New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Horse racing

Manuel Ycaza


Manuel Ycaza (Horse racing.  Born, Panama City, Panama, Feb. 1, 1938.)  Coming to New York at age 16 in 1954, C. Manuel Ycaza was destined to become one of the best thoroughbred riders of his generation.  He was also one of the first of the great Panamanian jockeys to become successful in New York.  Ycaza gained national acclaim in 1964, when he steered Quadrangle to victory in the Belmont Stakes by two lengths over Roman Brother.  Northern Dancer was bidding for a Triple Crown in that race but finished third on the Aqueduct track.  (Belmont was being renovated.)  Ycaza had one of his finest years in 1968, when he won an astonishing $1,923,974 with only 644 mounts.  He won 125 times that year (a .188 percentage), including many of the East’s biggest races, including the Acorn, the Alabama, the Barbara Fritchie, the Brooklyn Handicap (aboard Damascus), the Champagne Stakes, and the Hopeful.  That year, Ycaza rode the famous filly, Dark Mirage, to a series of victories, including the Coaching Club American Oaks, the Monmouth Oaks, and the Mother Goose.  He was dogged by injury much of the latter part of his career, riding only 20 times in 1970 and 97 times in 1971 (although he won $233,656 that year), and he retired in 1972. He did return for a brief comeback in the spring of 1983.

Jock Whitney


Jock Whitney (Polo and thoroughbred racing.  Born, Ellsworth, ME, Aug. 17, 1904; died, Manhasset, NY, Feb. 8, 1982.)  A polo star, successful racing stable owner, backer of plays and movies, newspaper publisher, savvy investor and radio station owner, John Hay Whitney was, it is safe to say, a man of many roles.  Son of Payne Whitney, he inherited some $180 million upon his father’s death in 1927, the year after he was graduated from Yale.  In 1929, Whitney began to pursue polo seriously and in 1935, his Greentree team won the U.S. title.  In 1928, he became the youngest member of the Jockey Club and began racing regularly in England (where he had studied at Oxford for a year).  Although he was no longer active in polo by the advent of World War II, his racing interests continued to expand.  On his mother’s death (1944), Whitney acquired Greentree Stable on Long Island (in partnership with his sister Joan) and merged his own Mare’s Nest Farm into the Greentree interests, which included Kentucky’s Greentree Stud.  Greentree produced Horses of the Year Capot (1949) and Tom Fool (1953), as well as Stage Door Johnny, winner of the 1968 Belmont Stakes.  In 20 years (1928-48), he backed plays such as Charley’s Aunt, Life with Father, and A Streetcar Named Desire, and movies (1933-40) that included A Star is Born, Rebecca, and Gone with the Wind.  Whitney also invested in Pioneer Pictures (which introduced Technicolor) and Minute Maid frozen foods.  He was publisher of the New York Herald Tribune from Aug. 28, 1958, until the paper (which cost him $40 million in losses) closed in 1966.

Harry Payne Whitney


Harry Payne Whitney (Polo, horse racing.  Born, New York, NY, Apr. 29, 1872; died, New York, NY, Oct. 26, 1930.)  A major sporting figure for the first three decades of the 20th century, Harry Payne Whitney had extensive influence in polo and thoroughbred racing.  Following his graduation from Yale (1894), Whitney was drawn to many sporting ventures including sailing, but he soon dedicated himself to polo.  Great Britain was then the world power in the sport but he set about raising an American team to challenge Britain’s international dominance.  Whitney succeeded in 1909 when the U.S.’ so-called “Big Four” team (Whitney, Lawrence Waterbury, James Montgomery Waterbury, and Devereaux Milburn) defeated the British, two matches to none (9-5, 8-2) at Hurlingham, England.  He remained part of the team that successfully defended the Westchester Cup in 1913 and 1914.  Whitney developed the long passing game and was accorded a 10-goal rating (the sport’s highest) for five seasons (1917-21).  Beginning with Irish Lad in 1902, he also had an enormous impact on racing.  Whitney was the top money-winning owner five times (1913, 1920, 1924, 1926, 1927).  His stable was tops in money won among breeders six times in seven years (1924, 1926-30) and his estate led the breeders’ money list in 1931 and 1932.  Regret and Whiskery were among the top horses he raced.  Whitney died of pneumonia in his home at 871 Fifth Avenue.

C.V. Whitney


C.V. Whitney (Racing.  Born, Roslyn, NY, Feb. 12, 1899; died, Saratoga Springs, NY, Dec. 13, 1992.)  Gifted with both wealth and a heritage nearly unique among Americans, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney became a major force in thoroughbred racing.  Whitney was the son of Harry Payne Whitney, the polo star and oil and tobacco heir, and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum of Art and a railroad heiress.  He was graduated by Yale in 1922 but decided a life of leisure was not his cup of tea.  In 1927, he co-founded Pan American World Airways with Yale buddy Juan T. Trippe.  Sonny Whitney was chairman of Pan Am until 1941 and then served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.  After his father’s death in 1930, he purchased the racing interests.  Whitney’s stable saddled the most winners in the country in 1932, 1933, and 1944, and led the money-winning list in 1932, 1933, and 1960.  He earned an Eclipse Award for his contributions to racing in 1985.  Whitney was instrumental in the formation of the National Racing Museum and the New York Racing Association.  He was also involved in the motion picture industry, co-producing, among other films, David O. Selznick’s Gone with the Wind, Rebecca, and the original A Star is Born.  His C.V. Whitney Stable produced the famed Equipoise in the early 1930s, as well as Belmont Stakes winners Phalanx (1947) and Counterpoint (1951).

Ron Turcotte


Ron Turcotte (Horse racing.  Born: Grand Falls, New Brunswick, July 22, 1941.)  A brilliant 18-year career as one of the finest jockeys in New York history was not dimmed in its luster by the tragic accident that ended the riding career of Ron Turcotte.  During the mid-1970s especially, Turcotte was at the top of his game, riding Belmont Stakes winners Riva Ridge (1972) and Secretariat (1973) in successive years.  In 1973, he was the overall riding leader in New York and the top rider at Saratoga.  In that year, Secretariat won the Triple Crown (becoming the first horse to do so in 25 years).  The photo of Turcotte’s looking over his left shoulder at the distant field aboard Secretariat near the end of the Belmont is an iconic photo.  Turcotte had earlier established himself with major stakes wins in New York including the Suburban Handicap (aboard Buffle in 1966), the Beldame (aboard Shuvee in 1970) and several other wins in his best years of 1972 and 1973.  He rode Upper Case to victory in the Wood Memorial in 1972 before winning the Belmont with Riva Ridge.  He rode Riva Ridge home in the Brooklyn Handicap in 1973. He also won the Coaching Club American Oaks with Summer Guest in 1972 and had another big winner with Hatchet Man in the Dwyer Stakes in 1974.  But on July 13, 1978, in the eighth race at Belmont, Turcotte’s mount, Flag of Leyte Gulf, clipped heels with Water Malone and Turcotte was thrown hard.  The injuries sustained in this tragedy ended his exceptional career prematurely. In that career, Turcotte rode 20,281 mounts and was in the money 8,488 times (42 percent) with 3,032 winners and earned $28,606,490 in purses.

Willie Ratner


Willie Ratner (Sportswriter.  Born, Newark, NJ, June 3, 1895; died, Newark, NJ, Apr. 3, 1980.)  For longevity at a single newspaper, the career of Willie Ratner may be unique.  Ratner joined the Newark Evening News as a copy boy in 1912 and remained with the paper until it closed Aug. 31, 1972.  He became a sportswriter who covered bike racing, then a major sport in Newark and nearby Nutley, N.J., moved on to boxing, and then thoroughbred racing.  The bike racing world championships were held in Newark the year Ratner began with the News.  His career as a boxing writer began during World War I, when he covered Jack Dempsey, later a heavyweight champion who was to become a life-long friend.  For many years, Ratner wrote a column entitled “Punching the Bag.”  He covered most major fight cards at the Garden for decades.

Herbert Bayard Swope


Herbert Bayard Swope (Horse racing.  Born, St. Louis, MO, Jan. 5, 1882; died, New York, NY, June 20, 1958.)  Perhaps the most famous New York newspaperman of his time, Herbert Bayard Swope was a horse racing buff.  Swope was executive editor of The World, created the first “op-ed” page, won the first Pulitzer Prize for reporting (1917), covered the Versailles peace conference after World War I, and brought the 1924 Democratic national convention to New York.  He came to New York as a reporter for the Herald (1901-07) after working on papers in St. Louis and Chicago.  Swope joined The World in 1909.  He was executive editor of the morning paper for eight years (1920-28) and then became a business columnist.  Gov. Herbert Lehman appointed him first chairman of the State Racing Commission in 1934.  He held that post for 11 years.  Swope also headed the Turf Committee of America and reportedly raised $17 million for war relief for people associated with thoroughbred racing.  He owned a small racing stable during the 1920s.

Woody Stephens


Woody Stephens (Horse racing.  Born, Stanton, KY, Sept. 1, 1913; died, Miami Lakes, FL, Aug. 22, 1998.)  Few, if any, figures in thoroughbred racing demonstrated the period of mastery over a Triple Crown event that Woodford Cefis Stephens held over the Belmont Stakes from 1982-86.  In that span, Stephens was the trainer of five straight Belmont winners, using three different jockeys.  He won with Conquistador Cielo (Laffit Pincay up) in 1982, Caveat (Pincay again) in 1983, Swale (Pincay) in 1984, Creme Fraiche (Eddie Maple in the irons) in 1985, and, in 1986, Danzig Connection, ridden by Chris McCarron.  Of course, Stephens also saddled winners in many other races, including two Kentucky Derby winners – Cannonade in 1974 and Swale in 1984.  His Conquistador Cielo was voted the Horse of the Year in the 1982 Eclipse balloting.  Stephens was chosen as the 1983 Eclipse Award Trainer of the Year.  He ranked for over 30 years as one of the premier trainers in New York and Florida circuits.  The odds against his (or anyone else’s) matching his startling string of successes in New York’s No. 1 racing event are staggering.

Harry Sinclair


Harry Sinclair (Baseball, horse racing.  Born, Wheeling, WV, July 6, 1876; died, Flintridge, CA, Nov. 10, 1956.)  A major figure in the modern history of the American petroleum industry, Harry Ford Sinclair was also active in both baseball and horse racing.  After several successful ventures in Oklahoma and the Midwest, Sinclair established Sinclair Oil and Refining Co. (May 1, 1916), one of the first integrated oil companies in America, producing, refining, shipping, distributing, and retailing petroleum products.  Already a wealthy man, Sinclair had been the principal backer of the Newark Peps of the Federal League in 1915, a failed attempt to form a “third major league” in baseball.  He later owned an interest in the American League St. Louis Browns, but his primary sports focus was the famed New Jersey racing Rancocas Stable, which produced Zev, the 1923 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner, Sarazen, Mad Hatter, and Mad Play (the 1924 Belmont winner).  Rancocas was the leading money-winning stable in 1921, 1922, and 1923, ranking among the leaders several other times.  The 1923 earnings of $438,849 set a record not broken until 1941.  Sinclair was jailed for 6½ months in 1929 for contempt of Congress after he refused to testify about the Teapot Dome scandal in which his Mammoth Oil Co. leased lands in the U.S. Naval Reserve oil fields in Wyoming.  He was cleared of wrongdoing in the scandal, but the lease was cancelled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1927 and Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall was ultimately jailed.  Sinclair later took over Richfield Oil in California and, anticipating World War II, created 100-octane fuel for airplanes, sold off his European operations in the early 1930s, and built a fleet of tankers delivered in 1941 and early 1942.  He also built a network of oil pipelines, thus freeing up other transport for war use.  During the war, he built a plant to provide material for synthetic rubber, produced fuel oil for the Navy, and served on the Petroleum Industry War Council (1942-45).

Willie Shoemaker


Willie Shoemaker (Horse racing.  Born, Fabens, TX, Aug. 19, 1931; died, San Marino, CA, Oct. 12, 2003.)  William Lee Shoemaker was far and away the world’s winningest horseracing jockey and, in fact, rode for nearly 20 years after he broke the record for wins.  Shoemaker surpassed the former world record holder, Johnny Longden (6,032) in 1970, and he didn’t finish his riding career until Feb. 3, 1990, when he made his 40,350th ride.  His career began in 1949 and before he finished, Shoemaker rode 8,832 winners worth more than $123 million in purses.  His winning rides topped Longden’s record by 2,800 – one of sport’s greatest achievements.  He rode four Kentucky Derby winners.  His first was Swaps (1955), followed by Tony Lee (1959), Lucky Debonair  (1965), and Ferdinand (1986, the oldest jockey, at 54, to win the Derby).  Shoemaker enhanced his reputation with great performances on New York tracks, where he won five Belmont Stakes, four Gold Cups and five Woodward Stakes.  Oddly, one of his most famous races was one he didn’t win.  In the 1957 Kentucky Derby, Shoemaker misjudged the finish, rose in the irons, and Iron Leige swept past his horse for the victory.  But it was one of the few mistakes he ever made.  In 1991, Shoemaker was paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident.

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The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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