The 1901 Saratoga Special, an “equine aristocrat,” and the Pegasus Cup

NYRA/Susie Raisher/Coglianese photo

The stakes schedule at Saratoga at the turn of the last century was already robust. Announced in February in the New York Times for the 1901 season, it featured 25 races worth a total of $85,000. Among those to be run were the Adirondack, Spinaway, Travers, Alabama and Saratoga Cup.

The racing meet that year was 22 days, but apparently one stakes a day wasn’t enough, because in that same February article was the announcement that the Saratoga Special, “a thoroughly sporting event,” would be added to the schedule.

Its purse would be funded by subscriptions by owners at $1,000 each. It would be run at 5 1/2 furlongs, with a subscription deadline of March 4, or five months before the Saratoga meet began. Subscribers could nominate up to three horses, but run only one, and $500 of each subscription fee would be forfeited if a subscriber didn’t run anything, resulting in a minimum purse of $6,000. Kind of like the Pegasus Cup, 1901-style.

Nominations for the August race would close May 1, and in July the Daily Racing Form reported that 68 horses had been nominated, guaranteeing a value of $34,500, including the $500 trophy provided by the Saratoga Association.

“Of the other stakes opened,” wrote the Times in an article called “Novelty at Saratoga,” “all are of values that are so much greater than in former years at Saratoga that the famous old track jumps at one bound to a place abreast of the greatest of the metropolitan race courses.”

One man who must have been particularly pleased to read that characterization was William Collins Whitney, the president of the Saratoga Association who rescued the race course from the nefarious clutches of Gottfried Walbaum, who had nearly run the track into the ground. Whitney had nominated three horses to the Saratoga Special, electing to run his bay colt Goldsmith, who won that first edition of the race by a head.

But that was just the beginning of his story.

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