History Lesson: Riley Allison

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Three races for 2-year-olds carry six-figure purses this weekend, two in Southern California as Hollywood Park closes its doors for good and the other at Sunland Park in New Mexico.

Hollywood’s races – the Soviet Problem and King Glorious for California-breds – offer bigger purses at $200,000 but the Riley Allison Futurity offers a bit more history and will be run for the 51st time Sunday.

The 2013 edition of the $100,000 Riley Allison drew a field of eight, led by the first two finishers in Zia Park’s Governor’s Cup Stakes in Alonso and Cloud Harbor. The 1-mile event for 2-year-olds goes as the 10th race with a post time of 4:04 p.m. MST.

The race is named after Sunland Park’s founder, Riley Allison, and according to track publicist Eric Alwan it was “at one time the richest 2-year-old Thoroughbred event in the country along with the Arlington-Washington Futurity.” The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile eventually was the top race with its $1 million purse starting with the inaugural in 1984, but the Allison purse still topped out at $340,000 in 1985, a hefty number in the Southwest.

The 1962 Arlington-Washington Futurity, which brought together the Arlington Park Futurity and Washington Park Futurity, was reportedly the richest race in the world with a purse of $400,000.

The Allison was run in the spring in its early years before it was moved to its current spot in late December in the 1990s.

One of the biggest names to come out of the Riley Allison was Bold Ego, the 1980 winner who went on to finish second to Pleasant Colony in the 1981 Preakness. Sunland honors Bold Ego with a race named in his honor, a $50,000 stakes that is Saturday’s feature going 5 ½ furlongs on the main track for fillies and mares.

Bold Ego won the Allison when it was run in the spring, his third win from a string of five straight to start his career. He later went on to win the Rebel Stakes and Grade 1 Arkansas Derby before finishing 10th in the Kentucky Derby, second in the Preakness and 11th in the Belmont Stakes. Trained by Hall of Famer Jack Van Berg, Bold Ego retired in 1982 with 15 wins in 35 starts and earnings of $511,648.

Trainer Steve Asmussen won three straight editions with Retap, City Cool and Grand Slam Andre from 2008 to 2010 and Henry Dominguez won it in 2011 and 2012 with Isn’t He Clever and Show Some Magic. Dominguez, a perennial leader in the region, also won it in 2005 with Disappearing Trick and 2007 with Rapper S S.

The Allison was in the news recently as it was pegged by TOBA’s American Graded Stakes Committee as one of the 16 races that were downgraded from Listed status to Non-Listed Black-Type status for 2014. The 2013 edition remains Listed, however, and Sunday’s running will be the first at the 1-mile distance after the race was previously run at 6 1/2 furlongs. The Allison serves as a steppingstone toward the Mine That Bird Derby (formerly the Borderland Derby) in February and the Grade Sunland Derby in late March.

Entries for Sunday’s Riley Allison Futurity.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a regular series designed to shed light on the rich, colorful and sometimes forgotten or ignored history of racing in North America. If you’ve got a topic that’s interesting or something you’ve always wondered about related to racing, send it to Tom Law at [email protected] and we’ll start digging.