Monday, April 11, 2011

Dry Monopole by Half a Length

New York City, 

Dry Monopole, a small, athletic horse named after a brand of Champagne, won the first stakes race run on turf in the United States. Called the Green Grass Stakes, it was the sixth and final race at the Sheepshead Bay Race Track in Brooklyn on June 10, 1886.1 Going off at 6-1 odds in the field of ten, the three-year-old thoroughbred won the one-and-an-eighth-mile race in 1:57.  Dry Monopole was the “class of the grass,” using the parlance of future generations of racing fans

The track at Sheepshead Bay was considered the best race course in the country. Established by the Coney Island Jockey Club, whose members included wealthy businessmen like August Belmont, Jr., Pierre Lorillard IV, and William Kissam Vanderbilt, the track had upgraded its facilities earlier that year. The new one-mile turf course replaced the steeplechase course situated inside the existing main dirt track that was still used for most races.2 In fact, racing on grass was slow to catch on. The New York Times considered the whole thing a failure, noting that “training horses on a dirt track and running them on turf could not have been expected to succeed…”3

The new turf course opened with little notice or fanfare during the so-called "spring meeting," which was the first day of the racing season. There is no mention of the turf race on the clubhouse menu below. Offering only a modest bill of fare, this card features a relatively good selection of Champagnes; The horsey set in high society was extremely fond of Champagne. Ironically, Dry Monopole is not among those listed.

Surviving from another gathering of horse fanciers ten days earlier, the small menu card below offers an astonishingly large selection of Champagnes and other sparkling wines. The aristocratic Brunswick Hotel, situated on Fifth Avenue and 26th Street, diagonally opposite Delmonico’s, was a favorite watering hole for gourmets and horse enthusiasts. In fact, the hotel served as headquarters for the New York Coaching Club, an organization known for elevating “four-in-hand” carriage riding to an art form that required carriage drivers to hold the reins of all four horses in one fist. This menu marked Memorial Day. Originally named Decoration Day in 1866, this national observance commemorated soldiers who died in the Civil War. By 1886, it was called by both names and faithfully observed by this post-war generation. President Grover Cleveland came to New York that year to participate in the day-long activities, including grand parades in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The back of this menu has a quick sketch of a sporting woman, presumably one of the hotel’s well-tailored patrons who was in town for the occasion. The drawing captures the style of upper classes who appreciated the bubbly combination of freshness, delicacy, and raciness that characterizes a fine Champagne. 

1. New York Times, 11 June 1886.
2. Brooklyn Eagle, 9 June 1886.
3. New York Times, 28 June 1886.


ephemeralist said...

Henry -- what are the odds? At just about the same moment as you, I published a post which also features a menu -- and mentions race tracks. Different era though. Cheers -- Jan

Deana Sidney said...

Henry, I must do a whole post on you and your menus... outstanding stuff... love a horse named after a champagne and the Brunswick menu is grand... bartavelle, well I had to look that one up!