In September of 1905, a mere 106 years ago, the New York racing world had not yet returned to Belmont; its fall meet that year, the first year of the big track’s existence, would begin on October 2.
And as opening day approached, rumors abounded about a possible rematch of Sysonsby and Artful, who had met the previous year in the Futurity.
Artful was a 3-year-old filly, owned at the time by Harry Payne Whitney; his father, William Collins Whitney, a one-time president of the Saratoga Association, had bred her and died in February of her 2-year-old year, before she had gotten to the races.
Her career was short – eight races, six wins, two seconds – but impressive enough to garner her entrance to the Hall of Fame, a lot of column inches, and a major fan base.
Following the death of père Whitney, his stable was leased, according to the bereavement customs of the times. Herman Duryea, a friend of Whitney’s son Harry, raced the horses in his name, then offered them for sale. Whitney fils purchased several of his father’s stock, including Artful and her stablemate Tanya, winner of the 1905 Belmont, the last filly to win that race before Rags to Riches in 2007.
[I’m sure that there’s a very good reason that W.C. didn’t just leave his horses to H.P. so that his son didn’t have to buy them…but I have no idea what it is. The good news is that horsemen apparently thought that Artful was a sprinter “with her best scores behind her,” so H.P. got her for a mere $10,000. ]
Artful won three of five races as a juvenile; a 1905 New York Times article claims that those two losses were deliberate:
In two races last season Trainer [ John] Rogers caused Artful to be placed second, both times being pulled back to let her stable mates, Dreamer in one race and Princess Rupert in another, finish first, with the view to keeping the maiden allowance for Artful in the Futurity.
In Thoroughbred Champions, Edward L. Bowen quotes the Racing Form: “Artful, a genuine crackerjack, hard held and close up throughout, finished as easily and could probably have won.”
The strategy worked: Artful did win the Futurity, handing the great Sysonby his only loss and getting significant weight from him. He was reportedly drugged by his groom, and through the rest of Artful’s brief career, calls for a rematch were frequent, to decide which of the two was the better horse.
And in “the more things change, the more things stay the same” department, one turf writer commented at the end of the 1904 racing season,
The fact that fillies were first and second for the Futurity for the first time in the history of the stakes Saturday has served to make many turfmen doubt the application of the old maxim that when the fillies beat the colt the colts are a bad lot.
Gee, where have we heard that before?
In the summer of 2009, when Rachel Alexandra was set to take on older males in the Woodward, feverish research in racing circles began: had a 3-year-old filly ever beaten older males?
The answer was yes: Twilight Tear in the 1944 Pimlico Special, Busher in the 1945 Washington Park Handicap.
But guess what? Artful did it before both of them, in July 1905, in the Brighton Beach Handicap.
Local and contemporary reports suggested that Artful’s start in the Brighton Beach Handicap, even at a time when females racing against males was not uncommon, was noteworthy, as the daughter of Hamburg was the only 3-year-old in the race:
Horsemen declared that it was practically out of the bounds of reason to expect a filly three years old to beat good old horses over a mile and a quarter course, even with the advantage that she had in the weights. (New York Times)
And when she won, the praise rivaled – surpassed? – the panegyrics heaped on Rachel Alexandra:
Artful…in the winning achieved a feat that by all the traditions of the turf ranked among the impossibilities. The victory was the first that ever has been accomplished in the history of the great handicaps of the Metropolitan turf by a filly three years old, and she not only won, but actually romped home first before one of the best fields of the New York racing season.
On the same page as the account of her win was a report that the manager of the Brighton Beach track, Christopher J. Fitzgerald, offered $10,000 if Artful and Sysonby would take on each other at his track. The race would be open to other horses, but would only go with that purse money if both horses showed up.
And 106 years ago this week, that race was closer to happening than ever:
Conditional upon fair weather and a good track, the long talked of special race between the two stars of the turf for the season of 1905…seems to be a certainty for the Autumn meeting of the Brighton Beach Racing Association to be run next week.
Fitzgerald had apparently upped his offer to $15,000 to entice the two runners; all that remained was to settle the details with the connections of each horse.
And in a scenario all too familiar to those of us who have eagerly looked forward to such star-studded match-ups, the anticipated race never came to pass, much to the dismay of a rather contemptuous Wilf. B. Pond in Outing.
Of a race that might have matched not only Sysonby and Artful, but also included Hamburg Belle and Oiseau, Pond commented, “…as might have been expected, it fell through, owing to the same absence of real sporting spirit.” Ouch.
Pond’s writing at the end of 1905 indicates the importance of this lightly raced and “sweet-looking” filly, raising issues and posing questions not unfamiliar to the contemporary racing fan:
She won all three of her starts, and was handled very gingerly, no racing wind being allowed to blow on her too roughly.
In five years who will remember these circumstances? How many remember today that Kingston was bought hurriedly by the Dwyer Brothers, to make sure he would not beat and totally eclipse their mighty Hanover, who was the grandsire of Artful? …This is history. What will be the later history of Sysonby and Artful?
Artful was the co-champion 2-year-old filly in 1904; she shared honors again in 1905. The Blood-Horse puts her at #94 on its list of 100 best racehorses in the last century. In 1956, she was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Yet despite these honors and her victory over older males at 3, who remembers her? Pond’s question, though indignant and self-righteous, was a fair one, ringing with resonance today. What, indeed, will be the later history of racing?
Sources cited and consulted:
“Artful Always First in Brighton Handicap.” New York Times, July 9, 1905.
Artful’s page in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
“Artful Wins the Futurity Stakes.” New York Times. August 28, 1904.
Bowen, Edward L. Legacies of the Turf: A Century of Great Thoroughbred Breeders. Vol I. Lexington, Kentucky: Eclipse Press, 2003.
Hotaling, Edward. They’re Off! Horse Racing at Saratoga. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1995.
“Record Broken at Morris Park’s Last Day.” New York Times, October 16, 1904 (Artful’s win in the White Plains Handicap).
“Record Year for Racing: Sensational Performances by Mares a Feature of the Season.” New York Times, August 29, 1904.
Robertson, William H.P. The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America. Bonanza Books, 1964.
“Special Race Seems Certain.” New York Times, September 21, 1905.
“The Best Horse of the 1905 racing season,” Wilf. P. Pond in Outing: The Outdoor Magazine Of Human Interest, edited by Caspar Whitney. Vol XLVII, Oct, 1905-Mar 1906.
Thoroughbred Champions: Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century. Lexington, Kentucky: The Blood-Horse, 2003.