The Belmont Stake, Dr. Cheatham and Nashville's Tradition of Horse Racing
Perhaps the most striking image in Belmont Mansion is the portrait of Adelicia Acklen with her beloved horse, Bucephalus. Her love of riding and horses started early and continued through her life. It was an essential element of the social class in which she lived and Dr. Cheatham, Adelicia’s third husband, made this pursuit part of their life together.
To understand the impact thoroughbred horses had on Adelicia’s life, we have to look at how horses and horse racing in its many forms were intrinsic to 19th century Nashville life. White settlers to Tennessee from areas like Virginia and North Carolina brought with them the traditions of the first American settlers, many of whom were part of the English upper class and had pursued thoroughbred horse racing and breeding. So it was logical that these new residents to Tennessee would bring fine thoroughbred race horses – or blooded horses – to race and to use as breeding stock. Newspaper weeklies include advertisements for thoroughbreds as early as 1792.
Today we think of Kentucky as the bluegrass state but in the very early 19th century Tennessee and Kentucky held the same agricultural qualities – limestone, phosphate and water sources – needed for the breeding of blooded horses. However, the basin in which Middle Tennessee is located held advantages over Kentucky. Its fall grazing season lasted longer, its winters were less severe, and its spring grasses arrived earlier all making for more hospitable growing conditions for foals – young horses.
These agricultural conditions coupled with a growing base of wealth Tennessee planters gained fro