The Butterflies: A Sterling Good Filly

The Butterflies – 1892 br. m. by Sir Dixon – Mercedes by Melbourne Jr.
“In the name of goodness how good is that filly of yours, Mr. Hyland?” … “I’m sure I don’t know sir, I’ve never been able to make her do her best yet.”

Breeder: Clay & Woodford (KY)
Owner: David Gideon and John Daly (through 07/1895); David Gideon (from 07/1895)
Trainer: John J. Hyland

Occasionally referred to in print as simply “Butterflies.”

Record (possibly incomplete): (9) 6-1-0 / at least $55,890
1894: 1st Futurity S. (NSR-5.75f,SHE)
1895: 1st Gazelle S. (1 1/8 mi.,GRE), Fall H. (abt. 6f,SHE)
NSR in the Futurity S. (08/25/1894): 5.75f in 1:11

(Retrospective) Champion 2-Year-Old Filly of 1894 and Champion 3-Year-Old Filly of 1895

Purchased for $1,800 as a yearling by David Gideon and John Daly, The Butterflies (by Sir Dixon by Billet (GB)) was a three-quarters sister to major stakes horses Runnymede (1879) and Barnes (1880), themselves both by Billet (GB). Barnes was referred to as “almost a great racehorse” in his day, and was actually the subject of this post.

“The Butterflies was named after the successful comedy in which John Drew played for so many months last season. Charles Frohman, Mr. Drew’s personal manager, and “Dave” Gideon are warm personal friends. After the Brooklyn Handicap Mr. Gideon took Mr. Frohman over to his stables and showed him his horses. Then he told the theatrical manager that he might name any of the two-year-olds. “This one I am going to name myself,” said Gideon, pointing out the pretty filly that won such a great race and won him a fortune last Saturday. “She is being worked for the Futurity, and I am going to call her ‘The Butterflies.’ I like the play of that name. I think she’s a winner too.” So the filly was named The Butterflies.” (The New York Times, 08/29/1894)

The Butterflies

1894: (3) 3-0-0 / $54,690
(Retrospective) Champion 2-Year-Old Filly of 1894
1st: Futurity Stakes (NSR-5.75f,SHE)
NSR in the Futurity S. (08/25/1894): 5.75f in 1:11

The Butterflies would prove to be chronically lame throughout her career, and it was uncertain if she would make it to the track as a 2-year-old. While her 2-year-old campaign would ultimately be an abbreviated one, it would be nothing short of brilliant.

Debuting in a five furlong race at Gravesend on May 27, The Butterfiles would win “pulled up” by four lengths over Philomena in the nine horse field. Her final time was 1:03 ½.

“The stable turned loose a good one in The Butterflies, by Sir Dixon, out of Mercedes, in the fifth, for 2-year-old fillies. The Butterflies and Philomena, belonging to “Counselor” Bill Brieu, went to the post on equal terms at 8 to 5. The Butterflies won slowed down to a walk from Philomena and the Keene’s Handmaid.” (Chicago Tribune, 05/29/1894)

Her next start would come in a five furlong sweepstakes at Morris Park on June 4, where she defeated Ridicule by three lengths in a final time of :59 ¼.

As mentioned, The Butterflies would be plagued by lameness during her career, and was said to be “a trifle sore” the day following her win at Morris Park. However, a match race with the 2-year-old Galore (GB) filly Gutta Percha was proposed, and trainer John Hyland said at the time that The Butterflies would be fit to complete. However, the match race was declared off a few days later.

Following a six furlong workout at Saratoga in 1:14 ¾ on August 19, “Dave Gideon says The Butterflies is the fastest filly in the world, and has nothing to beat if she gets to the post. She is under suspicion, but showed no sign of lameness after the work today.” (Chicago Tribune, 08/20/1894).

Yet, the next day, “It is now said the great filly, The Butterflies, cannot be gotten to a race again, and she will therefore not be seen in the Futurity.” (The Daily American (Nashville, TN), 08/20/1894).

If there ever were a horse for the old weather adage “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” to apply, it was The Butterflies.

The Atlanta Constitution, 08/26/1894“She can justly claim to be the queen of the two-year-old world. Her victory is one that will live long in the minds of all who saw it. It will be years before any colt eclipses the time.” (The Atlanta Constitution, 08/26/1894)

Even though her soundness was suspect and she would leave the track “in distressed condition,” The Butterflies would win the Futurity Stakes (5.75f) at Sheepshead Bay on August 25. Following a forty-seven minute delay at the starting line and running “in the teeth of a half gale,” The Butterflies would defeat Brandywine by a head and become the first filly to win the race. Her final time of 1:11 was a new stakes record, taking 1 1/5 seconds off of the previous record of 1:12 1/5 set by Morello in 1892.

“Brandywine, who got off in the rear ranks, and who was unable to get through until the last furlong of the race was in progress, then made his effort. Clayton sent Brandywine after The Butterflies like a shot from a cannon. Griffin saw his danger and began to urge his sterling good filly. She responded to the last gasp. It was plain to all practiced eyes that The Butterflies was tiring fast. The terrific strain was telling. Step by step and inch by inch, amid a breathless silence, Brandywine closed up the streak of daylight that was between them. He was running strong and good. The Butterflies was wavering. Her rider begun to lash her, and the excitement was intense. Griffin fought like a young demon, and the wonderful courage of the filly alone staved off defeat. Brandywine managed to get his nose to her withers, but could get no further before the all-important line was crossed, and the Futurity of 1894 went on record as having been won by The Butterflies by a neck from Brandywine.” (The Atlanta Constitution, 08/26/1894)

“The Butterflies bids fair to follow the other Futurity winners into bad racing luck. She is none too sound. Potomac and Morello did the best of the stake winners. A singular fatality seems to follow them. Perhaps it is the result of the screwing up they receive as 2-year-olds.” (Chicago Tribune, 08/27/1894)

The day after the Futurity, “Gideon & Daly’s great filly, The Butterflies, galloped this morning as though she had not been obliged to run the race of her life Saturday to win the Futurity. She is still considerably gaunted and nothing severe is asked of her. She may be given a couple of easy races before being retired for the season.” (Chicago Tribune, 08/28/1894)

The cause of The Butterflies’ unsoundness is revealed when “David Gideon, the half owner of the great daughter of Sir Dixon and Mercedes, was speaking about her recently. The trouble with her leg undoubtedly, he says, a rupture of the sheath of the tendon not far below the knee. The rupture caused a thickening which for a time puzzled every one as to its cause and nature. It is one of the standing wonders of the turf that Butterflies stood a preparation for the Futurity. Her period of sharp training for the big event was in reality short of three weeks by about a couple of days. In other words, she was only half trained when she went to the post. She won but with little to spare, but what would she have done had Mr. Hyland been able to give her steady “prep?” (Los Angeles Times, 02/04/1895)

In late August, it was announced that upon her eventual retirement, The Butterflies would be bred to Gideon and Daly’s stakes winning/champion stallion His Highness (by The Ill-Used (GB)), himself the Futurity winner of 1891.

On September 1, The Butterflies’ yearling full-brother (who was never named) was sold to Ike Thompson for $3,500 at the Sheepshead Bay paddock sale.

Following her win in the Futurity S., two match races were proposed for The Butterflies – the first by Oliver Belmont between her and his stakes winning 2-year-old St. Blaise (GB) colt Brandywine, with the second between her and the stakes winning 2-year-old Himyar gelding Harry Reed. Neither of these races would come to fruition, and the Futurity S. would ultimately be The Butterflies’ third and final start of 1894.

Chicago Daily Tribune, 12/30/1894

In just three starts, The Butterflies (with $54,690 in earnings) ended 1894 as the highest earning 2-year-old filly ever in the United States, breaking the previous record set by Sallie McClelland in 1890 by $121.

1895: At least (6) 3-1-0 / $1,200
(Retrospective) Champion 3-Year-Old Filly of 1895
1st: Gazelle Stakes (1 1/8 mi.,SHE), Fall H. (abt. 6f,SHE)

“Butterflies stands out by herself, a wonderful filly, and there is no estimating how good she might have been had she only been sound. Nobody does know, as it is. After she had won in a canter in fast time at Morris Park her very clever trainer, John J. Hyland, replied to a query of, “In the name of goodness how good is that filly of yours, Mr. Hyland?” with a shake of the head and the statement, “I’m sure I don’t know sir, I’ve never been able to make her do her best yet.” At the time it looked as if Hyland was joking, but there is no doubt he was speaking the literal truth.” (Los Angeles Times, 02/04/1895)

“The Butterflies, three-year-old bay filly, Sir Dixon-Mercedes. Winner of last year’s Futurity. She has made all the improvement that could be expected. Her legs, which were weak last year, seem to be stronger, though still bandaged. So far, she has done the little work that has been asked of her without difficulty, but whether she can stand the strain of hard training and the still greater strain of a race is as yet an unanswered question.” (The Evening World (New York, NY), 04/06/1895)

“David Gideon reports that the horses at the Holmdel Farm are doing splendidly, but are, if anything, a little backward in their training. …Ramapo looks well, and The Butterflies is apparently as sound as ever, but Mr. Gideon says that when she is asked to real hard work she may give way under the strain.” (New York Daily Tribune, 04/11/1895)

The Butterflies would make her 3-year-old debut on May 17 at Gravesend in a 1 1/16 mile sweepstakes, where on a day reported to have been “bitter cold,” she would finish second by two lengths to Owlet. She would follow up on the effort with a 1 ½ length win over California in the Gazelle Stakes (1 1/8 mi.) on May 25. Her final time for the Gazelle S. was 1:59 ½.

While The Butterflies had raced successfully in quick succession, her unsoundness again began to plague her.

New York Times, 05/29/1895

“Ramapo won the opening race in a romp, and Gideon & Daly also captured the Gazelle S. for three-year-olds with The Butterflies. The latter was sore in her ailing leg both before and after the race, and does not act as if she was going to stand a hard campaign, a hard fact which is greatly regretted by horsemen.” (The New York Times, 05/19/1895)

On May 28, The Butterflies’ yearling full sister (later named Sister Stella) was sold to John Bowen of Paris, KY for $2,100 at the Runnymede yearling sale.

The Butterflies’ next start would come in a five furlong sweepstakes at Sheepshead Bay on June 15, where she would defeat Rey del Carrares, half-brother to Yo Tambien, by a half-length in :59 4/5. She would then be entered and subsequently scratched from a 5.5 furlong race at Sheepshead Bay on June 18, as it was feared her legs were not strong enough to stand the race.

The Butterflies - Gideon Daly sale (NYT 1895.07.16)

On June 25, it was announced that the racing partnership of David Gideon and John Daly would be dissolved, and all horses in training would be sold. While their racing partnership was to be dissolved, they would still co-partner on breeding operations at their Holmdel, NJ farm. The dispersal sale was held at Sheepshead Bay on July 15, where Gideon would be an active bidder on the day, including purchasing The Butterflies back for $7,000. The highest priced horse of the sale was the 2-year-old Spendthrift – Cinderella (GB) colt Hastings, who went to Blemton Stable for $37,000.

The Butterflies’ fourth start of 1895 would come in the Fall Handicap (abt. 6f) at Sheepshead Bay on August 24. Carrying 107 lbs., The Butterflies would win by a head over Domino (130 lbs.), who was conceding 24 lbs. to the filly. Her win in the Fall H. was a bit surprising, with not even her owner confident in her chances in the race. “Dave Gideon, though not fancying his own filly, The Butterflies, did not believe that Domino could handle his heavy impost, backing Rubicon, about whom there was a strong tip.” (The New York Times, 08/25/1895)

Five days later, The Butterflies would finish fifth in the Ocean H. (1 mi.) at Sheepshead Bay on August 29. In a position to win, “The Butterflies fell back from third to last place on the backstretch, but there was no accident or interference, and her temporary collapse was supposed to be due to the fact that her game leg pained her and caused her to lessen her speed.” (The New York Times, 08/30/1895). Henry Young would win, with Bellicoso second, and Rey del Carreres third.

Her next start would come in a one mile handicap sweepstakes at Sheepshead Bay on September 5. Conceding 31 lbs. to the winner Paladin (87 lbs.), she would finish fourth.

It was announced on September 20 that Gideon’s house trainer John Hyland and first call jockey Henry Griffin had been secured by August Belmont beginning with the 1896 racing season. Gideon was unable to match the price Belmont offered the duo.

The sweepstakes on September 5 is The Butterflies’ last confirmed race for 1895; however, it is possible she did make additional starts that I am unable to locate.

Following her retirement, several stakes/handicap races were run in The Butterflies’ honor:

  • The Butterflies Stakes (4f, 2YO fillies, $750 added) was run at Queen City (Newport, KY) in at least 1897 (won by Lizzie Cavalier).
  • The Butterflies Handicap (6.5f) was run at Emeryville (near San Francisco) in at least 1906 (won by Lizaro).
  • The Butterflies Handicap (1 mi., 3YO&Up, $600 added) was run at Sheepshead Bay in at least 1908.

On 10/24/1899, the Holmdel, NJ farm of Gideon and Daly where The Butterflies was stabled would catch on fire. The Butterflies (in foal with the His Highness filly later named Futurita), was one of sixteen horses to survive the fire. In all, twenty-seven horses would perish.

The Butterflies, whose career in the breeding shed was said to have “been a whole chapter of accidents,” was the dam of at least five foals:

Hyland (1899 b. c. by His Highness)
Sold as a yearling to J. E. Madden for $6,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Sheepshead Bay paddock sale in July 1900.

Futurita (1900 b. f. by His Highness)
Sold as a yearling to James R. Keene for $8,750 at the Fasig-Tipton Sheepshead Bay paddock sale in June 1901.

“Another high priced yearling that has proved a rank failure is Futurita, by His Highness-The Butterflies, by a Futurity winner out of a Futurity winner. Of this grandly bred young filly the highest expectations were entertained. Yet she was fortunate to win her only brackets in lowly company at Aqueduct, and then at the tail end of the season.” (Daily Racing Form, 11/25/1902)

Dam of: Butterflies (1916 by King James), 4th dam of Italian stakes winning stallion Semipalatinsk (1978 by Nodouble). Sire in Queensland. Through Butterflies, Futurita is the ancestress of champion Crozier (1958).

Vanquisher (1901 ch. c. by His Highness)

Her Majesty (1902 b. f. by His Highness)
Sold as a 4-year-old to W.L. Powers for $1,500 at Fasig-Tipton KY (11/26/1906) in the Gideon dispersal.

Lepido (1904 b. c. by Silver Fox)

The Butterflies, along with daughter Her Majesty, were sold at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky on 11/26/1906 to W. L. Powers for $1,500 each. “Mr. Gideon has lost interest in breeding since the death last winter of his stallion His Highness, which died in Kentucky from pneumonia contracted on the cars en route from New Jersey. Mr. Gideon had to ship his horses to Kentucky when he rented Holmdel Farm to Edward R. Thomas.” (Daily Racing Form, 11/11/1906)

The Butterflies was reportedly in foal to Star Shoot for a foal of 1908, but this foal’s status is unknown: “David Gideon’s famous mare, The Butterflies, the first filly to win the Futurity, is believed to be in foal this season to Star Shoot. She has only sent one winner to the races, her stud career so far having been a whole chapter of accidents.” (Daily Racing Form, 11/09/1907)

The Butterflies - DRAWING


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