Little Known Facts Horse Racing
1. Dead Horseman
Frank Hayes was a horse trainer and stableman who sometimes raced as a jockey, however, he never won a race…while alive. In 1923, as he rode the horse Sweet Kiss, he had a heart attack in the middle of a race at Belmont Park in New York but stayed in the saddle as Sweet Kiss won the race. That gives Hayes the distinction of being the only dead jockey to win a race. Oh, and Sweet Kiss, unfortunately, took on the nickname of “Sweet Kiss of Death” and never raced again.
2. Thanks For The Name
The name Churchill Downs is derived from Clark’s notoriously bad attitude. The locals from the area where the track was built began calling the track by the name as a diminutive way to remind him that horse racing was a British tradition, and not his. The name stuck, obviously, as Americans have a way when it comes to co-opting derogatory terms.
3. Churchill Lands
Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. was actually the grandson of William Clark. You remember William Clark, right? You may notice that he was named after Meriwether Lewis, as Lewis and Clark were good friends. As a child, Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr.’s mother died, and he was taken in by his aunt and the Churchill family. When he came up with the idea for the Kentucky Derby, his aunt donated the land to build Churchill Downs.
The Kentucky Derby is known as “The Run for the Roses.” This is because the winner is draped in an extravagant blanket of 554 roses. The tradition goes back to 1883, when Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., the man who started the Kentucky Derby, after spending time at the race tracks in England and France, witnessed a New York socialite presenting roses to women at a party after the derby in 1883. It wasn’t until 1896, however, that the tradition of blanketing the winner in roses began.
5. Amateur Status
Red Rum held the course record time for 16 years, but it didn’t fall at the hands of a professional jockey. Instead, it was an amateur by the name of Marcus Armytage who set the still-standing record in 1990, by posting the only sub 9-minute time in the track’s history. It may seem odd, but the Grand National has a history of amateur riders, as it was conceived as a “gentleman’s competition.”
6. The G.O.A.T
The most famous horse of the Grand National was Red Rum, as he is the only thoroughbred to win the race an impressive three times over five years, including the most memorable Grand National, in 1973, when he came from 15 lengths behind to win. In the other two years, he took second in the race.
7. Queen’s Gambit
Another bizarre Grand National was the 1956 race when the horse owned by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother named Devon Loch shockingly jumped into the air and belly flopped onto the ground while leading the race during the final stretch, right after clearing the last hurdle. Being the Queen she was, she blurted out “Oh, that’s racing.” It surely is good to be the queen.
8. Whoever Can Stay Upright
During the 1928 Grand National, only 2 horses were able to make it to the finish line, as 41 of the 42 competitors fell during the race, which was marred by misty weather conditions. A horse by the name of Tipperary Tim won the race. Before the race had even begun, a friend of the jockey had heckled him by saying: “Billy boy, you’ll only win if all the others fall down!” Well, that’s exactly what happened.
9. Best of the Best
The Grand National is such a valuable race because of its grueling nature. Referred to as “the ultimate test of a horse and rider,” the race is over 4 miles long, at 6.907 kilometers, with 30 fence obstacles for the horse to jump and clear. However, due to the brutal nature of the race, it has been the site of some bizarre accidents over the years.
10. Final Leg
One of the main reasons no horses have won the triple crown since Nijinsky is that the third race at St. Leger is so long that many owners don’t attempt to race their horses at it, as it may diminish their stud value in the future. In fact, no horses that won the first two races were entered into the St. Leger between 1987 and 2012.