred by the man for whom the race is named: August Belmont. In 1969, Belmont had two entrants in his eponymous race, Glenelg, whom Belmont had purchased in utero, and his homebred Fenian. The horses finished one-two, but the New York Times was suspicious, noting in the chart that Glenelg “might have won had he been wanted.”
Turf historian William H.P. Robertson, in The History of Thoroughbred Racing, wrote in the 1960’s that “…Glenelg…was considerably better than the winner, but Belmont had bred Fenian and preferred to win with him, so, as [turf historian Walter] Vosburgh wrote, ‘Glenelg’s jockey almost had to pull his head off to let Fenian finish first.’”
Fenian was trained by Jacob Pincus, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1988.
The third, and last, New York-bred to win the Belmont Stakes was another Belmont-bred, though Belmont didn’t race him. Forester took on only two competitors in 1882, winning easily by five lengths. He was ridden by jockey James McLaughlin; the win was the first of McLaughlin’s six in the race, tied with Eddie Arcaro for most all-time. McLaughlin entered the Hall of Fame in its inaugural 1955 class.
All the New York-bred Belmont winners are a part of racing history; each brought a member of the team to the Hall of Fame. Fenian may have been the least accomplished, and perhaps the least deserving, winner; he may also be the one who left the greatest legacy.
For it is Fenian who stands atop the August Belmont Memorial Cup, given to the winner of the Belmont Stakes. The trophy was first presented to August Belmont I when Fenian won in 1869; owners of Belmont winners also get a miniature of the trophy, as do the winning trainer and jockey.
The only New York-bred listed as possible for this year’s Belmont Stakes is Giant Finish, sure to be a longshot after his 10th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. If he and his connections aren’t presented with the August Belmont Memorial Cup, it will be Ruthless, Forester, and most of all Fenian, as holders of the New York-bred legacy in the Belmont Stakes.
For more on the history of the August Belmont Memorial Cup, click here.