How a little cotton wool put supermare Shuvee on the path to greatness

Article courtesy Thoroughbred Racing Commentary
By Mary Pitt, courtesy of Thoroughbred Racing Commentary, @TRCommentary

Before the advent of the Breeders’ Cup in 1984, one of the championship defining races on the east coast of the United States was the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

First run in 1919, it was contested at two miles from 1921 through 1975, after which it was reduced to a mile and a half. It was shortened further to a mile and a quarter in 1990, the trip for Saturday’s running at Belmont Park.

The $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup is part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge series, so the winner will qualify automatically for a place in the Breeders' Cup Classic. It will be screened live on NBC between 5pm and 6pm ET.

Staged predominantly at Belmont, it was held at Aqueduct in 1958-61, 1963-67 (while Belmont was being redeveloped), and 1969-74.

The list of greats who won the race at two miles includes Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox (at three in 1930), War Admiral (at four in 1938), Whirlaway (at four in 1942) and Citation (at three in 1948). The incomparable Kelso won it a record five times, from three to seven, from 1960 to 1964.

Other multiple winners include Mad Hatter (1921 and 22), Dark Secret (1933 and 34), Firethorn (1935 and 37) and multiple champion and Horse of the Year Nashua (1955 and 56), who is the sire of the only female to win the race.

She did it twice, both times at the testing two-mile trip. Her name was Shuvee.

It took seven races before she broke her maiden

Foaled on January 22, 1966, in Virginia at the Morven Stud farm of Mr and Mrs Whitney Stone and raced in the blue and yellow colors of Mrs Anne Stone, Shuvee was out of the mare Levee, who was by 1950 Horse of the Year Hill Prince. Named Broodmare of the Year in 1970 thanks mainly to her daughter’s exploits, Levee was foaled in 1953 and was a decent horse in her own right, winning the Selima at two, and the Monmouth Oaks, Beldame and Coaching Club American Oaks at three.

Shuvee was trained by Willard Clark Freeman, known as Mike. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, and a former steeplechase rider, he trained his first winner at Narragansett in 1952.

A light chestnut with no markings except for a star on her forehead, Shuvee was big and masculine. She continually swished her tail in her races, but that by no means meant that she was ungenuine. However, she didn’t break her maiden until her seventh start, when Freeman started putting cotton in her ears to drown out the sound of the crowd and other horses. He continued to do so for the rest of her career.

She raced 13 times at two, including two stakes wins, in the Frizette at Belmont and the Gardenia at Garden State.

And then she won the Filly Triple Crown

In her 3-year-old debut, she finished second to the great weight carrier Ta Wee in the seven-furlong Comely at Aqueduct. She followed this up with a sweep of New York’s Filly Triple Crown - the one-mile Acorn at Aqueduct on May 17, the 9-furlong Mother Goose at the same track two weeks later, and the mile-and-a-quarter Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont on June 21.

She was the second winner of the series after Dark Mirage accomplished the feat only the year before. Shuvee was ridden to the triple by Jesse Davidson, who had been leading jockey in the US in 1965.

William Rudy’s account of the Oaks in The Blood-Horse stated that Shuvee “broke in a tangle and almost went down and then clipped the heels of the filly beside her”. She was four wide in fourth on the outside entering the stretch but glided to a 3-length victory, the widest margin of the series. Her trainer commented: “She just does everything so easily.”

In her next start, she was fourth in the 9-furlong Delaware Oaks, and she followed that with a win in the mile-and-a-quarter Alabama at Saratoga. She ran third in a pair of stakes at Belmont, first behind Gallant Bloom in the Gazelle and then behind Gamely in the Beldame, both at nine furlongs.

Clash with running rail cost her dear in the Woodward

In November she was sixth to Ta Wee in the Vosburgh going seven furlongs in her first race against males, then she captured the mile-and-a-quarter Ladies Handicap, the oldest race for fillies and mares run in America. In third was Obeah, who would become the dam of the ill-fated champion Go For Wand.

In spite of her accomplishments, including the Triple Crown sweep, champion 3-year-old-filly honors for 1969 went to Gallant Bloom, who was unbeaten in eight starts that season.

Shuvee’s 4-year-old debut found her in sixth behind Process Shot and Ta Wee in the 7-furlong Distaff at Aqueduct. Then she was fourth in an allowance against males, then second in the Gallorette at Pimlico.

She then won the mile-and-an-eighth Top Flight at Aqueduct but failed to hit the board when turning back to seven furlongs in the Vagrancy at Belmont in June and the 1 1/16 mile Molly Pitcher at Monmouth in July. She scored in the 9-furlong Diana, then run on the dirt, at Saratoga and again at Belmont in the Beldame, with Obeah second.

On October 3, she took on males in the mile-and-a-quarter Woodward at Belmont but, according to rider Ron Turcotte, she hesitated a bit in the stretch while racing on the inside and ducked in, hitting the rail. It likely cost her a place, if not the race. She finished fifth.

William Rudy reported in The Blood-Horse that she hit the rail three times. The stewards held an inquiry but determined no interference had occurred.

Easy first win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup ...

Her biggest test came on October 31, 1970, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Aqueduct. The race started from the chute in the backstretch. With Turcotte again in the saddle, Shuvee was prominent early racing on the rail, led at the top of the stretch and drew off for an easy two-length victory.

She came back at five, finishing second in an Aqueduct allowance against males before running second in the Bed o’ Roses at Aqueduct to the previous year’s champion 3-year-old filly, Office Queen. She then repeated in the Top Flight, with Office Queen third, and was third against males in the Whitney at Saratoga before logging her second victory in the Diana.

In September, she was second in the Beldame, and the following month ran against males again in the Woodward, finishing sixth, then was fourth in the Matchmaker at Atlantic City against her own gender before going back to the Big A for a second attempt at the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

… but not as easy as her second

This time under the guidance of Jorge Velasquez, Shuvee sat in third on the outside for the early part of the race. The first time under the wire she moved up to second, she went for the lead entering the backstretch the second time and from there coasted to an authoritative 7-length triumph under a hand ride.

Shuvee, who never had any soundness issues, was retired to her owner’s Morven Stud. She concluded her career with 16 wins, 15 of those in stakes, from 44 starts, and earnings of $890,445, then a record for a distaffer.

She produced 11 foals, three of them stakes winners: Tom Swift, Shukey and Benefice. She died on April 1, 1986 due to complications from foaling.

Shuvee was named champion older female in both 1970 and 71. She was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1975.