Like many tracks across the country, Gulfstream Park tends to honor star performers from its past by naming stakes after them. Examples abound on the Feb. 1 card this upcoming Saturday when the familiar Holy Bull and Swale will be remembered, as well as the lesser known Sweetest Chant, a two-time stakes winner at Gulfstream in the early 1980s who later became the second dam of the prolific sire Distorted Humor.
Also being honored is Forward Gal, who strode onto the American racing scene 50 years ago this season. Unlike the above named, though, she left no discernible impression on the history of Gulfstream. In her only start over the track, which happened to be her career debut on Mar. 26, 1970, Forward Gal finished fifth in a 5-furlong maiden race.
Coming along at at time when Florida-breds were becoming an increasingly important presence on the national stage, Forward Gal continues to be commemorated as one of the earliest natives of her state to win a divisional championship. She was the last champion 2-year-old filly so honored by the main voting entities of the day (Daily Racing Form and the Thoroughbred Racing Association) before the advent of the Eclipse Awards in 1971. Parenthetically, the Florida-bred fillies Ta Wee (sprinter) and Office Queen (co-champion 3-year-old) also won division titles in 1970.
Forward Gal was bred by A. I. “Butch” Savin, who raced the filly under his Aisco Stable banner. A daughter of 1965 Florida Derby winner Native Charger, she was trained throughout her two-season, 26-race career by Hall of Famer Jimmy Croll, who would later condition Mr. Prospector for Savin, Holy Bull, and Belmont S. (G1) winner Bet Twice.
“Mr. Savin bred her from a mare (Forward Thrust) he bought for $3,500, largely because she was by Jet Action. He has a share in Native Charger, thus Forward Gal,” said Croll to famed DRF columnist Charles Hatton, who also quoted Croll describing Forward Gal as “…a genuine pleasure, a docile filly and a splendid doer.”
Overcoming both that early defeat at Gulfstream and some stifle trouble later that spring, Forward Gal soon blossomed into a serious runner. Second and fourth in her first two stakes appearances that summer, the blinkered Forward Gal earned her first added-money victory in a division of the Schuylkill at Liberty Bell Park in Philadelphia, and then upset the prestigious Sorority at Monmouth Park by two lengths as a 12-1 outsider.
A next-out second in the Adirondack at Saratoga, Forward Gal rebounded to win the more important Spinaway by a length in wire-to-wire fashion after an early duel. She was much more dominant in the lucrative, one-mile Frizette at Belmont Park, when she advanced from second to the lead after 5 furlongs and opened up a huge advantage in the stretch.
“She won the Frizette by 3 1/2 lengths and we had the distinct impression she might readily have made it more had her rider insisted. But the idea was to win, not to elope with her, and Jorge Velasquez finished smoothly soliciting her with a hand ride,” Hatton quipped.
However, the juvenile filly championship was not yet sewn up. The richest race in the division, the $188,360 Gardenia at Garden State Park on Nov. 7, would pit Forward Gal against the impressive California invader June Darling, who not only had won the Hollywood Lassie, Sorrento, and Oak Leaf, but also the Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk against the boys for owner Clement L. Hirsch and trainer Warren Stute.
Forward Gal was the 3-2 favorite for the 1 1/16-mile Gardenia while June Darling, a supplemental entry, was the 5-2 second choice. However, the result proved a bit of an anti-climax as June Darling crumbled under pressure from Forward Gal through modest splits of :23 4/5 and :47 3/5. June Darling trailed the field of nine, while Forward Gal was out-finished by both Eggy and Rosemont Bow in the final furlong.
Although she had clearly accumulated enough big prizes to earn division honors, the Gardenia nonetheless proved that longer distances, especially around two turns, would not be Forward Gal’s forte in the future. Nonetheless, Forward Gal enjoyed a solid campaign as a 3-year-old. In 12 stakes appearances, she won four and placed in seven others.
Victorious in the 6-furlong Betsy Ross H. at Garden State and 7-furlong Comely at Aqueduct to start the campaign, the chestnut next weakened to third as the 2-5 favorite in the Acorn at Aqueduct when stretching out to a mile. She faltered again as the public choice in the Mother Goose and a division of the Post-Deb at Monmouth before stretching her speed 1 1/8 miles in the Monmouth Oaks, a 4 3/4-length victory that proved the only two-turn success of her career.
Losses in the Cotillion H., Test, and Alabama followed before Forward Gal reached the winner’s circle for a final time in the nine-furlong Gazelle H. at Belmont around one turn. Her career concluded with placings in the Delaware Oaks and in a Princeton H. division over Garden State’s turf course.
With no clear leader having emerged among the 3-year-old filly class based on the East Coast that season, the California-based Turkish Trousers was voted champion in the inaugural Eclipse Awards poll having compiled eight stakes wins while racing exclusively at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, and Del Mar. Forward Gal (124) was weighted two pounds below Turkish Trousers (126) on Daily Racing Form‘s Free Handicap.
Living until 1984, Forward Gal proved not to be a success as a broodmare. Her most notable descendant, a great-grandson, was Freedom Cry, a multiple Group 2 winner in Europe who ran second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) in 1995.
Although Forward Gal herself was seemingly never considered a Kentucky Oaks hopeful in 1971, her 7-furlong namesake race at Gulfstream has been a proving ground for some notable fillies since its inauguration in 1981. The very first running included the Woody Stephens-trained pair of Heavenly Cause, the juvenile filly champion who later won the Kentucky Oaks, and De La Rose, who was voted champion turf female the same year.
Fillies that have pulled off the Forward Gal/Kentucky Oaks double were two-time champion Open Mind in 1989 and Cathryn Sophia in 2016, while Forever Together won the 2007 Forward Gal before finding more success on the grass as an Eclipse Award winner in 2008.