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Inspired by a pair of exceedingly rare photographs and the opening of Saratoga — a place of magic, history and imagining — comes this tale of two great fillies.

MOTHER GOOSE wind-up toy by Marx from the 1920's.

MOTHER GOOSE wind-up toy by Marx from the 1920’s.

 

Most American readers know the association between the nursery rhymes of Mother Goose and the thoroughbred of the same name, after whom The Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park is named. Once part of the triad of races that formed the American Triple Crown for fillies, The Mother Goose Stakes were removed from the Triple in 2010, but carries on as an important Grade 1 stakes for 3 year-old fillies. That part of the Mother Goose story is easy. Trying to get a look at H.P. Whitney’s champion filly or even a true sense of her racing career is quite another matter, even though she did everything right on the track and in the breeding shed. In fact, in the latter case, she made a very direct contribution to a thoroughbred dynasty.

The daughter of French import Chicle (1913), Spearmint’s (1903) best son who was also notoriously bad-tempered, Mother Goose was born in 1922, a Whitney homebred. Her dam, Flying Witch, from the Ben Brush sire line, was also the producer of a very fine full brother to Mother Goose, Whichone (1927). He raced against Gallant Fox, whom he managed to beat as a 2 year-old in the 1929 Belmont Futurity, while annexing a number of prestigious races, notably the Champagne, the Withers and the Whitney before breaking down after a dual in the stretch with Jim Dandy and Gallant Fox in the Travers. {If Whichone’s name sounds familiar it might be because of his two best sons: the gelding Whichee (1934), who had the misfortune to race against Seabiscuit and Kayak II, but who was a good runner in his own right, and Bourbon King(1935) a tough campaigner who won the Remsen Stakes.}

CHICLE, the sire of MOTHER GOOSE.

CHICLE, the sire of MOTHER GOOSE.

 

MOTHER GOOSE the broodmare shows a very kind eye, despite her bad-tempered sire.

MOTHER GOOSE the broodmare shows a very kind eye, despite her bad-tempered sire. This is one of the very few images of her.

 

The fact that Mother Goose had a Grade 1 stakes named after her can be taken as proof that she was a filly who sparked the hopes, dreams and imagination of racegoers in the 1920’s, when the sport in North America was relatively new. Her most impressive victory came at two, when she beat the boys in the 1924 Belmont Futurity, most notably Marshall Field III’s sabino chestnut Stimulus(1922), a great grandson of Domino (1891) and winner of the 1925 Pimlico Futurity. In retirement, Stimulus proved a useful sire, producing the champions Beaugay (1943) and Stir Up (1941), as well as a small army of other good runners. {Summer Tan (1952), Nantallah (1953), Decidedly (1959), Sword Dancer (1956), Dust Commander (1967) and Slew O’ Gold (1980) are all direct descendants of Stimulus.}

STIMULUS after his win in the 1925 Belmont Futurity.

STIMULUS after his win in the 1925 Belmont Futurity.

I knew that Mother Goose’s rout of the boys in 1924 was her biggest moment on the track, enough to award her champion 2 year-old filly honours that year. But like any good researcher, I wanted to know more.

And then it happened.

A few weeks back, on a day (to quote Thornton Wilder) “when the dogs were sticking to the sidewalk” in the heat, I was cruising around on the internet and spied an old racing photo at auction that had a peculiar heading: “1924 Press Photo Harry Payne on Mother Goose at Belmont Futurity race in NY.”  Could it be…….?

And there she was:

MOTHER GOOSE (on the rail) shown winning the 1924 Belmont Futurity.

MOTHER GOOSE (on the rail) shown winning the 1924 Belmont Futurity. STIMULUS is in blinkers nearest to the camera. Photo and copyright, Wide World Photo.

 

And as if that weren’t enough, the press photo included the press release on the back, clear as a bell. Like a message in a bottle, I learned more about Mother Goose the runner than I had been able to uncover in decades of searching.

 

The press release was as clear as a bell, describing the courage of the juvenile MOTHER GOOSE in battling on right to the wire. Photo and copyright, Wide World Photo.

The press release was as clear as a bell, describing the courage of the juvenile MOTHER GOOSE in battling on right to the wire. Photo and copyright, Wide World Photo.

Of course, I bought the photo — for the unbelievable price of $14.99 USD. (I do feel badly for the merchant but, like people who run bookstores knowing little about authors, the company is one of several who have bought up the newspaper archives of papers like The Chicago Tribune, knowing little about famous thoroughbreds.)

Mother Goose didn’t stop at the Futurity. She also won the Fashion Stakes and came second and third respectively in the Astoria and Rosedale Stakes that same year. After her debut, the filly seems to disappear from the record books. But as a broodmare, she left a lasting mark as the grandam of Almamoud (1947), one of the greatest ancestresses in American thoroughbred history who was the grandam of Natalma (1957), who produced Northern Dancer (1961).

And isn’t it lovely to know that each time you look at a descendant of Northern Dancer (Natalma) or Halo (whose dam, Cosmah, is a daughter of Almamoud) or Sunday Silence (son of Halo) you are beckoning the spirit of Mother Goose?

SUNDAY SILENCE with the great Charlie Whittingham.

SUNDAY SILENCE shares a silence with the wonderful Charlie Whittingham.

 

Since the explosion of online auction centres like EBAY, these kinds of finds have become rare for me. But there was another purchase I made some time ago that is as precious to me as this photo of Mother Goose. It was of another champion filly and matriarch: Alcibiades. And the circumstances that led me to her were remarkably similar.

Alcibiades’ career on the track and in the breeding shed are perhaps better known than the exploits of Mother Goose. Like her predecessor, Alcibiades has a Grade 1 stakes for 3 year-old fillies named after her and now sponsored by Darley as part of the Breeders Cup Challenge series.

Hal Prince Headley’s great filly was a homebred, born in 1927. Named after a soldier and statesman of Ancient Greece (for which Headley took more than a little abuse because the filly’s dam was called Regal Roman), Alcibiades was a descendant of the incomparable Domino (1891) through her sire, Supremus (1922). Her dam, Regal Roman (1921), a daughter of Roi Herode (1904), arrived in the USA from Great Britain in 1923. Alcibiades was her best progeny.

Her major win at two was in the 1929 Debutante; in 1930, Alcibiades captured the Kentucky Oaks and the Arlington Oaks. One lesser known incident in her three year-old season was that she also ran against Gallant Fox in the 1930 Kentucky Derby, setting blazing fractions on the lead before fading to finish tenth. It was easy to forgive her: the Oaks and Derby were only two weeks apart and the Oaks, which Alcibiades won, was the second of the two. So after this effort in the Derby, one must conclude that the daughter of Supremus was one courageous filly, with a heart as big as her ability, to come back to take the Oaks:

 

After winning the highest award in the land at two and again at three, Alcibiades was retired with a bowed a tendon to take up breeding duties at the Headleys Beaumont Farm. Her last race pitched her against older horses in the Hawthorne Gold Cup, where she ran beautifully to finish third to Wallace Kilmer’s champion, Sun Beau (1925). As serious a competitor as Alcibiades had been on the track, it was as a broodmare that she endowed the American thoroughbred with her most enduring gift. From her brilliant son, Menow (1935), in a direct line of descent, came two jewels of American racing: Tom Fool (1949) and his son, Buckpasser (1963). From her daughter by Man O’ War, Salaminia (1937), descended the Epsom Derby winner, Sir Ivor (1965), the first American-bred to win it since 1954. And Sir Ivor, as many will know, went on to become the ancestor of some very important thoroughbreds, among them Shareef Dancer (1980), Green Desert (1983), Zabeel (1986) and his son, Octagonal (1992), as well as the recently retired Encosta de Lago (1993).

 

Alcibiades' son, MENOW, the sire of TOM FOOL and grandsire of BUCKPASSER.

Alcibiades’ son, MENOW, the sire of TOM FOOL and grandsire of BUCKPASSER. Photo and copyright Acme.

 

SIR IVOR ridden by Lester Piggott goes down to the start.

SIR IVOR, ridden by Lester Piggott and trained by Vincent O’Brien, goes down to the start.

 

ENCOSTA DE LAGO, who descends from ALCIBIADES through a daughter, SALAMINIA, is a recently retired champion Australian sire. Photograph published in the Herald Sun (Australia).

ENCOSTA DE LAGO, who descends from ALCIBIADES through her daughter, SALAMINIA, is a recently retired champion Australian sire. Photograph published in the Herald Sun (Australia).

I stumbled across her photo on a popular auction site and again, the listing was curious: “Alcibiades and her jockey ready to race, 1930.” Assuming that I would be unlikely to find an actual photo of the beloved American filly, I was shocked to find that the image was, indeed, Alcibiades. Unlike the Mother Goose photo, the press release — normally tacked onto the back — was missing and the context around the filly gives little clue as to where the photo was taken. So it’s impossible to say what race this was, except that she was a 3 year-old in 1930. It’s clearly post-race, given the froth in Alcibiades’ mouth. And her jockey sure looks happy, so this is possibly after her win in either the Kentucky Oaks or the Arlington Oaks. But that’s pure guesswork.

In any case, we see her lovely face and soft, dark eye, and note the powerful shoulder and hindquarters of a champion.

 

ALCIBIADES as a three year-old.

ALCIBIADES as a three year-old.

 

Finding these two photographs is like opening a time capsule, or slipping through a wormhole to a time over eighty years ago. It’s as though two photographers in the early part of the last century chose to record two fillies in the hope not only that their images would feature in a prominent newspaper but also that they were capturing something significant, since images always signify something to the person who captures them.  Even if they are two hard-working individuals with an assignment, it was each of them who decided the angle, the lighting, the moment to press the button. They could not have known how important Mother Goose and Alcibiades would be for the breed or even what each filly would contribute to thoroughbred history. But framing each photograph is the hope that they just might be witnessing history-in-the-making. By opening the doors of a living present to those of us who stood like shadows in their futures, two people we will never know have, with two great fillies, reached out to us and in so doing, overcome the limitations of time.

Surely it is this, as much as the subjects themselves, that makes these photographs so precious.

 

Sources

Hunter, Avalyn. American Classic Pedigrees website:http://www.americanclassicpedigrees.com

Bowen, Edward L. Matriarchs. KY: The Blood-Horse, 1999.

Mitchell, Frank. Racehorse Breeding Theories. Wisconsin: The Russel Meerdink Company Ltd., 2004

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