Origin story from 1893 – The Kentucky Futurity

by Bob Heyden

The first Kentucky Futurity was also harness racing’s first Triple Crown race.

The inaugural race came one year after Arden Homestead was formed, five years before Fasig-Tipton.

The outstanding moment of the inaugural meet was turned in by Arion, a 4-year-old who won an Exhibition in 2:07.3/4

What was the world record at the time The Red Mile opened its doors? 2:04 flat by Nancy Hanks.

Also on the books — can you believe this? — was a nine-heat world record holder named Alix.

In 1893, horses blinders were on occasion referred to as ‘disgraceful adjuncts.’

The winner of the 1893 Kentucky Futurity was Oro Wilkes in 2:14 1/2 (he won the final three heats).

Medio won the first two of the five-heat contest, but had to settle for second money. The Conqueror was third.

Winning bloodline. Orio Wilkes was sired by Sable Wilkes and was out of a Director mare.

John A Goldsmith was the winning driver.

There were 11 starters.

How did the industry look upon the first ever Kentucky Futurity, and what was it called then?

Let’s go back to the Dec. 19, 1893 Clarks Horse Review for their take:

“The Kentucky Breeders Meeting, beginning October 7, at the new Lexington track, furnished the usual succession of sensations. The ‘Stallion Representative Stake’ of $11,000 for three year olds brought out a high class field, Medio, the crack of the early Western-Southern meetings, landing the first two heats in 2:14 3/4 and 2:14 1/2, but losing at last to Oro Wilkes, a colt by Sable Wilkes, in 2:15 3/4, 2:16 1/4 and 2:17 1/4.”

Red Mile records and more history

The oldest existing Red Mile track record is 1:51.3 — Revenue’s record for older trotters set on Oct. 9, 2004 with John Campbell driving.

Shebestingin is coming up on the sixth anniversary of her 1:47 epic mile, the 3YOFP standard in the sport.

Sept. 29 marked 35 years since the death of Joe O’Brien. He is the man who posted a 1:52 flat time trial with Steady Star for a speed standard in 1971 that would last until Niatross lowered it in 1980. O’Brien also drove Scott Frost over the surface at the Red Mile to the very first Triple Crown (1955) and the first of his two
Horse of the Year seasons.

Sept. 28 marked 144 years since the opening of the Red Mile — a three-race card in 1875, just a few months after the first Kentucky Derby was contested. Odd Fellow won the first race in 2:44.1/4 on that Tuesday afternoon, just a decade after the Civil War came to an end.

Greyhound’s; 1:55.1/4 trotting time standard was set at the Red Mile. Did you know that four days later he duplicated that time, but since it was to BEAT 1:55.1/4 it was considered a ‘losing’ effort.

No Triple Crown race has been in existence longer than the Kentucky Futurity.

The first year for the Red Mile was the last year of the life of Hambletonian, the horse considered the father of the standardbred.

Goldsmith Maid’s 2:14 mark was the gold standard when the doors opened 144 years ago.

The first grandstand collapsed in 1892 and the second one burned down in 1931.

The 1905 program cover read “The Official Score Book.”

When Billy Direct set the new speed standard of 1:55 flat in a time trial in 1938, did you know that he competed in a race earlier that day?

Trotting vacancy

Still no trotter has won Triple Crown and a Breeders Crown. Triple Crown winner Windsong’s Legacy retired prior to the 2004 Breeders Crown and then lost the Horse of the Year balloting that year 119-98 to Rainbow Blue.

All in the Family

Billy Haughton never drove a winner of the Kentucky Futurity but his sons did — three times:

1976 – Quick Pay (Peter); 1978 – Doublemint (Peter) and 1980 — Final Score (Tommy).

WWII erased 4

The Kentucky Futurity was not raced from 1942-1945.

Natural Hat Tricks

Chuck Sylvester posted three straight Kentucky Futurity wins as trainer:

  • 1991 – Whiteland Janice
  • 1992 – Armbro Keepsake
  • 1993 – Pine Chip

John Campbell won the Kentucky Futurity three straight years as driver:

  • 1992 – Armbro Keepsake
  • 1993 – Pine Chip
  • 1994 – Bullville Victory

2019 Kentucky Futurity

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the first six-figure purse in Kentucky Futurity history — Waymaker was driven to victory by John Simpson Jr. in 1974.

Age defying double

Mike Lachance’s last two Kentucky Futurity drives at 61 and 62 were both victories:

  • 2012 – My MVP
  • 2013 – Creatine

Full House

The first 5 Hambletonian winners also won the Kentucky Futurity:

  • 1926 – Guy McKinney
  • 1927 – Isola’s Worthy
  • 1928 – Spencer
  • 1930 – Walter Dear
  • 1931 – Hanover’s Bertha

Grand (Pa’s) Plan

The 1952 Hambletonian and Kentucky Futurity were won by 74-year-old Bion Shively driving Sharp Note. They were his first two (and only two)Triple Crown race wins! Fifty-four years earlier he fought in the Spanish American War in 1898.
Kentucky Futurity Fillies – by the numbers

It is now 27 years since the last filly beat the boys — 1992 Armbro Keepsake. In all, 36 fillies have won the Kentucky Futurity. Twenty-five of first 45 editions went to a filly (then a 20 year drought from 1937 to 1957). There were five straight filly winners from 1915 to 1919.

One crazy race

In the 1972 Kentucky Futurity, with just five entered, Songcan TWICE stepped on and flattened the tire of favored Super Bowl, who went on to win anyway and nail down the Triple Crown.

Seven Up

Ben White drove an incredible seven winners in the Kentucky Futurity — five of those fillies.

Four came prior to the debut of the Hambletonian and three after:

  • 1916 – Volga (f)
  • 1922 – Lee Worthy
  • 1924 – Mr McElwyn
  • 1925 – Aileen Guy (f)
  • 1933 – Meda (f)
  • 1936 – Rosalind (f)
  • 1937 – Twilight Song (f)

Tattersalls Pace odds and ends

The Tattersalls Pace was started in 1971 and in the first 40 years a Canadian-born driver won 32 times — and that includes divisions.

Some Tattersalls winners who were named Horse of the Year, include: Albatross in 1971, Keystone Ore in 1976, Nihilator in 1985, Beach Towel in 1990, Gallo blue Chip in 2000, Rocknroll Hanover in 2005, Somebeachsomewhere in 2008 and Rock N Roll Heaven in 2010

Other notes:

  • The 1997 Tattersalls was historic when Northern Luck won in 1:49.1 and the $408,300 purse was the first time the race has surpassed $400,000.
  • 1995 marked the first time it was split into divisions — won by Nick’s Fantasy and Stand Forever.
  • 1987 saw a new dead heat world record of 1:51.2 between Laag and Jaguar Spur.
  • Albatross posted a world record of 1:54.4 in 1971 that wasn’t bettered until Super Clint’s 1:54 in 1977
  • 2002 and 2003 saw a record three divisions both years.
  • A pair of Triple Crown winners added a Tattersalls trophy, too. No Pan Intended did it last in 2003 and Ralph Hanover in 1983 to add to his then $1.7 million single-season earnings, which was a record at the time.
  • Somebeachsomewhere and Art Official each won a Tattersalls division in 2008, two months after their epic Meadowlands Pace duel.