Saturday’s Woodward Stakes marks the sixty-third rendition of this historically important Stakes Race. The event was established in 1954 - just one year after the death of Mr. William Woodward Sr.
He was the owner of Belair stud - a name revered for breeding and racing top-level thoroughbreds for four decades. Mr. Woodward and his famed white with red polka dot silks would rule the horseracing world in the 1930s.
He would win two triple crowns in that span with Gallant Fox in 1930 and then Omaha in 1935. Belair almost pulled a hat trick with the great Nashua in 1955. Second to the mighty Swaps in the Kentucky Derby, he would come back to win the last two jewels easily.
Mr. Woodward was as at ease in his office as sole owner of Hanover National Bank, as he was at his desk as Chairman Of The Jockey Club, positions that he used to greatly enhance the reputation of American horse racing in comparison to its European counterparts.
I believe Mr. Woodward would be ecstatic to know the relevance of his namesake stake. Nineteen times the winner of this perennially important event would go on to be named horse of the year, names such as Sword Dancer, Kelso, Buckpasser, Forego, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, Alysheba, Skip Away and Rachel Alexandra.
And let us not forget Holy Bull, a specimen so powerful that even Spain’s great matador “Manolete” would have been hard pressed to slow down this bull.
This is a roll call of those who have entered “The Pantheon of Champions” down through the ages.
Long after Belair closed its stalls and disbursed its remaining horse stock, The Woodwards would have one last hurrah. Bill’s daughter Edith would dust off the Belair silks one more time. This happened for one of the finest Thoroughbreds to ever grace the American Turf.
Damascus would thrill the racing world with battles of epic proportions pitted against his archrival Dr. Fager. It would be in the 1967 version of the Woodward Stakes where Damascus would prove his valor.
He would not only face Dr. Fager, but also the most regally bred champion in memory - Ogden Phipps’ Buckpasser, fittingly dubbed “The Race Of The Century.” Damascus put them both in his back pocket and along with it a well-deserved horse of the year trophy.
Years have passed, and The Woodward name is largely forgotten. The race is principally all that remains.
Then, in the spring of this year one more honor would be awarded to this great name in American racing. The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame named William Woodward Sr. as a “Pillar of the Turf.”
A distinction so well deserved, joining a select club including giants such as Alfred G Vanderbilt, John Hay Whitney, Paul Mellon, E P Taylor, August Belmont II and a few others who were the caretakers of horse racing in North America.
The advent of the Breeders Cup along with its huge purse structure and horse of the year ramifications have taken much of the luster off the Woodward and other historic races as well. Yet, it will always have the one distinction that separates it from all others… The Woodward name, a name that is synonymous with all that has made horse racing “The Sport Of Kings.”
Also, If you ever find yourself thirty miles southeast of Baltimore in Prince George’s County, just a few miles from the old Bowie Racetrack, you can still get a glimpse of Mr. Woodward’s masterpiece. Although most of the land has been sold off to developers and the tree-lined entranceways and perfectly manicured acreage may be long gone, the Belair Mansion and its renowned stables still survive.
Here you can walk your way into horse racing history as you tour these legendary grounds, a special place that for a few hours will take you back to the glory days of William Woodward and his beloved Belair Stud.
And, for any of the higher ups at NYRA that may read this, please consider the following:
- Make this race a Labor Day tradition.
- Race it at the classic distance of one and one-quarter miles (Saturday’s race is a mile and 1/8).
- Raise the purse to a richly deserved one million dollars.
It would be such a grand way to close out the future racing seasons here at the Spa. The late Mr. Woodward, who epitomized both class and the pursuit of excellence would expect, no make that demand - nothing less.
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