Oh for the Yesteryear

By Eugene Levey
Change is inevitable and necessary, but it should be made for the right reasons. Unfortunately, most of the changes in recent years have robbed racing in general and racing fans in particular. I speak of the abbreviated careers of modern-day racehorses compared to their counterparts of yesteryear.

For readers who are not familiar with, or did not have the privilege of seeing some of the great post-World War horses in action, they missed quite a show. Compare the lifetime starts, weights, and frequency of starts with today's stars, and you'll see that fans of yesteryear got more bang for their buck.

Gallorette, a foal of 1942, made 72 starts in five years of racing and 55 of them were against the boys. In her final season, 1948, she made 15 starts, all between April and October, and all but two were stakes. She beat males in three stakes that year, including the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct while carrying 122 pounds. I don't recall any modern-day stakes mare averaging 14 starts in a year like the great mares of yesteryear.

How about Calumet Farm's Bewitch with her 55 starts and 20 wins? As a 6-year-old in 1951, she went down to defeat by a mere half-length to the mighty Citation in the American Handicap at Hollywood Park. Her next appearance was a victorious one in the Vanity Handicap (against mares) in which she carried 125 pounds. She next played bridesmaid once again to Citation in the Hollywood Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles. Those three appearances plus one more in which she was unplaced were all in July. These horses were bred to be racehorses and were used for such a purpose yesteryear.

Sickle's Image was another great mare who raced mainly in the Midwest and won 27 of her 73 starts. She made 25 starts in 1952 and won at Santa Anita, Detroit, Garden State, Pimlico, and Washington Park, where she outran the talented Spartan Valor in track-record time of 1:21 1/5 for seven furlongs. The next year, Sickle's Image had only 13 starts and won the $165,200 Washington Park Handicap from post 13 against males. Her toughness is exemplified by the fact she raced coast-to-coast and traveled by rail or van. Yesteryear horses didn't fly.

The turnstiles clicked to the tune of 62,752 in Swaps' first race at Hollywood Park following his 1955 Kentucky Derby victory. One of the most brilliant racehorses of all time, Swaps set track and world records while racing in hand. His daughter, Affectionately, also was something to behold. Nine of her 28 wins came as a 2-year-old and six were in stakes. Her forte was speed and as a 4-year-old, she beat males in the Sport Page and Vosburgh Handicaps. At five, she toyed with Chieftain in the Toboggan Handicap while stopping the timer in 1:09 2/5.

The 1954 foal crop produced some real champs. Round Table may have been the best, with 66 starts and 43 wins. Amazingly, this great horse set or equaled 16 records.

Bold Ruler, also from that crop, was another great. Despite his infirmities, Bold Ruler was a champion whose race record has not been emulated by modern-day campaigners. He won 23 of 33 starts. Between Jan. 30 and April 20 of his 3-year-old season in 1957, Bold Ruler set a track record for 1 1/8 miles in the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah and equaled one for seven furlongs in the Bahamas Stakes at that South Florida track. Also during that time, he set a track record in the Wood Memorial Stakes at Jamaica.

Those two great horses consistently carried weights in excess of 130 pounds and took on all comers, as did Armed, Assault, Buckpasser, Citation, Coaltown, Damascus, Decathlon, Dr. Fager, Gallant Man, High Gun, Polynesian, Stymie, Tom Fool, Whirlaway, White Skies, and others.

Oh for the yesteryear. And yes, I was there.