OReilly: Jamaica Enjoying Her Last Breath of Spring; Old Course Strikes Parallel of Contrasts; Stymie Most Famous Permanent Resident, Daily Racing Form, 1959-05-08


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OReilly I By Tom OReilly Jamaica Enjoying Her Last Breath of Spring Old Course Strikes Parallel of Contrasts Stymie Most Famous Permanent Resident JAMAICA, L. I., N. Y., May 7.— This one is what professionals call "a think piece." You dont interview anybody. Just think. Think of New Yorks new 3,- 000,000 non-profit gold mine at Aqueduct. "The big A" will open in September. Then think of that grand, old performer, Walter Huston, croaking out his unforgettable "September Song," in Knickerbocker Holiday," coming to the words, "and these few precious years Ill spend with you. . ." Good, old "Footsore Downs," aged and decrepit, but with a small grey lag sparkle still left in her eye, is enjoying her last breath of spring. Surrounded, like Custer, with just "too damned many escalators," Jamaica will soon be gone, forever. For over 50 years, Belmont Park has been the pearl in New Yorks racing oyster. Well, it takes a sick oyster to produce a pearl and for years the motto of everyone at Jamaica has been "where do you go to get well?" The difference between Jamaica and Belmont Park has always been an exact parallel of the contrast between Las Vegas and, Monte Carlo. It is generally admitted that casually clad Americans drop more money on the floor at Vegas than is bet in a week in Prince Raniers "formal dress" gaming rooms. So, in New York, beautiful Belmont Park has yet to match the great crowd of 64,670" that jammed ugly, old Jamaica on Memorial Day of 1945. Belmont and Monte Carlo are Lady Lucks formal salons. At Jamaica and Vegas, the hosts say, "Come as you are!" Belmont and Jamaica both lasted for more than half a century, but when old timers speak of Belmont, they recall the Vanderbilts, Foxhall Keenes, Woodwards, Whitneys, Wideners and Major August himself. Early scenes at Belmont featured road coaches drawn by "matched fours," the landau and the brougham. Belmont was the society track. Jamaica brings up memories of Tammany Hall, whose horse-loving political big-wigs included the Sullivans — Big Tim, Little Tim and Christy — Gene Wood, Matty Corbett and all the bosses from Murphy to Curry. The surrey with the fringe on top, the chowder and marching society and the special train that left Bennings race track loaded with voters headed for New York to elect Charles Evans Hughes governor and be rewarded with "the queen of spades," are all part of the Jamaica picture. Hughes temporarily killed racing in New York. Home to the Shirt-Sleeved Fan One of the secrets of Jamaicas success was the fact that its patrons could act natural. If a fellow felt like taking off his necktie or rolling up his sleeves, he indulged himself. The icy eye of no Turf and Field Club member was ever there to annoy him. Shirt tails can-be worn in or out with equal eclat. The tpolo shirt" may have been born at fashionable Meadow Brook, but any horse-playing refugee from the garment district will tell you that Jamaicas "lawn," of pure concrete, really put it across. Jamaica is neither black tie nor white tie. It is no tie at all and quite often no collar, either. "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons, Eddie Hodgson and other old timers recall the days when they walked horses from the Sheepshead Bay track to Jamaica and then walked them back after the races. There -was a special train that .hauled both horses and customers to the track. Some fine horses ran over this race track. The great Man o War won the Youthful and Stuyvesant Stakes there. Then he went over to Belmont, reversed his direction and won the Belmont Stakes. In those days, Belmonts races were clockwise. Count Fleet, Gallant Fox, Assault, Nashua, Gallo-rette, Roamer, and, of course, "the local boy," Stymie, also ran at Jamaica. It was Stymie who became Jamaicas most famous permanent resident. Trained by Hirsch Jacobs right on the "grounds, he was the darling of the entire "Downs." Jamaicas fans often are maligned as mere "number players;" not really . interested in horses. Nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps they dont dress in approved esquire hunt meeting fashion, but their feelings for a thoroughbred are just as sincere as those claimed in Kentucky. This never was better demonstrated than on the day Stymie was retired in the fall of 1949. Even a Champion Bowed Out Informally Stymie had been retired from racing, after winning nearly ,000,000, and was going away to the farm. ,The management felt that the departure of such a noted resident was worthy of some attention. So it was decided to bring the horse out and parade him before the fans for the last time. It had been planned to saddle him in the paddock and have him gallop for the customers. As he was being led to this assignment, with a group of horses coming out for the next race, even though he wore no identifying saddle cloth, Stymie was immediately recognized. Bench-sitters at the head of the stretch started to applaud. By the time he reached the paddock, the reception had reached a crescendo. The gallop was dispensed with. Instead, he was led to the winners circle. He refused to go in. The late Joe Palmer observed, "He always earned his way in there and it was a bit too late for him to become a free-loader." Another Palmer phrase* is recalled by the current plan to turn Jamaica into a housing project. Discussing Continued on Page Forty-Nine OReilly on Racing Continued from Page Seven what had happened to the ancient Lexington track, Palmer wrote, "It was dismantled years ago for a slum - clearance project, and the dust which had felt the heat of more than a century of racing hooves is now periodically washed from the faces of slightly underprivileged children." And so we say good-bye to rowdy, old Jamaica. If the kids who grow up on this site play marbles, Im sure theyll play for keeps. Shoot!

Persistent Link: https://drf.uky.edu/catalog/1950s/drf1959050801/drf1959050801_7_2
Local Identifier: drf1959050801_7_2
Library of Congress Record: https://lccn.loc.gov/unk82075800