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In the realm of horse racing, extraordinary stories often unfold. One such tale is that of Frank Hayes, an Irish horse trainer and jockey who etched his name into the annals of racing history on June 4, 1923. Despite his untimely demise in the middle of a race, Hayes achieved the unthinkable by guiding his horse, Sweet Kiss, to victory at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. This remarkable feat made him the first and only jockey known to have won a race after death.
Frank Hayes: The rising star
Frank Hayes, born in 1901, had a deep-rooted love for horses from an early age. Although he began his career as a horse trainer and stableman, his aspirations as a jockey were undeniable. Despite his relatively young age of 22, Hayes had never won a race before that fateful day at Belmont Park. However, fate had other plans in store for him.
A race against destiny
On June 4, 1923, Hayes found himself in the saddle aboard Sweet Kiss, a 20:1 outsider owned by Miss A. M. Frayling. The odds were stacked against them, but they embarked on the race with determination and spirit. As the horses thundered down the track, the excitement in the air was palpable. Spectators watched, unaware of the remarkable turn of events that were about to unfold.
In the latter part of the race, tragedy struck. Hayes suffered a fatal heart attack, his dreams and aspirations cut short in an instant. Despite the excruciating pain that coursed through his body, Hayes clung onto the reins with unwavering determination. His body remained in the saddle, a testament to his indomitable spirit and sheer love for the sport.
A victorious finish
As the horses approached the finish line, Sweet Kiss surged forward with a burst of energy. Hayes, lifeless but resolute, guided his horse to victory by a mere head. The crowd erupted in a mix of disbelief and awe. The excitement of witnessing an underdog triumph was overshadowed by the tragic circumstances surrounding the jockey’s victory.
“The exertion and excitement proved too great.” — The Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The aftermath of tragedy
The news of Hayes’ death reached Miss Frayling and the race officials only after Sweet Kiss had crossed the finish line. The shock and sorrow were immeasurable. It was later revealed that Hayes had made extreme efforts to meet the weight requirements for the race. Reports suggested that his rapid weight loss, from 142 pounds to 130 pounds in a short span of time, may have contributed to his fatal heart attack.
“He strove and sweated and denied himself water, and when he climbed into the saddle at post time, he was weak and tired.” — The Buffalo Morning Express
The tragic victory left a bittersweet mark
In light of the devastating circumstances, the Jockey Club waived all further post-race formalities. The result of the race was declared official without the customary weighing in. The victory of Sweet Kiss stood as a bittersweet mark of the extraordinary determination and unwavering spirit of Frank Hayes.
A final farewell
Three days after the race, Frank Hayes was laid to rest. Clad in his beloved racing silks, he was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York City. The racing community mourned the loss of a talented individual whose life had been tragically cut short. Hayes left behind a legacy that would be forever etched in the hearts of those who witnessed his final victory.
“He was well-liked…favorite in the saddling room and stable and took great pride in his calling.” — The New York’s Daily News
Remembering Sweet Kiss
As for Sweet Kiss, the horse that carried Hayes to his posthumous victory, her racing career came to an abrupt end. It is said that she earned the moniker “Sweet Kiss of Death” for the remainder of her days. The remarkable bond forged between horse and jockey would forever be etched in the saga of racing history.
Frank Hayes’ legacy and remembrance
Frank Hayes’ unforgettable story has continued to captivate racing enthusiasts and historians alike for over 95 years. While conflicting reports surround the exact moment of his passing, the Guinness World Records recognizes him as the first deceased jockey to win a race. His remarkable feat serves as a poignant reminder of the indomitable human spirit and the passion that drives people to defy the odds.
Frank Hayes, a man driven by his love for horses and the thrill of racing, left an indelible mark on the world of horse racing. His untimely death in the midst of a race did not deter him from emerging victorious. As we reflect upon the extraordinary tale of Frank Hayes and his posthumous triumph, let us remember the passion and determination that can transcend the boundaries of life itself. The legacy of Frank Hayes, the jockey who won a race despite being dead, will forever be etched in the storied history of horse racing.
After reading about the strange story of Frank Hayes, read about Mary Patten, the trailblazing captain who commanded for 56 days against all odds.