A good day to be Mr. Butler

On July 23rd, 1914, it was good to be James Butler.

Six years earlier, he’d finally won his battle with the Jockey Club, and his Empire City race track in Yonkers, NY was given dates on the New York racing calendar. Now, in 1914, his own race track was running a race named after his Westchester home, East View, and he had two entries, the two-year-old colt Pebbles and his filly stablemate, Comely.

East View sat in Tarrytown; Butler was a grocery magnate, considered the first man to have owned a chain of grocery stores, and Half Moon Press tells us that his first store was in Tarrytown, on the corner of Orchard Street and Central Avenue. In June of 1908, the first year of official racing at Empire City, Butler, who was born in Ireland, at East View hosted Cardinal Logue, visiting Primate of Ireland, along with a number of local religious luminaries. No word on whether they went to the races, though the New York Times in a front page article reports on a meeting between the Cardinal and Butler’s neighbor, John D. Rockefeller.

Twenty-one years later, a Time magazine story began with the sentence,

John D. Rockefeller Jr. last week wiped the village of Eastview off the map of New York, by outright purchase of that once flourishing Colonial hamlet on the outskirts of Tarrytown.

Rockefeller purchased the town so that a proposed new rail line would run through what used to be East View, instead of through his own estate. Time tells us that Rockefeller’s act destroyed the homes of 46 families along with a “mushroom congerie of dance halls, picnic groves, gas stations”; some of the homes had been built during the time of Peter Stuyvesant, in the first half of the seventeenth century. Among three edifices left standing was Butler’s summer home Low-erre; the other two were the Tarrytown pumping station and the Westchester Country poorhouse.

The site of East View is currently the home of the Landmark at Eastview, which, contrary to its grand-sounding name, is a privately owned science park.

In July of 1914, though, Butler’s home was intact, his race track was thriving, and he had the pleasure of watching two of his horses run at his own track in a race named after the place where he lived. Nice, eh?

It sounds like Mr. Butler had a lot of pretty great days in his life, so one wonders where this one fit into his memory. A week earlier, his colt Pebbles had won the Whirl at Empire City; a few days before that, his filly Comely was second in the Demoiselle and in June had won the Keene Memorial. One can nearly imagine him, lord of all he surveyed, rubbing his hands together in anticipation as his horses went to the post in the East View.

Comely and Pebbles were favored, and though it was only a four-horse field, the East View was apparently quite a horse race, with the winner decided at the finish line. It sounds as though the Butler jockeys did a little race riding; Pebbles went to the lead, with Phosphor just behind him and Comely just to Phosphor’s outside:

When the horses made the turn at the east end of the track Butwell tried to get Phosphor out of his prison, but failed, for when he tried to move out and up to Pebbles, Notter kept Comely so closely alongside that he could not get through at any part of the turn. Phosphor had a chance to get the rail as the quartet
swung into the stretch, but he did not then have the speed to do the trick. (New York Times)

Kaskaskia, who had been biding her time behind the other three, made a run at the leaders in the stretch, “coming like a streak right alongside Comely’s withers”:

They were all at the last sixteenth pole when the frenzied crowd began shouting “Kaskaskia wins!” It looked as if she might, for an instant, but only for one. Both Pebbles and Comely responded to the single crack of the whips across their flanks, and, with the rush of the wind, the trio were by the judges with the race settled, Pebbles’s bay nose just in front of the brown one of Comely and
Kaskaskia’s nose at Comely’s saddle cloth…it was a grand race, and there were cheers for all the contestants when the boys rode back to weigh in. (New York Times)

These finishes earned Mr. Butler a tidy $9,000, which is not a bad day at the office, especially when you own the office.

The East View has undergone any number of variations since its first running in 1910: it’s now restricted by sex, age, and breeding (until 1951 it was restricted to colts and geldings—not horses, though, apparently); it’s been run at four racetracks at five distances; it’s been run on the turf. Tomorrow, it will be run on Aqueduct’s inner dirt track at a mile and seventy yards for two-year-old state-bred fillies. A field of six will go to the post; Zayat Stables’ Sherine won the race last year, My Kitty the year before. When it was still a race for the males, it was won by Native Dancer and Tom Fool.

On this cold Brooklyn morning, a summer race in Yonkers sounds a little more appealing than a December race in Ozone Park, and tomorrow’s renewal isn’t quite as majestic as the race run in July of 1914. Still, a good race won by a promising filly will bring much joy to the winner’s owners, as Mr. Butler felt when his horse won his race at his track.

Butler Youngster Wins Eastview.” The New York Times 24 July 1914. 6 Dec 2008.

Cardinal Logue Sees Westchester.” The New York Times 3 June 1908. 6 Dec 2008.

Logue Meets Rockefeller.” The New York Times 4 June 1908. 6 Dec 2008.

Names Make News.” Time 1 April 1929. 6 Dec 2008.

What You’ll See on the Historic River Towns Trolley.” Half Moon Press. August 1998. 6 December 2008.

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