Effortlessly Artful

from the collection of the National Museum of Racing

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?

from Robertson; property Keeneland-Cook

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.

7 thoughts on “Effortlessly Artful

  1. Hi, Teresa,

    What a satisfying memory you have brought to us of the filly Artful. Congratulations on a job so well done; one that is so interesting for its characters and newspaper accounts, and one that is so pertinent to today’s nearly identical dramas, though of contrasting values!

    Pond’s prescient “What, indeed, will be the later history of (Sysonby and Artful)”… and your, “history of racing”… strike home where it counts: NYRA is now boasting an increase to its Aqueduct Winter/Spring daily purse distribution of $100,000. Is that, now, all there is to Racing? Money?

    Thank you for sharing your excellent research and writing skills, and for keeping the sport of horseracing at the forefront.

  2. You mentioned the Brighton Beach in your post, and there is a longstanding quirk concerning the Brighton Beach and this coming Saturday’s (October 1) Kelso Stakes that has been a pet peeve on my part: I don’t think many currently with NYRA realize that the current Kelso Stakes actually was renamed from the Brighton Beach Handicap in 1984, when it was also lengthened from the Brighton Beach’s distance of 1 1/16 Miles to 1 1/4 Miles (before being shortened to the current mile distance in 1988) and the then-Grade 3 race’s purse was as I recall doubled from $50,000 to $100,000 added (the Brighton Beach Handicap was a Grade 3, $50,000 added event (then the minimum purse for Graded status) in 1983, the last year it was contested as the Brighton Beach). This is notable because the Brighton Beach’s history of the race currently known as the Kelso is long forgotten, having been most notably won by John Henry in 1980.

    There also was a Kelso Handicap at two miles on dirt (worth I believe $100,000 added) from 1980-’82 won twice by Peat Moss, but that Kelso Handicap was completely separate from the current Kelso Stakes and was discontinued after 1982.

    I did a major correction of the page for the Kelso Stakes on Wikipedia to reflect this at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelso_Stakes

  3. Marshall:

    Saw your post after I finished mine on the forgotten history of the current Kelso Stakes when it was known as the Brighton Beach Handicap (which I think you would know better than anyone since you actually called the former Brighton Beach as well as the three runnings of the original Kelso Stakes in the early ’80s), and I totally understand where you come from on money.

    As much as many would hate to admit, the fact is, money does matter, and the purse increases that are coming from this are going to seriously help keep horses that otherwise would go to Florida for the winter in New York and likely entice a number of New Jersey-based horses that have raced the past few winters at Parx Racing (where many claiming races actually go for higher purses than NYRA tracks) to instead race at Aqueduct. As much as I would myself like to re-do the purse structure so more of the purse money is earmarked for Allowance races, there simply aren’t enough of those horses anymore with limited exceptions, so the strategy of going with the money in claimers is the right call for now.

    That said, I’ll go back to what I said previously, and I would like to see NYRA be able to severely reduce the number of days they have to race between December 1 and April 30 to a more realistic number for this time and place. That would allow me to implement a plan that I think even with severely increased purses would lead to better quality racing in the winter, which would be:

    The Saturday after Thanksgiving is the last scheduled day of racing until after Christmas. After that, racing does not resume until December 26, with racing every day between then and either January 1, 2, 3 or 4 depending on when New Year’s falls on the calendar, then going Saturdays and Sundays only (plus Martin Luther King Day) for the rest of January and then adding Fridays (plus Presidents Day) in February and March, gradually going from 10 to 11 and finally 12 or 13 races on a card, borrowing a strategy that has allowed Monmouth Park to maximize revenue from handle on the days when the most people are at the track and betting via simulcast. It may not be perfect, but it may be the best strategy for this day and place.

  4. Walt,

    I was being rhetorical for the moment, and also sharing the frustration I feel every time I read how a race’s purse money is ballyhooed with puffed-out-chest pride.

    I know that purse money, and lots of it, matters a great deal to racetracks’ bottom lines and to those who own Thoroughbreds so they can stand a chance of paying for their business and fun. And that monetary appreciation streams horizontally along the food chain to the penultimate beneficiary, he or she who is presented larger field sizes for the better distribution of wagering odds — of course, state taxes get the final measure. It all makes financial sense, I know, but I am still repelled by the embarrassing need of racetracks to swell purses as an attractant.

    This quirk in perception, my parochial views and probably a throwback to New York’s one-time supremacy, also compromises my appreciation for the positive impact of each year’s Breeders’ Cup extravaganza; which, not incidentally, makes a very big deal of the million-dollar purses it puts forward in the name of competition. No matter how much money is thrown into the ring, the assembled horses can only compete to their trained ability that day (or night), at best — the extraordinary purses do not guarantee optimum performance from every competitor at that venue.

    Meanwhile, well-established stakes schedules that have been historically designed to bring horses back together, over time and at progressive distances as demanding rules of engagement in the name of competition, are relegated to an unimportant status unless they are expressly coordinated with the offensive Breeders’ Cup homage each year.

    I know this train of thought veers sharply from Teresa’s general racing content (and probably doesn’t even belong here), but it does go a very long way toward explaining my rhetoric quip about NYRA’s purse increase announcement.

    Also, Walt, I always enjoy reading your well-thought-out treatises on all things Racing.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for the comments, and for appreciating this terrific filly. What a find she was, as I browsed the archives last week.

    Marshall, it strikes me as I read your thoughtful reflections about purses that perhaps things aren’t so different now…as we see in the purse enhancement to get Artful and Sysonby to race each other. Even when the racing world was populated with rich families, high purses were used as a way to attract the best horses. The Futurity is often noted, with a good deal pride, as the richest race run in an given year.

    I’m happy to see the higher purses at Aqueduct, for the people I know in all levels of racing. While I wish that racing weren’t dependent on gaming revenue to inflate its purses, I’ll be happy to see the winter horsemen and women (from trainers to jockeys to grooms) able to make a bit more money.

  6. Hi, Teresa,

    Yes, your counterpoints are appreciated and cannot be contested. Individual races’ purses were spiked for unique matchings throughout racing history; I agree. New York’s Great Match Race of 1975 went through several modifications before the contestants themselves and the purse were finally determined for Foolish Pleasure and Ruffian that fateful July 6th. “Convenience and Typecast” also experienced several purse escalations to assure their presence at Hollywood Park… Chris Evert and her opponent made the scene. The manic 1970s and 1980s displayed lots of wheeling and dealing across the country to make special races take place, many more than I can come up with at the moment. Yes, special races sometimes demand special purses to make them happen.

    As to the Futurity, its purse has been exceptionally large throughout its history because of that race’s structure: As a “Futurity,” nominations with attached nominating fees were required upon successful cover; then larger continuing fees were required after one year; then after another year; then by a date specific; then upon the race’s advertised Closing; then upon Entry; and finally upon breaking from the barrier. After such a series of graduated payments consisting of almost the entire originating foal crop at first, the resultant purse was phenominally large as compared with the usual added-money stakes races of the time. As a brief aside, long ago, one of the primary responsibilities of the Belmont Park Clerk of the Course was to keep accurate records of these payments alone. I’m not sure the Futurity purse is so complicated nowadays, though.

    But, I don’t want to become side-tracked. My personal problem with astronomical purses and the Breeders’ Cup centers upon what appears to be a systemic reliance upon purse size to create ongoing interest in ongoing races, not the occasional special event. Maybe like aiming for the easiest catch, a television audience — Money matters most, to become alliterative — rather than participating in established events that lead sequentially to an overall “winner.”

    Despite the Travers’ gargantuan purse, I think the Saratoga meet serves well an example of graduated competition over time during its own short span.

    I, too, am for the winter horsemen and women who work the Aqueduct meet. We’re all in this kettle together and must make ends meet despite Racing’s sometimes unnatural solutions — that too often go to the few.

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