Women of the Year: Beldame (1904)

From Women of the Year: Ten Fillies Who Achieved Horse Racing's Highest Honor

Beldame, 1904
Beldame's three-year-old season was marked by a number of wire-to-wire scores, and it didn't matter if the races were short or long, on fast or off tracks, or against males or females. She started the season in the Carter Handicap in April 1904 at Aqueduct and led all the way to beat sixteen rivals, most of them older males, under a feathery 103 pounds. She then was assigned only ninety-eight pounds in the Metropolitan Handicap but broke poorly and was beaten four lengths by the highly accomplished four-year-old male Irish Lad. She finished third at 20-1.

After that, Beldame was favored in all but one of her remaining starts that year. In the Ladies, first run in 1868 and won by such greats as Miss Woodford and Firenze in the 1880s, she ran off with her rider before the race and galloped around until finding her away back to her barn. Returned to the track, she led throughout the mile race and won by three-quarters of a length.

Up to that time Beldame had been ridden by six different jockeys and won under three of them. After the Ladies and for the remainder of her career, Frank O'Neill was her rider.

Both O'Neill, who had ridden Beldame in her last two-year-old start and the Carter, and Beldame's trainer, Fred Burlew, had grown up in St. Louis. Burlew took notice of O'Neill during the 1902–03 winter meeting in New Orleans. Burlew signed the teenager to a contract and took him to New York.

Burlew was a rarity, showing similar concern for his stable help as he did for his horses. His men slept on cots with sheets instead of on straw. Burlew ensured they ate well, and he paid their medical bills.
Burlew, who later trained 1922 Kentucky Derby winner Morvich, and O'Neill are members of the Racing Hall of Fame. O'Neill, who rode the great Roseben numerous times in 1905, was on him when he won the six-furlong Manhattan Handicap under 147 pounds at Belmont Park. O'Neill later developed into a leading rider in France.

After the Ladies, Beldame won four consecutive races before finishing second in the Test Stakes at Brighton Beach. Her ten-length victory in the Gazelle Stakes at Gravesend under high weight of 124 pounds was special, the Daily Racing Form reported: "Beldame, almost pulling O'Neill from the saddle, won all the way and far outclassed her field and is one of the greatest fillies seen in this country." In the Mermaid Stakes at Sheepshead Bay, Beldame won by seven lengths under top weight.

In the Test Handicap at Brighton Beach in July, Beldame met her match in Hermis. Horse of the Year the previous two years, Hermis carried 133 pounds as the slight favorite compared to Beldame's 115 and beat her by a length while equaling the mile track record. It was Beldame's last loss of the year.

Beldame next won the Alabama Stakes by six lengths as the 1-20 favorite in what was "an exercise gallop," before facing arguably her sternest test. In the one and three-quarters-mile Saratoga Cup, first run in 1865 and won by stars such as Kentucky and Preakness, Beldame faced Africander, who had set a record in winning the previous year's running, plus other accomplished stars in The Picket and Major Daingerfield.

The weights were in Beldame's favor as she won over the sloppy track under 108 pounds. "Beldame made the running throughout never fully extended...and she was pulling up at the finish. Nothing ever got near her and she simply played with the others," the Form reported
Beldame won four stakes to close out the season, taking the Dolphin and September stakes at Sheepshead Bay, then the First Special and Second Special at Gravesend.

Prominent Turf writer Neil Newman thought Beldame's victory in the weight-for-age First Special under 114 pounds her greatest race. "Burlew now averred Beldame could beat any horse in the United States, scale weight at any distance," Newman wrote in The Blood-Horse. "He proved this to the satisfaction of everyone in her next start and greatest triumph."

The even-money favorite in the one and a quarter-mile First Special, Beldame defeated Caughnawaga, Stalwart, Pulsus, and Ort Wells. "This was an exceptionally high-class field, but Beldame vanquished them in effortless fashion," Newman wrote.

Beldame's victory in the Second Special came over Broomstick, who later developed into an outstanding sire.

That was it for the year for Beldame. She was an easy choice for Horse of the Year and top three-year-old filly. Ort Wells was champion three-year-old colt; Hermis, top older male; and Gunfire, best older female. Some thought Beldame was the best three-year-old filly in the world, better than England's remarkable Pretty Polly, who had won the two filly classics, the One Thousand Guineas and Oaks, plus the St. Leger Stakes over colts.

"It has been stated that Pretty Polly was lucky to have been foaled in 1901, as there were no good three-year-olds to oppose her this year," wrote the Thoroughbred Record. "While this may be true, it cannot be said of Beldame, as there were several real good three-year-olds as well as our best handicap horses that met defeat at her heels...Her victory in the Saratoga Cup we think emphatically demonstrated to the turf that she was by all odds the best horse of any age running in this country and it is the opinion of a great many that she is the superior of Pretty Polly..."

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Women of the Year