December, 1944: A hockey fight, a filly Horse of the Year, and the return of Gulfstream Park

On Saturday night, after spending the day at Aqueduct, I stumbled across The Rocket, a 2007 Canadian movie about Maurice Richard, who played for the Canadiens from 1942 to 1950 1960.  Richard was the first player both to score 500 goals in a career and to score 50 goals in 50 games.

One of the games featured in the movie is a 1944 tilt against the New York Rangers at the Garden; according to the film, prior to the game it was rumored that a Rangers tough guy, Bob Dill (played by current Rangers’ agitator Sean Avery – gotta love a casting director with a sense of humor), would try to take Richard out. (Then as now, the Rangers couldn’t compete with speedy, skilled players; then as not now, they apparently had tough guys who could intimidate in the absence of skill.)

The anticipated scrap didn’t turn out quite as planned; Richard, a finesse player known for his fragility, beat the crap out of his pugilistic opponent, not just on the ice but in the penalty box as well.

So of course, I went searching for the game recap, and as I read the 1944 account, I was struck, as I so often am in historical racing articles, by the vitality and vividness of the prose (as well as by the similar content in many contemporary articles I’ve read about the Blueshirts):

Off to a flying start in their game with the Canadiens at Madison Square Garden last night, the New York Rangers soon found their proper level and bowed to the leaders of the National Hockey League…

…the New Yorkers tried their mightiest against the smooth-skating organization from Montreal, but their mightiest turned out to be merely zephyr-like and caused the visitors little concern.

Dill, a nephew of two of the foremost boxers of the past generation…was immediatly (sic) installed the choice over the ebullient going Frenchman, but the wise money was surprised to see the favorite set right down on the ice under the force of a solid right to the jaw.

Officials hustled these belligerents to the penalty-box, where Dill demanded a return match. Richard obliged forthwith, and turned in a second upset by parking his right against Bob’s left eye. Each received a five-minute major and a ten-minute misconduct penalty for his part in the impromptu divertissement.

Reading this, I became curious about what might have been on the racing landscape in December of 1944; New York racing would have ceased the previous month, but it turns out that December yielded no little bit of significant racing news.

That month – reported, in fact, on the same day as the game recap – Twilight Tear became the first three-year-old filly to earn “Best Horse of the Year” honors in a year-end poll of sports and turf writers.  121 of 154 writers awarded her the title.

Earlier in the year, Arthur Daley wrote a column in the Times on Twilight Tear and the all-too-tiresome question of the place of the female Thoroughbred in the racing world. Like his hockey colleague Nichols, Daley wrote with a touch of the mischievous in his lively prose:

The female of the species may be more deadly than the male but no lover of the thoroughbred ever has been willing to believe it before. However, the horsemen are weakening on the subject and by nightfall on Saturday they probably will be convinced. If Twilight Tear can win the rich Arlington Classic, she undoubtedly will be acclaimed as the champion 3-year-old of the season, the first filly ever so honored.

Generally speaking, horses are pretty much like humans. The males are bigger, stronger, faster. The fillies – if the ladies will pardon mention of so delicate a subject – are considered more flighty and temperamental. Occasionally, of course, there will be an equine battle-axe like Esposa, who could run every day in the week and twice on Sundays.

Twilight Tear definitely is no battle-axe. The experts deem her a most feminine sort of animal, a rich wine-colored bay whose daintiness does not prevent her from running with all of the rugged power and unlimited speed of a colt. She is a perfectly built mare, good size and wonderful in disposition.

And if the Rocket punching out a tough guy and a three-year-old filly being Horse of the Year weren’t enough of the unexpected to make December 1944 a delightfully surprising one…you might have turned your eyes south, to the grand re-opening of Gulfstream Park:

President James Donn looked up at a cloudless sky today, noted a nip in the air and increased to 25,000 or more his estimate of the number of spectators who will be on hand tomorrow when horse racing returns to long-idle Gulfstream Park, marking the start of the Florida turf season.

Gulfstream was completed just in time to open Feb. 1, 1939. Financial difficulties developed and the track was closed after four days. For five years creditors fought over their claims in bankruptcy court. Donn and his associates bought most of the claims, and got permission from the court only last summer to reopen the track.

The Rangers getting outplayed, outsmarted, and outfought; a distaffer as the center of the racing world; Gulfstream Park in bankruptcy and under new ownership.  The more things change…

For more on the closure of NYC OTB, check out Left at the Gate. It appears that the only racing that I’ll be watching, at least for a while, will be what I’ll see out at the track, as the only racing television in Brooklyn and Manhattan is the OTB channel, which has ceased operation. The cable systems here don’t offer TVG or HRTV, and most buildings don’t permit satellite dishes.

And as our wonderful state government doesn’t permit NYRA to stream its own racing product on its own website, that’s not an option, either. While one might hope that the closure of OTB might result in more people opening NYRA Rewards accounts (whom I favor for many reasons, among them that they advertise with me), one might also fear that not being able to view the races might drive people to out-of-state accounts where such radical perks like actually watching the races on the internet are available. Great. Thanks again, OTB.


Daley, Arthur.  “Sports of the Times:  Distaff Side of the Turf.” New York Times, July 20, 1944.

Nichols, Joseph C. “Rangers Lose, 4-1, As Players Battle.”  New York Times, December 18, 1944.

Turf Writers Vote for Twilight Tear.”  New York Times, December 18, 1944.

Racing Starts Today at Gulfstream Park.” New York Times, December  1, 1944.

7 thoughts on “December, 1944: A hockey fight, a filly Horse of the Year, and the return of Gulfstream Park

  1. So they did shut down the OTB Channel:

    I thought that was a state-wide channel available throughout New York State and not just New York OTB.

    As for the lack of streaming NYRA races, I suspect that will quickly change in an attempt to keep people who don’t want to head to NYRA tracks to head for other platforms (especially people who have dual residences and can for instance claim a Pennsylvania address so they can watch NYRA that way), with NYRA finally being able to stream their product live (at least to NYRA Rewards customers) as soon as possible (I do have TVG where I am so I’m able to see NYRA anyway).

    • I believe that the channel is statewide, but as is the case with much else with NYS OTB’s, I believe that each regional OTB oversees its local channel. The programming on channel 12 in Saratoga (Capitol OTB) is entirely different from what it is down here–much, much more varied, year-round, than what NYC OTB offered.

  2. Good stuff, Teresa. Minor technical point: Rocket played from ’42 to ’60, not ’50. Side note about the Rocket: he once scored five in a game and was named not only the first star but also the second and third star of the game. His younger brother, Henri, had arguably the greatest nickname of all time: the Pocket Rocket.

    • Thanks for the correction, Frank; bad typo, now fixed. The five-goal game was just amazing, as was so much of what he did. The movie was great. And I totally agree about the Pocket Rocket – the innuendo of which cannot go unremarked on.

  3. Folks in New York State can’t see the NYRA signal regardless of platform, at least I can’t on TwinSpires and I suspect that’s the case for other out of state ADWs. So the fact that NYRA Rewards can’t show their own signal doesn’t put them at a disadvantage (oddly!). Obviously not being able to show any signal does.

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