The history of the Belmont Stakes goes back more than 150 years, making it the oldest of the Triple Crown races. And it all started with a filly.
Her name was Ruthless, and she was born in 1864, when the North and South were in the middle of a long, drawn-out civil war. She was New-York bred, with her sire bearing the name of the great Eclipse; too bad his record didn’t show it, with only five wins in nine races.
Ruthless, along with her four full sisters, formed the “Barbarous Battalion” of fillies that resulted from the breeding of Eclipse to the mare Barbarity: Relentless, Remorseless, Regardless and Merciless. All had impressive racing careers.
Trained by William Brown, she showed some potential as a 2-year-old – two wins and two seconds in four starts. On Oct. 1, 1866, she won the Nursery Stakes by six lengths, defeating two colts on her way to victory. The New York Times described Ruthless as “galloping along as if she was at exercise.”
The next year, owner Francis Morris changed trainers, appointing A. Jack Minor to watch over Ruthless. He worked her hard, entering her in a six-furlong sprint on May 23 at Jerome Park, which she won. She came back the next day and won another race over older males in a 1 1/4 mile race. Imagine even older horses doing that today.
Ruthless finished second to her stablemate Monday in the Jersey Derby on June 4. Fifteen days later, she ran in the inaugural running of the Belmont Stakes, which was held at Jerome Park (Belmont Park did not host the Belmont Stakes until its opening in 1905). She would face three other colts, including Monday.
It had rained the day before, making the surface at Jerome Park very heavy. At the start, De Courcey jumped out in front, followed by Rivoli, Monday and Ruthless, who quickly found herself 12 lengths off the lead. De Courcey continued to set the pace, and by the half-mile pole held a two-length lead over Rivoli. Ruthless was beginning to creep up, now six lengths behind.
Jockey Gilbert Patrick let the reins loose on Ruthless, and she began to make up ground. By the quarter pole she had caught De Courcey. The two battled down the stretch, but De Courcey tired under the whip and Ruthless pulled away in the final strides to win by a half a length. The time for the 1 5/8 miles was a slow 3:05 (The distance was reduced to its current 1 1/2 miles in 1874). She is one of only three fillies to win the Belmont Stakes.
Ruthless went on to win the Travers Stakes over the boys again, and five days later won a two-mile race, defeating the only two colts who dared to race against her. She remains the only filly to win both races.
After an injury later that year, she was retired to broodmare duties and was bred to her old stablemate and rival Monday. The offspring, Battle Axe, won the Kentucky Stakes in 1873. Three years later, a hunter mistook Ruthless for a deer and shot her while she grazed in her paddock. She died five weeks later. Her record: 11 starts, with 7 wins and 4 seconds.
Ruthless is still remembered today; the Ruthless Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack is a six-furlong race for three-year-old fillies, run in January. She was inducted in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1975 – the same year a filly named Ruffian made a name for herself as one of the greatest fillies of all time.