Turf and Sport Digest
by Neil Newman
A native of Westfield, where he was born in 1892, Vincent Powers always had a liking for horses and as a natural consequence soon gravitated to the race tracks. He was only a mere boy, in his early teens, when he left home to gain practical experience. He began the hard way, riding at the half-mile tracks, the "leaky roof" circuit, where the work was hard, the rewards meager, but the experience invaluable.
Child-labor laws were unknown, and continuation schools unheard of in the first decade of the present century. By reason of this Powers was well-grounded in the fundamentals of race-riding by the time the average boy of he present first comes around a stable. And Powers was the leading race-rider in this country before the average apprentice of today is entrusted with a mount in a race.
Vincent Powers was but fifteen-years-old when he rode his first winner on a recognized race course. He came to Kentucky in the Spring of 1907, a veteran of the half-mile racks and at Churchill Downs, on May 31 of that year, he broke his maiden in the "big time." It was the fifth race of the day, a purse of $500, for two-year-olds, with conditions, at five furlongs, and as the field went down for the start there was Vincent Powers on Mike J. Shannon's Brimmer, 105 lbs. Twelve ran and at the finish Brimmer won by half a length from Mary Talbot, 108 lbs., ridden by J. Butler, with Ada O. Walker, 105 lbs., J Hicks up, third. The time was .55 3/5, the value of the purse to the winner was $400. Brimmer was a brown colt by Yankee Counsel's sire imp, Sempronius out of Fragrance, and was trained by his owner, Mickey Shannon.
From that day to this Powers has never looked back. The following year, 1980, saw him the leading jockey in the United States. That year he had 1,260 mounts, won 324 races, was second in 204, third on 185, unplaced on 547 for a percentage of .26. In the long history of American racing only one jockey has ridden more winners in one year than Powers did in 1908. That was Walter Miller who established a record of 388 winners when he won in 1906, and repeated the following year with 334 winners. Like Miller, Powers repeated in 1909 when he again led the list with 173 wins, 121 seconds, 114 thirds and 296 unplaced in a total of 704 mounts. His percentage of winning mounts that year was .25. He would have made a far better showing in 1909 save for the fact he had to serve a long suspension which reduced his number of starts and victories materially. And, it is interesting to note only one leading jockey has repeated since Powers was the leader, this was Ivan Parke the leading rider in 1923 and 1924,but in these years Parke rode but 173 and 205 winners, for a percentage of .24 on both occasions.
That Powers had the stoutest of opposition during his reign as leading rider is proved by the fact he was competing against George Archibald, Jimmy Butwell, Eddie Taplin, Mat McGee, Eddie Dugan, George Burns, Monk Coburn, Carroll Shilling, Walter Miller, Jimmy Lee, Herman Radtke, D. Austin, Puddin McDaniel, Eddie Martin and Guy Garner.
Powers' efforts during 1908 were confined mainly to he middle west, and he rode relatively few stakes winners, most of his victories being scored in overnight races In that year he won the Clark Handicap on Polly Prim, the Kentucky Oaks on Alan-a-Dale's sister, Major Tom McDowell's Ellen-a-Dale, and the Latonia Oaks on Chulita.
Powers came East in 1909, but that he rode the winners of many important stakes from the Pacific to the Atlantic Seaboard, from Florida to Saratoga. It was the year he rode Fitz Herbert to victory in the Advanced Stakes, the Coney Island Jockey Club Stakes and the Lawrence Realization. That was nearly thirty years ago, but Powers still retains a good vivid impression of Fitz Herbert. In his opinion the son of Ethelbert and Morganatic was the best racehorse he ever rode, and one of the best he has ever seen. He still relates with gusto the victory of Fitz Herbert in the Lawrence Realization at Sheepshead Bay. Fitz Herbert had an unblemished escutcheon as a three-year-old at the time - in fact Fitz Herbert lost but one race that year. Fitz Herbert had proved conclusively his superiority over all three-year-olds in the East, and just prior to the Realization he had won the Suburban in a romp, in 2:03 2/5, beating Alfred Noble. But a dark horse was coming from the West, none other than J.G. Greener's Olambala, a son of Ornus and Blue and White trained by the late Carroll Reid, and destined to become the outstanding handicap horse of the years 1909 and 1910. In the silks of Richard T. Wilson he had won the Latonia Derby and if his connections were sanguine he would halt Fitz Herbert's succession of victories. Olambala was ridden by Phil Musgrave who as destined to be killed in a race some years later. Powers took Fitz Herbert to the front and raced him along. An eighth of a mile from the finish Musgrave gave Olambala his head and the son of Ornus surged up until his nose as at Fitz Herbert's flanks. Just at this time, in a truly melodramatic manner, Musgrave shouted to Powers, "Now I've got you!" But instead of answering, Powers merely let out a wrap and Fitz Herbert bounded away from his rival and won easily.
Other stakes victories for Powers that year included:
- The Decoration Day Handicap on King's Daughter
- The Double Event, the Great Trial and the Surf Stakes on another son of Ethelbert, Dalmatian, a two-year-old out of Ionis, and also owned and trained by Sam Hildreth
- The Alhambra Stakes at Santa Anita, and the Freeway Stakes at Empire, on Barney Schreiber's great sprinter Jack Atkin
- The Equality Stakes on Acite
- The Frank Fehr Stakes on Huck
- The Kentucky Derby on Jerome Respess' Wintergreen
- The Christmas Stakes, at Jacksonville, on Wollwinder
- The Foam Stakes, at Sheepshead Bay, on Kingship
- The Ormond Beach Stakes, at Jacksonville, on Indian Maid
- The Woodland Stakes, at Santa Anita, on A.J. Small
- The Wakefield Stakes, at Empire, on Donau
- The San Gabriel Stakes, at Santa Anita, and the Hopeful Stakes, at Saratoga, on Rocky O'Brien
Powers admits his victory in the Hopeful was a palpable fluke, and in a truly run race Rocky O'Brien, a son of Meddler and Suisan, was owned by "Conductor" McManus and was one of the outsiders in the Hopeful. Several of the jockeys in the ace appeared to be intent more on beating Sweep than winning with their own mounts. And on the turn for home one of them carried Sweep almost to the outside fence. Powers slipped Rocky O'Brien through on the rail, saving many lengths and just lasted to beat the oncoming Sweep, who after being straightened out, closed resolutely.
Racing was now under fire the country over. It had been interdicted in Illinois about the end of the 1903 season, and it as only a question of time how much longer the New York courses could keep operating in face of the confiscatory laws being passed by a supine legislature. As a matter of fact, New York tracks closed their gates at the end of the 1910 season, and they remained closed until 1913. Then California felt the wave of pseudo reform and the thoroughbred was banished from that state at the end of 1910.
So we find Vincent Powers at the end of 1910 "all dressed up, and no place to go." He is eighteen years old, a veteran race-rider, one of the best, if not the very best in this country, but with no place to pursue his chosen profession. It is true there was racing in Kentucky and Canada, but the stakes and purses were so small it taxed an owner's ingenuity to keep from starving to death. Powers lingered around until the end of 1910 and then he, too, followed the example of many of the American riders of the period, such as Guy Garner, George Archibald and Mat McGee and others, and departed for foreign shores.
American riders were not welcomed in England. As a matter of fact Eddie Dugan tried to get a license to ride there in 1911, but stewards at Newmarket refused to grant it. Nor could Sam Hildreth get a license to train there. So the most of them went to France, where Lucien Lyne was doing well, also in Germany where Willie Shaw and others were teaching the German youth the intricacies of race-riding.
While Powers was riding in this country he wore the silks of Joe Cahn, Louis Cella, Major Tom McDowell, Ed Corrigan, Rome Respess and Sam Hildreth.
During his four years abroad Powers rode in France and Germany, both on the flat and through the field. In Germany he rode mainly for Richard Hainel and Jimmie McCormack, the latter was a trainer of note in this country before he went abroad, having handled the horses of William Engeman, Burns & Waterhouse and Louis V. Bell. For the latter he had Alcedo, Hermis, Colonel Bill and other good ones.
But it was in France that Powers did best as a rider. On his arrival there he entered the employ of the late Gene Leigh, who then had a very powerful stable. Among the horses trained by Leigh were two or three that belonged to Pierre Wertheimer, who was later to gain fame as the owner of Epinard.
It was in France that Powers first turned his attention and skill to riding jumpers. Increasing weight forced him to try his talent through the field and he soon showed the same skill over fences as he had on the flats. He was going great guns when the war broke out in 1914, and was second to Willie Head, then the leading steeplechase rider there.
Powers retains a very vivid impression of France. He states that some of the best horses he ever saw in his life were in that country - Baron de Rothschild's Sardanaple among the colts, and that great mare, La Camargo, among the fillies. It is also his firm conviction that the best jumper he ever rode was a horse named Ultimus, owned by Veil Picard and trained by George Batchelor.
As stated above Vincent Powers was doing very nicely in France and had ridden many winners through the fields the first six months of 1914. He was twenty-two years old, happily married, and seemed to be settled for life while the world lay fair before him. And then in a trice the whole picture changed. Almost overnight a political earthquake took place, and early in August war was declared. Racing was abandoned. The Germans had overrun Belgium and were goose-stepping toward Paris and the exodus from the banks of the Seine was on.
So Powers did the only thing there was to do. Like his fellow artists, Lucien Lyne and Fred Williams, he packed hurriedly and with his wife rushed back to the United States. When he returned here, after an absence of four years, he found racing functioning again in New York State - the sport had just resumed in 1913 - but it was just struggling along, barely making steerage way.
The steeplechase devotees, however, were full of enthusiasm. Piping Rock and other hunts clubs had kept the flame burning while the Jockey Club tracks had been closed during 1911 and 1912, and one of the most enthusiastic of the hunting set was Mrs. Payne Whitney, who raced under the nom de course Greentree Stable, and her horses were trained by the former steeplechase jockey Jimmy Owens.
Powers' proficiency as a rider through the field had not passed unnoticed in this country and soon after his return he was engaged by Mrs. Whitney to ride the jumpers of the Greentree Stable. This was in 1914, and this year (1938) will mark the twenty-fifth year the connection has remained unbroken.
Vincent Powers remained as first jockey for the steeplechase division of Greentree Stable from 1914 to the end of 1921. That autumn Jimmy Owens died and Vincent Powers was appointed trainer in his place. His position he has filled to th satisfaction of his employer for the past sixteen years.
It will be recalled that prior to his going to France, Powers had been the leading jockey on the flat for two years, 1908 and 1909. In 1917 he gained the same eminence through the field. That year, of the 39 mounts he rode 15 were winners, 9 second, 9 third and just 6 unplaced, for a percentage of .38. Powers is the only jockey on record who led the list both on the flat and through the field.
Among the stake winners through the field ridden by Powers in the period from 1916 to 1923 were the following:
- Bayside Steeplehase, 1919, Syossett; 1920, Syossett; 1923, Roi Craig
- Broadhollow Chase, 1916, Martian; 1918, Square Dealer; 1920, Syossett
- Brook Steeplechase, 1918, The Brook; 1922, Soumangha
- Bushwick Steeplechase, 1920, Flare
- Corinthian Steeplechase, 1918, Square Dealer
- Elkridge Steeplechase, 1919, Roi Craig
- Grand National Steeplechase, 1919, Stonewood; 1920 Square Dealer
- International Steeplechase, 1920, Square Dealer
- Meadowbrook Steeplechase, 1918, Cherry Malotte; 1919 Stonewood; 1920, Square Dealer; 1922 Kingdom II
- Queensboro Steeplechase, 1918, Trumpator
- Shillelah Steeplechase, 1917, Al Reeves
- Winfield Steeplechase, 1922, Roi Craig
According to Powers, the best steeplechaser he ever rode was the Greentree Stable's Cherry Malotte, a brown mare foaled in 1909 by Orlando out of Dottie. This mare ha always been Mrs. Payne Whitney's foremost favorite. In 1915 Cherry Malotte won the Chamblet Memorial and Country Club Grand Annual Steeplechases. The next year she won the Great United Hunts and Queens Steeplechases, and in 1917 she won three good stakes: the United Hunts Double Event; the Great United Hunts Steeplechase; and the Brook Champion Steeplechase. In 1918, despite the fact she was nine years old, this gallant old mare won the Great United Hunts for the third year in succession; the United Hunts Double Event, and two other races and in all garnered $9,860. A year later, now ten years old, she won the Meadowbrook Steeplechase. Vincent Powers rode this sterling old mare in all of these and other victories. Retired to the stud, she was the dam of Cherry Pie, a good stake winner, and at one time holder of the American record for the mile around turns.
So much for Vincent Powers the jockey. The next stage is the opening of the 1922 racing season with Powers replacing the late Jimmy Owens as trainer for the Greentree Stable. He still rode on occasions but devoted most of his time to training, and within the next year or so hung up his tack. In 1922 Powers had a mixed stable, some flat horses along with some chasers.
The first winner he ever saddled as a trainer was on the flat, at Jamaica, May 10, 1922, in the sixth race of the day for maidens at six furlongs. The Greentree Stable was represented by Irish Sea, a four-year-old chestnut colt by Celt out of Sand Dune. This colt had been purchased as a yearling for $22,500, but proved to be an absolute failure as a racehorse. Hence we find him still a maiden at the beginning of his third season on the turf. He had been turned over to Powers to convert into a jumper, but showed no special proficiency for the sport through the field, so Powers put him in a flat race for maidens on the afternoon in question. Carrying 115 lbs. and ridden by Lawrence Lyke, starting at 5-1, Irish Seas came down in front of the three-year-old Billy Watts, ridden by Earl Sande, So It Goes and five others.
At Belmont Park, June 8, 1922, Vincent Powers saddled his first winner under National Steeplechase & Hunt rules. This was the seven-year-old Kingdom II, an imported horse by Maintenon out of King's Favorite by Persimmon. He carried 135 lbs., and opened at four and closed at six to one. Powers was in the saddle. The race was the Meadowbrook Steeplechase, two and a half miles, and attracted a first class field. Joseph E. Davis started Phoenix and Earlocker; J.S. Cosden, Bulls Eye and Hallavil; the balance of the field consisting of Lytle, Viglante and Robert Oliver. Kingdom II and Powers proved to be the winning combination, however, and the coffers of the Greentree Stable was enriched by $2,425.
So Vincent Powers was off to a flying start as a trainer of a steeplechase stable. He was pitted against such veteran trainers as J. Howard Lewis, Billy Garth, Gwyn Tompkins, Mat Brady and Thomas Hitchcock. But despite the unquestioned caliber of his opponents, Powers has more than held his own ever since. It is true he has ad his off years, but he has never lost his cunning and never has lost confidence.
Since he gained his trainer's license Powers has developed such high class steeplechasers as Jolly Roger, Erne 2nd, Fairfield, Brantome, and in more recent years Jungle King, Sailor Beware and Galsac. Of all he unhesitatingly places Jolly Roger first. This big chestnut son of Pennant and Lethe won more money in his career than any jumper that ever lived. He started in 49 races, won 18, was second in nine, third in nine, unplaced in 13 and earned $143,240. Vincent Powers, "Specs" Crawford and Jolly Rger were an almost unbeatable trio in 1927 and 1928. In 1927 Jolly Roger, under $165 lbs., then a five-year-old, beat Fairmount, six years, 167 lbs., in the Grand National worth $34,750, and a year later under 167 lbs. repeated at the expense of Ruler, 141 lbs. and won $35,850, the record amount for a steeplechase in this country. Jolly Roger also won the Brook Steeplechase in 1927 with 170 lbs., conceding no less than 25 lbs. to the accomplished Lorenzo - Crawford was again in the pilot house.
The year 1927 marked the height of Vincent Powers' achievements as a trainer from a money-winning standpoint. He saddled 19 winners and won the unprecedented amount of $103,889, a record never approached in this country by a steeplechase trainer for one year, and one that will possibly endure for a generation.
During the past year (1937) the horses trained by Powers, like the name of Ben Adhme, lead all the rest. He had but five winners out but they won 14 races, were second 14 times, third 10 times, fourth 8 times and earned $39,230, far more than any of his rivals. Jungle King won no less than five stakes - the Corinthian Steeplechase, the Beverwyck Steeplechase, the Temple Gwathmey Memorial Steeplechase, the Old Glory Steeplechase and the Manly Memorial Steeplechase. Galsac won the Saratoga Steeplechase, and Sailor Beware, unquestionably the best jumper in the country, put the capstone to his fame when he won the richest steeplechase in America, the Grand National at Belmont Park, distance three miles, value $9,200.
The Greentree Steeplechasers collectively earned more money in stakes tan all of their rivals combined. They won seven out of twelve outstanding stakes of the year, Yemassee accounting for the Glendale and the Brook; Route One for the Broadhollow; Cadeu for the Chevy Chase and London Town for the Charles L. Appleton Memorial.
Sailor Beware, a son of St. James out of Lady Be Good, by Touch Me Not, is a bay gelding, now six years old. He was bred by the Greentree Stable and is unquestionably the best horse developed by Powers since Jolly Roger. Sailor Beware displayed stake-winning quality on the flat At two he won the Junior Champion Stakes under 116 lbs. giving five pounds and a beating to Omaha, running the distance in 1:36 3/5.
Vincent Powers is sanguine the Greentree horses will make a good showing this year and with new stakes at Delaware Park and increased values for established stakes, he is hopeful of doing even better in 1938 than he did in 1937.