The Fall Highweight Handicap Past and Present

The Fall Highweight Handicap Past and Present
Photo: Sue Kawczynski/Eclipse Sportswire
The Fall Highweight Handicap was run at Belmont Park from 1914 to 1959 and then again from 1963 to 1993.  Otherwise the race has been run at Aqueduct. Initially the race was open to all horses, but in 1959, the Fall Highweight became restricted to three year-olds and upward.  That inaugural running of the handicap had a two year-old filly, Comely win while carrying only 110 pounds.
According to the NYRA condition book, “The Racing Secretary must assign at least 140 pounds to the top-weighted horse in this event.”  Of course that does not mean the top-weight will actually enter the starting gate.  Most of the time that high weight discourages final entry into the race. In fact the top-weight of 140 pounds has won the race eight times:  1915, Harmonicon (5 year-old); 1919, Naturalist (5); 1929, Osmand (5); 1935, Sation (5); 1941, Roman (4); 1945, True North (5); 1970, Ta Wee (4 filly); and 1985, Mt. Livermore (4).
Four past winners of the Fall Highweight have given their name to prominent NYRA stakes races. There is the grade three, one mile Comely Stakes that is run in April at Aqueduct. The grade two True North Handicap is run at six furlongs in June at Belmont.  Allen Jerkens trained King's Bishop won the Highweight in 1973 and is honored with a seven furlong grade one at Saratoga in August. Honorable Miss won in 1975 and 1976, and her grade two six furlong sprint also happens at the Spa in August.
The only repeat winners of the Fall Highweight have been females. What A Summer carried 134 pounds both times she won in 1977 and 1978.  Honorable Miss toted 133 pounds in 1975, and 130 in 1976.  When Ta Wee won in 1969 and 1970, she was saddled with 130 pounds and then with the 140 top-weight. Miss Merriment had it much easier when carrying 119 pounds in 1934, and 127 in 1936.
Before the Breeders’ Cup began in 1984, the Fall Highweight Handicap played an important role in the determination of the Best American Sprint Horse. Five winners of the Handicap garnered that championship title: Ta Wee won in both of her years, Chou Croute  (filly) in 1972, What A Summer only in 1977, and Gold Beauty (filly) in 1982.  Since the advent of the Breeders’ Cup there have not been any champions win the Highweight.
Five is the number of victories for the top trainer and jockeys with D. Wayne Lukas, Jorge Chavez, and Eddie Arcaro each earning that honor.

The 2011 running of the $100,000 Fall Highweight has a field of 10 for the Thanksgiving Day feature. Giant Ryan who was assigned the 140 pounds is not running in the race. The two top-weighted runners are part of a 6-5 morning line three-horse Todd Pletcher entry of: Calibrachoa (135), Caixa Electronica (134), and Driven by Success (130). The entry is deserving of its short odds as Calibrachoa and Caixa Electronica are the only horses in the field that have won a graded stake.  Calibrachoa recently won the grade three Bold Ruler at Aqueduct, where he is two for two on the main track and 3 for 3 on the inner track. John Velasquez is named on both of those horses and Pletcher said, “We are taking a look (at the Highweight) with Caixa Eletronica and Calibrachoa while also considering the Cigar Mile with both.” It seems that only one of them will run on Thanksgiving.
The race is loaded with front end speed so there is always the chance that if the pace is too swift that an off the pace effort could win it. In his last race at Belmont Cory Nakatani had General Maximus sit off the speed and rally to win the New York-bred Hudson Stake.  I give him a shot if he can use the same strategy in the Highweight.
Anthony Dutrow trainees are always dangerous when shipping in for a stakes race. Parent's Honor won his last two races at Parx with big closing efforts in impressive times.  Parx is generally not a track that is kind to off the pace efforts.  
Meet Matt Shifman

In the 70’s I was another one of those kids that went to the track with their fathers, and I immediately became enthralled with the excitement and challenges of handicapping.  And then the charisma and dominance of Secretariat gave me a hero to follow. To this day, I still get emotional when I hear Chic Anderson’s call of the 1973 Belmont, “Secretariat is moving like a tremendous machine”.

There have been many great horses run at the shore. In 1976 I watched Majestic Light win the Monmouth Invitational, now the Haskell, in track record time, defeating Honest Pleasure, the big favorite who was in from New York.  This was one of my first big wins at the track.
In the 80’s, as a disciple of Andy Beyer, I made my own speed figures because they were not available to the public. Needless to say I visited Monmouth frequently to test out the “figs”.
The 90’s allowed me to learn about the backstretch as a part owner of a few claimers that were stabled at Philadelphia Park.  Not a typical owner, I mucked stalls, cooled out the horses, and watched morning works.  Also, I met my wife and discovered that her grandfather bred, owned, and raced thoroughbreds on the West Virginia, Maryland circuit.  Today our office is decorated with winner’s circle pictures and a vast collection of Kentucky Derby glasses.
Today’s electronic age makes it so easy to gather information about racing.  I hope you use this blog to learn about Racing at the Jersey Shore.


Connect With Matt (AndyScoggin)

Me On Facebook
Follow Me On Twitter

Top Stories

If not for an unlikely rail trip by 80-1 long shot...
Pimlico Race Course will host eight graded stakes...
Undefeated through four starts this year and a win...
With live betting already available at one Nevada...
Keep track of graded stakes on HRN: Stakes Schedul...