Who is this Wood guy, anyway?

The New York racing calendar is full of races named for the men instrumental in bringing the sport to life in our state. The roles in racing history of Belmont and Travers, Jerome and Dwyer are well documented, and these men leave an easy-to-follow trail for contemporary race fans to follow.

Not so Mr. Eugene D. Wood, whose eponymous race will be run at Aqueduct tomorrow, and who may well have had good reason to leave the details of his life a little murky.

Wood’s contribution to racing was his membership in the Metropolitan Jockey Club, which opened the Jamaica track on April 27, 1903 “in the wooded wilds of Long Island.” Grandstand admission was $2 (that’s $2 more than it will be at Aqueduct tomorrow, and a dollar less than it will be at Belmont next month), and the opening day feature was the Excelsior Handicap, the 97th renewal of which will be run on the undercard of Mr. Wood’s race on Saturday (Conklin).

Conklin’s 1959 article about the closing of the track in noted some of Jamaica’s nicknames: “The Yard,” “The Factory,” “Foot Sore Downs,” “The Meat Grinder.” And we think racing has an image problem now?

In addition to his racing interests, Mr. Wood was a lobbyist or, more politely, “a representative in Albany of many corporations” (“Mrs. Eugene Wood”). Ahem, of course. He was also a Democratic politician, and his record indicates that cronyism networking was also among his strong suits.

At the time of Jamaica’s closing, Frank Kilroe (who’s got his own race out at Santa Anita) was the track secretary and handicapper. His father, Edward Kilroe, was the physician for both Wood and Pierre Lorillard; that “professional” relationship led to Edward Kilroe’s position on the board of directors for Jamaica and Aqueduct, “representing the Wood interests” (“Edward P. Kilroe”). And surely no one was more qualified to represent one’s racing interests than one’s personal physician? Kilroe later became president of the Jamaica track and chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Jockey Club.

Mr. Wood received most of his press during his involvement in a Tammany Hall corruption trial. A 1913 New York Times article characterized him as “knowing more about the affairs of Tammany than any man outside of those in Charles F. Murphy’s ‘inner ring’” (“’Gene’ Wood Told”). Wood was alleged to have been the source of information regarding a secret meeting having to do with a “dicker” for a Supreme Court nomination (“Wood Subpoenaed”).

Subpoenaed to testify (following some official concern that he’d take off to Europe to avoid legal involvement), Wood was of little use to prosecutors:

Wood is a big, broad-shouldered, white-haired man about 50 years old. The first thing he did was to get has (sic) bearings. His glance did not miss a person in the courtroom. He smiled with geniality and it was obvious that nothing was going to worry him. He yawned and appeared anxious to get started.

“Mr. Wood, what is your occupation?” asked [District Attorney Charles S. Whitman].

“Why,” said the witness, smiling, “I am a law student.”

Wood did not tell where he was studying law. His answers were limited to a few words and he preferred one word to two. He volunteered nothing and Mr. Whitman would have found it necessary to question him all day had he desired to go over the whole of John A. Hennessy’s previous testimony concerning Wood. (“M’Guire Owns Up“)

The Tammany Hall corruption case, as one might expect, offered plenty in the way of byzantine intrigue and relationships. Remarkably little was written about Wood’s involvement in horse racing, though decades later, his name re-surfaced in yet another bizarre legal situation.

Wood left his portion of racing holdings at Jamaica and Aqueduct to his wife; when she died in 1940, she left the holdings to her sister, who had been married to a Matt Corbett, another partner in the racing ventures. When Mrs. Corbett died, she allegedly left the racing property to a local nun, who, because of her vow of poverty, turned the property over to her order, the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. The land and stock later became the subject of a real estate dispute, when a Mr. Helis of New Orleans attempted to buy the Jamaica track.

The sacred ownership of the racing land was later disputed, but it seems that our Mr. Wood had a penchant—perhaps a proclivity—for getting himself into less than savory situations. With such material available, no wonder no one wrote about his life at the racetrack.

This 1954 Wood Program is at Arrt’s Arrchives (scroll down); it’s larger and more legible at the site, and you’ll be able to note that geldings weren’t eligible to run: “The race is restricted to entire colts and fillies.” For a look at the 1957 Wood, won by Bold Ruler, check out the latest at Colin’s Ghost, my kindred spirit in racing history.

Conklin, William R. “Final Racing Card at Jamaica Stirs Memories of 56-Year History of Track.” New York Times. 2 Aug 1959. 2 April 2009.

Edward P. Kilroe, Track Official, 82.” New York Times. 8 Jan 1955. 2 April 2009.

“’Gene’ Wood Told Wigwam Secrets; Tammany At Bay.” New York Times. 1 Nov 1913. 2 April 2009.

M’Guire Owns Up; Taken Off Stand.” New York Times. 12 Nov 1913. 2 April 2009.

Mrs. Eugene Wood.” New York Times. 2 Nov 1940. 2 April 2009.

Wood Subpoenaed By Whitman’s Men.” New York Times. 5 Nov 1913. 2 April 2009. F

11 thoughts on “Who is this Wood guy, anyway?

  1. Nice…love that Jamaica was know as “Foot Sore Downs”. Wood sounded like a real piece of work. Interesting stuff.

  2. How appropriate for NYRA to honor him…Remind me, again, why racing has a reputation for catering to thugs and degenerates?

  3. Reading about this guy reminded me, for the hundredth time, that the “good old days” of racing are only old, not quite so good…these old articles are just full of the issues that we’re still talking about.

  4. I said to myself on Saturday…”I don’t know where the Wood name comes from” and seconds later I said “I bet Teresa will write about it”. Sometimes predictable is a very good thing. Thanks as always for your work.

  5. How approprite then that Jamaica Race Track–which I do remember but never went to–gave way to Rochdale Village, a housing project with a built-in complaint in its name.

    $3 coming up for Belmont? Like Saratoga? Parking will be free? But wasn’t it already free at Belmont, other than Preferred?

    Great stuff on Wood. Woodward is a tale as well.

    • John, that post is from 2007…I’ve not looked into pricing for this year, and I know that in the not-too-distant past, it cost a couple of bucks to park at Belmont. Not sure that that’s true any more.

  6. Teresa:

    Thanks for the article. What impressed me the most, however, were the names of the great trainers who had entries in that ’54 Wood. Jack Gaver, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, Woody, Syl Veitch, Max Hirsch, etc. That’s a Hall-of -Fame list, if we ever saw one. When we pine away for the “good old” days, those are the names that we miss the most.

  7. Thanks for all those details. I first watched the race on television in1955 but in all those years just had vague knowledge of who the guy was. Your next challenge—-the Cowdin.

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