Day At The Track

Kentucky Futurity is oldest race of importance

12:20 PM 26 Sep 2014 NZST
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Harness Racing
Trainer Bob Stewart & Mike Lachance celebrate Creatine's victory
Nigel Soult Photo

The Kentucky Futurity, which dates back 121 years, is the oldest harness horse race of any importance in the sport.

By contrast, the Hambletonian only goes back 88 years. The Futurity has always been contested at The Red Mile, with the exception of a couple of editions in the 1930’s, after a fire destroyed the grandstand, and four years during World War II.

The purse money has never matched that offered by the Hambletonion, which is double that of the Futurity, partly because the race has not been up for bid on a regular basis like the Hambletonion. The latter started in Syracuse, quickly relocated to Lexington, then moved on to Goshen, DuQuoin and finally New Jersey. Saratoga, Latonia, Washington Park and Liberty Bell were all angling for it in the mid-1970s. You can’t hold the Kentucky Futurity in New York or Pennsylvania. The race itself, surface of the track and geographical location comprise a unique package.

Fillies have enjoyed more success racing in the Futurity than they have in the Hambletonion; they won the former at a 30% rate, while taking only 15% of the latter. Five fillies won both, with the last being Emilys Pride in 1958. The last three fillies to win the Hambletonion, Kerry Way, Duenna and Continentalvictory, did not race in the Kentucky Futurity.

Peace Corps, who was named TOY when she won the race in 1989, kicked off a stretch of three wins in four years for the distaff set in Lexington. The Nearly Perfect filly, Whiteland Janice, won two years later for Mike Lachance, when Tommy Haughton’s Somatic broke stride while on his way to victory. And the following year the Super Bowl filly, Armbro Keepsake, beat Baltic Striker and favorite Giant Force for John Campbell. The 1976 win by the great Speedy Scot filly, Classical Way, over Hambletonion winner Legend Hanover and Yonkers Trot champ, Chiola Hanover, was surely one of the best.

There have been large gaps between distaff wins in the Hambo, which you don’t find in the timeline of the Futurity: there was a 17 year stretch between wins by Kerry Way and Duenna, and it was another 13 before Continentalvictory got hers. Both races now feature filly divisions. The Oaks started in 1971 and the Filly Futurity in 1986.

Since the inaugural Hambletonion in 1926, 26 Kentucky Futurity winners have also won that race, ten in the 45 years since Nevele Pride won both in 1968.

No rhyme or reason to it: no common winner in the last four; a common winner in the four before that; only two in the 34 years prior to that. During the thirty year stretch between Flirth’s Hambletonion win in 1973 and Amigo Hall’s win in 2003, Self Possessed, the sire of today’s premier stallion, Cantab Hall, was the only trotter to win both.

On the pacing side, during the thirty year stretch between 1977 and 2007 there were five common winners between the Little Brown Jug and the Meadowlands Pace. Never as many as one might expect.

There have only been eight winners of the Trotting Triple Crown. The last was Glidemaster, eight years ago. He’s a failed stallion, and his predecessor, Windsong’s Legacy, who won two years earlier, passed two and a half years after completing his Triple Crown quest. Just as one must trace back 42 years to find a Triple Crown hero on the pacing side, one who left a powerful mark as a stallion—Most Happy Fella—one must go back almost that far—42 years—to find Super Bowl on the trotting side. 

The Kentucky Futurity is so steeped in tradition that the driving and training record of seven is still held by the late Ben White who drove his last winner 77 years ago. Now that’s tradition!  

From a family perspective, the Simpson’s have experienced the most success in the modern era. John Sr. completed the third Triple Crown when he won with 900 pound speed demon Ayres in 1964. This was after the mighty might somehow got out of his stall during the night and got into a tussle with a chain link fence that left him battered and bruised. Certainly the most bizarre story associated with the Futurity. Simpson had also won 13 years earlier with Ford Hanover.

His son, John Jr., won four times, once with his father’s colt Timothy T—from the first crop of Ayres—and also with Clarence Gaines’ Waymaker and Classical Way and Norman Woolworth’s Bonefish filly, Filet Of Sole. And Jim Simpson trained 1986 winner Sugarcane Hanover, who upset division winner Royal Prestige, a winner of seven in a row after suffering a narrow loss to Nuclear Kosmos in the Hambletonian.

Bill Haughton, who drove five Jug winners and trained six, never drove one in the Futurity. It was the only significant stakes race he never won. He lost to son Peter and 2 for 17 Quick Pay in 1976 when he had Hambletonian winner Peter Lobell.

Quick Pay had never won a race in 2:00. Peter also ruined the Triple Crown bid of Speedy Somolli in 1978 with the journeyman Speedster trotter, Doublemint. Younger son, Tommy, won the Futurity with Final Score when he was only 23 years old, and he got a training credit when Napolitano ruined Mack Lobell’s Triple Crown bid in 1987.

Stanley Dancer trained and drove two of the eight Triple Crown winners—Nevele Pride and Super Bowl. Maybe Nuncio will give John Campbell that record tying win number seven next week. Chuck Sylvester has trained six. Ralph Baldwin and Joe O’Brien had five winners each.

We’ve had five years of low key winners of the Kentucky Futurity, Creatine and My MVP won for Mike Lachance the last two years. Not since 2009, when HOY Muscle Hill scored an easy win for Brian Sears, has a star won it. Father Patrick faltered in the Hambletonian, but he’s in Lexington and staked to the Futurity. A world record performance that turns heads at The Red Mile would be nice about now.

by Joe FitzGerald for

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