Over the last couple of years, the Shuvee Handicap at Belmont has offered the occasion to consider the magnificent horse who, en route to winning handicap mare honors in 1970 and 1971, twice won the Jockey Club Gold Cup, back when it was a two-mile race. In 2008, we could talk about Shuvee in the context of Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby; last year, we could talk about her as Rachel Alexandra got ready to run in the Preakness.
Devil May Care’s Derby doesn’t offer quite the same comparison; still, though the Shuvee has been run only 34 times, it provides a welcome opportunity to recall, in ways both silly and significant, some of the terrific fillies and mares who have won it over the past few decades.
A quick look at past winners reveals that the race has been won five times by horses whose name start with the same letter as Shuvee’s: Seattle Smooth (also entered this year); Society Selection; Storm Flag Flying; Sky Beauty; Shiny Band. Allen Jerkens has won the race five times, Shug McGaughey four; between them, that’s 25% of the runnings. Alliteratively named horses have won eight times: Seattle Smooth, Cowgirls Don’t Cry, Society Selection, Storm Flag Flying, Inside Information, Missy’s Mirage, Mississippi Mud.
(I told you there’d be some silliness.)
And let’s go back a moment–Allen Jerkens has won it five times?
The Shuvee was inaugurated in 1976, and Jerkens won it for the first time in 1992, with Missy’s Mirage, a multiple-graded stakes winner whose younger half-sister, Classy mirage, Jerkens also trained to multiple stakes victories.
The estimable Sky Beauty was Jerkens’ second Shuvee winner, in 1994. As a juvenile in 1992, Sky Beauty crossed the wire first in the first five starts of her racing career, including the G2 Adirondack, the G1 Spinaway, and the G1 Matron; she was disqualified in the Spinaway and placed third. Her streak of outfinishing her competitors ended with a second in the Bonnie Miss, but started right back up with the summer series for three-year-old fillies.
She won the Triple Tiara (the Acorn, the Mother Goose, and the Coaching Club American Oaks), the Alabama, and the Rare Perfume—five graded stakes races in a row, four of them Grade I’s. After tossing in a clunker in the 1993 Distaff—which cost her divisional honors–she then won her first five starts of 1994: all graded stakes, four of them Grade I’s. In her first 17 starts, she won fifteen and finished second once.
Sky Beauty’s Shuvee:
In 2002, Jerkens came away with a win that contributed to his “Giant Killer” reputation—a reputation recently reinforced with Le Grand Cru’s major upset in the Westchester. Like Le Grand Cru in that race, Shiny Band was the longest shot in the Shuvee, at 17-1. More than once, I’ve heard the Chief talk about entering a horse in a race that he didn’t think he could win. But, he will say, “The third place check is pretty nice, too.”
And following Shiny Band’s win in the Shuvee, jockey Robbie Davis told the Daily Racing Form, “’The Chief said just go out there and get a check.’” And get a check he did, for the winner’s share of the purse.
One of the first horses that I loved when I came back to racing in the mid-eighties was Society Selection; I saw her Alabama in 2004, and that race, along with Afleet Alex’s Sanford, is what hooked me right back into horse racing.
Society Selection had been injured early in the year at Gulfstream and had been off for several months before the Shuvee. Her entry was a Jerkens audible. “’I wasn’t planning on running in this race until she worked too fast one day when a horse [broke] off in front of her. We figured she must have been pretty fit,’” he told the Form. Good move, Allen.
Jerkens’ most recent win in the Shuvee came in 2007, with Teammate. Teammate was competitive in stakes races through 1996 and 1997, sometimes racing against her stablemate, Miss Shop. When the two were in together, I invariably bet the wrong one. Invariably.
In the 2007 Shuvee, Teammate raced against stablemate Swap Fliparoo, who finished last; as the second choice in the race, Teammate beat heavily favored Sugar Shake by half a length. Jerkens wanted his filly to win a Grade I—“’It would be nice for her and her mother [Starry Dreamer] to get a Grade I,’” he said after the race—and he pointed Teammate to the Phipps at Belmont. She raced against Miss Shop in that one but finished last, and retired without a Grade I on her resume; her best finish was a second in the 2006 Alabama, which was won by Pine Island.
No starters for the Chief in this year’s Shuvee; it’s a small field, as it’s often been, and marks the return of Seattle Smooth, last year’s winner, after nearly a year away from the track. As Shuvee winners not uncommonly do, last year Seattle Smooth then went to the Phipps Handicap, which she won; she was injured before her summer campaign and makes her comeback this Saturday.
All of Jerkens’ Shuvee winners went on to the Phipps (or the Hempstead as it used to be known); only Missy’s Mirage and Sky Beauty completed the Shuvee-Phipps double. It would be nice to see Seattle Smooth follow in their hoofprints.