Historical horse profile: Purchase
Owned and trained by Hall of Famer Sam Hildreth, Purchase won eight stakes in 1919 — including a walkover in the inaugural Jockey Club Stakes — and defeated America’s first Triple Crown winner
By Brien Bouyea
Hall of Fame and Communications Director
Twenty-five horses who have been enshrined in the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame have won the prestigious Jockey Club Gold Cup, which will be contested for the 104th time this Saturday at Saratoga Race Course. Five of those horses — Nashua, Shuvee, Slew o’ Gold, Skip Away, and Curlin — won the race in back-to-back years en route to the Hall. The immortal Kelso dwarfed them all, winning the Gold Cup five consecutive times from 1960 through 1964.
Although the Jockey Club Gold Cup has been an important factor in the careers of numerous Hall of Famers, it has also been won by several other outstanding racehorses whose legacies have been overshadowed by the titans of the sport.
One such example is Purchase, who won the inaugural edition of the race in 1919 — albeit via a walkover — when the contest was known as the Jockey Club Stakes. That first running was carded at 1½ miles, as was Man o’ War’s popular victory the following year. The race was extended to two miles from 1921 through 1975. The distance was then reduced to 1½ miles from 1976 through 1989 and has been run at 1¼ miles since 1990. Prior to its relocation to Saratoga in 2021, the Jockey Club Gold Cup had been a Belmont tradition since its inception with the exception of a few renewals held at Aqueduct (1958 through 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1969).
Bred in Kentucky by W. B. Miller, Purchase was a leggy chestnut son of Ormondale out of the Tanzmeister mare Cherryola. Purchase, who eventually stood 16.1 hands, had an intriguing pedigree, as Ormondale was the only foal sired in 1903 by Ormonde, the undefeated English Triple Crown winner of 1886. Cherryola won or placed in 72 of 103 lifetime starts with stakes victories that included the Iroquois Handicap. She also finished second in the 1910 Alabama Stakes to champion Ocean Bound. Tanzmeister, meanwhile, was a multiple stakes winner in England.
Sold as a yearling to the Brighton Stable, Purchase was acquired by Hall of Fame trainer Sam Hildreth soon after for $12,500 upon the stable’s dispersal. Although well thought of by Hildreth, Purchase was anything but an immediate sensation. Arriving at the races as a 2-year-old in 1918, Purchase struggled as a juvenile. Injuries and some bad racing luck resulted in only three wins in 10 starts for Purchase in his first year on the track.
On Jan. 13, 1919, Daily Racing Form said, “There is a probability that an almost unmentioned three-year-old will be a factor in some of the big stakes races to be decided this year. The horse alluded to is Purchase. … If Purchase does not turn out to be a high-class horse, then Mr. Hildreth will be much disappointed. He was erratic as a two-year-old, but there is every sign of his becoming settled down and uniform in his actions.”
Purchase indeed proved himself to be of the highest class during his sophomore campaign in 1919, winning nine of his 11 starts and finishing second in the other two. His injury issues, however, were not a thing of the past and kept him out of action for a couple of periods during the year, including the entire spring, during which time Sir Barton became America’s first Triple Crown winner. When he finally had his shot against Sir Barton, Purchase did not disappoint. In receipt of a nine-pound advantage in the weights, Purchase flew past Sir Barton in the stretch of the Dwyer Stakes on July 10 at Belmont on his way to a three-length victory. It was the fifth start of the year for Sir Barton and Purchase’s season debut.
Purchase was exceptional in 1919 when healthy, winning the Brooklyn Derby, Empire City Derby, Huron Handicap (carrying 134 pounds), Saranac Handicap (carrying 133 pounds), Saratoga Handicap, and Southampton Handicap, in addition to the Dwyer and Jockey Club Stakes. In defeat, he finished second to the talented Eternal in the Brooklyn Handicap and second to Hall of Famer Exterminator in the Saratoga Cup. During the summer, Purchase was being called “The Adonis of the Turf” in the newspapers. Walter Vosburgh, the official handicapper for The Jockey Club, described him as “one of the most exquisitely beautiful of racehorses … to describe Purchase would be to exhaust the superlative.”
It was reported that Hildreth received numerous offers for Purchase, including one for $100,000. He wasn’t interested. Instead of selling the colt for a handsome profit, Hildreth aimed Purchase for the first Jockey Club Stakes in mid-September at Belmont. With several top horses expected to compete, there was considerable anticipation for the race, but the hype was never realized.
“The one disappointment of the day was the running of the new Jockey Club Stakes, which had its inaugural yesterday,” reported the New York Times on Sept. 14. “This race, a weight for age event at a mile and a half, should have been second in importance only to the Futurity, but lacked even the elements of a contest, for all the entries were scratched except Sam C. Hildreth’s Purchase, which ran the distance alone and drew down the winner’s share of the purse, amounting to $5,350, for his jaunt around the course.”
An injury in the fall ended Purchase’s 3-year-old season a bit early — he stepped on a rock while training at Laurel Park in Maryland and suffered ligament damage — but he still finished the year behind only Sir Barton ($88,250) and stablemate Mad Hatter ($54,991) among sophomores with earnings of $33,710. Among the standouts of his formidable crop, he ranked ahead of future Hall of Famer Billy Kelly, Travers Stakes winner Hannibal (a horse he easily defeated in the Huron), and co-champion fillies Milkmaid and Vexatious on the earnings list.
Purchase was sidelined for his entire 4-year-old year of 1920. He returned to action in 1921 in the colors of Harry Sinclair’s Rancocas Stables with Hildreth retaining the training duties. Purchase won a pair of sprints at Empire City in New York in July, but misfortune struck once again. While being shipped up to Saratoga for the summer meeting at the Spa, Purchase suffered a leg injury on the train trip and was retired.
Hildreth, who trained such legends as Hall of Famers Grey Lag and Zev and won seven editions of the Belmont Stakes, considered Purchase to be among the best he ever conditioned. Overall, Purchase posted a record of 14-2-2 from 23 starts and earned $39,706.
Purchase achieved little of note as a stallion at Rancocas Stud in New Jersey and later at William Elder’s Merryland Farm in Hyde, Maryland. Perhaps the most talented horse he sired was Chase Me, who was undefeated in seven starts prior to breaking down in the 1934 Metropolitan Handicap. Purchase was 20 when he died at Merryland Farm on Oct. 18, 1936.
Lifespan: 1916 — 1936
Pedigree: Ormondale—Cherryola, by Tanzmeister
Breeder: W. B. Miller
Owner: Sam Hildreth, Rancocas Stables
Trainer: Sam Hildreth
Career dates: 1918 – 1921
Record: 23 starts, 14 wins, 2 seconds, 2 thirds
- Won the inaugural Jockey Club Stakes (1919)
- Defeated Triple Crown winner Sir Barton in the 1919 Dwyer Stakes
- Won nine stakes races in 1919, including the Brooklyn Derby, Empire City Derby, Huron Handicap (carrying 134 pounds), Saranac Handicap (carrying 133 pounds), Saratoga Handicap, and Southampton Handicap, in addition to the Dwyer and Jockey Club Stakes
- Ranked behind only Sir Barton ($88,250) and stablemate Mad Hatter ($54,991) among 3-year-olds with earnings of $33,710 in 1919