Remembering the Sanfords

Yesterday’s running of the Sanford Stakes may well not go down in history; scratches reduced to the field to four, and while there was plenty to like in Desert Party’s victory, I’m not sure that many of us are stretching towards his Derby bandwagon, and who knows if we’ll even remember his name a year from now.

Afleet Alex in 2004 was the last Sanford winner to make a major splash as a three-year-old (yes, I know, Scat Daddy won the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby…and then what?), but while the Sanford Stakes may not play a major role in the Road to the Roses, its renewal is a welcome, and I consider an essential, reminder of the role that the Sanford family played in New York racing.

The New York Thoroughbred Breeders provided their booth at the races on Thursday to the Friends of Sanford Farm, a group dedicated to preserving what is left of the farm that turned out racing and breeding stock from 1880 until late in the last century. Barbara Livingston’s comprehensive article from 2001 tells the story far better than I can; she traces the history of Sanford Farm, also known as Hurricana Stud, from its inception in 1880 to the earliest part of this century, when the farm was in danger of being utterly destroyed and forgotten.

Sanford’s horses were major players at Saratoga, and more than one source recounts that on the mornings of the day that they were raced, they walked the 26 miles from Amsterdam to Saratoga; it is a walk that was supposed to be replicated on Thursday, though this time, participants travelled by bus. On Thursday at the races, the Friends of Sanford Stud Farm hosted the second annual luncheon to race awareness of and money for the preservation of Sanford Farm:

This year’s event will be at the new Rail Building and participants will have an opportunity to trace Sanford’s annual trek on foot from Amsterdam to Saratoga. Of course, they will be doing it while riding in an air-conditioned coach bus.

“We were going to do this last year, but we couldn’t and we had people complain that they couldn’t retrace the route,” Hildebrandt said.

In the early 1900s, Stephen Sanford’s crew walked between 25 and 30 horses from the farm on Route 30 through Saratoga County to the race track. The men rode the horses and led others on the 26-mile route, stopping to change mounts in Galway and West Milton. The men left at 2 a.m., stopped for breakfast at Top Notch in West Galway and, with good weather, arrived in Saratoga Springs by 11 a.m. (Schenectady Gazette)

As noted by Livingston in her article, the farm has slowly disintegrated since the death of the last scion of the Sanford family in 1977. The farm was sold in 1986, and parts of it now lie beneath an Office Max and a Wendy’s (Livingston).

Fortunately, other parts of the farm, including the nearly 200-year-old broodmare barn, survive; also extant are the monuments that Stephen Sanford commissioned to memorialize his best horses:

Stephen Sanford ordered five-foot-high stone monuments erected in front of the stallion barn. These thirteen monuments, which appeared to be gravestones, were actually living testaments to the accomplishments of his best horses: Rockton, La Tosca, Chuctanunda, Clifford, Caughnawaga, Mohawk II, Molly Brant, Voter, Post Guard… The horses’ names were boldly inscribed across the monuments’ tops, and their accomplishments on the track or at stud were listed below on adjoining segments. (Livingston)

Unfortunately, the new owner of the farm moved the monuments from view, and of them, Livingston writes:

Hidden behind one of those remaining barns, slowly disappearing into the growing weeds, the monuments wait, each separated into three segments.

Every morning, daybreak washes over the faces of these monuments. “MOHAWK II”, and “LA TOSCA”, and “MOLLY BRANT” glow in their solitude. One stone, now separated from its base but seeming to belong to Chuctanunda’s, simply states: “His only start at five years, six furlongs in 1.12 at Saratoga, the fastest time ever made in the East”. Every evening, darkness again envelops these hidden tributes, which
Stephen Sanford had carved so long ago.

For now, however, the Sanfords live on through other monuments: the blood of Raise a Native, Discovery, Native Dancer, Bull Lea….

It is through them, and through more recent Thoroughbreds descended from Sanford stock—names such as Secretariat, Affirmed, Cigar, Silver Charm and Fusaichi Pegasus-that the family should gain the most peace, and most pride for a job well done.

The Sanfords did not breed any one great horse in their lifetimes, yet they left us an entire legacy of them. (Livingston)

The annual running of the Sanford Stakes is a worthy testimony to the Sanford legacy, but it is clearly not enough. Already, too much of this historical piece of racing history has been destroyed, and it is only with our help that what remains can be preserved. You can find out more about the Friends of Sanford Farm at their website.

2 thoughts on “Remembering the Sanfords

  1. “And then what?” Are you becoming Derby-centric suddenly? I think winning the Fountain and the Florida Derby would have provided me enough racing memories to last a lifetime. Great races to win (even if Magna ruined the great track; and I didn’t like Scat Daddy either). p.s. – I’m doing a reverse rain dance for you here (shades drawn, of course). Dry weather coming up!– J.S.

  2. You’re right: I didn’t give Scat Daddy enough credit for the first third of his three-year-old year–winning those races was significant. But forget the Derby…he was retired in the summer of his three-year-old year. Winning two races in the spring and then doing nothing else doesn’t qualify him as significant, in my book.

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