Hildreth’s Purchase is the original Jockey Club Gold Cup winner – Saratogian

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25 horses enshrined in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame have won the prestigious Jockey Club Gold Cup, which is being held for the 104th time this Saturday at Saratoga Race Course. Five of those horses – Nashua, Shuvee, Slew o’ Gold, Skip Away and Curlin – won the race in consecutive years en route to Hall. The immortal Kelso eclipsed them all, winning the Gold Cup five straight years from 1960 to 1964.

Although the Jockey Club Gold Cup has been an important factor in the careers of numerous Hall of Famers, it has also been won by several other outstanding racehorses whose legacies have been overshadowed by the sport’s titans.

One such example is Purchase, who won the inaugural edition of the race – albeit by a walkover – in 1919, when the competition was known as the Jockey Club Stakes. That first run carded to 1½ miles, as did the popular Man o’ War win the following year. The race was extended to two miles from 1921 to 1975. The distance was then reduced to 1½ miles from 1976 to 1989 and has been driven to 1¼ miles since 1990. Prior to its relocation to Saratoga in 2021, the Jockey Club Gold Cup had been a Belmont tradition since its inception, with the exception of a few renewals at the Aqueduct (1958–1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1969).

Bred in Kentucky by WB Miller, Purchase was a leggy chestnut son of Ormondale out of Tanzmeister mare Cherryola. Purchase, who ended up standing 16.1 hands tall, had an intriguing pedigree as Ormondale was the only foal sired in 1903 by Ormonde, the undefeated 1886 English Triple Crown winner Iroquois Handicap. She also finished second in the 1910 Alabama Stakes to win Ocean Bound. Tanzmeister, on the other hand, was a multiple stakes winner in England.

Sold to the Brighton Stable as a yearling, Purchase was acquired shortly thereafter by Hall of Fame trainer Sam Hildreth for $12,500 following the stable’s dissolution. Though Hildreth was a good thinker, Purchase was far from an instant sensation. Coming to the races as a two-year-old in 1918, Purchase struggled as a youth. Injury and some bad luck in racing meant Purchase only had three wins from 10 starts in his first year at the track.

On January 13, 1919, Daily Racing Form said: “There is a possibility that an almost uncredited three-year-old will be a factor in some of the big races decided this year. The horse alluded to is Buy. … If Purchase doesn’t turn out to be a top horse, Mr. Hildreth will be very disappointed. He was unpredictable as a two-year-old, but there is every indication that he has become settled and consistent in his actions.”

Indeed, during his second campaign in 1919, Purchase proved he was of the highest class, winning nine of his eleven starts and finishing second in the other two. However, his injury woes were not a thing of the past and kept him out of action for some of the year, including all of the spring that saw Sir Barton become America’s first Triple Crown winner. When he finally got his shot against Sir Barton, Purchase didn’t disappoint. Gaining a nine-pound lead in the weights, Purchase flew past Sir Barton on the course of the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont on July 10 en route to a triple win. It was the fifth start of the year for Sir Barton and Purchase’s season debut.

Buy was exceptional in 1919 when he was healthy, winning the Brooklyn Derby, Empire City Derby, Huron Handicap (at 134 pounds), Saranac Handicap (at 133 pounds), Saratoga Handicap and Southampton Handicap, in addition to the Dwyer and Jockey Club stakes In one loss, he finished second to the talented Eternal in the Brooklyn Handicap and second to Hall of Famer Exterminator in the Saratoga Cup. In the summer, Purchase was dubbed “The Adonis of the Turf” in the newspapers. Walter Vosburgh, the Jockey Club’s official handicapper, described him as “one of the finest racehorses… To describe Purchase would be superlative exhaustion.”

It was reported that Hildreth received numerous offers to buy, including one for $100,000. He wasn’t interested. Rather than sell the colt for a handsome profit, Hildreth aimed to buy it for the first Jockey Club Stakes in mid-September at Belmont. With several top horses expected, anticipation for the race was high, but the hype never materialized.

“The only disappointment of the day was the conduct of the new Jockey Club Stakes, which opened yesterday,” reported the New York Times on September 14. should have been second only to Futurity, but lacked even the elements of a contest, with all entries scratched except for Sam C. Hildreth’s Purchase, who ran the distance alone and took the winning share of the $5,350 purse for his outing around the course.”

An injury in the fall ended the 3-year-old’s season a little early – he stepped on a rock while training at Laurel Park in Maryland and suffered ligament damage – but he still finished the year behind only Sir Barton ($88,250) and his stablemate Mad Hatter ($54,991) among sophomores with earnings of $33,710. Among the standouts from his impressive crop, he ranked ahead of future Hall of Famer Billy Kelly, Travers Stakes winner Hannibal (a horse he easily defeated in the Huron) and co-champion fillies Milkmaid and Vexatious on the results list.

Purchase was paused for its entire 4-year 1920 year. He returned to action in 1921 in the colors of Harry Sinclair’s Rancocas Stables, with Hildreth retaining training duties. Purchase won two sprints at Empire City in New York in July, but misfortune struck again. When Purchase was being transported to Saratoga for the summer reunion at the spa, he sustained a leg injury on the train ride and was retired.

Hildreth, who coached legends like Hall of Famers Gray Lag and Zev and won seven editions of the Belmont Stakes, considered Purchase to be one of the best he’s coached. Overall, Purchase posted a record of 14-2-2 from 23 starts and earned $39,706.

As a stallion at Rancocas Stud in New Jersey and later at William Elder’s Merryland Farm in Hyde, Md., Purchase achieved little of note. Perhaps the most talented horse he sired was Chase Me, who went undefeated in seven starts before collapsing in the 1934 Metropolitan Handicap. Purchase was 20 years old when he died at Merryland Farm on October 18, 1936.

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