Shortly after Rachel Alexandra won the Haskell last summer and speculation bubbled about her next start, the conversations began: Suppose she goes in the Woodward? Is she Horse of the Year now, with wins in the Preakness and the Haskell? Has a three-year-old filly ever beaten older males?
The answer to the last question was a resounding yes: both Twilight Tear and Busher beat older males en route to being simultaneously named champion three-year-old filly, champion handicap mare, and Horse of the Year, Busher in 1945 and Twilight Tear the year before. And the older male that Twilight Tear beat was Devil Diver.
We recall Devil Diver this weekend because of his two consecutive wins in the Paumonok Handicap, to be run at Aqueduct this weekend. He won it in 1944 and 1945, two years in which he racked up some pretty impressive victories, beating some pretty remarkable horses.
In his four year career, Devil Diver (St. Germans – Dabchick) compiled a record of 47–22–12-2. At two, he won the Sanford, the Hopeful, and the Breeders’ Futurity; at three, he won the Phoenix and placed in the Pimlico Futurity, the Jerome, and the Vosburgh; at four, Devil Diver added the Toboggan, the Met Mile, the Carter, and the Brooklyn to his résumé. For those accomplishments, he was named handicap co-champion in 1943. Count Fleet was Horse of the Year.
Returning to the track for his five-year-old year, Devil Diver picked up where he left off: he won the Paumonok in his first start of the year, then went on to win the Toboggan, the Met Mile (again), the Whitney, and the Manhattan. Heading into November and his final start of the year, his owners at Greentree must have felt confident that they had a Horse of the Year on their hands…but it was there, at Pimlico, that Devil Diver ran into Twilight Tear, and where he likely lost Horse of the Year honors.
Devil Diver finished second in the three-horse field; Twilight Tear won it by six lengths, “galloping,” according to the Daily Racing Form. And when racing honors for 1944 were handed out, it was the filly who was named Horse of the Year, while Devil Diver had to settle for being handicap champ.
1945, Devil Diver’s last year of racing, brought him continued acclaim and success: he added a second consecutive Paumonok, an unmatched third consecutive Met Mile, and his first Suburban. But unfortunately, 1945 also counted among its stars Stymie and Busher; the former took handicap honors, while the latter followed in the footsteps of Twilight Tear.
Hearty congratulations are due to Rachel Alexandra for her magnificent season and well deserved Horse of the Year title; she is, as Jess Jackson prematurely called her in June, a champion. But as we acknowledge her greatness, we must, I think, also put her accomplishments in historical context: they are at least in part, unfortunately, so remarkable because they are so rare these racing days, and she has not, I don’t think, yet beaten the likes of a Devil Diver.
Devil Diver was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980, further burnishing Twilight Tear’s legacy—she beat an older horse twice named champion, an eventual Hall of Famer. Let us see whether, in this eagerly anticipated four-year-old campaign, Rachel Alexandra can—has the opportunity—to do the same.
My interest in Twilight Tear was born last spring, when I wrote about her for the Belmont program; or further reading on this topic, see Kevin Martin at Colin’s Ghost.
Champions. New York: Daily Racing Form Press, 2000.
“Devil Diver.” Racingmuseum.org. National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Web. 23 Jan 2010.
Nichols, Joseph C. “Devil Diver Beats Apache at Jamaica.” Nytimes.com. New York Times. 25 May 1945. Web. 22 Jan 2010. (subscription required)
Richardson, William D. “45,796 Wager $2,601,836 as Devil Diver Shows Way To Apache in Inaugural Racing Feature at Jamaica.” Nytimes.com. New York Times. 9 April 1944. Web. 22 Jan 2010. (subscription required)