September 24, 2023

Who were the top racehorses during the 1916 World Series?

Regret, the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby (1915), was still racing in 1916

For the first time since 1916, the World Series pits the Boston Red Sox against the team now known as the Los Angeles Dodgers. This fascinating historical factoid has understandably stoked curiosity about what else was going on 102 years ago.

From an American Thoroughbred racing perspective, three Hall of Famers were in action, and a fourth was sidelined but nearing a comeback.

The most famous of the Hall of Fame trio competing in 1916 was Regret. The first filly to win the Kentucky Derby (1915), Regret raced only twice during her four-year-old season. The H.P. Whitney homebred suffered her first loss when tiring to last in the Saratoga H., but rebounded to wire a Spa allowance before being shelved. Nine-for-11 lifetime, she never lost to a fellow filly.

Hall of Fame sprinter Pan Zareta is often remembered for her resting place in the Fair Grounds infield, but in 1916, she was plying her trade at the historic New Orleans track as well as Oaklawn Park. The dazzling Texas-bred crammed in 11 starts between January and March, winning seven (under such massive weights as 142 and 140 pounds) and placing in the other four. According to William H.P. Robertson’s History of Thoroughbred Racing in America, Pan Zareta’s victory over a mile at Oaklawn on March 11, 1916, was a track record, a remarkable display of versatility for a speed machine who set numerous records in sprints. Over her far-flung career, enduring until her fatal bout of pneumonia (1918), the legendary mare compiled a mark of 76 wins (most ever for a distaffer), 31 seconds, and 21 thirds from 151 starts.

Hall of Famer Roamer, who amassed an overall record of 39 wins from 98 starts, was not as prolific in 1916, but the warrior gelding continued to add to his resume. He wired the Yonkers H. and placed in six stakes, including the 1 3/4-mile Saratoga Cup to the year’s top performer, Friar Rock.

The hero of the 1916 Belmont Stakes, Friar Rock was easily the best three-year-old. The narrow Kentucky Derby victor, George Smith, did not win another race all season, and Preakness scorer Damrosch’s resume likewise did not measure up.

Friar Rock did not contest the Derby or Preakness. That’s no surprise since there was no Triple Crown yet, and the first horse who would eventually be recognized for sweeping it, Sir Barton, was only just born in 1916. Friar Rock earned his stripes by beating older horses in such prized races as the Suburban H., Brooklyn H. (in track-record time, according to Abram Hewitt’s Sire Lines), and the aforementioned Saratoga Cup. In an era before formal voting on championships, Friar Rock was widely recognized as Horse of the Year.

Although Friar Rock lives on as a remote ancestor in modern pedigrees, his half-brother Fair Play is much better known as the sire of the all-time great Man o’ War. In the fall of 1916, Man o’ War was still an unborn foal developing within his dam, Mahubah, to arrive in this world on March 29, 1917.

Also worth mentioning in 1916 is the ongoing convalescence of Hall of Famer Old Rosebud. The 1914 Kentucky Derby winner in then track-record time, he romped by a record eight lengths – a margin that would be equaled but never surpassed. Old Rosebud bowed a tendon next time out in the Withers, putting him on the sidelines for almost three years. The great gelding returned to racing, amazingly recapturing form at a high level in 1917, and kept battling until succumbing to injury in 1922.

The racing was undoubtedly exciting as was the World Series, as that famous Red Sox pitcher named Babe Ruth was around for three, including the series featuring the now named Los Angeles Dodgers. So for the sake of racing and baseball, who would you have picked to win the 1916 Kentucky Derby and the 1916 World series?

1916 World Series Clip: