Sagamore Farm: Honoring The Past, Not Living In It

Sagamore visiting hoursThe name “Sagamore Farm” recalls racing royalty, both human and equine. Given to Alfred G. Vanderbilt, Jr. in 1933 by his mother, Sagamore bred and raced such equine luminaries as Native Dancer, Bed o’Roses, and Discovery; Vanderbilt himself served as president of Pimlico and chairman of the board of the New York Racing Association. The history of racing can’t be written without him, his farm, and his horses.

Vanderbilt and Sagamore twice won the Aqueduct Handicap, which will be run for the 93rd time this weekend, only now it’s called the Evening Attire, after the horse who won it in 2002.  Vanderbilt’s first victory came in 1935 with Good Gamble, the second in 1954 with Crash Dive.

The chestnut filly Good Gamble (Chance Play-Triangle) waged an impressive 3-year-old campaign. In addition to winning the Aqueduct Handicap—against males—she won the Potomac, the Saranac, the Acorn, and the Test. She was second in the Alabama and the Dwyer, in the latter finishing second by a length and a half to Triple Crown winner Omaha.

Her Aqueduct Handicap victory was, apparently, a memorable one for both its beginning and its end. The start was so bad that three horses were left with virtually no chance, while writer Bryan Field described the race as “bitterly fought,” as Good Gamble held off a charging Count Arthur (Reigh Count-Abbatissa) to win by a nose.  Wrote Field,

The luck of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, which has been the talk of the turf all season, was good enough yesterday to survive a bad start, a disqualification and a nose finish to give him his twenty-ninth stake victory of the season.

Nineteen years later, a Sagamore horse returned to the winner’s circle for the Aqueduct Handicap. Vanderbilt and Sagamore had been in the forefront of U.S. racing with Native Dancer in 1952 and 1953; the homebred was voted champion in both years, and in 1954, he’d be champion older horse and horse of the year. His retirement had been announced in the Times on August 23 of that year (an injury had recurred during a “fast ten-furlong workout”) , and a week later, four-year-old Crash Dive (Devil Diver-Canfli) won his first stakes race.

The Aqueduct Handicap was run on opening day of the Aqueduct meet (after the “four-week session at dear old Saratoga”). Raced twice at two and unraced at three, Crash Dive brought his record to six wins from eight starts, paying $4.30 as the favorite in a race that he won easily.

Crash Dive, Eric Guerin up, went along in second place in the mile-and-a-sixteenth run till they returned to the stretch. Crash Dive went past Expletive near the three-sixteenths pole—and that was the horse race, as far as first money was concerned.

[Love this: Expletive was sired by By Jimminy.]

Vanderbilt sold Sagamore Farm in 1986, and in 2007 Kevin Plank of Under Armour purchased it. While mindful and respectful of the past (in a 2010 video he said, “Sagamore’s not the kind of place that…anybody owns, as much as you take care of it for a period of time”), Plank is creating a vibrant racing presence as the next chapter of the farm’s storied history is written.

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club

On December 31, the Sagamore homebred Walkwithapurpose won the Maryland Juvenile Filly Champion Stakes, romping by eight lengths for her third consecutive win. According to the farm’s website, Sagamore Racing’s 2012 record was 17-9-21 from 104 starts.

Earlier this month, Sagamore launched an online store featuring farm-branded hats, shirts, sweatshirts, and jackets by Under Armour.  Purchases will be accompanied by what Sagamore is calling a “keepsake” that features information on the farm and horses to watch in 2013.

And on Monday, bringing together past and present, Sagamore Racing will sponsor the Native Dancer Stakes, celebrating the farm’s most illustrious inhabitant.

“We are honored and excited for the opportunity to partner with the Maryland Jockey Club for this special race,” said Tom Mullikin, Sagamore Racing’s general manager, in a press release. “Native Dancer is and will always remain a Sagamore Racing legend, and even as we look ahead to the upcoming race season, it is important that we remember and celebrate our deep-rooted history.”

“When you think of Sagamore, the first name that comes to mind is Native Dancer,” Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas said. “We are thrilled Kevin Plank and Tom Mullikin are putting the Sagamore name on Monday’s race.”

Tiger Walk, photo courtesy of Sagamore Racing

Tiger Walk, photo courtesy of Sagamore Racing

No Sagamore horses are entered in this year’s Aqueduct Handicap, but on Monday, the farm’s 4-year-old Tiger Walk (Tale of the Cat-Majestic Trail) is one of nine set to go in the Native Dancer. He’s yet to win his first stakes races, but if he can get it in this one, it may well have been worth the wait.

For more on Sagamore Farm, check out this post from last year.




Favored Crash Dive Beats G.R. Petersen as Racing Returns to Aqueduct.” James Roach, New York Times, August 31, 1954.
Good Gamble, 10-1, Wins By a Nose at Aqueduct.”  Bryan Field, New York Times, September 15, 1935.
Native Dancer, Winner of 21 of 22 Races, Is Retired From Competition.”  James Roach, New York Times, August 23, 1954.
Omaha, 7-10, First In Dwyer Stakes; Good Gamble Next.” Bryan Field, New York Times, June 30, 1935.



6 thoughts on “Sagamore Farm: Honoring The Past, Not Living In It

  1. Thanks for writing about Sagamore. My dad’s favorite race horse of all time was Native Dancer. And the Dancer just might be the most influential horse of modern racing. Take a look at how many champions his blood runs through. I was able to visit Native Dancer with my family at Sagamore a few months before the Gray Ghost passed away. When we saw him he was completely white. I also love to read about Alfred G. Vanderbilt. I always loved how clever he was with the naming of his horses.

  2. I have been lucky to visit Sagamore a few times, it’s like heaven on earth, absolutely beautiful….and thanks to Kevin Plank for undertaking the renovations of this beautiful farm. I’m an avid follower of their horses trying to catch their live races whenever possible. It’s a good thing I don’t live any closer than I do or I think I would find myself riding by the farm every day. It’s nice that this plot of land hasn’t been lost to some new tract housing developement!

  3. I believe Kevin Plank is or was trying to put Sagamore on to the US historical registry. I am so happy he bought and restored the farm an that he loves horseracing so much. He is the kind of owner the sport badly needs. Kevin Plank is a pretty interesting American success story in his own right if you know anything about UA.
    It’s pretty shrewd marketing hi product with his farm. I’ll buy some. I already have some UA stuff. It’s very functional and I like it. When I worked for Academy I was no secret that UA is really pushing Nike.
    I can think of no better steward for Sagamore farm than Kevin Plank. I think he is cool. I would Love to work for him.

  4. I love reading about people’s attachment to Sagamore, its history, and its horses, and the place sure seems to be in great hands. Best of luck them today at Laurel!

  5. Regarding Sagamore Farm and Native Dancer, if you visit the website picture 09-031 is a excellent photo of both. A.Aubrey Bodine was Maryland’s most famous photographer. Bodine was best known for a special section in the Sunday Baltimore Sun called the Brown section for his series of Sepia Prints which accompanied your paper. Bodine’s thousands of pictures recorded Maryland Life for decades. Jennifer Bodine, his daughter has created the website and offers his pictures for sale. I believe she may have more horse racing photographs which are not currently displayed including close ups of Native Dancer. In any case, Jennifer is a great person, would be a great interview, and the web site is worth a visit.

    • Larry, thank you so much for sharing this. The photos are terrific, and I’ll share Ms. Bodine’s website on my Twitter timeline (@BklynBckstretch) and Facebook page (Brooklyn Backstretch) as well. And I’d love to talk to Jennifer!

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