Two years ago, in a generally moribund racing month, winter racing in New York got a blast of attention when 9-year-old Evening Attire won the Queens County on a cold December afternoon. It was his second victory in the race; he’d also won in 2001, at the tender age of 3.
Four horses in total have twice won the Queens County, but in public affection, Evening Attire’s antecedent is Roamer, Queens County victor in 1915 and 1918.
Born in 1911, Roamer won seven stakes races at age 7; he also set two records that year, both at Saratoga. He was champion older male in 1915 and 1916 and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.
Even in an era in which horses generally raced for longer than they do now, Roamer’s longevity impressed the racing public. In numerous accounts of his seven-year-old campaign, the public’s affection for the bay gelding is emphasized. And that affection seems well deserved, given his accomplishments.
Though he carried four pounds fewer in his second Queens County win than he did in his first, his time for the race was nearly three seconds faster than in his 1915 win (“Roamer is First…”). He won the race on the lead, as was his custom, and his fractions of 46 3/5 and 1:11 1/5 were both just off the track records. The New York Times reported:
Always a popular idol with the racing public, Roamer was in greater favor than
ever with the tremendous crowd that attended to see the decision of one of the
best cards of the present season.
And the Daily Racing Form, in an article titled “Roamer’s Wonderful Race,” emphasized the crowd’s reaction to Roamer’s victory, calling the son of Knight Errant “the idol of the New York race-going public.”
…when it was evident that that the little gelding would win easily, the big crowd, one of the largest of the year, arose to its feet and cheered long and lustily for everybody’s favorite, without doubt, one of the most popular thoroughbreds that ever raced in this or any other country.
In September of 1918, the New York Times published a long article extolling Roamer’s accomplishments, going so far as to say:
If the turf season of 1918 has not served any other purpose than to establish the greatness of Andrew Miller’s Roamer it has been well worth while. (“Roamer
The article recaps his seven-year-old campaign, the year in which he set a record in the Saratoga Handicap, of 2:02 1/5 for a mile and a quarter. That summer he also broke Salvator’s record for the mile; Salvator had run his on a straight while Roamer ran his around two turns, completing the eight furlongs in 1:34 4/5. This accomplishment, in addition to his others that year, led the Times to declare:
…when the history of the American turf is written not even Salvator will shine more luminously than the useful bay gelding which has held all competitors at bay for so long a period, when most thoroughbreds are in the sere and yellow.
Both the beginning and the end of Roamer’s life are the stuff of racing lore. His dam was blind and his sire was a teaser pony; one of them allegedly jumped the fence to get to the other, and the resulting colt was thus called Roamer. He was owned by Andrew Miller, who died in 1919. Two days after his owner’s death, Roamer broke his leg in a paddock accident and had to be put down. His lifetime record was 98-39-26-9; he earned $98,828.
Today five-year-old Researcher tries to become the fifth horse to win the Queens County twice; he’s the morning line favorite. If he does repeat, he’ll be in select company…but not quite in the same class with Evening Attire and Roamer, two old-timers whose wins in this race burnished their reputations and delighted racing fans, inspiring turf writers to ensure that both the acomplishments and the affections of these horses won’t be forgotten.
“Roamer Iron Horse of the American Turf.” New York Times. 15 Sep. 1918. Web. 11 December 2009.
“Roamer is First in Dazzling Race.” New York Times. 30 June 1918. Web. 11 Dec.
“Roamer Past Performances.” Champions. New York: Daily Racing Form Press, 2000.
“Roamer’s Wonderful Race.” Daily Racing Form. 30 June 1918. Web. 11 Dec. 2009.