September 22, 2021

The Barbarous Battalion in the Alabama

Ruthless beat the boys in the 1867 Belmont Stakes and Travers (portrait by Edward Troye)


Not much remains in the easily available historical record on 19th century Thoroughbred owner and breeder Francis Morris. The New York Times seems not to have published his obituary, and the guy doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.

His name lives on mostly through pedigree, in his human progeny and the horses he bred, for both which exists ample historical material…including Wikipedia pages, even for the horses.

Morris lived in Throggs Neck (now spelled Throgs Neck) in what is now the Bronx; he had Texas roots and owned a ranch there, but he seems to have based his racing operation in his adopted home of New York. It was in New York that he kept his mare Barbarity, a horse he acquired as part of a settlement in a lawsuit with his partner, noted horseman Richard Ten Broeck, and it was in New York that he bred her five times to the champion imported stallion Eclipse.

And it was in New York, too, that the five fillies, named Ruthless, Remorseless, Regardless, Merciless, and Relentless, all won some of the most important stakes races of the time. Born between 1865 and 1873, they became known as the Barbarous Battalion.

Foaled in 1871, Regardless was the penultimate born of the quintet, and she had some pretty big horseshoes to fill: her sister Ruthless had won the first Belmont Stakes and the Travers; Remorseless the Flash and the Saratoga Special, and she was runner-up in the Hopeful; Relentless the Saratoga Stakes.

Regardless had shown an affinity for Saratoga at 2, winning the Flash Stakes, and owner Morris brought her back to Saratoga the following year for the third edition of the Alabama Stakes.

Run on Tuesday, July 28, the Alabama at nine furlongs was run as the first race, one of three on the card, one of them over jumps. Regardless stalked the pace in the early going, getting passed by horses at the half-mile pole, with four horses “in a bunch” two furlongs later.

When they came into the homestretch Regardless shot into the lead, and Countess followed her, a fine struggle ensuring between then up to the furlong pole…Regardless had too much speed for Countess however, for as they approached the goal, she jumped clear of her, and finally won the race in the fastest time it was run in, viz.: 2:00 1/4. (The New York Times)

Two years later, it was Merciless’ turn, though not for Francis; she ran for notable turfman Pierre Lorillard. In a field of five, Merciless dueled with Patience, and the race recap reads like some subversive 19th century Christian parable, with the Christian quality getting the worst of it:

When they got under way Merciless immediately took the lead, and was followed by Patience…Going around the turn Merciless shook off Patience…When they got near the quarter pole, Hayward sent Patience to the head of Merciless…When they ran down the backstretch Merciless showed her head in front, but Patience got even with her, and when they reached the half-mile pole they were again yoked…When they went round the lower turn Feakes encouraged Patience to do her best, and for a moment she had her head in front, but Merciless was running well, and before reaching the three-quarter pole she was once more in ahead. On the homestretch Patience began to quail under the pressure, and Merciless forged gradually ahead. Before reaching the end of the grand stand Feakes found it necessary to use the whip freely on Patience, but she did not respond.

At least on the racetrack, virtue does not, after all, always triumph.

Turf historian William H.P. Robertson tells us in A History of Thoroughbred Racing that the colts produced by the Eclipse-Barbarity mating were “of no consequence,” but one must assume that the fillies of the Barbarous Battalion more than made up for the shortcomings of their brothers. And Morris himself would sire some pretty noteworthy offspring: his son was John Morris of the New York Jockey Club and the man who founded the illustration Morris Park in the Bronx; his grandson Alfred and Uncle David bred and raced the winner of the 1898 Belmont; and his great-grandson John served as president of both Jamaica Race Track and the Thoroughbred Racing Association.

Neither Merciless nor Regardless seems to have replicated in their progeny their talent or that of their sisters, and winning the Alabama was their greatest accomplishment on the racetrack. None of today’s nine entrants in the 137th Alabama boasts the sisterly power of the Barbarous Battalion, though morning line third choice Lockdown is a full sister to champion Close Hatches.

“The Barbarous Battalion…” wrote Walter Vosburgh in Racing in America, “certainly made the ‘scarlet’ jacket of Mr. Morris a terror to trainers…”