Hastings: The Belmont Stakes Winner with a Fierce Temper
Updated: Oct 9, 2022
Hastings was a Thoroughbred revered for his accomplishments on the track and at stud but feared for his formidable temperament. This "vicious" horse won the Belmont Stakes in 1896 and, through his son Fair Play, was the grandsire of the horse many consider to be the greatest to ever live - Man o' War.
Breeding & Early Life:
Every horse’s story starts with that of their dam - Cinderella was bred by Sir Willaim Throckmorton and foaled in England in 1885. She was out of the Brown Bread mare Manna and sired by “Tomahawk or Blue Ruin”, both stallions at Throckmorton’s stud farm. It was presumed that Tomahawk was her sire.
Cinderella was imported to the United States as a yearling and purchased for $500 by Dr. John D. Neet. Though Cinderella carried a nice female line in her pedigree, racing historians often wonder what Dr. Neet saw in such a mare. She was small with “weak front legs and markedly sickle hocks” (BloodHorse). Cinderella also had a terrible disposition.
Neet sent Cinderella to race training and she showed speed, but he opted to breed her as a three-year-old rather than race her. Her potential as a broodmare was made immediately apparent. Her first three foals - Foreigner (Fonso), Ferrier (Falsetto), and Handsome (Hanover) - were all stakes winners. Hastings, sired by Spendthrift, was her fourth foal.
Hastings was foaled in 1893 at Dr. John Neet’s farm near Versailles, Kentucky. His sire Spendthrift won the Belmont Stakes in 1879 and had since become a very successful producer.
The son of Spendthrift and Cinderella went to auction as a yearling, selling to a partnership of David Gideon and John Daly for $2,800.
Two Year Old Season (1895):
Hastings began his racing career for Gideon and Daly very successfully; he won his first three races, including the Surf Stakes in which he defeated the Hanover colt Handspring.
This meeting of Hastings and Handspring got a rivalry brewing in the minds of horse racing fans. Hastings was clearly a talented colt, but Handspring was owned by the esteemed Philip Dwyer. Philip and his brother Mike established the Brooklyn Jockey Club, through which they operated Gravesend Racetrack, and campaigned brilliant racehorses like Hindoo, Miss Woodford, Luke Blackburn, Kingston, and Handspring’s sire Hanover. With these accomplishments, Dwyer's colt was highly touted from the beginning of his career.
After the Surf Stakes, Gideon and Daly decided to dissolve their partnership by selling their horses at public auction. Gideon wanted to keep Hastings for his own stable and therefore bid $25,000 for him at the auction, but August Belmont Jr. was willing to spend whatever it took to have Hastings in his own stable - the bidding ended at a record price of $37,000 (TB Heritage).
August Belmont Jr. shipped Hastings to Saratoga Race Course for the Futurity Stakes, but the colt fell ill and was not in top form for the race, ultimately finishing 5th.
Hastings was clearly a talented horse, but the temper he inherited from his dam made him very difficult to work with and it would only worsen as he grew older.
Three Year Old Season (1896):
Excited talks of the 1896 Belmont Stakes began before Hastings had even made his three year old debut. In April the Greenfield Evening Republican published an article titled, “Great Turf Battle: Horsemen Eagerly Looking Forward To the Belmont”, in which the eventual meet up of Hastings and Handspring was discussed.
“Hastings fell sick after he became Mr. Belmont’s property and did not recover from the effects of his illness at any time last year,” the paper published. “But he is now in superb condition and is trained by that wonderfully successful and able trainer, J. J. Hyland.”
Because the talented colts had not been able to compete against each other many times in 1895, the Belmont Stakes was anticipated to settle the debate on who would be the best three year old of 1896.
However, Hastings and Handspring got their chance to meet before the Belmont. A crowd of 10,000 journeyed to Morris Park in May to see Handspring and Hastings face off in the Withers Stakes. Both colts looked superb in the paddock, though Hastings kept his admirers at a respectable distance by kicking his heels as his girth was tightened.
“They made a striking contrast - Handspring, the horse of quality all over, rather too light in the barrel and not too good ‘to follow’, but a superb specimen of racehorse, with his bright chestnut coat glistening over the steely muscles; Hastings, with his dark bay color, his lovely head, neck and shoulders, as grandly topped a horse as one could wish to see, not lined down to concert pitch like his competitor, but muscled magnificently,” the Journal described the competitors.
The race was just as exciting as all attendees hoped it would be; the two colts battled passionately down the stretch, neither willing to give in or give up. “On they came, locked together, hugging each other as tired horses will - and both were tired as the decreased pace showed, for it was their first race of the year, but both were game,” the Journal recalled. “But the effort was not over until the past was actually passed, and it was only by a scant head that Handspring won.”
Hastings may have lost the Withers Stakes, but he lost no respect in the defeat. The crowd still applauded him for his tenacious effort.
The tough colt continued his season by defeating older horses in the Toboggan Handicap before taking on Handspring again in the Belmont Stakes.
Belmont Stakes day was perfect. The sky was decorated with clouds and a breeze cooled the June air. Thousands of people were at hand to see August Belmont and Philip Dwyer’s horses square off once more.
Handspring was the first to appear on the track. He was lighter than he had been in the Withers Stakes and he appeared to have some slight soreness in his shoulder, but he still looked marvelous. Both his connections and most racing fans were confident that he would get the better of Hastings in the Belmont, just as he had in the Withers.
Hastings looked fitter than he had on the day of the Withers, but his win against older horses in the Toboggan had been described as “sluggish” and led racing fans to believe that he would not be able to outrun Handspring in the Belmont Stakes.
The race itself began with Handspring in the lead and Hastings settling just behind him in second. The race’s two other entries followed behind them. Jockey Henry Griffin guided Hastings to the outside of Willie Simms and Handspring at the top of the stretch. Simms had been instructed by Philip Dwyer to go wide around the turn and so he did, but Handspring was so rank that he nearly bolted when Simms attempted it. He veered out sharply and bumped into Hastings, floating his foe out almost half the width of the course.
This move threw Hastings off stride, but Griffin quickly straightened up his mount and restarted their rally toward the wire. Both colts recovered and charged furiously down the stretch, each determined to win.
“Handspring got his nose in front within the last sixteenth, and the yell went up that he was winning,” a writer for the Journal published. “But Hastings, hard ridden with hand and heel was wearing him down, choked as he had been in the early part of the race, and, as the crowd shouted itself hoarse, in the last few strides drove his bay head and neck past his chestnut opponent”.
Hastings had won the Belmont Stakes. Hamilton II, the third-place finisher, was three lengths behind them.
After the Belmont, Hastings finished second to his stablemate Margrave in the Tidal Stakes and then fourth in the Lawrence Realization to finish up his three year old season.
Four Year Old Season (1897):
By four years old Hastings was nearly impossible to deal with. He fought savagely when being saddled and it took tremendous strength from his exercise riders to control him during training.
Louis Feustel, the eventual trainer of Man o’ War, once got aboard Hastings while working for August Belmont. He recounted this ride in the book “Step and Go Together”, “I was assigned to gallop him an easy half-mile one morning…Two miles later, with him going like a runaway locomotive, somebody picked us up. I was never allowed to get on him again. And that …was alright with me. He scared me almost as much as the first horse I rode for Belmont.”
Nevertheless, Hastings ran twelve times as a four year old. He notably dead-heated with Clifford in the Kearney Handicap and beat Ornament in a six furlong race. He even won the Westchester Highweight Handicap while carrying a whopping 140 pounds. In all, Hastings won four times and finished second in six races during this season.
To the relief of all who had to deal with him on the track, Hastings was retired at the end of his four year old season.
Retirement & Success at Stud (1898 - 1917):
Hastings retired to August Belmont’s Nursery Stud in Lexington, Kentucky. His temperament got even worse here; stable hands had to carry a long stick to protect themselves from him and a runway was built from his stall to his paddock to reduce the need for contact with him (American Classic Pedigrees).
Henry of Navarre was the premier stallion at Nursery Stud when Hastings first retired and therefore received many of the best mares, but this did not hamper Hasting’s success. He was a standout at stud immediately. According to TB Heritage, “In just his first two crops, Hastings was the sire of a Belmont Stakes winner, a champion filly, and two runners who were classics-placed”.
But perhaps the most recognizable of all of Hasting’s foals is Fair Play. Fair Play was a good racehorse himself, but he was even better at stud. Among his offspring are names like Chance Shot, Mad Hatter, and of course, Man o’ War.
In all, Hastings led the general sire list in 1902 and 1908 and was credited with producing 39 stakes winners.
Hastings developed paralysis in his hindquarters and was euthanized on June 17, 1917. He was 24 years old. The star stallion was buried in an unmarked grave at Nursery Stud aside from his hide, which was tanned and turned into a robe.
Hastings may have been known for his vicious personality, but his exploits on the track brought much joy and excitement to horse racing fans of his time, and success at stud has brought us countless great racehorses, including the one many consider to be the greatest of all-time - Man o’ War.
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