Haynesfield, Mad Hatter, and racing history

On Saturday afternoon at Aqueduct, Haynesfield got within a head of becoming the first horse to win the Suburban, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the NYRA/Cigar Mile. Longshot Jersey Town denied him that honor.

Following Haynesfield’s defeat, Cigar remains the only horse to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the NYRA Mile.  The name of the latter was changed in 1997, three years after Cigar’s win in the race.

Still, even without the Cigar Mile on his 2010 résumé, Haynesfield joins some elite company, doing something that only 16 other horses have done, in winning both the Suburban and the Jockey Club Gold Cup; the former race has been run 124 times, the latter 92.

Who else is on the list for that double?  Nashua. Sword Dancer. Kelso. Buckpasser. Forego. And another New York favorite, Easy Goer, though Haynesfield is the first New York-bred to do it. The most recent winner of both races is Mineshaft, in 2003. The first was Mad Hatter, who won the Gold Cup in 1921 and 1922 and the Suburban in 1924.

Mad Hatter was owned by Harry Sinclair’s Rancocas Stable and trained by Sam Hildreth, the duo that won a Kentucky Derby with Zev and three Belmont Stakes with Grey Lag, Zev, and Mad Play (more on that last one in a bit). They also won the Travers with Little Chief in 1922.

In 1921 and 1922, the Jockey Club Gold Cup was run on the same day as the Futurity, a race that attracted far more attention than the Gold Cup, and thus Mad Hatter’s wins weren’t lead stories, even though the horse won two of the first four editions of the race  – and his trainer Hildreth won three of the first four, as he had taken the inaugural Gold Cup with Purchase.

In his second victory, in 1922, Mad Hatter faced just two rivals after his stablemate Grey Lag scratched. The race “designed as the local season’s supreme test of stamina and speed” was then run at a distance of two miles, and Mad Hatter defeated Pillory and the filly Bit o’ White by two lengths.

Two years later, Mad Hatter got a little more attention when he won his first and only Suburban, in June of 1924.

Old Mad Hatter, which is fast coming to take the place of Exterminator as a public favorite on the race courses of the East, won the greatest triumph of his career yesterday afternoon at Belmont Park when he captured the thirty-eighth running of the famous Suburban Handicap…

The Suburban always carries a great appeal for the horsemen and there was a jam in the paddock after the third race to watch the stars of the East being saddled to uphold their honors against the invasion from the West in the form of Hal Price Headley’s great race mare, Chacolet… (“Mad Hatter First…”)

And remember Mad Play, one of the Rancocas/Hildreth Belmont winners? The three-year-old joined his eight-year-old full brother in the 1924 Suburban, leading the New York Times turf writer to opine, “Probably never before in the history of racing in this country have own brothers raced against each other in a stake of the importance of the Suburban.”

The Daily Racing Form account of the race suggests what the Times didn’t:

Mad Hatter and Mad Play performed a tremendously successful brother act in the running of the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park today, when the younger son of Fair Play and Mad Cap raced out to take care of the Greentree Stable’s Rialto, and then his older brother came along with a mighty rush to take down the $9,150 prize.

Mad Play settled for fourth in the Suburban, but he got his consolation a week later, when he became the third Rancocas/Hildreth runner to win the Belmont. Chacolet, the filly Western invader, finished sixth of seven in the Suburban.

The DRF noted that the “victory of Mad Hatter was a tremendously popular one and both horse and rider were riotously cheered when they came back to the scales.” One imagines that Haynesfield, certainly a local favorite, would have received a similar welcome to the winner’s circle had he managed to get his head in front of Jersey Town on Saturday afternoon.

And perhaps he did get that welcome…it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that even in defeat, the New York-bred got quite an ovation as he came back after his gutty performance. With nine wins in 15 starts, he’s won the affection of a lot of New York racing fans, and though he’s thrown in a few clunkers this year, he’s raced in four of New York’s most important races (the Suburban, the Whitney, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Cigar Mile), winning two and getting awfully close in a third. Though we’re unlikely to see him racing in 2014 at age 8, as Mad Hatter did, let’s hope that we’ll get to see him back in New York next year.

In this time of Thanksgiving, thanks to:

Sources quoted and consulted

Disqualification in the Kentucky Oaks; Suburban Handicap Goes to Mad Hatter.”  Daily Racing Form, June 1, 1924.

Mad Hatter First In The Suburban.”   New York Times, June 1, 1924.

Mad Hatter and Mad Play pages at Pedigree Query

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

Sally’s Alley Is Futurity Winner.” New York Times, September 17, 1922.

Whitney’s Bunting Captures Futurity.”  New York Times, September 11, 1921.

7 thoughts on “Haynesfield, Mad Hatter, and racing history

  1. Nice story Teresa. It is too bad Haynesfield didn’t manage to duplicate history. If so, I still would have gotten place/show $$$ with Jersey Town. Why can’t we have more Dead Heats? Zenyatta/Blame Hanesfield/Jersey Town etc. I never will forget the one in Breeders Cup. It took stewards ages to make it official, muddling up the whole TV sschedule timing a bit!!

  2. What do Haynesfield and Brooklyn Backstretch have in common? They’ve worked hard and made us think harder for more than two seasons!

  3. Teresa,

    This is a fun post. Mad Hatter and Mad Play were as good as their names, living up to the rascally behavior of their sire, Fair Play, who was not an angel at the barrier.

    Likewise, Fair Play’s great son Man o’ War was sometimes a handful at the start, but with the advent of starting gates, some of Man o’ War’s later offspring learned to have different behavior at the front end of the race.

    But War Admiral was not one of the quieter souls among the Man o’ War stock and even got his preferred walk-up start for the great match with Seabiscuit.


  4. No knock on Haynesfield, but it’s always tough to compare the accomplishments of horses (or humans) from different eras. How much of a “Handicap” is the Suburban, nowadays? Somewhere I have a picture that I took of a visibly disgusted Forego being unsaddled after the 1977 Suburban. He had just been nipped by Quiet Little Table who he had spotted a mere 24 lbs. (138-114) And Kelso actually won the JC Gold Cup 5 times!

  5. Thanks, everyone. It was fun digging around in archives to learn all of this. Frank, thanks for adding to the stories.

    DJ: I wasn’t trying to compare accomplishments, or to compare horses – there are just way too many variables to consider: other horses in the fields, weights, field sizes, when the races were run, etc. But in the history books, Haynesfield did what few horses have done, and as the first NY-bred to do so, merits, I think, at least that recognition.

  6. Great post! It’s funny how often we racing history buffs return to the 1920s for interesting stories like Mad Hatter’s. Truly, a Golden Age for the sport.

    (and thank you for the link and shout-out, as well.:-)

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