MARCH 12, 2014
Hall of Fame missing an Old Hat
by Vance Hanson
Among the four Thoroughbred finalists on the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot,
announced last week by the National Museum of Racing, is Ashado, who was named
champion three-year-old filly in 2004 and champion older mare in 2005.
Whether Ashado is inducted this year or at some future time, she would join a
lengthy list of fillies and mares in the Hall of Fame who secured divisional
championships in multiple years. Members of this group currently include Azeri,
Bayakoa, Bed o’ Roses, Bewitch, Cicada, Desert Vixen, Flawlessly, Gallant Bloom,
Gamely, Go for Wand, Miesque, Paseana, Ruffian, Shuvee, Susan’s Girl, Ta Wee,
Tosmah and Two Lea.
Over the next several years this list is likely to swell as Zenyatta,
Noticeably absent from the aforementioned list is Old Hat, who was twice
Though there is a stakes run annually at Gulfstream Park in her honor, few
apparently remember how good Old Hat was. One possible explanation is
that she rarely competed on the turf’s biggest stages. Old Hat raced in New York
only twice, losing by wide margins to Hall of Famers Tosmah and Affectionately,
and not at all in California. Suffice it to say her performances in the 1964
Maskette Handicap and 1965 Top Flight Handicap do not begin to tell the whole
Old Hat raced 80 times, winning 35 starts and placing in 27 others. In her
last three seasons of racing, when she was at her peak, Old Hat was first or
second in 29 of 38 starts and was out of the money just five times. Two of those
unplaced efforts were on turf, a surface she never quite mastered.
Old Hat broke into the national consciousness in 1963 in an abbreviated (by
her standards) campaign which saw her beat or finish ahead of that year’s
champion older filly, Cicada, twice in three meetings. Though she was getting
weight in both instances, it was no small feat to upset a horse who would become
the first filly to win championships at ages two, three and four.
In 1964 Old Hat was named champion older mare in the Thoroughbred Racing
Association (TRA) poll based on wins in the Delaware Handicap (at the time the
richest race in the country for fillies and mares), the Spinster and the Falls
City Handicap. She also finished second in the Arlington Matron and Maskette to
Tosmah, a three-year-old rival who was named divisional champion in both
major polls as well as Daily Racing Form‘s “Handicap Mare” category,
which three-year-olds were eligible to be considered for at the time.
It was in 1965, at age six, when Old Hat clearly establish her Hall of Fame
credentials. Not only did she defeat members of her own sex in the Columbiana,
Black Helen, Suwannee River, and Arlington Matron, but she also defeated males
twice, including the one who would be voted Horse of the Year in the DRF
Old Hat was no stranger to facing and beating males. Prior to 1965, she had
won four of six starts against males, albeit all in allowance sprints. But in
her second championship season, she proved her mettle three times in stakes
company against the boys.
In her first attempt, the seven-furlong Appleton Handicap at Gulfstream, she
was beaten a mere neck by Ampose while conceding that foe, who subsequently won
the 1 1/4-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap, seven pounds. Later in the year, in the
Michigan Mile and One-Eighth Handicap at Detroit, Old Hat defeated Roman Brother
by a half-length. Old Hat carried 115 pounds to Roman Brother’s 118, essentially
equal weight on the scale when the three-pound sex allowance is considered.
Roman Brother, a leading three-year-old the previous year, would go on to win
the Woodward, Manhattan Handicap and Jockey Club Gold Cup by a combined margin
of 23 lengths. In a close vote, he was named 1965 Horse of the Year in the
Old Hat’s third and final stakes attempt against males that season was in the
Fayette Handicap at Keeneland. Again carrying equal weight on the scale with her
closest pursuer, she won by a neck over Lt. Stevens, later to be famous as the
broodmare sire of Hall of Famer Alysheba.
Two disappointing efforts prevented Old Hat from being a serious Horse of the
Year candidate in 1965. In her final appearance in New York, Old Hat conceded
seven pounds to Affectionately in the Top Flight, and that rival got an easy
lead which she never surrendered. And 12 days after winning the Fayette, Old Hat
ran a puzzling fourth in the Spinster at odds of 2-5. Nonetheless, Old Hat was
awarded champion older mare honors by both the DRF and TRA.
“Hattie” was not in championship form in 1966, but her campaign had its
moments. The highlights included a second win in the Falls City at Churchill
Downs and a second-place effort in the Spinster, where she finished between Open
Fire and Summer Scandal, the respective DRF and TRA champion older mares
of the year. Old Hat’s racing career ended following an allowance score against
males at Tropical Park on December 2, 1966. She died in 1987 at the age of 28.
Old Hat was the quintessential champion mare of an earlier era. She was
durable, excessively so by modern standards, a winner going short and long over
10 different racetracks, and was one of the very few fillies in history to have
defeated the best male of her year straight up. It’s these attributes that make
her worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame.