The dear, departed Stuyvesant?

Named for a major historical figure and won by Man o’War, Riva Ridge, Fit to Fight, and Seattle Slew, the Stuyvesant has suffered an awful lot of indignity, deemed to have been unnecessary in so many of the years since its inception.

First run at Jamaica, the Stuyvesant was originally a race for three-year-olds, and its first winner was Fernrock, owned by August Belmont. Belmont took it again in 1924 with Ordinance, and the race then disappeared for fourteen years, coming back to Jamaica in late April of 1937, when it served as a Derby prep for several horses, including its winner, Greentree’s Chicolorado.
The second coming of the Stuyvesant lasted for just three years; after T.M. Dorsett won it in 1939, the race vanished again from the racing calendar, this time for nearly a quarter of a century. When it came back, it had moved from its springtime spot to a place on Aqueduct’s closing day card in December, and it was open to horses three years old and up.

Joe Nichols, writing in the New York Times, waxed poetic as he wrote about that day in 1963:

Percy Bysshe Shelley has supplanted the information publications as the solace
purveyor to the horse racing fans of the metropolitan area, as of today.
The gentle poet assumes his eminent position on the basis of the lines he
indited so many years back: “If winter comes, can spring be far
behind?” (Nichols–subscription/payment required)

I’m not sure how many of Nichols’ readers found comfort in Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” (or if they had any idea what he was talking about), but even as Nichols apparently mourned the ending of racing for the year, he found much to celebrate. 1963 saw more racing days (224) than any other year in New York racing; scheduled to race 226 days, NYRA cancelled two days when President Kennedy was assassinated. 1963 also set a record for combined harness and Thoroughbred attendance (15,855,660) and handle ($1,235,404,012).

This temperate December day (sunny and without wind, according to Nichols), was apparently quite an occasion, “…so important that it served to attract the surprisingly large crowd of 54,204.”

Rocky Link won the featured Stuyvesant; the year ended with Bobby Ussery as leading jockey with 257 winners and Buddy Jacobson as leading trainer with 112. The final race of the year was won by Temperley, who paid $69.70.

It appears that no particular attention was paid to the return of the Stuyvesant after such a long absence; it simply resumed its place on the New York stakes schedule, where it remained for forty-five years. One might have thought that the Stuyvesant had found itself a happy and permanent home on the New York racing calendar.

Not so much.

Yesterday afternoon, David Grening blogged from Aqueduct in an alarmingly titled post that this year’s renewal of the Stuyvesant, scheduled for tomorrow, wouldn’t go. Only five horses had entered, and it was possible that only three would run. In a longer article later in the day, Grening reported that NYRA’s racing director, P.J. Campo, indicated that the future of the race might be in doubt. “‘There’s a lot of stakes that are going to be examined when we sit down and work through the stakes schedule.”’

While hardly carrying the history of the Ladies Handicap, which was run for the final time last year after its 137th renewal, and despite its inconsistent history, the Stuyvesant nonetheless is a piece of New York racing history, and it will come as no surprise to regular readers that I’d be sad to see it disappear. I understand that you can’t run races if horses don’t want to run in them, and I understand those who bemoan the surfeit of graded stakes races. Too few older horses are sticking around to run in races like this, especially in the late fall, so it’s tough to quibble with NYRA’s decision.

Still…with the race goes its history, the accomplishments of its winners, and tradition, so often the victims of more practical and pressing considerations. Borrowing Base will go down in the record books as the last winner of the Ladies Handicap; perhaps Dry Martini will do the same for the Stuyvesant.

Field, Bryan. “Chicolorado, 5-1, First at Jamaica.” New York Times. 25 April 1937. Web. 13 Nov. 2009. (Subscription/payment required)

Nichols, Joe. “54,204 Watch Rocky Link Score Among Thoroughbreds.” New York Times. 8 Dec. 1963. Web. 13 Nov. 2009. (Subscription/payment required)

The Stuyvesant Handicap.” NYRA.com. New York Racing Association. 13 Nov. 2009.

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