Trainer Max Hirsch was a titan in the sport of horse racing. He won the 1934 Travers Stakes with OBSERVANT. He trained BOLD VENTURE, Winner of the 1936 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career. In 1934 he had recently become the trainer for the King Ranch, which would soon be one of the most successful stables in America.
That year Hirsch’s daughter, Mary, made some horse racing history herself. She was the first woman in the country licensed to train Thoroughbred racehorses. Mary had grown up around horses, naturally, and rode jumpers before deciding to try her hand at training. Owners gladly handed horses over to her despite any biases against her gender because, according to the New York Times, “her father thinks enough of her judgement to consult with her.”
One owner who had no such biases was Anne Corning, wife of Congressman Parker Corning from the politically powerful Corning family in upstate New York. Parker was a horse racing fan and owned a number of horses, which he kept under his wife’s name. Anne developed a passion for the sport herself, taking an active interest in them and their careers on the track. Mrs. Corning asked Mary Hirsch to train one of their horses, a bay colt named THANKSGIVING.
They stabled THANKSGIVING with other Max Hirsch horses at Saratoga in the summer of 1937 in preparation for the start of his 2-year-old season. That July before the beginning of the meet, a lightning storm wreaked havoc on the barn, striking several of the horses, including THANKSGIVING.
THANKSGIVING would recuperate from the lightning strike and make it to the track that summer, and even showed a little promise as a 2-year-old, Winning two out of five starts, including a sprint on a muddy track, in which he won by four lengths. But as a 3-year-old he struggled, not Winning a single race by June. He didn’t contest any of the Triple Crown races, instead running in races on the East Coast at New York tracks, while other highly touted 3-year-olds chased each other across the country in Grade 1 races.
While the top 3-year-olds were putting up inconsistent finishes throughout the year, THANKSGIVING‘s connections saw something that betrayed the horse’s pitiful Win record. He was consistently there among the Winners in each and every race, no matter how fast those Winners happened to run. And his races that summer proved that if you wanted to beat THANKSGIVING, you’d need to run very, very fast.
Mary Hirsch and Anne Corning entered THANKSGIVING in the 1938 Travers Stakes at Saratoga. He’d have an opportunity to run against his past foes, this time all in one race, as many of that years 3-year-old Graded Stakes Winners were entered in the field of nine. The betting public sent THANKSGIVING off at 4-to-1 odds, largely on the horse’s popularity as an underdog and a local product of upstate New York.
THANKSGIVING broke well and led the field around both turns, but the fans weren’t convinced he could keep the lead. THANKSGIVING picked up his pace in the stretch. He had set such a fast pace the first five furlongs that the other horses began to tire. But his jockey, Eddie Arcaro, knew that he wasn’t finished running, urging THANKSGIVING forward.
THANKSGIVING would finish six lengths ahead of the rest of the field. Mary Hirsch made history as the first female to train the Winner of the Travers Stakes. THANKSGIVING would prove once and for all that lightning can indeed strike in the same place twice.
The Daily Racing Blog wishes all its readers a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, and hopes that you enjoy the time with your friends and family.