Happy Independence Day!
On this day when Americans celebrate life, liberty, and the pursuit of a Pick 6, going to the races seems as much a part of Fourth of July tradition as fireworks and hot dogs, with tracks across the country open for business and celebrations.
A working vacation in the Bluegrass will keep me from Belmont today, but those attending and playing should note the plethora of monarchy-related names on the card as sure bet-againsts on this day that celebrates freedom from royal tyranny; it would be downright unpatriotic to favor Royal Sighting (third), Eurosensation (sixth), King Henry (eighth), and Queen’splatekitten (ninth–but maybe we could make an exception here).
The Belmont card offers zilch in the way of patriotic hunch bets…but that may be a good thing, given how Independence Day theme names have fared in U.S. racing history. No shortage of them–but not many trips to the winner’s circle.
The 1952 Independence (Nasrullah-Miss Disco) was the best of the bunch; this steeplechaser earned $132,088 in 74 starts (12-17-6). A British-bred horse by the same name, foaled in 1998, never raced.
Independence Day was a HOL-bred (not Holland, surely? Any help here?) of 1997 — never made it to the races.
Good thing our colonial forces were more successful than Fourth of July (2001); he made 33 starts and won once, breaking his maiden in his 25th race. He did actually race on July 4 once: in 2003 at Calder, finishing third.
The 1941 Fourth of July fared a little better, with a record of 7-6-3 in 41 races. Fittingly perhaps, a 1988 Massachusetts-bred carried the same name: in 16 races, he hit the board once, finishing second. The 1970 Fourth of July raced 36 times with two wins, seven seconds, and four thirds.
Fortunately for our country, the work of our founding fathers is more memorable and historical than the race records of their namesakes. Thomas Jefferson, who last raced at Churchill Downs on June 29th (he finished seventh) is 1-1-1 in 9 races.
The 2007 John Adams never, apparently, made it to the races.
No US-bred horse has ever carried the name of Benjamin Franklin, but the Argentine namesake (2008) compiled a respectable 8-3-2-1 record. His 2003 Irish-bred counterpart was not so lucky, never racing.
Can we be forgiven for a touch of smugness as we note how the King Georges have fared? The 1981 version raced 26 times, with one win and one third-place finish. The 1996 and 2007 King Georges were both unraced.
Less politically, Hot Dog (2001) raced 29 times, finishing in the top three 14 times; his 1975 counterpart raced 73 times, earning $17,147 with a record of 5-6-11.
Fireworks (1987) didn’t produce any, with one win in six starts.
And only one Cold Beer–the 1983 foal–made it to the races (65-6-11-10).
Whether you spend your holiday at a race-track or elsewhere, best wishes for a happy, safe Fourth of July. I’ll be celebrating in ways both traditional (beer and a barbecue for dinner) and not (Mexican food for lunch), and indulging in my favorite Independence Day moment, listening to the voices of National Public Radio reading the Declaration of Independence.