Tanya: Belmont Stakes Royalty

1905 Belmont Stakes winner Tanya, filly Belmont Stakes winner
1905 Belmont Stakes winner Tanya. Wikimedia Commons: Metropolitan, Volume 21, Issue 2, page 226

It was May 24, 1905 - closing day at Belmont Park and the first time that the historic Belmont Stakes would be run at this track. Belmont Park had opened just one month earlier thanks to famed businessmen and racing legends August Belmont Jr. and William Collins Whitney, among other investors. The size of the track was unprecedented - “the biggest thing in the shape of a race course that ever has been conceived and achieved" one paper published - and the opening of the track was highly publicized. On this May day, 20 days after Belmont Park had opened it's doors for the very first time, 20,000 people packed the track to watch a field of seven horses compete in the Belmont Stakes. Having been run for 38 years before Belmont Park opened, the Belmont Stakes was already a prestigious race. No one wanted to miss this historic edition of the stakes, led by Withers Stakes winner Blandy and a filly named Tanya.

If Tanya were to win the race, she would be just the second one to do so and would cap off a great first season of racing for Belmont Park.

Early Life:

In 1897, William Collins Whitney purchased a stallion named Meddler for $45,000 and sent him to his La Belle Stud near Lexington, Kentucky. The stallion was immediately successful for William C. Whitney, but his most famed progeny didn't come until 1902, when Whitney's mare Handspun (Hanover) gave birth to a beautiful chestnut filly sired by Meddler. This foal was destined to be a good one. Meddler was the leading two-year old colt in England in 1892. Handspun had been no slouch herself - she won the Willow Handicap, Kentucky Stakes, and Tennessee Oaks. Unfortunately William C. Whitney never got to see how good this filly was on the racetrack; he passed away on February 2, 1904. The filly - Tanya - had yet to make her debut.

Many of Whitney's horses were leased by Herman Duryea after his passing, including Tanya. She would race in his green and white colors for the first part of her career.

Two-Year Old Season (1904):

Tanya began her career with performances that made it obvious she had talent. She won her first stakes race, the National Stallion Stakes on May 21, 1904, to the cheers of the 40,000 that crowded into Morris Park and made Tanya the betting favorite.

Tanya had to carry 122 pounds for her next race, the Spinaway Stakes, three months later at Saratoga. The weight didn't bother her too much - she won driving. A recount of the race by the San Francisco Call reads, "The start was perfect and after a hundred yards, Tanya began to draw away. At the end of a furlong Schumalite, which had an inside position, dropped back and Tanya and Heart's Desire became first and second. There is no doubt now that Tanya was best and she came on and won cleverly though Shaw (jockey) was somewhat afraid both Schumalite and Linda Lee, which were closing fast, might get up to his mount and he took no chances."

The win was a nod to her own family - the race's namesake Spinaway, a chestnut filly who won seven of nine races, was Tanya's maternal grand-dam. Ten days later, Tanya was again crowned victorious at Saratoga when she won the Hopeful Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths. Not only did she easily defeat the boys, but she did so while conceding weight to every other horse in the field.

"The most interesting race was the Hopeful Stakes for two-year olds, six furlongs, in which Herman B. Duryea's crack fillies Tanya and Rose of Dawn ran first and second. Tanya's performance stamped her as the best filly of the season, for she took up 127 and easily disposed of a field of formidable youngsters. She was merely breezing at the end, Hildebrand having her well in hand," read The Sun.

Tanya's Hopeful Stakes win convinced some racing fans that she may better than Sysonby, a colt who had won the Brighton Junior Stakes, Flash Stakes, and Saratoga Special. Sysonby was regarded as the best two-year old in the country in 1904 and some turf writers even ranked him as one of the greatest of all time. "The splendid triumph of Tanya, carrying the heroic weight of 127 pounds, in the Hopeful Stakes has created a tremendous popular interest here. One week ago any person who would dare have ventured that there lived a two-year-old with license to test the claims of Sysonby to championship honors would have been scorned," one reporter wrote, referring to the growing number of people who believed that Tanya could beat Sysonby.

The two would get their chance to meet in their next race, The Futurity Stakes at Saratoga, though neither would be victorious. Tanya finished fourth and Sysonby finished third while Tanya's own stablemate Artful captured the race. It was Tanya's only loss as a two-year old; she ended her season with five wins in six starts.

Three-Year Old Season (1905):

In October 1904, Duryea sold the horses he had leased from William C. Whitney. Tanya and her mother Handspun were both purchased by Harry Payne Whitney, William's son.

Back with the family of her original breeder, Tanya headed to Belmont Park to attempt to become just the second filly to ever win the Belmont Stakes. A win for Tanya would be extra special, as her breeder William C. Whitney had worked alongside August Belmont Jr. to build "the most elaborate track in America". The Belmont Stakes that Tanya competed in in 1905 was quite a bit different than the one we run today. The 1905 Belmont was run at a distance of 1 1/4 miles rather than today's distance of 1 1/2 miles and “the race was won over the Belmont course, the start being made in the middle of the back stretch of the training track, and the horses, after making one turn on that course, coming on the main track and finishing down the regular stretch," the New York Times described.