The Story of Frank Hayes: The Dead Winning Jockey

Frank Hayes

Welcome to my new Horse Racing History series!

I am someone who very much enjoys researching into the past. History has always been a passion of mine, so I decided to combine horse racing with history and this series will be a bunch of historical, interesting horse racing stories. I hope you enjoy!

When I read this story online, I knew I had to research into it a little more and I did not expect to read what I did. 

It was June 4th 1923, a warm, sunny day at New York’s Belmont Park and the favourite Gimmie was a clear favourite for the second race on the card. Little did the punters know that Frank Hayes would win on board a 20/1 Sweet Kiss winning his first ever race as a jockey. But… all was not as it seemed.

Frank Hayes was born in 1888 into an Irish-American family in Brooklyn, New York. From a very young age, he, along with his family, knew that his life was going to be spent with horses. As a young boy he lived with his mother and sister, however he was rarely home as he spent all of his time dedicating himself to horse racing.

His first step into horse racing was when he became a stable hand for a horse breeder called James Frayling who saw Frank Hayes as a potential trainer. Hayes spent his days schooling horses, most of which became race winners. However his passion lay in the saddle. He wanted to become a jockey, not a trainer, and he was pretty determined to do so. He wanted to be in the saddle, not watching them and welcoming them back into the winners enclosure. Hayes was the mastermind behind the victories, however when a winning horse came back into the winning enclosure he very quietly washed down the horse and led them back to the stable whilst the jockey took all of the credit.

Miss Frayling had a horse called Sweet Kiss and in June 1923 she wanted to see her horse out on the track. However, she was struggling to find a jockey at such short notice. Hayes offered to ride for her, but she declined, telling him his weight would hamper his chances of finishing in the top five. However Hayes persisted and eventually after a lot of persuasion, she agreed to let him ride. Immediately after the agreement was made, Hayes started an extreme weight loss campaign so he could meet the weight requirements. And in only a few days he went from 142 pounds to 130 pounds.

When June 4th finally came around, Hayes was ecstatic to finally be putting on the racing silks of Miss Frayling and finally make his jockey debut at 35 years old. The jockeys in the weighing room at Belmont Park later recalled how excited he was, even saying ‘today’s a good day to make history’ when they got down to the starting post. Little did he know, he would indeed be making history. Just not the kind he had hoped.

The race started as expected with the favourite Gimmie leading from very early on. Once the two mile course and 12 fences were almost cleared, Hayes and Sweet kiss surprised everyone by taking the lead on the final bend. The seven year old mare crossed the line just a head in front and the crowd roared as the 20/1 shot beat the pundits favourite Gimmie. As they passed the winning post Hayes was slumped forward on the horse and at the time, many thought he was emotionally whispering in the mares ears. 

The mare continued to run before easing into a cantor for another 100 yards before eventually coming to a stop. Hayes at this point was slumped over the horses neck. The owner and trainer ran straight over to Hayes and Sweet Kiss to realise he was totally unresponsive. Seeing this very weird situation, Dr John Voorhees, who was the Belmont Park physician at the time, ran to the scene and very quickly declared Frank Hayes dead, stating it could have been possible heart failure.

It was later confirmed that Hayes did in fact die from heart failure shortly after taking the lead in the race. It is widely believed, as speculated by the New York Times, yet never confirmed, that the heart failure was due to the fact he had trained so strenuously to make the weight alongside the excitement of taking the lead, that his heart simply gave up on him.

As a mark of respect for Frank Hayes the Belmont Jockey club waived all of the rules so the race was never contested and he was declared the official winner despite not weighing in after the race.

Three days later on June 7th Frank Hayes was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, wearing the silks he wore on his first and only winner as a jockey.

The ruling that the Belmont Jockey Club made means that Frank Hayes is the only jockey to win a race whilst deceased. In fact, to date, he remains the only dead person to win in a competitive sporting competition.

As for Sweet Kiss, she was nicknamed Sweet Kiss of Death almost immediately amongst racing fans and newspapers. Her owner Miss Frayling found it incredibly hard to get jockeys to ride her due to them being very superstitious, so the mare was retired without racing again, remaining with an unbeaten record. One race – One win.

I found this story so interesting. It’s something I had never heard about before until I started to research into it. How many of my readers have never heard of this story before?

This is just the first part of what I hope to be an on-going series on my blog full of historical stories within horse racing. 

Thank you for reading!


Sidenote: My raffle to raise money for the Stroke Association is now LIVE. So you can pop over to my Twitter and view this tweet for all information: There are some fantastic prizes and it is for a fantastic cause in honour of the 10 year anniversary of my mom’s stroke. The Stroke Association help not only those directly affected by a stroke, but also their families. They helped my mom massively and I wanted to raise money for them so they can continue to help other people in need. I hope you can all join me in raising money for this incredible cause! The raffle ends on the 29th so just over 1 week left to enter!


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