Hollie Hughes and history

My Saturday mornings are often a leisurely stroll through racing history; with a cup of coffee (aside: for Christmas, my mother gave me one of those old-time stovetop espresso pots, and it makes the best coffee I’ve ever drunk. It’s a sublime source of Saturday morning pleasure), I check out the New York feature race, which leads me through archives and databases, into racing landscapes long disappeared. I am happy to say that this morning is no different, and even happier that my path led me so close to my hometown, to which I will travel on Sunday.

Today’s feature at Aqueduct is the Hollie Hughes, and the ever-reliable NYRA website tells us that this race for New York breds, first run in 1979, is named for the man who trained horses in New York for over seventy years. Mr. Hughes trained horses for the Sanford family beginning in 1914 and won his first race, fittingly, at Saratoga that year. Two years later, Hughes won the Derby with George Smith, but unfortunately, wasn’t present because he was in the army. I searched in vain for more information on Hughes’ first winner and his Derby win, but came up empty, despite using a variety of databases.

Hughes was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1973 and died in 1981. This wonderful New York Times article from 1978, written by Red Smith, illustrates the relationship between Hughes and the Sanford family. (Registration and possibly payment required to read—those who subscribe to the New York Times can read it for free.)

And speaking of the Sanfords: Yes, this is the family for whom the celebrated Sanford is named; run annually at Saratoga early in the meet, it’s a premier race for two-year-olds and honors a founding family of Thoroughbred racing, whose farm is located in nearby Amsterdam, New York.

Sanford horses began racing in Saratoga in 1880, and legend has it that horses were walked the nearly thirty miles from Amsterdam to the Spa. The Sanford’s Hurricana Farm also had its own track, which attracted crowds of the fashionable.

Predictably, the Sanford farm has been sold off and torn down over the years, despite the best efforts of local and racing people determined to save this important part of racing history. The Friends of Sanford Stud note that the beautiful training track is now a shopping mall and actively seek donations to help ward off the eventual disappearance of this historic site.

And back we go to Hollie Hughes, trainer of the Sanford horses for more than half a century. Former winners of his eponymous race include not just horse for the course, but horse for the race Papua, who won it three years in a row, and Notebook in 1989; last year, it was won by seven-year-old Introspect. With today’s scratches of Premium Wine and Stormin Normandy, Whistlin’ is the 4/1 morning line favorite.

As interested as I am in the history of this race, for pure racing action, I confess that my eyes will be turned southward, where local favorite Naughty New Yorker ventures outside the Empire State for the first time in his long career (40 starts) to run in the John B. Campbell Handicap at Laurel. Angliana, who beat Evening Attire in the Aqueduct Handicap last month, joins him; Nite Lite is favored, and Mike Luzzi ships southward to ride.

Photo credit:

Wheaton. “7004. Scene at Sanford’s Matinee Races.” On the Rail at Sanford’s. 16 Feb 2007. http://www.lostlandmarks.org/sanfordracing.html

8 thoughts on “Hollie Hughes and history

  1. Last week I found a book, “The Racing Breed” in a book store. I cracked open the cover and inside it said, “To Hollie Highes – From, J. Sanford 1932” I was thrilled to find it. Last year the Friends of Sanford Stud had a luncheon at the track from the Sanford Stakes. Three generations of the Sanfords were there (up from North Carolina) to present the trophy. Nearly a word was mentioned on the track or during the presentation. If you get a chance, Louis Hildebrandt (sp?) wrote a book, “Riders Up” about riding and working for the Sanfords. Fun read. Also, stop and ask Barbara Livingston, the award winning photographer and the nicest person one could ever meet, about the Sanford Farm.Each year, we “drive the walk” that the Sanford grooms would walk the horses from Amsterdam to Saratoga (including stopping for lunch at the same place.)

  2. Saw your Hollie Hughes story linked on Equidaily.com. Nice retrospective on a founding family of NY racing, and more specifically, Saratoga racing. Nice they still call the barns down Nelson Ave the Sanford Barns. How about a story on the old Greentree Stable further down Nelson Ave? Now owned by the Houston Texans owner. /S/Green Mtn Punter

  3. Anon: Thanks for the reading tips. My racing reading pile grows ever bigger, and I add your suggestions to the list; I will go in search at Lyrical Ballad this weekend.Green Mountain Punter (bringing back memories of my youth, when my parents took me to Green Mountain and to Hinsdale–Hillsdale?): The Texans owners sold the property to Darley a year or ago…they’ve installed a synthetic track and at least one trainer I talked to last year was salivating at the possibility of training there during the meet. Hoping to find a way in this summer to get some more info…

  4. Thanks for the reply. Hope you do a retrospective on the Greentree Stable, one of the Spa’s most famous in John Hay Whitney’s glory days as Greentree’s owner. I would imagine that Greentree-Saratoga was started by Harry Payne Whitney? Anyway would be an interesting read on your blog. If there is one farm I would like to own in Saratoga, the old Greentree would be it. Who wouldn’t?! Green Mountain Park never amounted to much even when it was owned by the Rooney’s. Watching lame $1,500 claimers strugge around the track is not my idea of a good time. The old Rockingham Park, in Salem NH, was always New England’s best track because it was owned by entrepreneur Lou Smith, the kind of visionary owner who can’t afford to be in the game anymore. Hinsdale’s recent claim to fame is the fact that it sold one of the three winning Ultra Pick 6 tix on BC 2006, paid $1.4mm as I recall. Hinsdale is a dreary dog track cum simulcasting and overall a less than stimulating atmorspehere. What can you expect from a dog track? Apologies to Steve Crist. The Spa, quite fortuitously, was my first racetrack experience, in 1965, and I was naturally spoiled by it forever. Anyway, keep up the good work on Brooklyn Backstretch, your historic angle stories are informative and enjoyable. /S/Green Mtn Punter

  5. My brother used to live up in Vermont and would drive over to Hinsdale to watch the closed-circuit boxing matches and loved the place. I went down to the Saratoga Kennel Club last month and the joint was one, big, happy Saturday afternoon party. My esteemed writing partner warned me not to bet the dogs because there was no money in the pool, and a few minutes after I hung up the phone with him an eight-dog race paid $1,800 for the triple. Someone was playing… Back to our regularly scheduled programming: I love this kind of column, and I think we one day might collaborate on a book about the origins of all the New York stakes races… We could sell it at the gift shop and probably move fifty copies a year! — J.S.

  6. Thanks to everyone for the comments; it’s nice to know that there are others out there who love this stuff as much as I do. The history of the stakes races fascinates me, and I thank NYRA for putting enough info on their website to get me started.I’ll start the research into the Greentree story, and I will immodestly suggest that if you haven’t already, check out the Jan 26th post about the Paumonok–it represents an entire morning’s fascinated reading.

  7. Very nice article. The story of Hurricana is worth telling and the Legacy is worth preserving.The Friends of Sanford Stud Farm will hold an open house at the Hurricana Broodmare Barn on June 21, 2008. Stop by and see what’s left of one of the largest Thoroughbred breeding facilities in America (in the day). Also, the “Friends” will once again sponsor “Lunch with the Friends at the Rail’ on Sanford Stakes Day Thursday, July 24 at the Saratoga Race course. Yes, the Sanford descendants will be in attendance.Sam Hildebrandt, PresidentFriends of Sanford Stud FarmSanfordstudfarm@aol.com

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