“The Triple Crown races are to showcase the future stallions of our industry and
fillies should run with fillies and stallions with stallions.”

So said Dolphus Morrison, the then-owner of Rachel Alexandra following her dominating win in the Kentucky Oaks. No second guessing for this owner, no wondering how she might have fared had she been entered in the Kentucky Derby the next day, no question about the primacy of the male in Thoroughbred breeding.

Unsurprisingly and fortunately, it was not ever thus.

We well know that through the 20th century, especially the first three-quarters of it, fillies and mares regularly raced against colts, geldings, and horses, often with great success. A consideration of Vagrancy, though, the 1942 champion three-year-old filly and handicap mare whose eponymous race will be run at Belmont on today, must acknowledge that in her twelve starts against males, she never finished better than second.

Vagrancy raced for Belair Stud and was trained for most of her career by “Sunny” Jim Fitzsimmons. At age three, she made 21 starts, compiling a record of ten wins, four seconds, and one third. She was first or second in eleven straight races against her own sex; she was also second in the Lawrence Realization.

One of those wins came in the Beldame, in September of 1942. Count Fleet was a two-year-old then, and on the same day as the Beldame, he was taking on Occupation in the Cowdin at Aqueduct. Nonetheless, the focus on this racing day was on the three-year-old fillies. The Beldame was the richest race of the Queens County Jockey Club meeting, offering more than $18,000 in purse money, and its outcome was thought to have a significant impact on the future of the sport, according to Bryan Field in the Times:

The place of honor [on the race card] is for the Beldame, which aids the
breeding of the sport by encouraging the development of good race mares.
(“Beldame Handicap”)

“Which aids the breeding of the sport by encouraging the development of good race mares.”

What a concept. The race for the fillies was more important and more valuable than the race for the colts; imagine, that the role of the dam in breeding was considered as important as that of the sire.

Vagrancy led for most of the race but was caught at the wire by Barrancosa; following a review of the photo, the race was declared a dead heat. Better than losing, certainly, but I can’t imagine that William Woodward left the racetrack feeling satisfied:

William Woodward, chairman of the Jockey Club and breeder and owner of Vagrancy, flipped a coin in the unsaddling enclosure after the finish and thereby lost
possession for the coming year of the Beldame Trophy. It will travel West
to Bing Crosby and Lin Howard, owners of Binglin Stock Farm and importers of
Barrancosa. (“Aqueduct Feature”)

Win the race, lose the coin toss, lose the trophy.

Vagrancy raced 42 times and hit the board in 31 of her starts. She won some of the most important stakes races in New York, including the Ladies Handicap, the Alabama (through disqualification), the Test, the Coaching Club American Oaks, and the Gazelle. She never did beat the males, but when she was racing, in the early 40’s, her superiority against her own sex was enough to make her a valuable breeding commodity.

Field, Bryan. “Aqueduct Feature Ends in Dead Heat.” New York Times. 20 Sept 1942. 21 May 2009.

Field, Bryan. “Beldame Handicap and Cowdin Stakes Top Closing Card at Aqueduct Today.” New York Times. 19 September 1942. 21 May 2009.

2 thoughts on “Vagrancy

  1. Excellent stuff (as always)! Let me just add that as a broodmare, Vagrancy was a great producer as her first born Black Tarquin was an English classic winner, taking the prestigious St. Leger at three. Her daughter Vulcania won the Diana and Test, and produced two stakes winners, Nascania and Firerullah; Vulcania’s daughter Legato is the granddam of Derby winner Ferdinand. Another daughter Natasha produced 3-year-old champion filly Natashka (Alabama, Monmouth Oaks); as a broodmare, Natashka produced Irish G1 winner Gregorian, Test victress Ivory Wand (whose daughter Touch of Greatness is the dam of Elusive Quality) and Ashland winner Truly Bound (whose daughter Bound to Dance produced G1 Japanese Oaks winner Silk Prima Donna). Ivory Wand is also the granddam of G1 BC Juvenile winner Anees, and Irish G1 winner Heart of Darkness.Showcase for future broodmares indeed!

  2. Thanks, Val–I knew that I could on you to fill in the thorough history of Vagrancy’s progeny. I guess they got it right back in the 40’s, eh?

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