Gallant Bloom Draft

This past week they ran the Diana and Matchmaker Stakes at Saratoga and Monmouth Park, respectively, both on the grass. Also this past week we lost one off the great jockeys of his era “Gentleman” John Rotz, who passed away at age 86. How do you tie all three of these together along with two of the all-time great fillies? THERE IS SO LITTLE IN THE COLUMN ABOUT THE DIANA, I THINK ITS MISLEADING TO INCORPORATE HERE ~ Steve Haskin

When Gallant Bloom and Gamely Ruled the Matchmaker

By Steve Haskin

Photo by Jim Raftery, Courtesy of Daily Racing Form

Turn back the clocks to 1969 when the Diana and the fledgling Matchmaker Stakes, then held at Atlantic City Race Course, were run on the dirt and the latter pitted two future Hall of Famers, the 3-year-old Gallant Bloom and the 5-year-old Gamely, against each other to determine who was the best filly in America. The regular rider of Gallant Bloom was John Rotz, who would guide the daughter of Gallant Man to 10 of her 13 stakes victories.

To demonstrate what a titanic battle the 1969 Matchmaker Stakes shaped up to be, Gallant Bloom had already secured the 3-year-old filly title by winning all six of her starts that year, including two convincing victories over her arch rival, Shuvee, despite the strapping daughter of Nashua becoming only the second filly to sweep New York’s Triple Crown for Fillies, the Acorn, Mother Goose, and Coaching Club American Oaks and romping by four lengths in the Alabama Stakes. But not only had Gallant Bloom nailed down the 2-year-old filly championship by defeating Shuvee in the Gardenia Stakes, she had beaten her badly in the Delaware Oaks and then defeated her by 6 1/2 lengths in their showdown for the title in the Gazelle Handicap, with both fillies carrying co-high weight of 127 pounds and Shuvee winding up third NEED BETTER REFERENCE OF WHEN TO MAKE CLEARER. Riding the King Ranch owned and bred Gallant Bloom in all three of those races was Rotz, who had picked up the mount after her nine-length maiden score.

Unlike the pocket-sized Gallant Bloom who stood only 15.2 hands, Gamely was a 16.2-hand powerhouse of a mare, who every year would ship East from California for the big fall filly stakes and never met a colt she backed away from. In addition to winning the Test, Alabama, Diana, and Beldame twice in New York, she won seven stakes in California, defeated the top-class colt Rising Market in the Inglewood Handicap, and finished second to Nodouble in the Santa Anita Handicap and second to the legendary Dr. Fager in the Californian Stakes. Other than Damascus, no horse had gotten closer to Dr. Fager on dirt that year than the daughter of Bold Ruler.

By coming again to defeat Allaire duPont’s fiery Politely by a nose in the ’68 Beldame Stakes in an epic stretch battle, Gamely earned her second of three championships during her career for owner William Haggin Perry and trainer Jim Maloney. AGAIN NEED REFERENCE OF WHEN, OR TAKE OUT

The Matchmaker, run on October 4, looked to be the quintessential showdown between a 3-year-old filly blessed with tremendous natural speed at any distance who could beat you from on or off the pace and a hard-knocking tough older mare who could run on any surface and any distance from six furlongs to a mile and a quarter and also could beat you from anywhere on the racetrack, whether on the lead or from off the pace.

To demonstrate Gallant Bloom’s versatility, her trainer Max Hirsch had turned the speed-crazy sprinter who had broken her maiden by nine lengths going 5 ½ furlongs into a professional filly who could rate kindly behind horses going two turns. That is what enabled her to turn back the challenge of the late-closing Shuvee in the 1 1/16-mile Gardenia.

But then came one of the most shocking performances I had ever seen. Here we were at Aqueduct nearly seven months later for Gallant Bloom’s long-awaited 3-year-old debut (RACE) Shuvee had already run twice, finishing second by a head to the brilliant sprinter Ta Wee in the seven-furlong Comely Stakes and then winning the Acorn Stakes. She was three days away from adding the Mother Goose and had a huge head start on Gallant Bloom.

After being taught how to rate going a distance of ground and harness her speed it looked like an odd move to debut Gallant Bloom in a six-furlong stakes against hard-hitting older fillies and mares. One thing was for certain; there was no way that Gallant Bloom, with her new running style, was going to go for the lead, especially with the presence of the blazingly fast 4-year-old Miss Swapsco, who consistently ran :22 and faster opening quarters and :45 and faster opening half-miles and had never had a horse in front of her early in a race in 20 career starts. And in those days, it was rare to run an opening quarter in under :22 and a half in under :45. Even the immortal Dr. Fager, considered by many the fastest horse of all time, never ran his opening quarter in under :22.

Just as Hirsch had thrown a curveball at everyone in the Gardenia, he did the same in the Liberty Belle. Gallant Bloom came rocketing out of the gate from the rail and before Miss Swapsco and everyone else knew what hit them, the little King Ranch filly was winging out on the lead by 1 ½ lengths. She had to be flying to outrun Miss Swapsco. Sure enough, she had run her opening quarter in an unheard of :21 2/5 and half in :44 3/5 before opening a five-length lead in the stretch. There was no way she could last. As expected, the early fractions and the layoff caught up with her and she began shortening stride as the hard-knocking stretch runner Clem’s Fairy Gold bore down on her, closing the gap with every stride. Gallant Bloom was weary-legged, but dug in and just held off Clem’s Fairy Gold to win by a nose.

It was an amazing display of speed by Gallant Bloom, but had she reverted back to her old ways? Hirsch stretched her out to two turns a month later and she never again saw the early lead NEED MORE?.

Meanwhile, in California, Gamely, although not quite in the form she had displayed the previous year, still was beaten only 1 1/2 lengths in the Santa Anita Handicap, giving weight on the scale to Nodouble, who would go on to become the leading older horse in the country that year. After winning the Wilshire Handicap at Hollywood Park for the second straight year, Gamely, following a second-place finish in the Vanity Handicap in which she gave the top-class Desert Law nine pounds, again traveled to New York where she won a one-mile prep for the Diana before defeating Obeah and Amerigo Lady in the Diana under 127 pounds going wire-to-wire. She then headed to Belmont and easily defeated Amerigo Lady and Shuvee in the Beldame, again setting all the pace.

With Gallant Bloom, now trained by Buddy Hirsch following the death of his father, and Gamely coming off impressive scores in the Gazelle and Beldame respectively, the Matchmaker looked to be the most anticipated showdown since that year’s Belmont Stakes battle between the undefeated Majestic Prince and Arts and Letters with the Triple Crown on the line.

This was a special time for Atlantic City Race Course. The year before it lured Dr. Fager to the United Nations Handicap for his grass debut, which he won along with the grass championship. The Matchmaker was only three years old and was unlike any other race in the world in that the owners of the first three finishers would win a free season to a top stallion selected by the track. The winner obviously would get first choice. That year the three stallions chosen were Dr. Fager, standing his first year at stud at Tartan Farm, the great European champion Sea-Bird, standing at Darby Dan Farm, and the top Canadian stallion Nearctic, sire of Northern Dancer.

Atlantic City played the 1969 Matchmaker up big knowing it would decide the Handicap Filly or Mare championship, a title won by Gamely the year before. Back then that was a title that could be won by a 3-year-old if they excelled against the top older fillies. NECESSARY???

The one photo that made the Daily Racing Form and Morning Telegraph and other major newspapers was the one taken by Jim Raftery, which showed Gamely, who was walking the shedrow, nose to nose with Gallant Bloom, who had her head out the stall. Raftery had Gamely brought over to Gallant Bloom’s stall where he captured the two great fillies literally inches apart. There was Gamely on the left with her ears straight up, and although Gallant Bloom was the kindest, sweetest horse you’ll ever be around, the photo captured her with her ears pinned way back. As kind as she typically was off the track, she was a fierce competitor on the track and it was as if she knew she would soon be going toe to toe with Gamely. It was like two prizefighters eyeballing each other at the weigh-in with Gallant Bloom getting her game face on.

The crowd made Gamely the 11-10 favorite with Gallant Bloom 8-5. Also in the field was the tough Rokeby Stable mare Amerigo Lady, winner of the Top Flight, Black Helen, Maskette, and Firenze Handicaps, and Hollywood Oaks, and who had been chasing Gamely the past two years. In all, she had won or placed in 23 stakes. Another formidable foe was Singing Rain, winner of the Maskette, Molly Pitcher, and Gallorette Handicaps and the Black-Eyed Susan and Post-Deb Stakes. She also placed in the Monmouth and Delaware Oaks, Top Flight and Gallorette Handicaps, and Selima Stakes. In all, she had won or placed in 16 stakes.

Under the allowance conditions of the Matchmaker, the older Gamely carried topweight of 123 pounds with Gallant Bloom one pound less on the scale.

Laffit Pincay, as expected, sent Gamely to the front, but was pressed from the outside by Singing Rain. John Rotz, sensing Gamely was not going to have things her own way on the lead, took Gallant Bloom to the rail from the outside and settled behind the top two. Rotz knew that Gallant Bloom had the speed to run with Gamely, but she had become so versatile he was comfortable taking her back, as he had done in the Gazelle. He was fully aware that Gallant Bloom could win in a dogfight or could demolish her opponents as she had done in her 12 ½-length romp in the Monmouth Oaks.

For some reason, Gamely would come from off the pace in California, but would always go to the front in her later races in New York MAYBE MOVE UP TO BEGINNING OF PREVIOUS PARAGRAPH?. After setting slow fractions of :24 1/5 and :48, Gamely looked ready to shake loose from Singing Rain. Pincay, knowing Gamely ran best on the outside of horses, took his mare off the rail heading into the far turn inviting Rotz to come through and join in the battle. Rotz seized the moment and sent Gallant Bloom up to challenge Gamely, who had inched clear of Singing Rain. Everyone braced for the anticipated duel that would crown one of these two great horses as the best filly in the nation.

That duel would never come. To the shock of most everyone, Gallant Bloom just blew right by Gamely and opened a two-length lead. Pincay, as if caught by surprise by Gallant Bloom’s powerful move, tried to get his mare going again, but there was no catching Gallant Bloom, who continued to increase her lead, opening up by four lengths at the eighth pole and then coasting home by seven lengths. No one could have expected her to dominate a mare like Gamely in that manner. Gallant Bloom was now in a class by herself and had locked up her third championship.

Following the race, King Ranch owner Robert Kleberg chose the season to Dr. Fager. With Gallant Bloom scheduled to race as a 4-year-old, Kleberg decided to send his 10-year-old mare Monade, winner of the Epsom Oaks, to be bred to The Doc, and the resulting foal was a filly he named Remedia, who went on to produce Maskette winner and Alabama runner-up Too Chic, who would produce grade 1 Ashland Stakes winner Chic Shirine and 1991 champion older mare Queena, winner of the grade 1 Ballerina, Maskette, and Ruffian Handicap.

Gallant Bloom would follow up her Matchmaker score with another victory over older fillies in the Spinster Stakes. By starting off her 1970 campaign with victories in the Santa Maria and Santa Margarita Handicaps, Gallant Bloom had extended her winning streak to 12, covering three years. When she won the Santa Margarita, the diminutive filly had to lug 129 pounds over a quagmire. The track was so sloppy, Rotz weighed in after the race at 133 pounds. Leon Rasmussen wrote in the Thoroughbred Record, “It was a time for tears – not tears of sadness, but tears of emotion that welled in one’s eyes out of admiration for King Ranch’s magnificent filly Gallant Bloom.”

The legendary Daily Racing Form columnist Charlie Hatton described Gallant Bloom as “all heart and no peel. It is in action she is seen to best advantage, for she is then a thing of air and fire.”

Buddy Hirsch said of her years later, “She had so much heart. She carried a lot of weight and had a perfect disposition. She was the loveliest filly you’d ever want to be around. She just did everything you asked her to.”

Gallant Bloom then returned East where she ran third to the brilliant colt Reviewer in the Nassau County Handicap when hE (SHE?) was believed to be in season. She was retired after suffering a chip fracture in her ankle in the Suburban Handicap, having won 16 of her 22 career starts from 5 ½ furlongs to 1 3/16 miles.

Of Gallant Bloom’s first five foals, four never made it to the races. Because of problems producing she would go nine years without a foal before finally giving birth in 1989. Two years later at age 25 her great heart gave out and she was found dead in her paddock and was buried at King Ranch where she was born.

Gallant Bloom was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977. She is joined there by fellow members of that 1966 crop of fillies Shuvee and Ta Wee.

Gamely would race only one more time. Although she finished eighth in the seven-furlong Vosburgh Handicap she was beaten only 2 ½ lengths by the victorious Ta Wee after racing wide the entire race. She would produce only two foals by Round Table and only one to race. That was Cellini, winner of the group 1 Dewhurst Stakes in England, who also won three other group races and placed in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and St. James’s Palace Stakes. Five days after producing her second foal she died of a ruptured stomach and was buried at Claiborne Farm where she was born. She was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980.

John Rotz, who had won the Preakness with Greek Money in 1962, would add the Belmont Stakes in 1970 aboard High Echelon. In 1973 he was voted the winner of the George Woolf Memorial Award, given to the jockey who demonstrates high standards of personal and professional conduct, on and off the racetrack. He retired from riding that year following surgery for a foot injury, but remained active in the industry, working for ten years as a steward at various racetracks in Louisiana, Ohio, Delaware, and New York. He died peacefully on July 12 at his farm in Warrensburg, Illinois.

In 1978 the Matchmaker was moved to the grass and its status lowered from grade 1 to grade 2. In 1997 with Atlantic City given only limited racing dates, the Matchmaker was moved to Monmouth Park and the distance of the race was shortened from 1 3/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles. That same year the event was downgraded once again to grade III and has been part of the Haskell Invitational card since 2004.

But when us old timers think of the Matchmaker, we will always remember that day in 1969 when two female titans of the Turf squared off for championship honors, with one of them turning in a performance so dominant it stamped her as one of truly all-time greats. In 1992 the New York Racing Association inaugurated the Gallant Bloom Stakes (now the Gallant Bloom Handicap), which has gone from a listed race to a grade 3 to a grade 2, improving all the time just like the brilliant filly for which it was named.


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