The Barbarous Battalion in the Alabama

The breeding of Thoroughbred race horses is hardly an exact science; how, after all, can the same pedigree produce both Barbaro and Nicanor? Why did the talent of Secretariat and Chris Evert skip their offspring Six Crowns and re-appear a generation later in Chief’s Crown?

19th century horseman Francis Morris would likely not be able to answer such questions, even if he were around to do so, but he struck breeding and racing gold when he repeatedly bred his mare Barbarity to his stallion Eclipse, producing five stakes-winning fillies known as the Barbarous Battalion.

Ruthless, Remorseless, Regardless, Merciless, and Relentless, born between 1865 and 1873, won some this country’s most important stakes races, and one might argue that they were horses for the Saratoga course. Relentless won the Saratoga Stakes; Remorseless the Flash and the Special, and she was second in the Hopeful; most famously, Ruthless won the Travers after winning the inaugural Belmont.

Two of the products of this mating passed out of Morris’s hands and into those of Pierre Lorillard. Merciless (born 1873) and Regardless (1871) were owned by Lorillard, and we note them particularly today because they alone of the Barbarous Battalion won the Alabama Stakes for three-year-old fillies, run today at Saratoga for the 129th time.

In 1874, Regardless ran in the third renewal of the Alabama, and she took on a filly owned by William Cottrill, the man for whom the Alabama was created (that story here). His Bonaventure went to the post the favorite but finished fifth, while Regardless, who’d won the Flash here the previous year, won by a length and a half and set a new record for the race (2:00.2 for the mile and an eighth) while doing so.

Two years later, Merciless came to the race in which her full sister had triumphed. In a field of five, Merciless dueled with Patience, and the race recap reads like some subversive 19th century Christian parable, with the Christian quality getting the worst of it:

When they got under way Merciless immediately took the lead, and was followed by
Patience…Going around the turn Merciless shook off Patience…When they got near
the quarter pole, Hayward sent Patience to the head of Merciless…When they ran
down the backstretch Merciless showed her head in front, but Patience got even
with her, and when they reached the half-mile pole they were again yoked…When
they went round the lower turn Feakes encouraged Patience to do her best, and
for a moment she had her head in front, but Merciless was running well, and
before reaching the three-quarter pole she was once more in ahead. On the
homestretch Patience began to quail under the pressure, and Merciless forged
gradually ahead. Before reaching the end of the grand stand Feakes found it
necessary to use the whip freely on Patience, but she did not respond.

At least on the racetrack, virtue does not, after all, always triumph.

Neither Merciless nor Regardless achieved the status of their sister Ruthless, but their equine family and their stakes victories, particularly at Saratoga, ensure their place in racing history. William H.P. Robertson tells us that the colts produced by the Eclipse-Barbarity mating were “of no consequence,” but one must assume that the fillies of the Barbarous Battalion more than made up for the shortcomings of their brothers.

Robertson, William H.P. The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America. New York: Bonanza Books, 1964.

The Saratoga Races: All the Favorites Beaten.” New York Times. 28 July 1876. 22 Aug 2009.

The Turf: Second Day of the Saratoga Meeting.” New York Times. 29 July 1874. 22 Aug 2009.

14 thoughts on “The Barbarous Battalion in the Alabama

  1. Love those girls. Ruthless, in particular, is one of my all-time favorite fillies! I seem to recall that for all their glory and triumph at the track, for each, their demise was strange and tragic…PS: Where, oh where are the new kitty pix?

  2. Ruthless died in a freak hunting accident in her paddock; a hunter mistook her for game and killed her.Furlong photo will be up in a day or two…promise!No knocks on Nicanor, John…but he's not quite in Barbaro's league, is he?

  3. I guess that I didn't express myself well…I really wasn't trying to take a shot at Nicanor, just to point out that a mating that results in one amazing racehorse can't necessarily be duplicated.Perhaps I should have chosen a different example.

  4. No you're right, Nicanor is not quite the same caliber as Barbaro. The interesting part of this to me, and maybe you know, or another reader does, or can find out – Are there any other instances of a "family" of racehorses with as many full siblings as those of the La Ville Rouge/Dynaformer matings? Five so far, including Barbaro, Nicanor, Lentenor, the weanling and the filly expected next year?I wonder if the Jacksons are playing the odds here that lightening can eventually strike twice?

  5. Great question, Linda; I was having a conversation with someone about this the other day, as I was writing this. Great research topic. And that's why I thought of Barbaro–Barbarity and Eclipse produced so many full siblings, and Dynaformer/La Ville Rouge were the only comparable horse couple I could think of.

  6. Eclipse's life at stud had started in what is now Corona, NY, then a section of Newtown. From there to Kentucky and New Jersey, he sired the Barbarous Battalion where he last stood: Morris's Farm in Throgs Neck. So it's fair to call the Battalion NY-breds, maybe even Bronx-breds. Morris's son John A. Morris would later build and operate the Westchester (then Bronx) race track that bore his family name. It established in its initial meeting in August, 1989, the Eclipse Stakes for two-year-olds. Like the English event that bore the same name, it offered unprecedented prize money, and became an instant highlight in the racing calendar.

  7. Illuminating column.You wrote: "Why did the talent of Secretariat and Chris Evert skip their offspring Six Crowns and re-appear a generation later in Chief’s Crown?"Interesting to note that Chris Evert's half-sister was stakes winner All Rainbows, who won 7 of 17 starts and earned $100K plus but was nothing like Chris, a filly triple crown winner.All Rainbows, however, produced Derby winner Winning Colors.Chris Evert produced, as you noted, Six Crowns, a stakes winner of 5 of 15 starts and $100K plus — very much a racehorse like All Rainbows.Six Crowns then produced G1 winner Chief's Crown.Winning Colors, like Chris Evert, has not produced a top-quality stakes winner to date. Seems like in that family, the lesser-raced fillies became the better producers.

  8. Linda and Teresa –The combination of sire Raise a Native and the mare Gold Digger resulted in 7 full siblings. The most famous was Mr. Prospector — the only stakes winner from the group.Neartic/Natalma resulted in 5 full sibligs, the best of whom was Northern Dancer.

  9. War Admiral – Baby League1942 f Busher1946 c Mr Busher1947 f Striking1948 c The Battler1950 f Bushleaguer1951 f CommandingFirst three remarkable, next three not so remarkable.

  10. Bold Ruler – Irish Jay1962 f Queen Empress1964 f Lioness1965 f Naughty Queen1966 c King Emperor1967 c What Luck1969 f Queen of the Roost1970 f Really Bold1972 c The Irish Lord

  11. Teresa: Yes the LVR/Dynaformer "couple" was the only one I could think of too, so I see your connection there.Sid and TJ: Thanks for the information.

  12. More recently, Ball Chairman was bred to Sadler's Wells 6 times, and the best was G1 winner Perfect Soul.Fairy Bridge was bred to Sadler's Wells 6 times. This mating produced Sadler's Wells + 3 stakes winners.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s