“One of the greatest races on record in any country”: the 1913 Suburban Handicap

In June of 1913, the racing world slowly began to return to normal, or at least to a new normal, one in which bookmakers were banned and bets were made furtively, as customers tried to figure out how they could wager without running afoul of the law.

In further good news for racing, within weeks of the first horse race in New York in two and a half years, a Long Island judge dismissed charges brought before Nassau County D.A. Charles Wysong by some detectives and the editor of the Evening Journal, Arthur Brisbane, who claimed that people were betting at Belmont, in violation of the law.

The judge’s response must have been heartening to August Belmont and the other members of the Westchester Racing Association, who had proceeded cautiously in re-opening the racetrack, concerned about being held liable for the illegal acts of their patrons.

“’What these defendants did constituted, no doubt, a form of gambling,’” said Judge James P. Niemann, “but it must be borne in mind that not every form of gambling is prohibited in this State.” 

Other non-racing decisions were made in June 1913 as well: an appeal of Paul Shane’s 1912 case, the one that had opened the door to a revival of racing, was tossed on a technicality, which, while good news for the tracks in that they could continue to operate under the current ruling, dissatisfied Belmont, who wanted the matter settled once and for all.

A day later, it was announced that the Metropolitan Jockey Club meeting, scheduled to open at Jamaica, would instead be moved to Belmont Park. The horses were already stabled at Belmont, the MJC reasoned, and transportation difficulties near Jamaica meant inconvenience for customers, so racing would stay at Belmont until the sport moved upstate in early August for the Saratoga meeting.

But even as the politics and logistics of racing continued to make headlines, the biggest racing event of June 1913 actually happened on the racetrack, when Whisk Broom II ran the 1 1/4-miles Suburban in 2:00 flat, thought to be a new world record for the distance.

Owned by Harry Payne Whitney, Whisk Broom was by Broomstick out of the Kentucky Oaks winning mare Applause; after purchasing him for $2,500, Whitney had shipped his colt as a yearling to England in 1908, where he won six of 23 starts, finishing second in seven other races. Considered one of the top sprinter/milers, he was sent back to the States in 1913 when he was assigned 145 pounds, at which Whitney was said to “take umbrage” at the “apparent injustice.” As the New York Times suggested at the time, England’s loss was the United States’ gain.

On May 30, 1913, the day that racing returned to New York, Whisk Broom won the Metropolitan Handicap, and three weeks later, he took the Brooklyn Handicap despite “loafing” in the stretch, according to the DRF chart.

A week later, in a race the Form called “one of the greatest races on record in any country” and the Times said was “the like of which has never been seen in America, perhaps in the world,” Whisk Broom won the Suburban in the hotly contested final time of 2:00 flat, carrying 139 pounds.

That time was contested not only during the race, when Whisk Broom’s stablemate, a first-time starter named Nightstick, acted as his rabbit, going :24, :47 1/5, and 1:12 for 6 furlongs, but also as soon as the race was over.

Whisk Broom & Joe Notter win the 1913 Suburban. Keeneland-Cook.

Whisk Broom & Joe Notter win the 1913 Suburban. Keeneland-Cook.

The Times observed that after the 6-furlong mark, the official timer, Mr. Barretto, was unable to view the race sufficiently to record the time, but that he stopped the watch at 2:00 when Whisk Broom crossed the finish line. When the crowd realized what had just happened, wrote the reporter, “there was a momentary hush of amazement, followed by thunderous applause.”

Immediately followed, of course, by skepticism, and by a number of local horsemen putting forth their own hand-timed numbers for the race, which ranged from 2:00 3/5 minutes to 2:03 2/5, along with a possible reason for the miraculous time: that Barretto had stopped the watch at the finish line directly in front of him, instead of at the finish line for 1 1/4-miles races, which was further up at the track. Barretto maintained that he did no such thing, and the official time of 2:00 stood, though disputed. Kelso equaled it in the 1961 Woodward, and on July 4, 1991, In Excess set the current record for 1 1/4 miles at Belmont when he ran it in 1:58.33, also in the Suburban Handicap.

The record Whisk Broom had broken was set by his own sire, Broomstick, who ran the Brighton Handicap in 2:02 4/5 carrying 104 pounds. Whisk Broom’s victory also marked another first: the first time any horse had won what the Times called “the triple event”—the Metropolitan, Brooklyn, and Suburban. Only three horses—Tom Fool, Kelso, and Fit to Fight—have done it since.

Whisk Broom’s Suburban also, perhaps, confirmed that racing had a viable foothold after its lengthy absence, something that might have been doubt, given the Times’ observation that “The demonstration which awaited (jockey Joe) Notter and Whisk Broom [after the race] was a revelation to those who had fancied that the old-time interest in horse-racing was dead.”

Whisk Broom didn’t race again after the Suburban.  His three starts in the United States were all at Belmont Park, and he was undefeated on these shores.  His three wins helped make Whitney the leading owner of 1913, and Whisk Broom went on to sire the stakes-winning John P. Grier and Upset, among many others. He may have been the first superstar in the new era of New York racing, and was, in the opinion of “some old-timers,” as reported by the Daily Racing Form, “the greatest horse ever to look through a bridle.”

Throughout 2013, Brooklyn Backstretch will re-visit the racing events of 1913, the year that racing returned to New York after a nearly three-year absence; click here for previous stories.

Quoted and consulted

Bookmaking Not Shown,” New York Times, June 25, 1913.

Bowen, Edward L. Legacies of the Turf: A Century of Great Thoroughbred Breeders (Vol. I). Eclipse Press, 2003.

More Racing At Belmont,” New York Times, June 19, 1913.

Race Betting Case Appeal Dismissed,” New York Times, June 18, 1913.

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

Whisk Broom II Runs Fastest Mile And A Quarter On Record In Winning The Suburban Handicap And Is Acclaimed A Wonderful Horse.”  Daily Racing Form, June 29, 1913.

Whisk Broom past performances, Champions, Daily Racing Form Press, 2005.

World’s Record For Whisk Broom,” New York Times, June 29, 1913.



5 thoughts on ““One of the greatest races on record in any country”: the 1913 Suburban Handicap

  1. Wonderful story, Teresa. Thank you. I’m looking forward to reading more about the racing events of 1913. The weights carried back then were astounding, but somehow the great ones got it done. This story was interesting and informative – thanks again.

  2. Thanks, Andrea. I love reading up on these old races…and I’m always glad to know that someone else enjoys them, too.

  3. Teresa,

    What a pleasure it is to read your accounts of the 1913 season in New York! Your research skills and your writing bring to life many of the stories we have sometimes heard through the years, but many we have not, too. Thank you!

    Your reviews also trigger other thoughts about working the New York tracks over the years and add comparative context: 1) The decision to race the Jamaica dates at Belmont Park because of public access-to-Jamaica difficulties at the time boldly reminds me of negotiating the construction barriers set up on North Conduit Avenue adjacent to the Aqueduct parking lot entrance for what seems to me the entirety of my time working at Aqueduct, 1967 through and including 1996. No kidding, the apparently permanent construction site became a bad joke among all of us, and resulted, we thought, from somebody at NYRA stepping on somebody’s toes in Albany, or elsewhere.

    2) Your quotation of the immediate response to Whisk Broom’s two-minute Suburban victory, “… momentary hush of amazement, followed by thunderous applause,” makes me long for a time when our fans would be so in-tune with the running times as they occurred. Perhaps some are, but I doubt enough now to warrant a quick “thunderous applause.”

    Of course the aftermath of Whisk Broom’s accomplishment was carpeted with naysayers and the like… just like Secretariat’s stakes and track-record Preakness time of 1973. Allegedly sloppy time-keeping at Belmont in 1913 was replaced with a faulty Teletimer setup at Pimlico in 1973. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Glad they both worked out in the end.

    3) NYRA’s once vaunted Handicap Triple — that may no longer be recognized, unfortunately — originated as the “triple event,” according to The New York Times. Very interesting! I wonder if it was a journalist, or a race-tracker who was responsible for the initial sobriquet.

    4) And now I know where the late Buddy Delp got his clever and catchy nickname for Spectacular Bid: “Greatest horse to look through a bridle!” Three cheers to the Daily Racing Form for picking up on Whisk Broom’s also-clever popularity. I always knew there was a good reason I liked that paper.

    Great reading, Teresa. Thank you!

  4. Thanks, Marshall. Your description of the Aqueduct parking lot reminds me of our apparently endless wait for the re-opening of the Aqueduct subway station, now more than a year past the deadline promised by Genting.

    Was having a conversation over the weekend about the detail in those old reporters’ articles, particularly when it came to race recaps, written in meticulous detail, after having seen the race only once, in real time. We concluded (perhaps not terribly seriously) that the very real possibility existed of some embellishment–without a replay, who would know the difference?

  5. But, of course! “The one that got away,” and “… he was beaten by a nose” are far more attached than would be otherwise expected!

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