Frank Hayes: The Only Dead Man in History to Win a Race

Jan 4, 2022 0 comments

Many sports pushes the human body to the limit, and this exertion can prove fatal for some. Frank Hayes was one such casualty, and while there have been many before him and after, what makes Hayes’ case an exception was that he came out a winner despite losing his life in the process.

Frank Hayes was born in 1901 in Ireland. When he was a teenager he and his family emigrated to the United States in 1916. They lived in Brooklyn and Hayes found work as a stable hand for horse breeder James K.L. Frayling. Hayes maintained stables, trained horses and did other stable jobs, but secretly he wanted to be a jockey himself.

Illustration by Prettysleepy/Pixabay

Hayes finally got his chance on June 4, 1923 at Belmont Park in New York, after he managed to convince his employer to let him ride a horse named Sweet Kiss. Neither Hayes nor Sweet Kiss had ever ridden in a sanctioned race before, and at 5-1 odd, the duo was not favored to win.

Despite the odds against him, Hayes managed to pilot the horse to an early lead. As the finish line approached, Hayes was seen slumped over the thoroughbred’s back, weakly tugging at the horse’s bridle with one hand. Many spectators thought the young man was showing off, until the horse crossed the finish line, a winner. It cantered a further one hundred yards and stopped. The 22-year-old rider lurched forward, slipped slowly over his mount’s sides, and fell face first on the ground. “The applause from the grandstand turned momentarily to laughter, for it looked as if the jockey had tumbled awkwardly from the mount,” wrote the Buffalo Morning Express. “Then a sense of tragedy came swiftly to the crowd as the figure of the jockey, in his bright colored silks, lay limply where he had fallen.”

The track physician Dr John A.H Voorhees hurried to the scene, believing Hayes had suffered an injury. He administered first aid, but it was already too late. Frank Hayes was dead.

07 Jun 1923, Thu “Daily News”

Hayes had apparently died of a heart attack caused by the strenuous routine he had been punishing himself with in preparation for the race, coupled with the excitement of appearing in his first race. Hayes was reportedly trying to shed weight to meet requirements. A newspaper reported that he had slimmed down from 142 pounds to 130 pounds in a very short time. The last ten pounds he tried to shake off in just 24 hours. The morning of the race, he spent several hours on the road jogging and denied himself water. When he climbed into the saddle, he was weak and tired.

Hayes already had a weak heart, as his mother Margaret attested. She hated to see her son become a jockey, for she feared for his life, knowing the condition of his heart.

08 Jun 1923, Fri “Daily News”

Frank Hayes was buried three days later in full racing togs in the presence of six of his closest friends. In his obituary, The Times Union wrote:

He died a victim of his almost fanatic enthusiasm and worship of horsemanship. According to his mother, Frank had been interested in horses from his earliest childhood and his highest ambition was to be a jockey, and he had entered the field contrary to her advice. He had been employed as a trainer for three years before Mr. Frayling assented to his plea to let him ride Sweet Kiss in the race.

# Dan Evon, Did a Dead Jockey Win a Race at Belmont in 1923?, Snopes
# Jockey Rides First Winner and Then Dies. The Auburn Citizen. Fulton History


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