In the Aqueduct Handicap, Stymie 2, mares 0

Today at Aqueduct is the 91st running of the Evening Attire. Well, OK, not exactly: the race has been run, with a few gaps, since 1902; formerly the Aqueduct Handicap, the race was re-named to honor the gelding who won it in 2002 and who was retired in 2008 at age 10.

In its former incarnation, the race saw some storied victories: Damascus and Kelso each won the race twice; both Roamer and John P. Grier won it. Today we’re looking at Stymie’s consecutive victories in 1947 and 1948, in both of which he beat some pretty impressive race mares.

Stymie’s career did not get off to a promising start. He finished 7th and 11th in his first two starts, from the second of which he was famously claimed for $1,500 by Hirsch Jacobs; in 57 races at ages two and three, he won seven times.

At age four, though, he became a different race horse, and over the next two years, he started 39 times, winning 17 races and hitting the board in 36 of them. In 1945, he was named champion handicap horse.

Stymie came into the 1947 Aqueduct Handicap off a summer in which he’d won the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the MassCap. In June, he’d been beaten a neck by the mare Gallorette; in the Whitney, she’d finished second, he third. The previous year’s champion handicap mare, Gallorette came to the Aqueduct Handicap following that Whitney finish and a second in the Saratoga Handicap.

Stymie carried 132 pounds in the Aqueduct, the most he’d ever been assigned, and James Roach in the Times reported that “rough, tough old Stymie…won it the hard way.” He was last of 11 moving to the far turn, and prevailed over Gallorette by half a length. Altogether, Gallorette and Stymie raced against each other 14 times.

Stymie returned the next year for the 1948 Aqueduct Handicap; he didn’t meet Gallorette again, but instead, the Discovery mare Conniver showed up to take him on. She’d been racing primarily in allowances and handicaps; the Aqueduct was only her second start in a stakes race, and first since an 11th place finish in the Acorn the previous year.

In what Roach termed “one of the most sensational victories of his remarkable 123-race career,” Stymie thrilled the Aqueduct crowd:

Aqueduct has the longest stretch in the land—it measures 1,520 feet from turn to
wire—and through that pay-off lane Stymie made another of his rousing,
patent-applied-for runs to get the photo decision and send the 28,667 customers
into the stratosphere of excitement.

The old boy had four horses still ahead of him, two behind him, nearing the quarter pole. And he had one to beat at the eighth pole.

That “one” was Conniver, who, like Stymie, had once been available for a price: the previous fall, she was available for $6,500 in a claiming race at Belmont. And she wasn’t giving up easily:

Stymie yoked her at the sixteenth pole. But she didn’t falter.

They went nose and nose through the last 110 yards, and right at the wire Stymie, the one on the outside, made it.

He’d won by a head, beating the mare who would go on to exact a little revenge a month later, beating Stymie in the Brooklyn Handicap. Conniver also won the Vagrancy, the Beldame, and the Comely en route to being named champion handicap mare in 1948.

This second victory in the Aqueduct Handicap brought Stymie’s total earnings to $883,385 in six years of racing; again according to Roach:

He has run 136½ miles under silks, which for the benefit of the figure filberts,
amounts $6,495 per mile, $3.69 per yard of racetrack cavorting.

Stymie’s lifetime record was 131-35-33-28; he retired having earned more money than any other Thoroughbred ($918,485), and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975.

Sources cited and consulted:

Champions. New York: Daily Racing Form Press, 2000.

Roach, James. “Favorite at $6.20 Beats Gallorette.” New York Times. 2 Sept 1947. Web. 15 Jan 2009.

Roach, James. “Stymie Home First By A Head To Take Aqueduct 2d Year.” New York Times. 27 June 1948. Web. 16 Jan 2009.

Robertson, William H.P. The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America. New York: Bonanza Books, 1964.

2 thoughts on “In the Aqueduct Handicap, Stymie 2, mares 0

  1. Teresa,I wish you could have met Jim Roach. What a man with words for the turf; gentle, and kind of like you with his sensitivity for the English language. He could set the scene and deliver the goods with the best of them during his time; but he is gone now, I am sure. Bill Rudy was another who could draw the reader into his mind at the eighth pole and savage that reader's heart those final yards to the wire of victory, if that was the case — or defeat. Charlie Hatton and Steve Crist were able to fully describe the motivations and desires of the people who managed their beautiful beasts, Thoroughbred race horses. They were all masters of the sporting word, always. Superior writers, all!Thank you for concentrating upon Stymie, today's handicap horse of note. Handicaps are now only a remnant of the past, if continued at all. I am afraid the occasional starter handicap and overnight handicap races are only allowed to supplement begrudged and antiquated handicap stakes races; but they were all so important to the general racing spectrum and public allegiance long ago. Vosburgh, John Blanks Campbell, Jim Kilroe and Tommy Trotter were those races' paternal/ mathematician/soothsayer/Solomon authors. They and their races are sorely missed. Then, when horses — both male and female — stuck around for more than the requisite two years of on-track competition now, you and your pal could argue the merits of any handicap race repetitive years with familiar names and known track records. It must have been the entertainment equivilent of today's television show "American Idol," or, believe it or not, who would win in a national sense the World Series or the Super Bowl of nowadays' fame. What a time; what a time for Horse Racing!Anyway, thanks for remembering the old guys. You do it well. Let's root for the rare sporting owner who keeps his or her horse in training, or for the also-meritorious owners of talented geldings who don't look for the ultimate paycheck: It's a fine balance of dollars and cheer for all!

  2. Isn't it nice to know that the Shireffs agree with you? I love reading the stories of these races, reading of the rivalries created and maintained through longer campaigns–of the existence of NY handicap Triple Crown! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and memories of what it was like to be a race fan then.

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