In horse racing there are several races which are the most prestigious races and the most sought-after wins. One of these is held at Belmont Park, a thoroughbred horse racetrack in Elmont, New York, just east of New York City limits best known for hosting the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the American Triple Crown. It was opened on May 4, 1905, and is one of the best well known racetracks in the United States. I’m sure that over the years, there have been a number of shocking wins at Belmont Park, as with any other race, but few, if any, of them can lay claim to the strangeness of the June 4, 1923, win at Belmont Park.

Frank Hayes, who was born in 1901 (there is some dispute on his date of birth, with some saying 1888) was an Irish horse trainer and jockey who. As both trainer and jockey, each win was especially sweet. Still, like most big goals, sometimes you had to pay your dues before you finally got that win. The twenty-two-year-old Hayes had never won a race before, because technically, he was not a jockey, but a horse trainer and stableman. Working in that capacity, Hayes was just biding his time until the day when he would actually get to be the jockey in a race.

That day came on June 4, 1923. Hayes was riding a horse called Sweet Kiss, owned by Miss A M Frayling. Sweet Kiss had been given 20:1 odds of winning. Basically, that meant that Sweet Kiss winning was highly unlikely. With those odds, there really wasn’t much stress on Hayes, which he probably felt was a good thing for his first race. Hayes already had enough stress going on, because he was heavy for a jockey. It’s possible that he knew that he may not have a long career as a jockey, because he was simply bigger than the average jockey. That said, Hayes began an extreme slimming effort to meet the weight requirements and dropped his weight from 142 pounds to 130 pounds at the time of the race.

In the latter part of the race, a two mile, 12-jump steeplechase, Hayes suffered a fatal heart attack, but somehow his body stayed in the saddle. The spectators thought that Hayes was showboating his win, slumped over and riding with one hand, “relaxed as a dog sleeping in front of a fireplace.” In reality, Sweet Kiss had to have been an exceptional horse, because even without her rider making the usual encouraging maneuvers to push her forward to the win, Sweet Kiss and her dead jockey, crossed the finish line, winning by a head, making Hayes the first, and so far, only jockey known to have won a race after death. Hayes’ death was not discovered until Miss Frayling and race officials came to congratulate him shortly after the race, at which point the shocking phenomenon was discovered. It is thought that the fatal heart attack may have been brought on by Hayes’ extreme weight loss efforts. Losing so much weight in such a short time is very hard on the body and especially the heart.

Following the discovery of Hayes’ death, all the normal post-race formalities were waived by the Jockey Club. The results of the race were declared official without the post-race weigh in. Frank Hayes was buried three days later, dressed in his beloved racing silks at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York City. It is definitely what he would have wanted, because racing was all he ever wanted to do. Sweet Kiss never raced again, and it is claimed that the horse was nicknamed “Sweet Kiss of Death” for the rest of her life. I suppose no other jockey would want to ride the horse, since jockeys can be a superstitious bunch. Personally, the tragic death aside, I think that Sweet Kiss had to have been a wonderful horse. Not only did she win the race, but she didn’t lose her rider. It is sad that Hayes died during his one and only race, but I’m sure he was happy to be going out a winner.

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