January 21, 2019

Fenian a “wanted” Belmont winner for owner-breeder August Belmont

Atop the Belmont Stakes trophy is Fenian, August Belmont's homebred winner of the 1869 classic (NYRA photo)

When Thoroughbred breeder, owner, and executive August Belmont died in 1890, his obituary noted that he generally showed up at the races when he thought that his horse had a shot to win; it was said that Belmont’s very presence at the races was enough to lower the odds on his horses.

On June 5, 1869, Belmont had several very good reasons to show up at Jerome Park in the Bronx:  the race named for him was being run for the third time, and he had two horses, Glenelg and Fenian, entered in it.  Belmont had purchased Glenelg in utero; he had bred Fenian.

Like many of his racing generation, Belmont’s greatest joy was winning with the horses that he bred. His obituary notes that the “proudest moment of [Belmont’s] turf career” came when two of his home-bred colts, Potomac and Masher, ran first and second in the Coney Island Jockey Club’s Futurity Stakes, then the richest race in the world. Belmont owned both colts as well as their sires and dams.

The anonymous reporter in the New York Times noted that June 5th, 1869 began grey with a threat of rain, but that by noon, the sun “came out in all his bright effulgence,” and “the balconies of the elegant club house [of Jerome Park] and the spacious galleries of the grand stand were crowded with elegantly-dressed ladies, whose light and exquisite toilettes added to the beauty and attraction of the spectacle.”

The Belmont was run at the distance of a mile and five furlongs, and eight horses showed up to contest it. It appears that Fenian led wire to wire, and by the three-quarter pole, Belmont’s colts were one-two. At the finish, it was Fenian by four lengths, “winning in the commonest of canters,” with Glenelg second.  It was said that he “might have won had he been wanted.”

“Had he been wanted”?

We turn to William H.P. Robertson’s The History of  Thoroughbred Racing in America for elucidation:

…Glenelg…was considerably better than the winner, but Belmont had bred Fenian and preferred to win with him, so, as [turf historian Walter] Vosburgh wrote, “Glenelg’s jockey almost had to pull his head off to let Fenian finish first.

Fenian’s victory is significant not only because it was the first time that Belmont won his eponymous race, and not only because he won it with one of his own. Fenian’s 1869 legacy lasts to this day, because the trophy that was presented to the winner of the Belmont for the first time that day is the trophy that will be presented to the winner on Saturday afternoon, and it’s topped by a statue of Fenian, the colt who for more than a hundred years has represented his owner’s commitment to Thoroughbred racing, despite his losing stablemate’s acknowledged superior ability.