Commander Ross Tries Again

One of the perils of writing is the inevitable cuts that one has to make in order to meet a word count. Commander Ross’s purchase of the filly Constancy is one of those interesting moments that occurred during Sir Barton’s career, but, since Sir Barton himself is not part of this story, this tidbit had to go. However, I wanted to share this with you here on the blog as Constancy became one of the first mares Sir Barton covered when he retired to stud duty at Audley Farm in Virginia. 

One of the features of Saratoga’s August meet was the showcasing of juvenile talent; Man o’ War was the flashiest and most dominant of the juveniles, but other stables had their own hopefuls on display as well. Ross’s juveniles included colts King Thrush, Trench Mortar, Irish Dancer, and Royal Jester as well as fillies His Choice and Bryngar. King Thrush was the first of the Ross juveniles to run at Saratoga, finishing third in the Flash Stakes on August 1st and then faced Man o’ War in the Grand Union Hotel Stakes, finishing fourth behind the big red colt. With the exception of Bryngar and His Choice, none of Ross’s other two-year-olds ran at Saratoga, leaving the stable light on horses to challenge the big red colt – until Ross made a deal with Arthur B. Hancock that brought the filly Constancy into the fold.

So dominant was Man o’ War that each sparkling performance by another two-year-old made that horse the leading candidate to beat the Riddle colt. Looking for a horse that could challenge Big Red led Commander Ross to Hancock’s Claiborne Farm. While in England, Hancock had spotted the mare Simena’s Daughter at a bloodstock sale and bought her and the filly who became Constancy for 700 guineas (~US $50,000 today). He imported them both back to the United States, where Simena’s Daughter became part of Claiborne’s breeding stock and Constancy part of their racing stable. Ross spotted the filly at Aqueduct, where she made her first two starts, finishing out of the money. However, Hancock had assured the Commander that her private trials had demonstrated that Constancy possessed speed. For an undisclosed sum, Ross brought the filly into his stable and noticed that she resembled Milkmaid, information that Bedwell and Ross put to good use later as she approached her first start in Ross colors.

Ross’s reputation as the consummate sportsman made his interest in thoroughbred racing similar to his love for sailing: he enjoyed the sport for the sake of the sport, rather than for profit. However, as the beneficiary of his father James Ross’s sizable estate, Commander Ross was able to enjoy another pastime with his wealth: gambling. Whereas his father might have eschewed that part of racing, Jack Ross enjoyed the wagering side of sports almost as much as he enjoyed the sports themselves. His bet with Arnold Rothstein prior to the 1919 Kentucky Derby netted him a cool $50,000 in addition to the first and second place monies that Sir Barton and Billy Kelly received.

While Commander Ross’ son JKM Ross insists that his father’s wagers were not so sizable when his fortune in 1919 was taken into account, it was common knowledge that the Commander was fond of a good-sized bet. However, his stable’s winning ways made it harder and harder to get a good price on his horses; with shorter odds, the profit was smaller, a less-than-ideal circumstance for a gambling man. When Arthur Hancock brought Constancy to their attention, he sold Ross on the bay filly through a six-furlong workout that saw the filly run the distance in the same time that Upset would in beating Man o’ War in the Sanford, 1:11 1/5. Now part of the Ross Stable, Constancy was entered in the Spinaway Stakes along with stablemate His Choice.

Because she had started only twice, both in July and both at Aqueduct, Constancy was relatively unknown to most, which presented Commander Ross with an opportunity to get long odds and a sizable payout on one of his horses – as long as she remained under the bookmakers’ radar. Just before the Spinaway, though, Bedwell knew that the filly needed a good breeze to get her ready for her next start. In an effort to keep Constancy’s speed outside the notice of those around Saratoga, Ross and Bedwell, accompanied by young JKM, brought the filly out for an early morning workout under the cover of pre-dawn darkness. Their third-string jockey Tom Nolan rode the filly in her half-mile breeze of 44 3/5 seconds, an impressive time especially for a two-year-old. When the group went to breakfast, one of the bookmaker’s scouts stopped them to comment on the workout. “’Well, Commander, you nearly got away with it […] It’s easy to see that Milkmaid is certainly fit.’” With Constancy mistaken for Milkmaid and thus her potential speed kept under wraps, Ross was able to keep the filly at high odds leading into the Spinaway.

He entered his newest acquisition with His Choice, and, in his continued efforts to keep his odds on Constancy higher, he tapped Nolan to ride her in the race and put Johnny Loftus, the best jockey in the country, on His Choice. Since His Choice had a mixed record coming in and Constancy herself was still a maiden, the odds that both Ross men got for their entry were 15-1. Once the elder Ross had placed his bets, most of which were sizable, the younger Ross handed his slip to the bookmakers, who saw the amount and knew that something was afoot. By the time the field went to the post, the odds on Constancy and His Choice were down to 4-1, but everyone in the Ross contingent – even the family’s chauffeur, George Clacy – had placed bets on the fillies at the higher odds and thus were guaranteed a happy payout if the fillies came home in front.

Constancy fulfilled her morning promises with a wire-to-wire win in the Spinaway, setting a stakes record of 1:05 3/5 for five-and-a-half furlongs. Not only did she run away with the race and a purse of $7,500, but she also netted everyone a hefty profit. Even George Clacy came away with $1,000 from his wager. Arthur Hancock profited from the win as well, coming away with a rumored $25,000 for the filly, her purchase predicated on whether or not she could win the Spinaway.

Never one to shirk a challenge, Ross’s purchase of Constancy also gave him a second horse to challenge Big Red. The first, King Thrush, was the stable’s main hope for the next year’s classics, had finished behind Man o’ War in their meetings. That left Constancy to carry the torch for the Ross Stable in the Hopeful Stakes on the last day of the Saratoga meet.

Seven others went to the post with Man o’ War for the Hopeful, including his erstwhile conqueror, Upset. Constancy carried 124 pounds while Man o’ War was again at 130 pounds and Upset at 125; her win in the Spinaway earned her the higher weight, but she held an advantage over Man o’ War – in theory – with the six-pound advantage. She stood in the fifth post position with Red just to her left at post position three. Upset stood just to her right, but she got a jump on him and Man o’ War when the barrier flew up. She flew out to the lead, one of the few horses to get ahead of Man o’ War in his dominant career, and held on to that lead until the field came out of the turn and started down the stretch. Loftus then moved on Man o’ War, passing Constancy at his leisure and pulling out to a four-length win in the six-furlong Hopeful. Constancy’s fast fractions on a slow track had her fading at race’s end, finishing third behind another filly, Cleopatra. No matter what anyone, even Commander Ross with his deep pockets, threw at him, Man o’ War continued to win and all the rest of the racing world could do was try to find another Upset.

What do you think about the story of Constancy? Her mating with Sir Barton produced a filly named Fiducia, who raced for Commander Ross with limited success.

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