The Past and the Futurity at Mill Ridge

Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of touring Mill Ridge Farm with Ed DeRosa. We looked at yearlings being prepped for the Keeneland and Saratoga sales; gazed on foals gamboling with their mothers; and listened to stories about the farm’s long and auspicious history.

Kent Hollingsworth, in an undated article from his collection The Archjockey of Canterbury, wrote of Mill Ridge that it’s “a 400-acre section of Beaumont Farm, purchased in 1880 by George Washington Headley, enlarged by his son, Hal Petit Headley, and made famous by his son, Hal Price Headley.”

The parcel of Beaumont land on which Mill Ridge sits was given by Headley to his daughter, Alice Chandler, the farm’s owner.  Her son, Headley Bell, Mill Ridge’s managing partner, was our Tuesday tour guide, and listening to him talk is like walking through generations of racing and breeding history.

Part of that history sits just off the main entrance to the farm’s offices, where hangs a large framed account of the 1937 Futurity, won by Beaumont homebred Menow.

Hal Price Headley’s signature mare, Alcibiades, won the Debutante in 1929 and the Kentucky and Arlington Oaks in 1930; regarded as a champion in both of those years, in 1935 she foaled a colt by the British-bred Pharamond, whom Headley had purchased from Lord Derby. That colt was Menow.

He was trained by Duval Headley, nephew of Hal Price Headley, and had won just one of four starts, that one by a nose, when he came to Belmont for the Champagne in September of 1937. At odds of 12-1, he dispatched a field that included Bull Lea, winning by four lengths. His Daily Racing Form chart reads, “Easily best.”

A month later, that publication used the same words to describe Menow’s win in the Futurity, that one, too, by four lengths. His odds were significantly lower that October afternoon, when, according to the New York Times, he set a new world record of 1:15 1/5 for six and a half furlongs.  Wrote Bryan Field, “He stamped himself a colt of the highest class.”

“He came to contention strongly halfway through the race, and drew ahead just about as he pleased. There was nothing to it. That was how easily the colt took the lead, and how easily he won.” (Field)

Described as “jubilant,” the Headleys, according to Field, took “double satisfaction” in the victory, as breeders and as owners. (Click on photos to enlarge them.)

Menow’s Futurity was run, according to William H.P. Robertson, on the Belmont Park straightaway; this Times photo indicates that the races were still being run from left to right.  The 1905 map provides a sense of the track’s layout; horses would have started in the chute running in front of what is now the clubhouse.

Menow would be named two-year-old champion and go on the Derby trail in 1938, but after disappointing runs in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness (fourth and third respectively), Menow came back to Belmont, running his record to three-for-three over the big track in the Withers. Concerned about distance limitations, his connections elected to keep him out of the Belmont, sending him to Suffolk Downs to run in the Massachusetts Handicap. He won by eight, defeating reigning Horse of the Year War Admiral.

Following retirement in the fall of 1938, Menow returned to Beaumont Farm, where he sired Tom Fool, who would follow in his father’s footsteps as a Futurity winner and two-year-old champion.  Tom Fool would also be crowned champion sprinter and horse of the year in 1953.

And in a delightful confluence of events, while in Lexington I interviewed John Gaver III, grandson of John Gaver, who trained Tom Fool for Greentree Stables. A profile of Gaver III to follow.

Menow is reportedly buried at Mill Ridge, but we visited horses that will race for the farm in the future, not those that raced in the past, so we didn’t see the equine cemetery. Perhaps, though, somewhere on that farm is the winner of the 2012 Futurity, who will follow in the impressive horseshoes of the Beaumont/Mill Ridge runners who came before him.

Sources

Belmont Park Opens To-Day With Big Race.” New York Times. May 4, 1905.

Bowen, Edward L. Legends of the Turf: A Century of Great Thoroughbred Breeders (Vol. I). Lexington, Kentucky: Eclipse Press, 2003.

­­­

Field, Bryan. “30,000 at Belmont; Menow Goes 6 ½ Furlongs in1:15 1/5…” New York Times. October 3, 1937.

Hal Price Headley Dead at 73.”   New York Times. March 23, 1962.

Hollingsworth, Kent. The Archjockey of Canterbury and other tales. Lexington, Kentucky: The Blood-Horse, Inc. 1986.

Menow’s Pedigree Query page.

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

2 thoughts on “The Past and the Futurity at Mill Ridge

  1. Menow’s maternal grandam was also bred in Great Britain.

    Menow’s proclivity for mud worked to his advantage in the Mass. ‘Cap. Wired them as planned. He carried 107 to War Admiral’s 130 (an additional 8 pounds on top of the scale’s 15-pound spot for a 3-year-old in June). It was the only contest in War Admiral’s career in which he ran out of the money, disappointing the big crowd as the 2-5 favorite. Seabiscuit – also assigned 130 pounds – was a late, but not surprising, scratch.

    Interesting connection: Kurtsinger in the irons on War Admiral in the Mass. ‘Cap, had ridden Menow to victory in the Champagne and the Futurity. He probably knew better than any of the big crowd at Suffolk Downs how hopeless his situation was when Menow shot to the lead. He is credited with being the first to be aboard for victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont and Futurity in the same year. War Admiral in ’37 was Triple Crown winner.

    Delightful story whose details I invite you to read from the original:
    Joe Palmer was on hand when Hal Price Headley journeyed to Delaware Park to observe a workout for Menow. Uncle did not want to see the colt worked too fast, but nephew conspired with the rider to do exactly that. Palmer says he broke the Delaware Park 9-furlong mark in the work. Find the original, in Palmer’s deliciously unmatchable style, in This Was Racing.

    Morris Park’s tumbling Toboggan course, Sheepshead Bay’s Futurity Course, and Belmont’s were some of the famous straight courses. Many of the world’s great tracks retain such courses, and races run upon them have charms that races around turns do not. The courses played to the “more the merrier” giddiness that surrounded futurity races, shedding light on the many admirable comments in contemporary newspapers directed at the skills of the starter.

    Will investigate further, but I suspect that by 1937 the Futurity Course from the illustration had been abandoned in favor of the Widener Chute. There are excellent views, dated 1948, of the chute in New York State’s Fairchild Aerial Photographic archive. It ran diagonally from the far northeast reaches of the property beyond the training oval, and slashed across both the training oval and the main course towards the head of the stretch.

    The old Futurity Course, like the mile-and-a-quarter chute on the clockwise-running backstretch, were dropped somewhere along the line, perhaps as early as the transition to counterclockwise racing. The old course would have started out by Plainfield Ave.

    While on the subject, take a look at the course illustrated, and you can see the wild – today unfamiliar – ride that made the Belmont Course (for the Stakes). The 1 3/8 miles served from 1906-1925, and they ran nearly a full circuit on the training oval with left turns, before turning right on the main course for the right-turning run from today’s clubhouse turn to the wire — much closer to today’s turn for home than the finish line’s current position. The basic “skeleton” of the track are there today, but the shape of racing has changed greatly down the years.

  2. A thought occurred:

    If we are going to have the Futurity and Matron this early in the season, perhaps starting with 2014 (foals of 2012), we can make both races what they actually were for many years in terms of being futurities: Start with a foal payment in 2012, then yearling payments in 2013 and then a early two year old season payment in 2014. This could lead up to trials at five and a half furlongs that could headline the card of the Thursday before the Belmont Stakes, carrying the same purse as a typical NW1x Allowance with the first x number of finishers making the actual races. The actual Futurity and Matron races (that would essentially be finals) then would be held on the July 4th weekend and could be guaranteed to be worth $250,000, but would carry at least $150,000 in added money. That, like the increase in purses for maiden races for two year olds to $60,000 for this season at Belmont might help in having more two year olds available later to fill NW1x/NW2L Allowance events that can make things easier for everyone, especially heading towards Saratoga. Given where we are in the sport these days, this might very well work.

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