August 16, 2022

Carry that weight: Notable achievements in American handicaps

Bold Ruler
Bold Ruler (NYRA Photo)

While handicaps have become passé in America during the past half-century, in England (and elsewhere) they generally form the backbone of day-to-day racing. Although the most important races are all run under weight-for-age conditions, many of the most popular betting races of the year in England are the Heritage Handicaps, the quality of which are generally exceeded only by Group and Listed stakes. Few top-level horses stoop to compete in them, lest they be burdened with an exorbitant weight assignment, but an exception occurred this past weekend.

Trueshan, who had missed an intended assignment in the June 16 Gold Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot due to the state of the ground, was still in need of a prep ahead of his title defense in next month’s Goodwood Cup (G1). So, connections accepted a staggering 148-pound impost for the grueling, two-mile Northumberland Plate at Newcastle. Under Hollie Doyle, the dual Group 1-winning stayer turned in a remarkable and historic effort to win by a half-length over Spirit Mixer, who was carrying 23 fewer pounds.

With the exception of jumpers, the modern American Thoroughbred is never asked to carry such a weight over a distance of ground. It wasn’t all that common in the sport’s so-called “glory days,” either, but some weight-carrying achievements have stood the test of time.

The following are among the outstanding weight-carrying achievements (135 pounds or higher) at a mile or longer in American racing over the past 100 years. Because such a list can not be all-encompassing, it notably excludes races at less than a mile (hello, Dr. Fager and Ta Wee!), those in non- or state-restricted stakes (hello, Royal Harmony!), and those by horses like Whisk Broom II, Man o’ War, and Exterminator that slightly pre-date the timeframe in question.

Equipoise — 1933 Arlington Handicap, Arlington Park, 1 1/4 miles, 135 pounds

“The Chocolate Soldier” made amends for his loss by a neck under 134 pounds in the same race the year before with a 1 1/2-length tally. Finishing second was Watch Him, who carried a feathery 106 pounds.

Discovery — 1935 Merchants and Citizens Handicap, Saratoga, 1 3/16 miles, 139 pounds

One of the major stars of his era and a future influence on the breed, Discovery won in wire-to-wire fashion by two lengths, conceding 22 pounds to runner-up Stand Pat. Top Row, who finished third, would defeat Discovery next out in the Narragansett Special when Discovery was again saddled with a 139-pound impost (Top Row would carry just 110).

Tom Fool — 1953 Brooklyn Handicap, Aqueduct, 1 1/4 miles, 136 pounds

Undefeated in his 1953 Horse of the Year season, Tom Fool completed a sweep of the then-coveted New York Handicap Triple (Metropolitan, Suburban, and Brooklyn) with a 1 1/2-length victory over Golden Gloves, who carried 26 fewer pounds. Tom Fool was then only the second horse ever to win all three races in the same season, the first being Whisk Broom II in 1913.

Bold Ruler — 1957 Benjamin Franklin Handicap, Garden State Park, 1 1/16 miles, 136 pounds

Although facing a lackluster field of fellow three-year-olds, Bold Ruler had no worries in scoring by 12 lengths while conceding his closest pursuer 27 pounds. It served as a useful prep for his Horse of the Year-clinching performance in the Trenton H. the following week.

Round Table — 1959 United Nations Handicap, Atlantic City, 1 3/16 miles (Turf), 136 pounds

This was the second win in three United Nations attempts for the three-time grass champion, who won 31 stakes during his illustrious four-season career. The winning margin was 1 1/4 lengths over Noureddin, who carried 117 pounds.

Kelso — 1961 Brooklyn Handicap, Aqueduct, 1 1/4 miles, 136 pounds

Kelso became the third horse to win the Handicap Triple when taking this edition of the Brooklyn by 1 1/4 lengths over Divine Comedy, who was in receipt of 18 pounds. At season’s end, Kelso would notch the second of five consecutive Horses of the Year titles.

Forego — 1976 Woodward Handicap, Belmont Park, 1 1/8 miles, 135 pounds; 1976 Marlboro Cup, Belmont Park, 1 1/4 miles, 137 pounds; 1977 Nassau County Handicap, Belmont Park, 1 1/8 miles, 136 pounds

Arguably the most consistent weight carrier over a distance of ground in modern racing history (which in itself is amazing, given his fragile ankles), the three-time Horse of the Year won three stakes carrying 135 pounds or more. His come-from-behind win in the Marlboro Cup is perhaps the most celebrated of his career as he won by a head from champion Honest Pleasure while giving the younger horse 18 pounds.