It's impact on the juvenile championship picture and on the Kentucky Derby (G1) has lessened in recent decades, but Saturday's renewal of the $150,000 Futurity (G3) at Belmont Park conjures up memories of a time when the sprint was one of the premier races of its kind on the racing calendar as well as one of the most lucrative.
1. As its name implies, the race formerly required horses to be nominated from either birth or at an early age, and with recurring payments to remain eligible up through age two. With owners and breeders throughout the country willing to gamble for a couple years on a potentially huge payday, the Futurity often wound up being the richest race in the country during the first half of the 20th century and the most prestigious event for two-year-olds. In 1929, for example, Whichone earned a winner's share of $105,730 (more than $1.4 million in 2017 dollars) after defeating eventual Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox.
2. Inaugurated in 1888, the Futurity in its early years was won by numerous legends that would later be among the earliest inductees into the Hall of Fame. Among these were Domino (1893), the undefeated Colin (1907), and Man o' War (1919).
3. Fillies held their own in the Futurity for many years. Among those that reached the winner's circle were Artful (1904), who won the next year's Belmont Stakes, as well as Maskette (1908), Mother Goose (1924), Top Flight (1931), and First Flight (1946), all of whom would eventually have stakes in New York named in their honor. The last filly to win the Futurity was Priceless Gem, who beat Hall of Fame colt Buckpasser in 1965. Priceless Gem went on to produce the legendary French filly Allez France.
4. For several decades, the Futurity was contested over 6 1/2 furlongs on the old Widener Straight Course at Belmont Park, a strip of racetrack that ran diagonally right to left through what is now the track's infield. With the popularization and introduction of turf racing at Belmont in the late 1950s, the Widener Course was eliminated and the race moved to the main dirt track around one turn.
5. In the post-war era, Triple Crown winners Citation, Secretariat, and Affirmed counted the Futurity among their juvenile successes. Future Hall of Famers Tom Fool, Native Dancer, Bold Ruler, Riva Ridge, and Holy Bull, and an assortment of other champions and classic winners, also captured the race. The last horse to win both the Futurity and Kentucky Derby was Swale (1983-84).