Greatness Knows No Weight

In the Triple Crown races, colts and geldings carry 126 pounds and fillies carry 121 pounds. The idea is that a male horse holds a physical advantage over fillies (though I know fillies and mares throughout history that might challenge that idea) so the difference in weights gives each horse an equal chance at the same goal. So goes the wisdom behind assigning weights in a handicap: horses with good records and more talent receive higher weights than others who may not have shown such. With that in mind, let’s look at Sir Barton’s start in the 1919 Maryland Handicap.

By early October, racing in Maryland had shifted from Havre de Grace to Laurel for its fall meet. The question of who owned the three-year-old crown still lingered in the air as Purchase had wowed in his other starts in 1919 while Sir Barton had won those spring classics, but had had a series of mixed performance since then. The scuttlebutt had the two meeting at some point that autumn to decide the thing outright, but, in the meantime, Ross and company shifted their focus to Laurel’s slate of handicaps, including the Maryland Handicap.

Though the race had six starters, unlike his previous start in the Havre de Grace Handicap, Sir Barton’s competition was not nearly as stellar. No Cudgel, no Exterminator, and no Purchase; instead, the other starters were all colts that he gave anywhere from fifteen to twenty-seven pounds to, enough weight that these lightweights had a fighting chance, in theory.

Truly, they had none. Rather than engage in a speed battle on the front end, jockey Johnny Loftus hung at the back of the pack, waiting for the front-runners to burn themselves out before moving for the lead. As the field went around the last turn, Thunderclap surged wide, taking Sir Barton with him. The Triple Crown winner recovered and started picking off horses one-by-one until he only had Mad Hatter in front of him in the stretch. By the time the field hit the wire, Sir Barton had pulled ahead of Mad Hatter by two lengths, finishing in a time just two-fifths off the record for the mile and a quarter.

The race was called one of Sir Barton’s best performances to date, an exciting end to another rich race for the Ross Stable. Finally, the champion earned a break and didn’t start again until November.


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