July 1, 2022

Furl Sail: A champion who blazed a trail from Fair Grounds

Fair Grounds Race Course (Hodges Photography)

The 2018-19 racing season at Fair Grounds begins Thursday, and one thing the New Orleans track can justifiably be proud of is its evolution into a premier proving ground for newly-turned three-year-old fillies. Monomoy Girl, a certainty to be named the 2018 champion three-year-old filly, is the latest division leader to have emerged from the winter racing season at Fair Grounds over the past two decades.

Monomoy Girl wins the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds with jockey Florent Geroux aboard on Saturday, February 17, 2018 (c) Amanda Hodges Weir/Hodges Photography

The trend began in 1997, when Blushing K. D. captured both the Davona Dale and Fair Grounds Oaks (G3) prior to winning the Kentucky Oaks (G1). Though she wasn’t named champion, she was followed just two year later by the Bob Baffert-trained Silverbulletday, who also won all three races en route to championship honors.

Other future champions to have won major stakes at Fair Grounds include Ashado (2004), Proud Spell (2008), Rachel Alexandra (2009), and Untapable (2014). Not to be overlooked are Kentucky Oaks (G1) winners Summerly (2005), Lemons Forever (2006), Believe You Can (2012), and Lovely Maria (2015), all of whom made appearances at Fair Grounds before winning the big one at Churchill Downs.

Furl Sail at Fair Grounds

The first filly ever to blaze a trail from Fair Grounds to champion three-year-old filly honors was Furl Sail, little remembered today except perhaps for a turf stakes Fair Grounds ran in her honor until it was discontinued after 2010.

Born at owner-breeder Mrs. E.K. Thomas’ Timberlawn, near Paris, Kentucky, Furl Sail was a foal of 1964 and began her racing career almost as soon as it was legally allowed, on February 2, 1966, and won at first asking at Fair Grounds by 4 1/2 lengths going four furlongs. She continued to prove a precocious sort in early-season sprint stakes, winning a division of the Bewitch at Keeneland over 4 1/2 furlongs, the Debutante at Churchill at five furlongs, and the Mademoiselle at Arlington Park at 5 1/2 furlongs.

Furl Sail kicked off her three-year-old campaign of 1967 with three straight wins at Fair Grounds, including a four-length score in the Fair Grounds Oaks over Nancy Jr., who would later upset an odds-on Furl Sail as a 29-1 chance in the Kentucky Oaks. Furl Sail rebounded from that Oaks defeat to take the six-furlong Betsy Ross Handicap at Garden State Park, and then set her sights on the Big Apple.

Supplemented to New York’s Triple Crown for fillies — the Acorn, Mother Goose, and Coaching Club American Oaks at Aqueduct — Furl Sail was installed the 3-1 favorite in the one-mile Acorn against 16 rivals with Jacinto Vasquez in the irons for the first time.

“When [Furl Sail] ran in the Acorn, insular New Yorkers gave assurances that she was out of element. Unimpressed by these critics, Furl Sail proceeded to disabuse them by absolutely clobbering her field,” wrote Charles Hatton in the 1968 American Racing Manual.

Furl Sail was three lengths best over Quillo Queen in the 1967 Acorn at Aqueduct (Mike Sirico photo)

She did, indeed, seizing the lead before the half-mile mark, opening up a six-length advantage in mid-stretch and winning by three lengths. An even heavier favorite at odds of 7-10 in the Mother Goose, Furl Sail proved she could stretch her speed nine furlongs, scoring in wire-to-wire fashion by three lengths.

“The family pet turned out to be a Amazon in lamb’s clothing,” wrote Hatton.

Also odds-on in the Coaching Club American Oaks in an attempt to become the first filly to sweep all three races, Furl Sail led early but gradually weakened to fourth, beaten 16 lengths by Quillo Queen, who had finished second in the Acorn and Mother Goose. The race chart indicated Furl Sail had come back sore.

“She has always been a sound filly and that is half the battle,” said trainer John Winans to Hatton, who noted Furl Sail customarily ran with front bandages.

Her subsequent form left room for doubt as she finished a distant third in a small stakes at Delaware Park 18 days following the Coaching Club and was sent back to Timberlawn for a rest. Furl Sail re-emerged in the Falls City Handicap at Churchill in September, but again fared poorly as an odds-on choice, finishing seventh.

After two allowance wins at Keeneland, Furl Sail ran better in the 1 1/8-mile Spinster over the same track. However, the race chart noted she lost all chance when forced to take up while in close quarters at the sixteenth pole. She finished 4 1/4 lengths adrift of Straight Deal, that season’s champion older mare.

Elevated from third to second in the Spinster, Furl Sail raced once more that year, against her own age group, in the Jersey Belle Handicap at Garden State. The daughter of Revoked failed to live up to expectations again, weakening to third while conceding the winner nine pounds.

Despite the downturn in form during the second half of the season, Furl Sail’s earlier exploits proved enough to receive championship honors in the Daily Racing Form/Morning Telegraph poll. The other major poll, that of the Thoroughbred Racing Association (TRA), backed future Hall of Famer Gamely, who won three of 11 stakes appearances including the Alabama at Saratoga. Furl Sail and Gamely never faced each other.

Far from an all-time great, Furl Sail nonetheless showed that, in an era when Hialeah and Santa Anita were the dominant and influential names in winter racing, a good one could also spring from the heart of the Big Easy.