By: Ron Hale
Historic Races in New York
Aqueduct, in the penultimate weekend of its long season that began last October, will present the $100,000-added Withers Stakes (also called the Withers Mile), a Grade II event for three-year-olds on Saturday.
Sunday's feature is the $150,000 Carter Handicap (Gr. I), for three-year-olds and up at seven furlongs.
While both of these events are likely to be lost in the hoopla in Louisville, they are important races with with long histories.
The Withers Stakes
Random House Webster's Dictionary describes the word withers as "the highest part of the back at the base of the neck of a horse." This certainly seems appropriate for the name of a horse race, but in reality it has nothing to do with the naming of the Withers Stakes.
The Withers honors David Durham Withers (1821-1892), an aristocrat who bought class and style to everything in which he was involved. In his book, "The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America," William H. P. Robertson says, "...Withers was an eminent authority (on Thoroughbred racing), whose experience encompassed residence in New Orleans when Lexington and Lecomte were ruling the roost, and a tenure in France."
Wither's obituary in the February 27, 1892 edition of the "Live Stock Record" (which in 1895 became "The Thoroughbred Record") notes that he "was the best racing authority in America."
Withers owned Brookdale Farm in Red Bank, N.J. wherein some of the finest bloodstock in the world was bred. He spent large sums of money to import some of the best foreign horses, Robertson notes. Withers' horses won more than $500,000 -- a huge sum in those days.
In 1878, Withers and three others bought Monmouth Park, a track which for years at that time led the nation in average daily purse distribution. While he did not always have the title of president, Withers basically ran Monmouth Park for more than a decade.
When the Board of Control (the predecessor to today's Jockey Club) was formed in the 1880s, Withers served as its first president.
The Withers Stakes was first run in 1874 at Jerome Park. It was later moved to Morris Park and over the years has been run at Jamaica Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct, where it is run today.
Horses who have won the Withers over the years have included Aristides (the first Kentucky Derby winner in 1875), Domino (1894), Colin (1908), Sir Barton (1919), Man o' War (1920), Jaipur (1962), Dr. Fager (1967) and Ack Ack (1969).
The Carter Handicap
A mainstay on Kentucky Derby weekend at Aqueduct for many years now, the Carter Handicap honors a tugboat skipper named Captain William Carter who endowed the Queens County Jockey Club with a substantial amount of money in 1895. For his effort, the club obliged him that year with the Carter Handicap.
To understand why Carter's support was important, you have the understand the humble beginnings of the Queens County Jockey Club, which built and opened Old Aqueduct Race Track on Long Island in 1894. Aqueduct was a bare-bones operation. On page 37 of his monumental volume, "Racing in America--1866-1921," Walter Vosburgh describes the opening meeting of Aqueduct with the following phrases:
"a grandstand such as might be seen at a county fair"
"the building dignified as 'the Club-House' could only be described as a shanty held up by stilts"
the racetrack was "a mere merry-go-round"
Support by racing enthusiasts such as Carter, along with the tremendous response to the track from the population of New York, enabled major improvements to be made to Aqueduct and, as Vosburgh added, by the early 20th Century, the track "was one of the finest race-courses in the country."
With the exception of 1946 and 1956-1959 (when it was run at Belmont Park), the Carter has been contested at Aqueduct since its inception in 1895. Over the years, the race has been won by horses such as Beldame (1904), Roseben (1906), Roamer (1914), Old Rosebud (1917), Sarazen (1924), Tom Fool (1953) and Forego (1974 and 1975).
And, of course, the 1944 Carter Handicap is in the record books as the first and only TRIPLE dead heat for win in a stakes race (pictured above). Brownie, Bossuet and Wait A Bit hit the wire as a team. (It should be noted that the photo-finish camera had been in existence at racetracks for less than a decade at that time. Prior to the photo-finish camera, the decision on finishes was left to the placing judges whose only source was their memory of a split second in time.)
© 1997, Ron Hale