Black-Eyed Susan: Celebrating 100 Years

May 13th, 2024

A Special Moment for Connections of 1980 BES Winner Weber City Miss

The 100th Running of the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) to be Held Friday at Pimlico

BALTIMORE – The best filly jockey Vincent Bracciale Jr., ever rode was legendary Ruffian. The filly creating all the buzz in Baltimore – and across the country – leading up to the 1980 Preakness (G1) was Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Genuine Risk.

But the queen of Pimlico that May weekend turned out to be a more lightly regarded Maryland-bred named Weber City Miss, who won the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) for 3-year-old fillies the day before Genuine Risk was upstaged by Codex in the Preakness.

“Tell Genuine Risk to move over!” exclaimed owner James. P. Rasnick immediately after his Weber City Miss – with Bracciale aboard – rolled to victory in the Black-Eyed Susan.

Friday marks the 100th running of the Black-Eyed Susan, Pimlico’s premier filly fixture and a stakes that has produced its share of female greats over the years, from Davona Dale and Real Delight to Serena’s Song and Silverbulletday.

For Weber City Miss, the Black-Eyed Susan became a pivotal moment in a career that would result in 17 wins from 40 races, and was the first of her four wins in graded competition.

It would be Maryland trainer Billy Sheffer’s crowning achievement, a major triumph for Bracciale when the jockey was at the height of his career, and a proud moment for Maryland breeder Frank Hopkins and his Elberton Hill Farm.

“It’s what you aim for, to win the Black-Eyed Susan or win the Preakness,” said Hopkins’ daughter, Amy Daney. “To me and my Dad, it was more important to win the Preakness than it was to win the Derby, because we lived here and everybody who lives here lives for the Preakness and Black-Eyed Susan.”

Hopkins’ stallion roster at the time included Berkley Prince, who was bred to one of Rasnick’s mares, Esirnus – “sunrise” spelled backwards.

“My Dad used to say that with Berkley Prince, you could breed him to a Billy goat and get a winner,” said Daney, who was in high school at the time but worked on the farm in her free time. “He just needed good mares and he would have been a really good stallion.”

Weber City Miss proved to be one of his top offspring. The filly was no angel, however, and required extra handling to calm her.

“She was tough,” Daney said. “She was not an easy horse to handle at all. She was really bad.”

Daney said Weber City Miss was sent to be broken to a nearby farm, at which point “we kind of lost track of her.”

By the time Bracciale was introduced to the filly, she was still misbehaving.

“What happened was they brought her over to run the first time and they couldn’t get the saddle on her, so they had to scratch her,” Bracciale recalled. “And then they brought her over again and she threw the jock off going to the starting gate. So Billy Sheffer came to me and said she acts like she can really run. So I think I schooled her at the gate once.”

At the time, Bracciale had already gained a reputation as one of the nation’s foremost jockeys even though he rode in Maryland almost exclusively. The West Virginia native, who rode his first race at now defunct Shenandoah Downs, simply preferred to remain in Maryland in order to raise his family. That didn’t mean he never traveled for major stakes.

He was aboard Ruffian for a pair of her wins as a 2-year-old in 1974, including the Spinaway (G1) at Saratoga, and Turf and Sport Digest once ranked him as the sixth-best jockey in the country. But his only Derby mount was aboard Broad Brush, who finished third in the 1986 running behind Ferdinand.

By the time the 1980 Black-Eyed Susan rolled around, Weber City Miss had mostly flown under the radar, winning lesser races in Maryland while Geniune Risk was making headlines by becoming the first filly since Regret in 1919 to win the Kentucky Derby.

But on the afternoon of May 16, 1986, she made her own headlines with a frontrunning victory in the Black-Eyed Susan. Daney and her family watched from box seats near the finish line.

“We were flipping out,” she said.

Her brother, Mike, who is now executive director of the Maryland Racing Commission, was positioned further away, collecting admission tickets for Chick Lang at the infield tunnel.

“It was a very special day,” he said. “When you get a homebred win for you, it’s pretty exciting.”

Bracciale had the best seat in the house, though, atop Weber City Miss. The filly stumbled at the start, but Bracciale got her steadied and took off, gaining the lead at the first call.

“She went to the lead and won,” he said.

Not long after, Weber City Miss was sold and turned over to trainer Howie Tesher for new owner Joseph Allen. After her racing days ended, she became a broodmare and produced Slew City Slew, a two-time Grade 1 winner who finished with more than $1 million in earnings.

Daney continues to work at Elberton Hill Farm in Darlington, where Berkley Prince is buried. Bracciale gave up riding in 1990 and now trains horses on the Maryland circuit. None of them will forget the day Weber City Miss won the Black-Eyed Susan.

“It was the most exciting day ever,” Daney said. “Just unbelievable.”

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