November 28, 2021

Before Secretariat, Cicada a star for Meadow Stable

Cicada won divisional championships from 1961-63 (photo courtesy of National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame)

by TERESA GENARO

Before Secretariat, there was Cicada.

A decade before Secretariat became the first colt in 25 years to win the Triple Crown, Christopher Chenery, father of Helen, campaigned a filly who was setting her own records.

At two, Cicada started 16 times, winning 11 races and never finishing worse than third; among her victories that year were the Frizette, Matron, and Spinaway, and she was named champion two-year-old filly.

As a three-year-old, Cicada picked up where she left off, going 6-4-2 in her first 12 starts, all but two of them stakes races. These days, running a filly against colts—or a mare against horses—has become such a rarity that it in itself is newsworthy, but a look back at Cicada reveals that her connections felt little of the angst that today’s owners and trainers do in starting her against the colts. Though she never did beat them, she gave at least one of them a hell of a scare.

Cicada’s fourth start of her sophomore season was the Florida Derby, in which her main rival was LeRoy and Moody Jolley’s Ridan, the two-year-old champion of the previous year and a horse that had finished worse than second only once in 11 starts. With her connections considering a Kentucky Derby start for Cicada, if only as a back-up to her stablemate Sir Gaylord, Cicada raced Ridan to a finish at Gulfstream Park that would come back to haunt the colt a few months later.

She lost by a nose to Jolley’s colt, with the rest of the field six lengths further back. Ridan had to wait out an inquiry before being declared the winner, but the winner he was, leaving Cicada’s connections to decide whether to run her in the Derby or the Oaks. Said her jockey Willie Shoemaker after the Florida Derby, “I’d like to ride her back any time against the colts.” She’d raced 20 times and never finished off the board.

In an April 1962 article in Sports Illustrated, by Whitney Tower, Cicada’s connections weighed their options:

Trainer Casey Hayes, who has never been known to race his stock lightly, said: “This is a real running filly with a real heart. Right now she’s good, and we like to run her when she’s good.” [Owner Christopher] Chenery was more explicit. “I don’t think a good filly like Cicada will run any faster against colts than she will against fillies. If she’s good—and we think Cicada is good—she’ll run her best no matter whether it’s against other fillies or against colts or geldings or all three.

Horsemen who watched her courageous race with Ridan might be inclined to believe that competition with colts brings out the best in Cicada. Some would also say that after such a tough race she would have to be an iron horse ever to return to her best form. That will be proved, one way or another, if not in the Derby itself, then in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday of Derby Week.

Hayes and Chenery eventually decided on the Oaks, which Cicada won over a sloppy track by three lengths. She then plowed through the summer’s filly races, winning the Acorn and the Mother Goose, hitting the board in the Coaching Club American Oaks, the Alabama, and two stakes in Delaware. Her streak of finishing in the top three in 23 lifetime races came to an end on the 18th of August, when she finished seventh, six lengths behind the winner, in one of the most memorable Travers of all time, when Jaipur beat Ridan by—you guessed it—a nose.

Cicada finished her career with a record of 42–23–8–6, having earned $783,324. She was named champion two-year-old filly, champion three-year-old filly, and champion handicap mare. And unlike Ridan, she was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Not bad payback for getting beaten by a nose.

She is recalled, as are so many terrific fillies and mares, in the Aqueduct winter stakes schedule; today’s Cicada goes with a field of five at 2:20 pm. (EDT). You can read more about Cicada in this 2010 post at Brooklyn Backstretch and see her in action in this NYRA video about her.