The tests for the two-year-olds: Saratoga 1910

Saratoga 2010 closes out with three stakes races that have been run for more than 100 years: the Spinaway, the Saranac, and the Hopeful. In 1910, where we’ve spent so much time this summer, the Spinaway was run on August 16th; the Saranac on August 18th; and the Hopeful on August 20th. The Spinaway and the Hopeful, both for two-year-olds, while important and rich stakes in their own right, were both preps for the Futurity.

The Futurity would ordinarily have been held at Sheepshead Bay, but as noted here previously, racing in New York State in 1910 would cease at the end of the Saratoga meet. The downstate tracks had declined the racing dates allotted to them in the face of anti-gambling laws in the State; a one-time dispensation was granted by the Coney Island Jockey Club to move three dates upstate, so that the Futurity, one of the richest races in the sport, could be held.

The Spinaway, a rich race for two-year-old fillies, went to Bashti.  She carried 122 pounds; Love Note, who finished second, carried 109, while the third-place finisher, Sweepsway, carried 112. Bashti nonetheless won by three lengths in a “common canter,” and was “at no time fully extended.” The New York Times reporter covering the race avowed that it “afforded an excellent line on her chances in the Futurity, where she will meet both the colts and the fillies.”

Though without implication for the Futurity, the 1910 Saranac was not run without incident. This race for three-year-olds was won by Martinez, and the report offers two items perhaps of interest to the contemporary reader.

The running of the Saranac Handicap saw some bumping in the stretch, and the backers of Martinez, the winner, had some uncomfortable moments before the red board was displayed.

The red board? Perhaps that board in Saratoga’s infield on which scratches are displayed, and which is as much a part of Saratoga tradition (if for all practical uses obsolete) as the 17-minute bell? Is this where the term “red board” comes from? And were red boards used at other tracks to indicate the winner?  Inquiring minds want to know…

For those who have been frustrated by what they consider inconsistency in the stewards’ rulings this summer and by the lack of clarity offered by the stewards’ reports: take heart. You are not alone. You apparently have century-old company in those who wagered on the Saranac:

Martinez made his run on the outside, and as he crossed to the rail it appeared that he crowded Lovetie against Starbottle. After this mix-up Martinez came away to win very easily by five lengths, and the manner in which he finished left no doubt of his being the best in the field. Dugan lodged a complaint of foul on behalf of Starbottle, and Scoville made a like claim on behalf of Mrs. Livingston’s colt. There was a lengthy wait before it was finally decided that Martinez had not offered sufficient interference to warrant his being disqualified.

“Sufficient interference.”  Current stewards, take note?

Novelty was the star of the 1910 meet; when it was all over, he had won five races in 27 days at the Spa. He came to Saratoga unheralded; he left a presumptive champion.

Novelty had raced three times at Saratoga before the Hopeful, winning twice. He was not considered among the top competition in the race because it was thought that he couldn’t carry 130 pounds against the top-notch two-year-olds against which he was running, but for the third time at the meet, Novelty silenced his doubters, and he did so carrying five more pounds than the two horses that finished behind him, leading the Times reporter to proclaim:

… his performance to-day caused his stock to boom for that big prize to be decided August 31.

That “big prize” was the Futurity, held that year for the first and only time at Saratoga. It would feature the winners of both the Spinaway and the Hopeful.

The Times indicates that the betting public favored nearly equally the filly and the colt, and the result supported their opinions: Novelty by a length over Bashti, who carried nine fewer pounds and who overcame a bad start to garner the place.

Bashti was beaten, but not disgraced, for she was the victim of a bit of hard luck at the start, and to race into second place she easily demonstrated that she is the best filly of the year…

Such praise seems nearly muted compared to the panegyrics heaped on Sam Hildreth’s Novelty:

Never in the history of racing in Saratoga has there been such a crowd on the picturesque old course as that which cheered Novelty to victory. It was a crowd of enthusiasts, and as the field swept through the stretch there was mighty cheering that continued until the last horse had passed the winning post. On the return of the sturdy little champion to the scales he received another ovation, and it is doubtful if there ever was a winner of the coveted of the two-year-old races who was more heartily acclaimed after he had won. It was a race worthy of the best traditions of the Futurity, and was won by a colt, who, by his previous excellent races, had made himself the most popular horse that raced during the long Saratoga meeting.

[Note: Long Saratoga meeting? 27 days? Wimps.]

Those of us who love Saratoga began the countdown days ago…this many more days, this many more races, this many more mornings enjoying a glorious sunrise over the Saratoga backstretch. Imagine, though, what racing fans must have felt on August 31st, 1910.

Two races were run after that remarkable Futurity, and then racing was gone from New York for nearly three years. Gone. What profound sadness might have settled over the Spa crowd on that August afternoon, what might those patrons have been thinking as they considered that Sheepshead Bay would not open as scheduled in September?

The last afternoon at Saratoga is a melancholy ritual, deep pleasure mixing with profound sadness. It’s nearly impossible to tear myself away…but at least I know that within a few days, we’ll have Belmont.

It’s been fun to wander through 1910 this summer, to think about racing a century ago, to draw some straight lines from the Spa then to the Spa now.  I’ve encountered horses and races that I wish that I’d seen, and I note gratefully that we are not looking at a racing shutdown in New York, and that the rich history of the sport survives here.

Saratoga 2010’s not over; not yet. But Saratoga 1910 is. We have no Novelty this year, but maybe Le Mi Geaux can be our Bashti, and if we’re lucky, we’ll get a final weekend of racing as memorable as the fans did a hundred years ago.

Sources and further reading

Hildreth’s Novelty Wins The Futurity.” Sept 1, 1910. New York Times.

Jockey Breaks Leg at Saratoga Track.” Aug 19, 1910. New York Times. (recap of the Saranac)

Novelty Easily Wins the Hopeful.” Aug 20, 1910. New York Times.

Running of Saratoga Special celebrates 100-year anniversary of underdog triumph by Novelty at Saratoga Race Course.” Aug 16, 2010. Saratogian.

Spinaway Stakes Goes to Bashti.” Aug 17, 1910. New York Times.

3 thoughts on “The tests for the two-year-olds: Saratoga 1910

  1. Poor Bashti: Another bad start for the record books! Ah well, that was 1910.

    As to “red-boarding,” this is a very old term that is used derisively about the know-it-all who confidently explains why a horse won or lost a race — anybody come to mind?

    It would seem racetracks, and probably New York tracks because of their prominence long ago in the sport/business, raised an “Official” sign to publicly declare a race’s status, that sign painted a red color. Hence, a descriptive beginning for all the excuses and explanations that would be delivered by that race’s ear-shot turf authority.

  2. As always, Marshall, thanks so much for the historical information. I hear the term “red-board” used today to describe someone who, after a race is run, proudly proclaims he/she had the winner.

    Would love to find photos of those early red boards.

  3. So would I.

    I think you correctly pegged the “red board’s” former location at our anachronistic infield Race Changes hoist, alongside the 21st century illuminated, and newly legible, mutuel displays where race payoffs can be found. Odd isn’t it how a simple red-painted rectangular piece of wood could so easily serve the same purpose; and simultaneously spawn a colorful comment upon human behaviour….

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