Featured News

Remember Harriet Sue, The First Filly in the Blue Grass

July 10, 2020

Peter Callahan’s multiple graded stakes winner Swiss Skydiver is the first filly to race in Keeneland’s most famous race, the Toyota Blue Grass (G2), since 1944 – long before corporate sponsorship entered Thoroughbred racing but a year similar to 2020 because of adjustments to Keeneland’s Spring Meet.

That first Blue Grass filly was Harriet Sue, a daughter of the legendary Bull Lea who was bred and owned by Hyman Friedberg of Louisville.

The 1944 Blue Grass was part of Keeneland’s Spring Meet, which in 1943-1945 was held at Churchill Downs because of World War II. In March 1943, Keeneland had been deemed a “suburban” plant and placed in the classification of race tracks that were asked not to operate because of shortages in rubber. The Keeneland Association leased the Churchill facilities for the three spring seasons. No Keeneland Fall Meets were held during that time. 

Scheduling of the day allowed Harriet Sue to run in both the 1944 Ashland and Blue Grass, which since 2014 have been held the same day.

On April 10, Harriet Sue defeated four rivals in the $5,000-added Ashland and recorded an impressive victory for trainer John Hanover and jockey Jesse Higley.  

According to Louisville’s Courier-Journal (thanks to research provided by the Keeneland Library), “Bet confidently and ridden confidently, the speedy Harriet Sue didn’t betray the confidence of Jockey Jess Higley or the faith of most of the bettors in the gathering of 7,000 race fans at Churchill Downs Wednesday afternoon. ‘Sue’ pulled away from four other fillies to capture the seventh running of Keeneland’s Ashland Stakes by three and one-half lengths.”

That performance led some Turf writers and Harriet Sue’s connections to speculate about the filly competing in the Kentucky Derby – something that had not occurred since 1936. 

Harriet Sue returned 16 days later to face males in the $10,000-added Blue Grass. She led her seven rivals for most of the race and “gave way near the end,” according to the chart. She finished fifth behind winner Skytracer. He and four other Blue Grass rivals next competed in the Kentucky Derby, but Harriet Sue returned to the filly division. Favored in the Kentucky Oaks, she finished second, 1½ lengths behind Abe Hirschberg’s Canina.

In July of that year, Harriet Sue captured the Arlington Matron at Washington Park. By the time she retired, she had made 80 starts with 19 wins and earnings of $64,175. 

In 1949, her stakes-winning full sister, The Fat Lady, was second to Calumet Farm’s Wistful in the Kentucky Oaks. Wistful would be the year’s champion 3-year-old filly.