Saratoga: Honoring Clifford was long overdue

There’s little more Clifford could have done. He missed the board twice in 62 starts, then retired a

There’s little more Clifford could have done.

He missed the board twice in 62 starts, then retired and was sold to sire talented homebreds for Hurricana Farm in Amsterdam — renamed Sanford Stud Farm in the 1930s.

His career on and off the track made him a natural choice for induction to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. The museum’s Historic Review Committee named Clifford and jockey Lloyd Hughes to the Hall this year, and they will be inducted at 10:30 this morning at the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion along with contemporary inductees Ashado, Curlin, Gary Jones and Alex Solis.

Former president of Friends of Sanford Stud Farm, current member of the organization and son of former Sanford Stud jockey Louis Hildebrandt, Sam Hildebrandt said he feels it’s an honor that is overdue for Clifford, and possibly a couple of other stellar horses that were owned by the Sanford family. Overdue or not, he and the rest of the Friends were thrilled when they received the news of Clifford’s election.

“It adds to the credibility that the Sanfords brought to the table from Day 1,” Hildebrandt said. “They were gentlemen, they were sportsmen and they were philanthropists. This puts another layer of frosting on that huge cake of successes in their lifetime, and for their family, as well. This is great for the family.”

Descendants of the Sanford family are still able to enjoy the election of Clifford, as Stephen Sanford’s great granddaughter and several great-great grandchildren are alive. His great-great grandson Pierre Manigault will be on hand for the induction this morning.

Clifford joins two Sanford trainers, Preston Burch and Hollie Hughes, who were elected to the Hall in 1963 and 1973, respectively.

Clifford’s record when he retired at age 7 in 1897 was 42-10-8 from 62 starts. As a 3-year-old, he won 18 of 24 races and strung together 11 wins in a row over the course of five weeks at Hawthorne Park.

As a 4-year-old, he won four straight stakes races. In the Second Special at Gravesend, he beat Hall of Fame horse Henry of Navarre, who had won the Belmont and Travers, snapping that horse’s 10-win streak. He beat another Hall of Famer as a 7-year-old, topping then-4-year-old Ben Brush in the Long Island Handicap. That year, he also dead-heated with the previous year’s Belmont winner — Hastings — in the Kearney Stakes. He won the Kearney twice and the Second Special twice.

“I don’t believe any horse the Sanfords ever had had the career or track record that Clifford had,” Hildebrandt said. “I mean, my goodness, when you start as many times as he did and finish out of the money only twice, and have something that’s unheard of today, an 11-race winning streak [over five weeks], that’s just unequaled.

“In those days, when they were running horses, they didn’t have Lasix. They didn’t have any of this stuff. Probably the most sophisticated medicine they had they could put on a horse was liniment. This was just true guts and fortitude and talent that won these races. I think it’s a very respectable record that he has, and I think it’s great he’s in the Hall of Fame. Quite frankly, I think it’s long overdue.”

After Clifford’s retirement from racing, John Sanford — son of the farm’s founder, Stephen Sanford — bought him for $7,000 and brought him to the stud farm. Among his notable progeny was Molly Brant, whose racing career earned her a spot with her sire among the 12 Sanford horses who were memorialized with large stone monuments on the grounds of the farm.

According to the book “150 Years of Racing in Saratoga” by Allan Carter and Mike Kane, Molly Brant was named after an 18th century Mohawk consort of Sir William Johnson. The daughter of Clifford was 9-7-2 from 23 starts, including a 7-2-0 mark from 17 starts at Saratoga Race Course.

Like her sire, she bested a couple of Hall of Fame horses, running against the boys on many occasions. As a 2-year-old in 1902, she won the Adirondack Handicap at Saratoga, beating the horse that became the 1903 3-year-old champion, Africander. As a 3-year-old, she won the Saranac Handicap here, and she was twice second by a head to Hermis, the previous year’s 4-year-old champ and Horse of the Year. She won the both the Delaware Handicap and the Champlain Handicap at Saratoga at ages 4 and 5. She won four straight handicaps at Saratoga as a 4-year-old, beating Hall of Famer Broomstick in the Merchants’ and Citizens’ Handicap. Broomstick had won the Travers. As a 5-year-old, her win in the Delaware Handicap came over Hall of Fame filly Beldame.

Other notable progeny include Hill Top, Kennyetto, Cliff Edge, Sea Cliff and Blackford. Clifford continued his career as a sire at least to the age of 25, and he lived to be 27.

With the farm being named to the National Registry of Historic Places last year and now Clifford being elected to the Hall of Fame, Hildebrandt said he hopes this attention continues to shine on Sanford Stud Farm and the part it played in the story of thoroughbred racing in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“It’s a very fulfilling thing for us,” Hildebrandt said. “This has been a great journey, and hopefully, it hasn’t stopped.”

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