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Thursday, August 13, 2009

When Upset Defeated Man o' War, A Future Governor's Family Didn't Look a Gift House in the Mouth

by Fran Jurga | 13 August 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

The horseshoer's great-grandson in the clubhouse at Saratoga earlier this month. Did Mr. Gibbs ever even set foot in that building, I wonder? Click here to read the New York Daily News account of Mr. Paterson's day at the races and why one of the current-day Whitney racehorses has a tongue-in-cheek link to the New York State House.

It happened 90 years ago today. Some call it the most monumental footnote in American horse racing history. Some call it the biggest mistake in the record books. Call it what you will: On August 13, 1919, a horse with the apt name of Upset scored a win against the mighty Man o’ War in the Sanford Memorial Stakes at Saratoga Racecourse. The defeat was Man o’ War's only career loss in 21 starts.

The historians love to dissect the race, partly because of its legendary botched start--was Man 'o War really facing the wrong way?--and partly because of it took place during the golden age of millionaires' racing stables. But there's more to this story. As so often is the case, there are some horseshoes buried in this legendary horse race.

From what we have learned in the past two years, it seems that the wealthy Mr. Whitney, the owner of Upset, was so pleased with his horse's victory that he rewarded his racing stable employees with real estate in some of the new housing he was building in the boroughs of New York. The crew would need to be close to his main center of operations at Belmont Park on Long Island and it would be in his interest to give them permanent homes nearby.

Among the beneficiaries was Mr. Gibbs, the blacksmith to the Whitney racing empire. He was given a home in Brooklyn, which stayed in his family for generations. And I hope he tacked a horseshoe over the door!

Someone who went in and out of that house was the great-grandson of Mr. Gibbs. Nowadays, the great-grandson goes in and out of another house, the State House of New York, where he serves as governor.

Governor David Paterson told the story of Upset, the horseshoe, and the gift house when he presented the trophy at the 2008 Belmont Stakes. He said that the gift house made a huge difference in his family's middle-class status and improved his chances for realizing education and career goals, in spite of his impaired vision.

And all because a horse named Upset needed horseshoes.

I tried to get through to Governor Paterson this week for a quote for this article about this auspicious anniversary but his aides said he was too busy. I hope he knew what day it was. He might be Upset to have missed it.

Click here to read more about Governor Paterson's link to Man o' War, and about the horseshoers who served both horses 90 years ago today. An African-American and an Irish immigrant held the all-important hooves of those two horses in their hands, and made sure they were well shod and sound to run the race of their lives--a race we're still talking about, and learning about, 90 years later!

Click here to read the original New York Times account of the race.

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wendyu said...

Wow! Interesting story! Thanks for writing about it.

SaratogaSpa said...

Nice little side story-I love how far racing's fingers often stretch

cheryl said...

Wasn't there something about Secretariat having an abcessed tooth or some pain in his mouth, which was discovered after the fact that was responsible for him not winning that day?
Dang, I'll have to go back and read Wm. Nack's book to find out!