Fashion was as popular then as Seabiscuit in his time, or as Silky Sullivan in his. Ladies' gloves were devised in her name as were men's cigars. She had more than one steamboat named after her and more than one hotel.
By Trustee (born in Great Britain in 1829) out of Bonnets o' Blue (born in 1827 and by Sir Charles by the great Sir Archy), Fashion's parents were both exceptional horses. Trustee was taken out of retirement at the age of twenty to prove to the young folks how good he had been in his racing days. At that age he ran a four-mile (6 km) heat in 8 minutes flat. Her dam, Bonnets o' Blue, had Sir Archy (by Diomed) on both her bottom and top line. Bonnets o' Blue won the National Colt Stakes.
North vs. South
Owned and bred (and probably trained) by William Gibbons in Madison, New Jersey (the farm was located on land that today accommodates Drew University), the chestnut Fashion was considered by everyone who thought of such things (and in those days when horse racing was America's premier sport, everyone thought of such things) as the best race mare of her generation, or any generation that came before her. In 36 starts, Fashion won 32 times...and this against male or female. Fashion beat the great Boston twice, a racing giant and a leading sire when his racing days were done. In another of those North-South affairs, she took him on in a match race on May 10, 1842 at Union Course on Long Island when she was five years old.
Because races then were grueling heats, it was who won that counted which is why in Fashion's record of wins, there are no seconds or thirds. No one much cared about second or third. A horse won, or a horse lost. That was the point.
In Fashion's day, races were 4 miles (6.4 km) long and run in heats...in other words, in sections, each section usually covering a distance of four miles (6 km). Fashion set a record for those four miles (6 km): 7:32-1/2. The four miles (6 km) were not run on tracks; they could be set anywhere the race organizers decided to set them. Up and down hills, through the center of towns and cities, over meadows and through the woods. If the weather was inclement, a horse could race in deep mud. If it were sunny, a horse could race in blazing heat. Sometimes a race might take place mere days after another race. That horses could and did do such things says much about the breeding of race horses of the past and race horses now.
William Gibbons was a modest man who only raced horses he'd bred himself, and he never bet. He disliked ostentation. But the public demand for Fashion's match races was huge and he knuckled in to them more than once. It is said that 70,000 people showed up for the match between Boston and Fashion. Carrier pigeons carried the news of each heat to New York City newspapers.
Peytona vs. Fashion
Boston and Fashion did not meet again, although there was much clamor for it. Instead a new rival from the South, a mare called Peytona who'd amassed more money over a shorter career than Fashion, appeared. Peytona won more money by racing in one particular event, an affair very reminiscent of today's "futurites" where bets are placed well in advance of a race, in this case years in advance. By the day of Peytona's winning race, only four horses showed up, Peytona won a huge pot, and the organizer lost his shirt.
But now there was a public outcry for Peytona to meet Fashion. Peytona was huge. They said her stride was 27 feet (8.2 m) long...this would have rivaled the great Longfellow's stride. She was undefeated. The public could not wait to see the two mares meet.
The match was set for May 15, 1845, once again at the Union Course. This was going to be the last of the epic match races at Union Course, although no one knew it at the time. The crowd estimate was a possible 100,000 people. Fashion was only the slight favorite. The biggest betting was not on who might win, but on the time the race would be run in.
On the morning of the match, reports come down to us that Fashion was under the influence of her estrous cycle, but nothing could stop the race. Fashion, smaller, carried 123 pounds. Peytona, huge, carried only 116 pounds. Peytona won in straight heats and the South rejoiced. However, Fashion came out of the match in good condition while Peytona came out feverish in both of her front legs. Both mares had been entered in the Jockey Club Purse a few days later but only Fashion competed, winning easily, so easily she was pulled up to a trot at the finish. When Peytona and Fashion met again, this time Fashion won, and again so easily she was pulled up at the end to a trot.
Always in Fashion
But Fashion raced on until she was eleven years old, hailed everywhere as the greatest racer of either sex on American soil. She ran in a total of 68 heats and lost only 13, which rarely cost her the race.
As a broodmare, Fashion never produced anything like herself. Her record was good, but not very good. She died in 1860.
Over the course of her long career she won $41,500, a very tidy sum.
Fashion waited a long time to be inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. To be precise...not until 1980, one hundred and twenty years after her death,