American racing at the turn of the century cannot be discussed without mentioning August Belmont II. He was chairman of The Jockey Club, president of Belmont Park, and chairman of the New York Racing Association.
At his Nursery Stud outside Lexington, Kentucky, Major Belmont bred 129 stakes winners, including Man o' War. He raced the champions Hourless, winner of the 1917 Belmont Stakes, and Friar Rock, whose victories in the 1916 Belmont Stakes and Suburban Handicap resulted in a Horse of the Year title, as well as Fair Play, Lady Violet, Rock View, and Henry of Navarre. His colt Tracery won the 1912 St. Leger Stakes, and he won the Belmont Stakes with Hastings. The best horse to carry his colors, however, was the filly Beldame, a chestnut filly by Octagon foaled at Nursery Stud in 1901.
Her dam, Bella Donna, was an English bred mare by Epsom Derby winner Hermit out of Bonnie Doon by Rapid Rhone. Out of the Gladiator mare Queen Mary, Bonnie Doon was half sister to two-time leading sire Bonnie Scotland and Epsom Derby winnner Blink Bonny, who was in turn the dam of Epsom Derby winner Blair Athol. Bella Donna later produced Don Enrique, a son of Hastings who won the 1907 Preakness Stakes.
Bella Donna's Octagon filly was something of a handful, and she liked to have her own way. That tendency manifested itself in her eating habits. Actively disliking oats, she instead preferred corn, eating it straight off the cob.
Beldame ran second in the Clover Stakes her first time out, breaking badly but coming on strongly at the wire. She then came back three weeks later to wire the field in the Vernal Stakes. When Beldame developed a skin problem, trainer John Hyland diagnosed her with mosquito bites. Belmont disagreed, suspecting hives or shingles. After the filly ran a poor sixth behind eventual champion Hamburg Belle in a prep race, Belmont insisted that she be scratched from the Futurity, while her trainer maintained that she had lost due to a poor start. Belmont scratched her from the Futurity. As a result, John Hyland quit as Belmont's trainer.
In the process of supervising the construction of both the New York City subway system and the new Belmont Park, Belmont was unable to give his full attention to his racing stable. Beldame therefore carried his silks into the winner's cricle only one more time, after beating Ocean Tide in the Great Filly Stakes at Sheepshead Bay, before being leaased to Newton Bennington. Fred Burlew, trainer of 75 stakes winners of 124 stakes races, took over as her trainer.
The talented filly ran out of ground in the Matron Stakes, finishing fast but finishing third. She ran out of ground again in the Nursery Handicap, finishing fourth behind Race King. She then officially began racing in the name of Newton Bennington.
In his colors, she handed defeat to a field of colts in an overnight race, and ended the season with $21,185 in earnings.
Beldame came back at three to win at first asking, scoring a victory against older males in the Carter Handicap. No doubt her margin of victory would have been more than two lengths if not for her rider's tight hold. She then ran third to champion Irish Lad and the brilliant sprinter Toboggan in the Metropolitan Handicap before winning five straight stakes races against fillies.
On her way to the post of the Ladies Handicap, Beldame bolted off with substitute rider Gene Hildebrand and galloped back to the barn. Despite the incident, she led wire to wire and was eased at the finish.
She cantered home in a six furlong allowance race, then scored in the Gazelle Stakes, which she won by an impressive ten lengths on a sloppy track. Beldame took the Mermaid Stakes by seven lengths, drawing away from the field even as she was eased up.
In the Test Handicap, then for both sexes, Beldame chased Suburban Handicap winner Hermis, who was Horse of the Year in both 1902 and 1903, to a track record. She wasn't beaten again that season, besting the fillies by six lengths in the Alabama Stakes and then sweeping five straight races against the colts.
The Saratoga Cup was her most impressive performance. The field included Africander, who was not only the previous year's winner in track record time, but had also won the Belmont Stakes, earning the title Champion Three Year Old Colt. Also in contention were previous leading money winner Major Daingerfield, and The Picket, winner of the previous year's American Derby. Despite the high caliber of competition, Beldame shot to the lead, held it for the full mile and three quarters, and merely cantered to a four length victory.
At Sheepshead Bay, Beldame won both the Dolphin Stakes, at a mile and an eighth, and the September Stakes, at a mile and three-sixteenths, with ease.
Traveling to Gravesend, the great filly easily defeated Caughnawaga in the First Special. The Second Special, five days later, promised more a challenge. There she once again met Africander, and she also met the great Broomstick, who held the American record for a mile and a quarter. In fact, Beldame was actually asked to give away weight to the older horse. She won anyway, by five lengths.
Beldame earned Horse of the Year honors, while Hermis, despite his Suburban Handicap victory, had to settle for his divisional title.
Beldame's regular rider was Frank O'Neill, whose success was not limited to his victories on the filly. He won the Toboggan and Metropolitan Handicaps on Roseben that year, and later went on to be successful in Europe. His triumphs warranted a place in the Hall of Fame.
As a four-year-old, Beldame once again raced for August Belmont II. When Newton Bennington's leased ended, Andrew Joyner, who was training Belmont's horses, left Beldame in the care of Fred Burlew, not believing he could make an improvement in the brilliant filly. Racing ten times, Beldame only won two starts as a four-year-old, but she chose the right times to win.
After tiring behind Sysonby in the Metropolitan Handicap in her season debut, Beldame ran a close second in an overnight handicap while giving nineteen pounds to the winner. She then won the Standard Handicap by a length over Cairngorm and Major Daingerfield.
Under top weight, she became the second filly to win the Suburban Handicap, defeating 1904 Belmont Stakes winner and Champion Three Year Old Colt Delhi, who went on to be the Champion Handicap Horse that year.
After Beldame was nosed out by Kentucky Derby winner Agile in the Advance Handicap while conceding him ten pounds, she returned to the Belmont barn and was trained by Andrew Joyner.
She was second to Ort Wells in the Brighton Mile, ran third behind the great filly Artful in the Brighton Handicp, was third again when forced wide in the Saratoga Handicap, and tired after pushing the pace in the Delaware Handicap.
Beldame made her final start on August 19, 1905, in the Saratoga Cup. Despite a game try, she couldn't do better than second, beaten a length and a half by Caughnawaga. She was retired.
Beldame was named Champion Handicap Mare and retired with earnings of $102,570. She was only the third female to exceed $100,000 in earnings, following Miss Woodford and Firenze. Beldame entered the Hall of Fame in 1956.
|Bonnie Doon||Rapid Rhone||Young Melbourne|
|Mare by Retriever|
|Mary by Plenipotentiary|
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