Upward, Ever Upward

Talked about missed opportunities. When I did my Spitzer picks last month, two of the horses came in: All Night Labor paying $26.80 and Yes It’s the Truth at $23.40. On March 21st, Yes It’s the Truth came back to win again, a day after I’d seen his sire at Three Chimneys, paying $25.20. Wednesday, All Night Labor took the feature, the Perfect Poppy Stakes, and paid $19.60. Sheesh. You know what happens next: I bet them in their next start at 3 – 1 and they finish up the track.

What a weekend at the Big A! Four graded stakes, last year’s juvenile champion, the return to the turf (maybe—we’re looking at a lot of rain), and guys in the saddles named Gomez, Prado, and Chavez–which is to take nothing away from Luzzi, Garcia, Hill, Lopez, the guys who have been freezing up here since November. They’re here, too.

This weekend’s races have a lot of history on their side, just the sort of thing into which I like to sink my teeth. So much to write about, so little time, so many choices to make. I’m starting with the Excelsior.

This Grade III race, named for the motto of New York State (excelsior = “upward, ever upward”) was first run in 1903 at the old Jamaica track. In its current incarnation, it’s a mile and an eighth on the dirt, for three year olds and up. It was won first by W.C. Whitney’s Blackstock and most recently by Magna Graduate; in the intervening 104 years Funny Cide, Devil His Due, Key to the Mint, and Roamer all graced the winner’s circle.

The 1906 renewal (after which the race took a nine year break) attracted serious coverage in the New York Times, both for Merry Lark’s upset (he “won rather cleverly”) and for the record crowd who came out to the track on April 28th of that year. From our perspective, the coverage is rather remarkable, commenting in detail as it does on the race, the crowd, the speed, the style.

The race was run under ideal conditions as to weather and track, with but a
light breeze blowing, and the sun shining full on the club, grand, and field stands, which were packed close to the immense capacity of the Jamaica course, the attendance being estimated by the track officials at 20,000, a record patronage for the Metropolitan Jockey Club. The gathering was far away the most brilliant in the history of the club, and was suggestive of the best days of the Summer at the more fashionable race tracks.

The first disappointment came when the numbers of the starters for the $10,000
prize were announced and it was discovered that the Excelsior has lost five of
the fifteen horses named overnight as runners. This was only twenty
minutes before the time for the call to the post for the race, the track
officials, following the plan devised to prevent the transmission of news to the
city poolrooms, having held back all information until ten minutes after the
regulation time for the posting of the starters’ numbers. (New York Times)

Then follow three detailed paragraphs on the running of the race, including the information that “Roseben [the favorite]…seem[ed] a trifle tangled in his stride as he moved away, and not breaking in the catlike style that is his custom…” and “[Jockey] Miller, on Merry Lark, still had a little in hand, however, and, though the final effort of Ormonde’s Right drove him to riding, he kept his hands down, and Merry Lark swept past the winning post first in good style, with something left…”

And attention to fractions that would please even the most meticulous statistician:

…Rosenben to get to the front ran the first furlong, going to the outside and
around a turn, in 0:11 4 -5. The time of the mile was 1:40 1-4. This, deducted
from the time of the full distance, made the sixteenth of a mile 0:07. According
to the official time, then, the second sixteenth of a mile around the turn was
run in 0:04 4-5, a wonderful rate of speed. The other fractions of the race
were: Quarter, 0:23 3-5; three furlongs, 1:01; three quarter, 1:14 2-3, and
first mile, 1:40 1-5.

Amazing, isn’t it, that from this article I can get the fractions of a race run 104 years ago for free, but if I want the fractions from last year’s running of the same race, I’d have to pay Equibase for them?

Racing, like baseball, steeps itself in its own history; unlike baseball, it too easily stores that history in boxes in track basements, or neglects it altogether, or makes its fans pay for the privilege of seeing who finished first in a race, or what the exacta paid. It took me three clicks to get a full run-down of the Mets’ 1995 season: won/loss record and the score of each game. Two clicks got me the starting lineup and the players’ salaries. Type “1995 Mets scores” into a search engine and you’ll see what I mean.

Try “1995 Travers exacta” and see how you do. I gave up.

Back to our story: New York sentimental players are going to have a hard time with this year’s running of the Excelsior. Local favorites Evening Attire and the relative youngster Naughty New Yorker are both entered, and then there’s Malibu Moonshine. Maybe you just throw down a $1 triple box and hope for the best; it is the Excelsior, after all, and shouldn’t a New Yorker win it?

“Merry Lark Captured The $10,000 Excelsior.” New York Times. 29 April 1906. 3 April 2008.

5 thoughts on “Upward, Ever Upward

  1. I wrote a hugely long, detailed response and it got deleted, and it is not going to be repeated, but it was insightful and complimentary and I feel like a computer clod. I’m going to just replace it with this: You claim Malibu Moonshine as a New York horse, yet his origins are in Maryland. And he was at the center of one of the most fun race stories I had the fortune to write. At the risk of hijacking your blog, here it is: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A12293-2005Apr23.htmlAs for the rest, I just want to say “great post.” What you wrote is so true about information. Why can’t everyone take a tip from Calracing.com and give it away? We’ll all love it and bet more. Shoot, now I want to rewrite everything I wrote before, but I’ve got to get going. – J.S.

  2. “You claim Malibu Moonshine as a New York horse, yet his origins are in Maryland.”True enough. So let him finish third.Great story about Leatherbury.

  3. OK I just have to say it – Go Evening Attire! I’m glad to see Edgar is the Jockey, too. I hope he runs better than his last race when he finished 4th out of 4 horses that ran. BTW: It doesn’t seem like the link for EA’s blog is working. I hope they didn’t quit the site.

  4. Choklitz! I’ve missed you! It’s great to see your name here.And thank you very much for the info on the Evening Attire link–the site is very much live, and I fixed it tonight.

  5. Cristian F’ing Backman. That was great!! What a pleasant surprise to see you out there.Hope to see you tomorrow.jbh

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