May 25, 2010

Remembering ... Sysonby

Growing up, my favorite book was undoubtedly the American Racing Manual, and my favorite section of the book was the Hall of Champions. I would read, and re-read every word and study the race records of the greatest of the greats. I soaked up as much information as I possibly could. Of special interest were the horses of yesteryear. I was a Man O’ War junkie…go ahead, ask me a question about Man O’ War. Two horses that go even farther back, were also of great interest, in Colin and Sysonby. Colin retired undefeated, while Sysonby did not, but as the oldest horses in the Hall of Champions, I was fascinated by both. Truth be told, I was even more interested in Sysonby. As a kid, I liked the name, and deep down, I must admit that there is something appealing about near perfection rather than actual perfection. I am but a flawed human being after all, and it is OK for my heroes to be flawed as well. Sysonby was flawed; he lost once in 15 starts, and he did not survive past the age of four-years-old.

His story from the beginning was an interesting one. At barely 15 hands, Sysonby did not have the appearance of an all-time great. A small and plain colt, Sysonby was not recognized early on as the star he would become. Owner, James R. Keene raced his horses both in England and the United States, and he had great champions on both sides of the Atlantic. He originally planned to sell the son of Melton and Optime, but because of urging by his son, kept the small yearling. After reluctantly retaining ownership, Keene then planned to send him off to race in England, but was tricked by trainer James G. Rowe, Sr. He didn't want to lose Sysonby, and convinced the owner that he was not healthy enough to survive the voyage. The plan to make him appear sickly was successful and Rowe would train the future champion in America.

When Sysonby reached the track as a juvenile, there was little doubt that he was a good one. He romped in his opening race at Brighton Beach and came back two days later to score in the Brighton Junior Stakes in easy fashion. He followed with impressive wins in prestigious stakes, the Flash and the Saratoga Special. He entered The Futurity at Sheepshead Bay as the top juvenile in the nation. Sysonby was the clear favorite even with his hefty impost of 127 pounds. The field was loaded with future Kentucky Derby winner, Agile, future Belmont winning filly, Tanya, champion filly Artful, Canadian champion Oiseau, and the unbeaten Tradition. It was said to be the strongest field the famous two-year-old race had ever seen, and Sysonby would be beaten. Artful pulled off the upset, winning by five lengths. Sysonby never threatened, and lost 2nd by a nose to Tradition. This defeat in his fifth lifetime race would prove to be his last. Three weeks after his loss in The Futurity, Sysonby won the Junior Champion Stakes by three lengths to complete his championship juvenile season with five wins in six starts.

At the age of three, Sysonby would take things to a whole new level. In his first start, he was given a huge test. He was asked to give weight to older horses in the Metropolitan. Sysonby dead heated with Race King, a five-year-old carrying ten pounds less than the three-year-old star, while the rest of the field was left far behind. After the Met, things got much easier for Sysonby. He returned to Sheepshead Bay, the site of his only defeat, and won the Tidal Stakes by five lengths over the Kentucky Derby winner Agile. The easy stakes victories continued, including an effortless score over the Belmont winner Tanya in the Lawrence Realization. In Saratoga's Great Republic Stakes, Sysonby would put on a special show. It is said that he fell up to seventy five yards behind the leaders, after blowing the start, before rallying to defeat a strong field.

He finished his great season of 1905 with an easy victory in the two and a quarter mile Annual Champion Stakes at Sheepshead Bay. Sysonby finished his sophomore season undefeated in nine starts, winning at distances ranging from a mile to 2 ¼ miles. He won every start, but the Met Mile, easily and did it against the top competition of his day. Sysonby was named Horse of the Year, and champion three-year-old colt, and had earned the whopping total (in those days) of $184,438. A plan to return to the races at four, unfortunately, would never happen.

The great horse met the ultimate tragedy in the Summer of 1906. Sysonby's life was cut short by what was first thought of as a skin disease, but later was believed to be a liver disease. Unable to recover from the sickness, Sysonby died from the disease at age 4. Over four thousand fans attended his burial in front of Keene's stables to celebrate the life of the great horse. Sysonby was later exhumed, and his skeleton has been on display since 1907 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Despite never having the opportunity to race as an older horse, Sysonby is still considered one of the greatest horses ever to set foot on an American racetrack. 15 races and 14 victories, and most of them in high style. Oh, and by the way, in that one race that he did lose as a juvenile, The Futurity at Sheepshead Bay, Sysonby was believed to have been drugged. His groom admitted to tranqulizing the great colt before the race for his own monetary gain. If not for that incident, it is quite likely that Sysonby would be one of the rare great horses who was never beaten. I remember you Sysonby.



Research for this article was obtained from a variety of sources including: The New York Times, The American Racing Manual, The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, and The Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall of Fame website.

10 comments:

Lynne Veitch said...

Very nice, Brian. Sysonby deserves to be recalled again. The horses were so loved in those days.

Brian Zipse said...

Thanks Lynne...it was a different time.

LDP said...

Very nice. Brian, how tall Man o War.

Colins Ghost said...

Great stuff -- love that picture too. I would guess that is Marshall Lilly aboard Sysonsby. He was Rowe's exercise rider who I have also seen referred to as his assistant trainer.

Brian Zipse said...

Thanks LDP. Man O' War was a big one, 16.2 hands tall.

Thanks Kevin, I appreciate the kind words from an expert like you, and thanks for the further info on the photo and exercise rider.

Anonymous said...

In the Museum of Natural History Sysonby's skeleton is mounted in the same position of stride as shown in your picture. Kind of eery when you see them side by side. Sysonby's heart was also about 50% larger than the average thoroughbred.
RG

LDP said...

Do you know his weight too? lol

Brian Zipse said...

Interesting RG, I would love to see that someday.

LOL, no I do not LDP, my guess would be over 1,100 pounds???

Juan Francisco said...

Nice story Brian. Do you know why he did not run the Kentucky Derby that year?

LDP said...

It was over, I believe somewhere around 1300lbs, I'll have to break out my book though, lol.