The Fall Highweight Handicap Past and Present
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.
2011 FALL HIGHWEIGHT HANDICAP
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.
Ta Wee Chou Croute Gold Beauty Calibrachoa Caixa Eletronica True North King's Bishop What A Summer Mt. Livermore D. Wayne Lukas Jorge F. Chavez Eddie Arcaro Aqueduct Racetrack Belmont Park Fall Highweight Handicap H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Honorable Miss Handicap True North Comely Comely (2011) H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (2011) Honorable Miss Handicap (2011) True North (2011) Fall Highweight Handicap (2011)