When racing returned to New York State after nearly three years, shuttered due to stringent anti-gambling restrictions, the Brooklyn Handicap, first run in 1887, came with it. With survival, though, came transplantation, as the race was moved out of its eponymous borough, from the Gravesend track to Belmont Park.
And with transplantation came a whiff of disdain from the local turf writer, who referred to the race as the “somewhat historic Brooklyn Handicap” in his coverage of Whisk Broom II’s length and a half victory on June 21, 1913, three weeks after the colt owned by Harry Payne Whitney had won the Metropolitan Handicap on re-opening day at Belmont Park.
The Metropolitan was Whisk Broom’s first stateside race; purchased by Whitney as a yearling, the Broomstick colt had begun his career in England, racing there from August 1909 until October 1912, notching seven victories from 23 races; four of his seven-second place finishes came by less than a neck. He was, said the Times, considered one of the best milers in England; his trainer James Rowe, who would go on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, claimed Whisk Broom was the best horse in the country, and the best he’d ever saddled.
The chestnut colt lived up to his accolades in the Brooklyn. Carrying 130 pounds, he set a new course record of 2:03 2/5 for the mile and a quarter over a track recorded as fast in the Daily Racing Form chart but described on that day as “dead and against all fast time.” In the opinion of the Times turf writer, on a better track, Whisk Broom would easily have equaled the American record for the distance that his sire had set at Brighton Beach in 1904, carrying 104 pounds; Whisk Broom missed the record by 4/5 of a second. The paper noted that only one other horse, the 1910 Brooklyn winner, Fitz Herbert, had carried as much weight as Whisk Broom did.
The Daily Racing Form reporter was kinder to the race than its hometown correspondent, calling the Brooklyn a “famous race” and noting its importance to the spring racing program at Gravesend. Like today’s Brooklyn Handicap, the 1913 edition was run in less than favorable conditions, though not, it appears, in the utter deluge that horses and riders are facing now. A hundred years ago, the storm, labeled “terrific” by the Form, came the night before, resulting in a “heavy” track that was nonetheless in “fairly good shape.”
Today is the 125th edition of the Brooklyn, a race obviously near and dear to this writer’s heart. James Rowe, who trained the 1913 winner, lived in Brooklyn on Sportsmen’s Row, and among the many dismal outcomes of the early 20th century racing ban was its bringing to an end, forever, horse racing in our borough. But like many erstwhile Brooklynites, the race migrated from the city to Long Island, finding a permanent home at beautiful Belmont Park.
Throughout 2013, Brooklyn Backstretch will re-visit the racing events of 1913, the year that racing returned to New York after a nearly three-year absence; click here for previous stories.
Consulted and quoted
Bowen, Edward L. Legacies of the Turf: A Century of Great Thoroughbred Breeders (Vol. I). Eclipse Press, 2003.
Robertson, William H.P. The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America. Bonanza Books, 1964.
“Whisk Broom II. Reduces Belmont Park Record In Winning The Brooklyn Handicap,” Daily Racing Form, June 22, 2013.
“Whitney Colt Pack 130 Lbs. And Wins,” The New York Times, June 22, 1913.