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

Category Archives: Horse racing

Eric Guerin

Eric Guerin (Horse racing.  Born, Maringuoin, LA, Oct. 23, 1924; died, Plantation, FL, Mar. 21, 1993.)  Though long stigmatized for his failure to win the Triple Crown with Native Dancer, Oliver Eric Guerin was nonetheless a very successful jockey.  Guerin rode 2,712 winners and his mounts amassed over $17 million in purse winnings during his 36-year career (1940-75).  In 1954, he became just the fourth jockey in the 20th century to win back-to-back Belmont Stakes when he came home (by a neck) on High Gun.  The year before, Guerin had ridden Native Dancer to a Belmont victory after also winning the Preakness but failing to lead the field in the Kentucky Derby (Native Dancer was second).  He rode a winner in his first Derby in 1947 but never won again at Churchill Downs.  Guerin was also one of three jockeys involved in the triple dead heat in the Carter Handicap June 10, 1944, at Aqueduct.

Max Hirsch

Max Hirsch (Thoroughbred racing.  Born, Fredericksburg, TX, July 30, 1880; died, New Hyde Park, NY, Apr. 3, 1969.)  Maximillion Hirsch turned in one of the longest careers as a trainer in the history of New York thoroughbred racing, a span of over 60 years from 1908 until he retired due to ill health in 1968.  In between those two dates, Hirsch trained 1,933 winners, including some of the most famous horses in the annals of American turf.  His most famous horse was Assault, which swept to the Triple Crown in 1946, completing the feat with a three-length victory over Natchez in the Belmont Stakes.  However, he trained three other Belmont winners and they stretched over a spread of 26 years from his first (Vito) in 1928 to his last (High Gun) in 1954.  In between, he also saddled Bold Venture in 1936, a Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner.  Hirsch was a master of race tactics and his jockeys benefitted from his long and wide experience in racing.  Although Hirsch trained for several owners during his lengthy career, his 1946 performance with Assault was for the King Ranch.  That year, Assault started 15 times and won eight races, totaling $424,195 in winnings, then a national record.  Not surprisingly, the three-year-old colt was named “Horse of the Year.”  He never turned out the volume of winners that some of his contemporaries did, but he concentrated on preparing a few horses especially well and was always a threat to win in major races.  Hirsch was also considered an excellent judge of the type of track on which a horse would do well.

August Belmont, II

August Belmont, II (Horse racing.  Born, New York, NY, Feb. 18, 1853; died, New York, NY, Dec. 19, 1924.)  Although his father had a passing interest in the “Sport of Kings,” August Belmont II plunged into horse racing in a big way, though it wasn’t the only sport to attract his notice.  Belmont, perhaps best known as the builder of the first New York subway (the Interborough Rapid Transit in 1904), brought the first set of spiked track shoes to America from England and also played in one of the first polo matches ever staged in this country.  But it was in horse racing that he made his biggest sports impact.  He may have been instrumental in maintaining New York as the national leader in the sport.  In the late 1890s, a series of problems was besetting the Westchester Racing Association, which operated a major track in what is now The Bronx.  The lease on the land was to expire and was not going to be renewed.  Belmont solved this little problem rather neatly by building a brand new track on the New York City-Nassau County line, which he called Belmont Park (1904).  The track was the largest and most impressive of its time.  Belmont was also a breeder and owner of thoroughbred horses, including perhaps the most famous of them all – Man O’War – who swept all before him as a three-year-old in 1920.  Unfortunately for Belmont, he had earlier sold Man O’War to S.D. Riddle.  However, other great horses bred at his Nursery Stud in Lexington, Kent., included Rock Sand and Tracery.  In addition to breeding and racing thoroughbreds, his polo interests extended to being one of the founders of the Meadow Brook Hunt Club in Westbury, N.Y.

Hirsch Jacobs

Hirsch Jacobs (Horse racing.  Born, New York, Apr. 8, 1904; died, Miami Beach, FL, Feb. 13, 1970.)  Racing was distinctly part of Hirsch Jacobs’ nature.  From the earliest days of his childhood, he was fascinated by the concept of racing.  Jacobs became one of the leading trainers in American racing.  He saddled his first winner in 1926 and during his career he trained a total of 3,596 winners who earned more than $15 million in purses.  One of the greatest coups of Jacobs’ career was Stymie.  He bought the horse for $1,500 and it earned purses totalling $914,485, becoming Handicap Horse of the Year in 1945.  That was the most money ever won up to that time by single horse.  Jacobs was the leading trainer in the nation 11 times from 1933-44, missing only in 1940.  Perhaps his best year in that span was 1936, when he saddled 177 winners.  He was also the nation’s leading money-winning trainer in 1946.  Jacobs was not only one of the country’s most successful trainers for more than a quarter-century but also one of the most popular amongst his peers and the fans of the sport.  During the Depression, when racing was at low ebb, Jacobs continued to work to improve the sport.  One of his great disappointments was that he never trained a horse that won any of the Triple Crown races.  His horses raced primarily in New York and on the Florida circuit.

Angel Cordero, Jr.

Angel Cordero, Jr. (Horse racing.  Born, Santurce, Puerto Rico, May 8, 1942.)  Beginning his career in 1962, Angel Cordero, Jr., became one of the winningest jockeys in history.  By 1990, his purse winnings had surpassed the $150 million mark aboard more than 6,700 winners.  He finished his career aboard 7,057 winners.  Cordero was the leading jockey at New York tracks seven times beginning in 1967, when he exploded to the top of the list with 277 winners, then a New York record.  He was also the winningest jockey in 1968 and 1969, making him only the second jockey since the beginning of parimutuel racing in 1940 to lead the field three straight years.  He turned that trick again from 1982-84.  In 1976, 1982, and 1983, Cordero was the leading money winning rider in the nation, and in 1983 became the first jockey in history to win more than $10 million in a single year.  His totals were $10,116,087, with 362 winners that year.  In 1976, Cordero rode Bold Forbes to victory in two of the three legs of the Triple Crown, winning the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.  He had three Derby winners and two Preakness winners.  He won the coveted Eclipse Award as the outstanding jockey in the nation twice (1982, 1983) and made another hit with his fans at Aqueduct when he booted home Life’s Magic in the distaff when the Breeders’ Cup made its first New York appearance in 1985.

D. Wayne Lukas

D. Wayne Lukas (Horse racing. Born, Antigo, WI, Sept. 2, 1935.) After an 11-year career as a basketball coach (nine in Wisconsin high schools and two as an assistant at the U. of Wisconsin), D. Wayne Lukas turned his organizational talents to racing. Lukas brought a contemporary business approach to training thoroughbreds with great success. He became the first trainer ever to reach $100 million in earnings and the first to reach $200 million. Lukas didn’t become a full-time trainer until 1978. By the 1990s, he was a recognized leader in the field. He led all trainers in purse money 14 times in 15 years (1983-97, except ’93). From 1985-92, Lukas also led in races won. He won the Eclipse Award in 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1994. In the Belmont Stakes, Lukas has trained four winners (and nearly another). He won with Tabasco Cat (1994), Thunder Gulch (1995), Editor’s Note (1996), and Commendable, a 19-1 shot who won in a slow 2:31.19 in 2000. Lukas lost by a head (to Lemon Drop Kid) with Charismatic in 1999, costing him a Triple Crown winner. His other outstanding horses have included Lady’s Secret, Flanders, and Codex.

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.

Earl Sande

Earl Sande (Horse racing.  Born, Groton, SD, Nov. 13, 1898; died, Jacksonville, OR, Aug. 19, 1968.)  During the 1920s, the so-called “Golden Age of American Sports,” each major sport had its leading hero.  Babe Ruth (baseball), Jack Dempsey (boxing), Bill Tilden (tennis), Bobby Jones (golf), and Red Grange (football) were among the most famous.  But none was better known than thoroughbred racing’s Earl Sande, the smallest of the greats of that era.  Earl H. Sande was the jockey with the biggest name, a name known amongst Americans who knew little else about racing.  He became a particular favorite among New Yorkers by winning the Belmont Stakes four times from 1921-1927.  Sande then capped off his career with rides that helped the great Gallant Fox to the Triple Crown in 1930, marking only the second time in racing history that feat had been accomplished.  (Sir Barton won the Triple Crown in 1919.)  Earlier, Sande had ridden Grey Lag (1921), Zev (1923), Mad Play (1924), and Chance Shot (1927) to victory in the Belmont.  During his active career, Sande rode 967 winners and won over $3 million in purses, enormous figures for that time in the history of racing.  He also rode two Kentucky Derby winners besides Gallant Fox.  After his retirement from riding, Sande turned to training horses and was again successful, although perhaps not as much as he was riding.  In 1938, he was the nation’s leading trainer, training 15 stakes winners who earned $226,445.

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.

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).

About This Dictionary

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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