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When he died at the age of 67, the New York Times proclaimed William R. Travers "may have been the most popular man in New York."
He was, in a word, adored.
We know Travers as a founder and the first President of the Saratoga Racing Association, and the namesake for the single longest actively running sporting event in America - The Travers Stakes.
We know him as the owner of Hall of Famer Kentucky, that race's first winner.
We know him as a brilliant financier on Wall Street.
But what you may not know, in spite of his wealth and success, Travers was arguably better known for his wit, charm and self-deprecating way.
A New York Times article published two years before his death noted his "wit never screens malice but it frequently stings, being at times near the truth." In his obituary, it added "his defect of speech, which is well known, added to the effectiveness of his utterances."
The former piece, published March 15, 1885, applauded Travers apologetic humor. One could easily get the impression it made him more approachable and more endearing.
In short, Travers wasn't just another stuffed shirt with money. Travers was a funny guy ... and he could take a hit too.
Take, for example, the story of him running into an old Baltimore acquaintance while walking on a street in New York City.
"Why, Bill, you stutter worse now than when you were in Baltimore," his friend said.
"H-h-have to," answered Mr. Travers. "B-b-bigger city."
One day Travers saw John Morrissey, the man who built Saratoga Race Course
, standing by a horse. Morrissey fancied himself the type who could spot equine talent however his results on the track begged a different argument.
"W-w-what have you g-got there, John" he asked.
"A race horse" he replied with an air of satisfaction.
"A race horse!" Travers exclaimed.
"Yes, Sir, a race horse. Are you going to bet on him?"
"Yes, I'll b-bet on him," Travers replied decidedly.
"How?" Morrissey asked, somewhat in doubt.
"I'll c-c-copper him.
One can only imagine the look on Morrissey's face, mouth gaping and stunned at Travers shot across the bow.
Then there was the time he traveled to Brooklyn for the wedding of a friend's daughter who lived on Montague Street. Travers apparently took a wrong turn somewhere in his travels and got lost. He stopped a gentleman and asked for directions.
"I desire to reach M-m-montague Street," he said to a passerby. "W-will you be k-kind enough to p-point the w-way?"
"You are g-going the wr-wrong w-way," he stuttered in his reply. "That is M-montague Street."
"Are you m-making fun of m-me, m-mimicking me?" Travers asked sternly.
"N-no, I assure you" the man replied, with all due haste to repair an apparent lack of good manners. "I-I am b-badly af-flicted with an ob-stru-struction of speech."
"Why d-don't you g-get c-cured?" Travers asked with mischief in his eyes. "G-go to Dr. --- and g-get c-cured. D-don't you see how w-well I talk? He c-cured m-me."
Poor fella. Probably had no idea what to make of him.
Enter Henry Clews, a banker who often boasted he is a self-made man. Travers overheard him speak of this and fixed his eyes on Clews bald crown in a sort of daydream like state.
"Well, what's the matter, Travers?" he asked somewhat impatiently.
"H-henry," Travers inquired "d-didn't you say you we-were a self m-made m-an?"
"Certainly, I made myself" Clews replied warmly.
"Then, w-when you were ab-b-about it, w-why didn't you p-put m-more h-h-hair on the t-top of your h-head?"
Insert a well time DOH here.
Travers had been approached by Clews as he sought advice for the famous Vanderbilt ball; an affair of full costume dress. Travers suggested:
"Clews, w-why d-don't you s-s-sugar coat your h-head and go as a p-pill?"
Travers, clearly, was not your run of the mill, well bred snooty sort. Remember, he was quite capable of being on the other end of the jibe.
He was walking along the street with a bunch of brokers in tow. He spots a man in front of St. Paul's church selling parrots.
"H-hold on b-boys," Travers said mysteriously. "W-we'll have some f-fun."
Hailing the parrot seller and indicating one of the birds Travers asked "Can that p-parrot t-talk?"
"Talk?" the man replied with a contemptuous sneer. "If he can't talk better than you I'll wring his blasted neck!"
"C-come on, b-boys," Travers called out; "th-this f-fun is p-post-p-poned until another day."
Naturally it is only fitting that the last of Travers' anecdotes shared here deal with a gambler in the Spa City.
A plunger named Walton was introduced to Travers at The Spa in the midst of his best two years playing the horses. He suggested that he and the financier do business together. Walton told him of how he has earned over $350,000 these past two years, and with Travers being a whiz in the stock market he thought they could share a couple of points to help each other out, and add to their fortunes.
"You m-made three hu-hundred and fifty th-thousand on h-horse racing?" Travers repeated.
"Yes, sir. $350,000 in two years," Walton said again.
"And you want m-me to g-give you a p-point on st-stocks?" Travers continued.
"Yes, if you please. In return for my points on horses," Walton said.
"Well, I'll g-give you a first r-rate p-point," Travers said. "You m-made three hu-hundred and fifty th-thousand d-dollars in t-two years. Then st-stick to your b-business. Th-that's a f-first r-rate p-point."
Travers made a fortune on Wall Street. He was one of the founders of Saratoga Race Course and it's first President. He was a long-time President of the New York Athletic Club, a member of 27 private clubs, a backer of Sheepshead Bay Racetrack on Coney Island and he made up one-third of Annieswood Stable, racing champions such as Kentucky and Alarm.
All this barely scraped the surface of what he accomplished.
But above it all, above his fortunes, keen financial acumen, racing accomplishments, all those club memberships and elite status, William R. Travers was best known for his good nature and wit.
Ain't a bad way to go out, is it? Sources:
New York Times, March 15, 1885 Stories of Wm. R. Travers
New York Times, March 28, 1887 William Travers
Picture of Travers located at Barker Family Tree website
A few years back when tracks had their own pools for simulcast races )before simulcasting got as big a business as it is today), we as horse-players got to shop for odds.
Bouncing from one television feed to another, seeing where we could get the most bang for our buck. It didn't happen often but when it did, man it was a fun and exciting element to horse-playing. I know I am not alone in that line of thinking.
But imagine how much fun it would have been so many years ago when you could shop for odds from one person to the next. Standing in a betting ring, in your jacket, tie and hat, your cigar in your mouth and racing program in hand.
Sorry ladies, you weren't allowed in the betting rings in those days.
Long before the eyesore of Saratoga Race Course's current infield tote board burned the retinas of our eyes (my Lord, that thing is hideous), punters made their wagers with bookmakers, not
automated self-service machines.
Leading the fray for better than 40 years was John G. Cavanagh; a conciliator of sorts for all matters wagering in New York.
Known as "Irish John," he was the architect of The Cavanagh Special, a deluxe train of up to eight Pullman cars, diners and a day coach or two.
Sporting a boater instead of an engineer's cap, Cavanagh and his train ride north carried almost exclusively bookmakers and their assistants. Owners, trainers and professional bettors would travel in kind, up to and often exceeding 600 travelers at a time.
They'd get to the Spa city around eight or nine o'clock on the Saturday evening prior to the meet's start which was usually on a Monday. They were often warmly greeted. Onlookers, gamblers and tourists would cheer their arrival as bookmakers, gamblers, et. al. marched to their hotels to the sounds townsfolk's cheering and a band playing in the streets.
Bookmaking hadn't been formally adopted in the States until the early 1870s when first introduced to English race courses in 1840.
By the 1880s it was commonplace and bookies thought of themselves on a par with Wall Street Brokers, viewing the track as no different as the Stock Exchange. In the papers they'd advertise themselves as Turf Exchanges.
The top books formed a group that would gain control of all betting at state tracks and called themselves the Metropolitan Turf Association. They sold buttons as if they were seats on the stock exchange, and were just as hard to get and almost as costly to acquire.
Cavanagh led the group. He handled any and all disputes. He decided who could and could not join the association and his power was absolute. His Cavanagh Special, was a veritable stamp of approval.
Saratoga Betting Ring
At Saratoga the betting ring was near the finish line. A circle of stalls, raised, and with chalk boards at the top would serve as encouragement to get a patron's attention (read: money) as the sheetwriters and pay-off men took care of business.
On the chalkboard the bookie would have his name, the horses for the upcoming race and beside them would be their odds, which changed frequently.
The sheetwriter took the bets and marked it in the bookmaker's tabs. The pay-off man did precisely what his name indicates, should the bettor have won his race.
Things didn't always go that smoothly of course but invariably at day's end, with torn tickets littering the betting ring and grandstand, the bookmakers had ample reason to smile.
Such is Saratoga
Two weeks ago, with the help of my local librarian, I located an absolute gem of a book. Such is Saratoga
, authored by Hugh Bradley, was lent to me for a three week stint and it is a first edition copy, printed in 1940. The thing is 70 years old and it's in my hands.
I ask you to indulge me, if only for a moment, in sharing a couple of stories about some characters found in that book.Virginia Carroll
: Known for his eccentricities as well as his skill and daring as a bookie, he once was angered by a punter who pointed at his selection for a race with his umbrella.
"The fat, red-headed Mr. Carroll reached down from his stand, sized the umbrella and threw it as far as a rage-inspired arm would permit," Mr. Bradley wrote.
He turned to his sheetwriter and ordered him to give him five umbrellas to his one on the man's selection.Fred Burton
: Supposedly coined the phrase "All horse players who play stable information must go broke." He was particularly hard on himself if he let a favorite go off at odds longer than he should have.
One day, after losing more than he cared to, he went to John Morrissey's Club House for dinner. He sat at the table, ordered a thick steak with expensive side dishes. The meal came and sat before him. For two hours he didn't touch a morsel. He paid the check, tipped the waiter and left. All throughout those two hours, barely uttering a word, the waiter revealed the only thing Burton moved was his lips.
The waiter said Burton kept repeating again and again: "Starve, you sucker. Starve!"Bill Cowan
: Arguably the biggest bookmaker (financially speaking), he was a genius with numbers and known for his polished mannerisms. It was reported his backer (and silent partner) was Robert H. Davis, owner of the 1914 world champion Boston Braves.
The story goes that Cowan came to the Spa a quarter-of-a-million in the hole after the New York season. During the course of the month he made it back and another half-million more; a $750,000 race meet.
Then he lost it all - ALL
- at the subsequent Belmont race meet. When he died in the late 30's however, he was still quite wealthy.
Charming lot, aren't they?
There were mighty bouts of bettor versus bookie though out the years and arguably the most famous (and certainly the most frustrating to bookies) was a gambler named George E. Smith.
But he never went by his given name when making his bets. He was nicknamed Pittsburgh Phil by gambler William "Silver Bill" Riley to differentiate him from the other Smiths that also frequented Riley's pool halls.
Pittsburgh Phil was a thin, young man with an artistic appeal about him. He worked as a cork cutter. In his prime he maintained an organization which cost close to a thousand dollars a day to get information on horses and to place his bets.
The bookies hated him because they feared him. So they'd follow him. He was cool and daring. Smart and not difficult to trace. He usually outmaneuvered them all. The bookies wanted to learn what he'd learn so they could cut the odds. They rarely did. He frustrated them all.
Bill Cowan once said he paid more money out to him than any other player.
When he, the cork cutting gambler, died his estate was reportedly valued in the millions, although my research offers different amounts on stated his fortune would have been valued at better than $79 million today.
After he died the Racing Maxims and Methods of Pittsburgh Phil
were published. They are often used today as core betting rules. Writer and blogger Jessica Chapel published them on her blog and are - without question - worth every moment of your time in reading. (note: pretty much all of Jessica's writing is worth reading; I've been a fan of hers for about four years now).
Pari-Mutuel Wagering Returns
In 1939 New York voters had overwhelmingly voted in favor of a constitutional amendment that allowed pari-mutuel wagering. That following spring it was a state senator named John Dunningham who implemented legislation that would oust the bookies.
In 1940 pari-mutuel wagering returned to New York. There were 23 states that already had them in place. They were a much more modernized version of their ancestors.
There were 307 machines installed, manned by 450 men. In the grandstand alone were 72 machines. The cost was $220,000.
Saratogians adjusted and the money came rolling in. Over 7,200 people walked through the turnstiles wagering greater than $260,000 on the opening day card.
Women were allowed to bet with the tote and racing officials credited their wagering as part in parcel to their increase in handle and attendance.
At the end of the first pari-mutuel season, Commission Chairman Swope noted that a whopping $103 million was bet, with attendance up 30% and a record 281,377 people attending the races at The Spa.
The bookies were gone, except for the back rooms of laundromats and bars, and pari-mutuel wagering has been here to stay ever since.
# # #
Bibliographical Sources Used for Research:
- Bradley, Hugh, Such Was Saratoga, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc. Garden City, N.Y.
- Waller, George, Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era, FTB: Friar Tuck Bookshop,
Ganesvoort, NY 1966
- Hoatling, Edward Clinton They're Off! Horse Racing at Saratoga, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY 1995Photographs:
- John G. "Irish John" Cavanagh taken from George Waller's Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era, FTB: Friar Tuck Bookshop, Ganesvoort, NY 1966
- Bookie figuring out bets for Kentucky derby. Warrenton, Virginia.; reator(s): Wolcott, Marion Post, 1910-1990, photographer; Date Created/Published: 1941 May. Library of Congress Call Number: LC-USF34- 057427-E [P&P]
- Photograph of American gambler, George E. Smith (1864-1905), or Pittsburgh Phil taken between 1885 and 1900. Smith was a noted horse racing strategist and successful handicapper at the turn of the twentieth century.
Richard Canfield was "the greatest gambling asset the United States had ever known." i
And unlike his casino's original proprietor John Morrissey
, he had the respect and admiration of the well-bred.
He was born in 1855 in New Bedford, MA, and wasn't well educated, but had a bit more schooling than Morrissey. He graduated from grammar school. But he knew his success would come from the money of the rich, not the everyday gambling schlep. In order to gain their approval he believed he needed to be able to mirror the sophistication of their lifestyles.
So he took to reading. Frequently.
Married at 27 he got pinched for running a successful faro house and was sentenced to six months. He used that time wisely, learning about fine art, literature, philosophy and religion. He loved it. All of it. The more he read, the more interested he became.
In 1888 he teamed with gambler David Duff and opened a house close to popular restaurants. The play got so busy his partner couldn't handle it. Duff would "turn up drunk and make a nuisance of himself, and Canfield bought him out." ii
He had his eyes set on Morrissey's old haunt, The Club House in Saratoga Springs, NY. At the time it belonged to Albert Spencer and Charles Reed, a couple of gamblers from NYC.
Reed, eerily similar to Morrissey, was socially unacceptable and Spencer bought him out.
Spencer was more akin to the likes of Canfield. He bought and sold fine art and the pair got along well. A quarter of a million dollars later, Canfield bought the Club House in 1893. He made significant changes, beginning with the name. The Club House became The Casino.
"To be seen at the Casino would be a feather in the cap, a mark of distinction only the wealthy could afford." iii
He spent a small fortune on food and drink but many thought his efforts were "little more than constructing a veil to hide the evil inside." iv
They were wrong. When he opened the doors in 1894, the Casino was a smashing success.
Guests were expected to dress well, in their evening clothes and Canfield hired private detectives to ensure the safety of their jewels.
Always thinking ahead, he realized evening clothes may lead to a slight problem. For example, if a gentleman were to be dressed in a tuxedo and tails large amounts of money held in their pockets could ruin the tailoring.
Well, we can't have that now can we? Of course not!
His solution? Extend credit.
There were 10 other gambling houses in town and none of them would take such a risk. Hell, they thought Canfield was nuts. Not to mention, he also kept a million bucks in his safe ... just in case.
Canfield believed paying guests in cash and extending credit made for happy customers.
When he closed his first season he earned $250,000 in gambling profits - his initial investment in the Casino.
He was off to a flying start and 1894 was a good year for Saratoga. Excitement for future seasons generated with enthusiasm.
But Canfield, in spite of this success, met with one struggle after another in the ensuing years.
In 1895 Reformists had every gaming house in the area closed, thus making his second season a bust.
The following year they opened, part in parcel to "many local residents [who] complained about the resulting economic loss, as they too sustained their livelihood either directly or indirectly from the gaming business." v
Canfield counted over $600,000 in profits that season and was the richest and most well known gambler in America.
He had arrived.
The affluent and social set welcomed him into the fold. A desire Morrissey, almost literally, died trying to accomplish.
But Canfield's headaches continued.
Years later when the new District Attorney of New York, William Travers Jerome (nephew to racing's Leonard Jerome), had a bee in his bonnet and singled out Canfield as the one to swat.
Jerome found gambling paraphernalia in the wall of a defunct New York City casino belonging to Canfield and arrested him. However, he had little to get him on so they battled back and forth for two years. The result after $100,000 in legal fees was a $1,000 fine and admission to a "common gambler" charge - a moniker that made Canfield shudder.
In 1903, he promised a lush and beautiful Italian Garden next to his Casino that would further enhance the splendor of Saratoga. He did just that and it was lovely. But, local officials feared that more attention from Reformists would make things difficult for the Casino.
So what did they do? They ordered all houses in Saratoga to operate behind closed doors.
Canfield was fit to be tied.
"They gambled in the Garden of Eden and they will again if there's another one," he said. v
The restrictions held his gambling profits to about $400,000 that season. Additional restrictions pressed Canfield to close his Casino in 1904.
1906 presented a problem when the Casino opened with more closed-door restrictions. Come August and the race meet, they shut down after friendly warnings from local sheriffs.
Enough is enough, thought Canfield. He accomplished what he set out to do.
Fed up, he didn't open the Casino again and put it up for sale in 1907. In 1911, the village of Saratoga Springs offered $150,000 and the deal was done.
Now, fast forward seven years from his decision, the setting is a cold, icy, December day in Brooklyn.
Canfield slips and tumbles down a flight of stairs in a subway station. He fractures his skull in the accident. The following day, the once wealthiest and revered gambler of his time, dies.
Between the years of 1870 and 1907 The Club House and The Casino was seen as THE host to the wealthiest people ever to set foot on American soil. In that day and age casino proprietors struggled to earn acceptance among the wealthy and well bred.
Canfield, through his love of the arts and as a collector, his passion for literature and his envied library along with his knowledge of religion and philosophy, appealed to the sort.
Morrissey, whose status as a championship prizefighter, bouncer and street thug followed him everywhere, didn't. He died, a relatively young man at 47, knowing the one battle he fought all his life left him laying on the mat, counted out
Today their building is called The Canfield Casino.
And wouldn't you know it, John Morrissey - the guy who built the damned thing - gets snubbed from the billing.
Poor Old Smoke
. He just couldn't get a break, could he?
The Canfield Casino serves a rich and fulfilling purpose to anyone with an affinity for Saratoga history. She is the home to the Historical Society of Saratoga Springs. And when you walk through her hallways - and I suggest you do - the rooms are adorned with scenes from lifetimes ago.
It takes little imagination to saunter through the rooms, at your own pace, and hear the noise of these blessed characters spinning a wheel or rolling the dice. You can imagine the smell of rich cigars permeating the air, people laughing and maybe a few grunting with dismay.
Quite simply, with a single walk-thru you are taken back a hundred years in time.
And that is part of the beauty of Saratoga Springs. A great part of her beauty.
Red Smith once wrote to get to Saratoga from New York City you drive north for about 175 miles, tun left onto Union Avenue and go back 100 years.
Drive another mile to Congress Park and tour the Canfield Casino to see for yourself.
I trust you'll find, like I do, that she is one of the more romantic and often thought of characters of the grand history that is Saratoga Springs.
# # #Footnotes:
i. They're Off ... At Saratoga, Edward Hotaling, p. 150
ii. Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era, George Waller, p. 226
iii. Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era, George Waller, p. 227
iv. Saratoga Lost: Images of Victorian America, Robert Joki, p. 146
v. Saratoga Lost: Images of Victorian America, Robert Joki, p. 147
Bibliographical Sources Used for Research:
- Bartles, John, Saratoga Stories, Gangsters, Gamblers and Racing Legends, Eclipse Press, Blood Horse Publications, Lexington, KY 2007
- Waller, George, Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era, FTB: Friar Tuck Bookshop, Ganesvoort, NY 1966
- Hoatling, Edward Clinton They're Off! Horse Racing at Saratoga, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY 1995
- Joki, Robert Saratoga Lost, Images of Victorian America, Black Dome Press Corp., Hensonville, NY 1998
- Richard Albert Canfield, - Waller, George, Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era, FTB: Friar Tuck Bookshop, Ganesvoort, NY 1966 p.225
- Canfield Casino parlor interior (1871) - The Saratoga Springs History Museum website
- The High Stakes Poker Room - The Saratoga Springs History Museum website
- The Modern ballroom (1902) - The Saratoga Springs History Museum website
- Richard Canfield Killed y a Fall - New York Times, December 12, 1914
- The Canfield Casino, Patrick J. Kerrison Saratoga Collection
Part I of II
One was a pugilist. A roughneck, thief and gambler who made a reputation for himself socking people in the mouth and collecting money for mob bosses.
The other, a gambler who took to self-education in the arts, philosophy, religion and literature among other things in order to stand comfortable in discussion with the "well-bred".
Both shrewd gamblers. Both successful casino proprietors. Both known throughout their New York City gambling circles as one of Saratoga's leading constituents.
But the similarities of John Morrissey and Richard Canfield ended there.
John Morrissey arrived in New York City from Ireland in 1831 at the age of two and his family moved north to Troy, NY.
At 12 he took his first job, working manual labor thru his adolescence. By 17 he led a group of street thugs called "Down Town," rivaling (naturally) the "Up Town" gang and their leader John O'Rourke, seven years Morrissey's senior.
One night at a local saloon the pair squared off and O'Rourke got his clock cleaned; but that was just the beginning. The rest of the Up Town gang took exception with the beating and took him on
One by one Morrissey met and defeated their challenges, going 9-0 that day.
One peer said of him:
"John never seemed to know when he was licked, and just as you got tired of thumping him, he kind o' got his second wind, and then you might as well tackle the devil as to try and make any headway against him."i
From there he held many "jobs" like cargo thief, debt collector for Irish crime bosses to name a couple. He'd been indicted on numerous charges including assault with intent to kill.
He taught himself to read and write while bouncing at a whorehouse and got into a scuffle with the Madame's old flame, because he took a liking to her.
During their bout a furnace was overturned, its embers spilled to the floor. Morrissey, pinned against them, refused to yield, thrusting his rival off himself. He proceeded to beat the living daylights out of him and as smoke steamed off his back from the burning flesh, he was henceforth known as "Old Smoke."
He won his first bare-knuckled prize fight title in 1853 against Yankee Sullivan in a 37-round bout. It's a title he held until his retirement in 1858 when he won his final test against John C. Heenan.
Morrissey was anxious to climb the next rung of society's ladder.
The Tammany Society, an Irish led group that evolved into a strong political faction in New York, gave Morrissey a "gambling franchise free from government interference."ii
The local police were kind enough to look in another direction and at one point, he owned a stake in 16 casinos throughout New York.
"A six-foot, broad shouldered, deep-chested, two-fisted, blackbrowed and fully bearded thirty-year old Irishman, Morrissey was the most notoriously prosperous gaming house proprietor in New York City."iii
In 1861 he and his wife Susie took a two week trip to Saratoga looking to open up a gambling house that "would rival those in Monte Carlo and a world-class racetrack."iv
Feeling free to cheat gullible gamblers in public games, he was a "scrupulously fair"v
player in private games and Morrissey quickly became a gambler of great notoriety.
He shifted a portion of his tack, so to speak, into a home on Matilda Street (now Woodlawn Ave.) and opened for business.
In May of 1863 Morrissey put into action part two of his dream. The creation of a world class thoroughbred race meet.
He printed an advertisement in the papers calling for those who want to run their horses at a new race meet. It was for four days and to begin on August 3, 1863.
He put up $2,700 of his own money for purses and paid the lease himself. With admission costing a dollar and the estimates reaching 3,000 attendees, he likely made his money back.
Morrissey's public image was less than appealing to those in the Turf world.
He formed a relationship with Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt which yielded him entrance into the circles of William R. Travers and Leonard Jerome.
He hoped to overcome these obstacles by virtue of being in their company.
In fact, Morrissey relied on his relationship with Vanderbilt heavily.
"It was extremely unlikely that influential businessmen such as William Travers, Jay Gould, John Hunter and Leonard Jerome would associate with a man who had John Morrissey's background unless he had the backing of a stock market titan such as Cornelius Vanderbilt."vi
And he had.
Morrissey and Vanderbilt had a love of gambling and women in common and hit it off well. Vanderbilt enlisted Leonard Jerome into the thoroughbred racing fold.
While Morrissey joined Vanderbilt as a "political agent" to help build his Harlem Railroad, Jerome was the Commodore's partner. The three were often seen together in circles, much to the disapproval of the well-bred social elite.
Jerome's business partner, Travers, was involved in horse racing having his own stable in partnership with Hunter and a Vanderbilt in-law, George Osgood.
The following season, The Saratoga Racing Association was formed by Jerome, Travers and Hunter, but without Morrissey's name on any official documentation.
Even though he put up most of the money for its construction he was not considered "sufficiently respectable for Saratoga"vii
and was the proverbial "silent partner."
With several successful race meets under his belt, Morrissey ran for Congress in 1866 and won. From 1867 thru 1871 he served a pair of terms in the House.
While serving as a Congressman he opened the doors of The Club House in 1870.
A lush, beautiful gaming house which enabled modest bettors to play faro and roulette on the ground floor while the heavier bettors, the plungers, played poker upstairs. On the second floor stakes could escalate and there would be no interruption of play.
Retiring in 1871 from politics, he chose to enjoy the fruits of his labors in Saratoga, mingling and hobnobbing with the wealthy and well-bred
He believed, more than ever, he would win their favor and gain the social accreditation he sought.
In order to feel part of the circle the Morissey's decided to build a mansion of their own, to receive guests and play the role. Those in Boston, New York, Philly, etc. had all done so. He and Susie felt it was time.
So he ventured to his hometown of Troy only to be denied, despite generous offers, to purchase acreage.
They were told:
"A mixture of the descendants of the Hudson River aristocracy and the industrial rich, didn't want a professional gambler, particularly one with such a notorious past, living alongside them, and had agreed to resist all his attempts to settle in their fashionable section."viii
Morrissey responded by buying parcels of land where he knew frequent breezes would blow from the river to this fashionable section of Troy
So...what did he do?
He built a soap factory.
Now, we're not talking about the eye opener or refreshing scents here. You can be assured that by no means was it an aromatic and sweet smelling soap that he manufactured.
It was a minor victory for Morrissey, but he and Susie struggled for acceptance.
In 1875 Morrissey revived his political career, elected as a State Senator from New York in the worst district imaginable. Two years later in 1877 he was elected to a more socially acceptable district.
The thought for sure their eligibility to be accepted into society will be granted at this point.
But he was wrong.
Their attempt had failed.
He fell ill that summer. A bad stomach, kidney problems and asthma, he and his bride went south to regain his strength.
Upon his return to Saratoga he caught pneumonia.
On May 1, 1878, at the age of 47, John Morrissey, pugilist, gambler, casino operator, and architect of the grandest thoroughbred racetrack in North America, died.
It was then, and only then, he was openly adored.
The flag at City Hall in New York flew at half mast. There were multitudes of flattering columns written on his life and contributions.
In the city of Troy, where he was rebuffed to build his home, it is told 19,000 plus people ignored the downpours of rain and walked to the grave site for his burial.
After 47 years of fighting, scraping and clawing his way through life, it was only in death that John Morrissey had been deemed sufficiently respectable
# # #NOTE: Thursday at Saratoga Race Course they will have the 7th running of The John Morrissey. A race for three-year-olds and up, worth 70,000 going 61/2 furlongs.Footnotes
i. New York Daily Tribune, May 2, 1878 p.5
ii. Saratoga Stories, John Bartles, p.20
iii. Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era, George Waller, p. 119
iv. Saratoga Stories, John Bartles, p.23
v. Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era, George Waller, p. 122
vi. Saratoga Stories, John Bartles, p.31
vii. Saratoga Stories, John Bartles, p.34
viii. Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era, George Waller, p. 134Bibliographical Sources Used for Research
Bartles, John, Saratoga Stories, Gangsters, Gamblers and Racing Legends, Eclipse Press,
Blood Horse Publications, Lexington, KY 2007
Waller, George, Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era, FTB: Friar Tuck Bookshop,
Ganesvoort, NY 1966
Hoatling, Edward Clinton They're Off! Horse Racing at Saratoga, Syracuse University
Press, Syracuse, NY 1995
Joki, Robert Saratoga Lost, Images of Victorian America, Black Dome Press Corp.,
Hensonville, NY 1998Pictures
- Currier and Ives portrait of John Morrissey, Champion Boxer
- Located at the Greanville web site
- July 10, 1875 Harpers Weekly
- Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA; LC-BH832- 2094
- May 4, 1878 New York Times
Big Stakes on Sure Things
Arnold Rothstein's Saratoga and the 1921 Travers Stakes
The Big Bankroll.
The Great Brain.
You can call him what you please. But if gambling rackets, crime, and murder stories of years gone by are the skewed ideology of romance, then fellas like Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper were the silver screen's pale imitations of leading men.
No one made for a more sinister romantic character of the early 20th century than Arnold Rothstein.
So much so that he was a major influence in Damon Runyon's Guys and Dolls. He was the inspiration for Jay Gatsby's crooked associate Meyer Wolfsheim in the novel The Great Gatsby. And his famous pool playing marathon against Jack Conway inspired the opening scene to the movie The Hustler.
Arnold Rothstein was a well dressed, mild mannered, milk drinking thug.
Born of well-to-do immigrant parents in 1882 he was the second of five children. He grew up in a home wanting for nothing except the affection of his parents. That didn't happen. With the untimely death of his older brother Harry, Rothstein made an attempt to smooth things over with his father. One argument later and it all went to hell.
Rothstein didn't fall into the typical Mob boss stereotype. For one, he was born in the United States; a rarity then. He was never one to smoke cigarettes or cigars or drink booze and women found it charming that he'd choose to drink milk over whiskey.
"His voice was mild and pleasing; his mannerisms graceful; his grammar was not perfect ... And his wit was amazing." (1)
In 1904 Rothstein was 21 when he arrived at Saratoga for the first time via the Cavanagh Special.
Like many (read: all) he fell in love with its charm immediately. And I don't mean just the grand Victorian homes, the large lush pines and the historical brilliance of the village. I mean the chumps, the hapless and mindless plungers with money to throw away and the poor sucker looking to get a lucky break spinning a roulette wheel.
On August 12, 1909 at 185 Washington Street in Saratoga Springs he married former showgirl Carolyn Green. They celebrated their wedding night by Rothstein making off with his new bride's jewelry, pawning it and using it for bets. His mother and father, a devout couple of the Jewish faith, did not attend because Green refused to convert to Judaism.
"When word of the wedding reached Abraham [Arnold's father], he reacted by donning a prayer shawl and reciting the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, for the second of his sons." (2)
During they day Arnold and Carolyn would go to the races. She'd be dropped off and he took action. At night she stayed home while he hit the casinos.
The honeymoon ended, not too coincidentally, as the race meet did. Rothstein made 12 grand at the races that meet and got his wife's jewelry out of hock.
Ever the romantic, Rothstein would take his bride to Saratoga every year to celebrate their anniversary. However, their vacations at the Spa mirrored their honeymoon and were spent separately.
1919 was a busy year for Arnold Rothstein. He opened The Brook; a casino on the outskirts of Saratoga Springs. A couple of months later he was the accused ringleader in the infamous "Black Sox" scandal. But there was never enough proof to grant an indictment on Rothstein.
When on the stand during the Grand Jury inquest he professed "he had never in life been connected with a crooked deal [and] he was sick and tired of having his name dragged into every one that made the headlines." (3)
Believe what you want to believe but one thing was certain about Rothstein, when he bet, he bet big stakes on sure things.
Which leads us to the 1921 Travers and one of the more "romantic" (read: notorious) stories of Arnold Rothstein.
The oldest stakes event in North American racing, the Midsummer Derby has drawn some of the greatest three year-old's ever to set foot on dirt.
Back then horses could be entered to run the same day, up until 12 noon. They could even be scratched by a trainer 30 minutes before post time, without cause or explanation. As the owner of Redstone Stable (but more likely because he was a learned gambler) Rothstein was aware of both rules.
The favorite was a filly named Prudery, owned by Harry Payne Whitney. No one figured they could beat her so no one else entered.
Rothstein believed second money is better than no money so his horse, Sporting Blood, was listed to run. With no one else in the race it was the closest thing he'd get to a sure thing in racing, at least second money. It was even rumored that he had no intention of betting on the race.
... word got to Rothstein that Prudery wasn't 100%. Typical of the gambler he had spies everywhere, including the backside. He got word from one of Whitney's stablehands that she missed some of her morning works and was off her feed. Information that reportedly cost him ten bucks. A vet that examined her told the notorious gambler that "it didn't appear as though she'd be at the top of her form for the Travers, and Whitney and his trainer were concerned about her." (4)
Rothstein knew his horse was improving in form, and with the information he had on Prudery he began to think he might have had a shot.
On Travers day the filly had not improved any from the days before, but she was still going off at odds of 1 to 4. Sporting Blood was a generous 5/2.
Just before the close of entries at noon, a leading trainer named Sam Hildreth entered his top 3-year-old Grey Lag into the Travers.
Hildreth was a very successful trainer who amassed $1.2mm in earnings over four years as a conditioner. He also had a proclivity toward gambling.
Grey Lag rivaled the Alabama winner, Prudery, on the odds board as the Hildreth charge was accomplished in his own right. Sporting Blood was all but ignored at this point.
Maybe, just maybe, Sporting Blood would have a shot against Prudery on his best day and her on her worst.
But Grey Lag? No. Not a chance.
Rothstein contacted his "agents" immediately after learning of the entry and placed $150,000 worth of bets on his own horse. The bookies thought it was easy money, so much so they didn't even make him wire the money to them.
Rothstein, smartly, didn't play his horse at the track knowing he'd manipulate the odds. Besides, there was no information let out he had plunked a hundred and fifty grand elsewhere.
But why would Rothstein lay a hundred and fifty grand on his own horse when a third and markedly better thoroughbred had just entered the fray? This was seemingly the furthest thing from a sure thing imaginable.
With 30 minutes to post for the Travers Stakes, Hildreth "unexpectedly" scratched Grey Lag.
Ah. Now I'm getting' it.
No reason was given for the scratch.
None was needed.
Hildreth's actions fell precisely within the scope of the racing rules. Dazed and confused, racing fans and bookmakers alike didn't know what to make of the sudden entry and then departure of Grey Lag.
Hildreth volunteered no explanation, keeping his reasoning to himself.
And then there were two. Again.
The odds hadn't changed much on track. The Grey Lag money went toward Prudery. And remember, Rothstein's money went elsewhere, secured at odds of 3-1.
When they broke from the gate Prudery did as she was expected to do. She took the lead. She led for the first mile but never by more than a length. When they hit the quarter pole all the conjecture, speculation and inside information Rothstein received on the filly started to come to fruition.
Slowly and surely Sporting Blood came to terms with Prudery before drawing in front by a head, then a neck, then a length.
When they crossed the wire Sporting Blood was a clear two lengths to the good of the odds-on favorite.
Arnold Rothstein, a notorious gambler and often assumed but never convicted criminal, spent $10 to get inside information on a horse. As a result he won the most prestigious race in Saratoga Springs.
He collected $450,000 in winning bets from bookies.
Lest we forget the $10,275 purse.
Not unlike the Black Sox scandal, there was never any proof - just conjecture and speculation - that tied Rothstein to a scam.
There was never any proof that Hildreth took a dime from Rothstein.
Nor was there any proof that the two conspired.
After all, A.R. had professed, under oath in a court of law how he has never been connected with a crooked deal.
He was under oath, after all, so why not believe him?
A gambler of his status wouldn't lie, would he?
Probably because an exorbitant amount of money was wagered on a horse in a race where it didn't seem likely he had much of a shot.
Probably because it was his horse.
Probably because Rothstein stood to make nearly half a million dollars as a result, and did.
Probably because he was the shrewdest, smartest and most successful gambler and criminal of his time ...
... and no one dared to mess with the likes of Arnold Rothstein.
The entry in the history books covering the 1921 Travers is one that will forever be marred by a betting scandal with the notorious Arnold Rothstein.
And with that, he will forever hold his place secure as one of the more infamous, and not to be confused with beloved, characters of Saratoga lore.
# # #
Arnold Rothstein's Saratoga Chronology (5)
from David Pietrusza's: ROTHSTEIN: The Life, Times and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series.
1904 - Makes first trip to Saratoga aboard the Cavanagh Special;strands Abe Attell.
1909 - Marries Carolyn Green at Saratoga Springs; pawns her jewelry (August 12).
1917 - Begins bankrolling Saratoga gambling house owner Henry Tobin.
1919 - Opens The Brook in Saratoga Springs.
1920 - Subway Sam Rosoff loses $100,000 in one night at The Brook (August).
1920 - Rothstein wins between $850,000 and $900,000 on Sailing B (August 27).
1921 - Engages Bill Fallon to defend Jules Hormel on charge of bribing Saratoga
1921 - Rothstein's Sporting Blood wins the Travers; wins purse of $10,275, plus
$450,000 in winning bets (August).
1922 - Sells The Brook to Nat Evans (alternate date: 1925).
1926 - Saratoga Taxpayers' Association petitions Governor Alfred E. Smith to probe
1926 - Gambler George Formel charges A.R. paid Saratoga County District
Attorney Charles B. Andrus $60,000 in "protection."
1934 - Evans insures The Brook and its contents for $117,000 (November 1).
1934 - The Brook burns down (December 31).
# # #
1. Arnold Rothstein: What's in a Name?, Allan May, p.2
2. Ibid, p.8
3. Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era, George Waller, p.300
4. Ibid, p.301
5. ROTHSTEIN: The Life, Times and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, Website held by David Pietrusza for his biographyBibliographical Sources Used for Research
- Bartles, John, Saratoga Stories, Gangsters, Gamblers and Racing Legends
, Eclipse Press, Blood Horse Publications, Lexington, KY 2007
- Waller, George, Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era
, FTB: Friar Tuck Bookshop,
Ganesvoort, NY 1966
- Hoatling, Edward Clinton They're Off! Horse Racing at Saratoga
, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY 1995
- May, Allan Arnold Rothstein: What's in a Name
, article on Scribd, 2002
- Pietrusza, David, ROTHSTEIN: The Life, Times and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series
, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003Photographs
:'King of the Jews': The Man Who Fixed the World Series -
New York Times by LUC SANTE Published: June 26, 2005Prudery is Victim of Saratoga Upset
: Special to The New York Times, August 21, 1921, Sunday, Section: Sports, Page 70, 2462 wordsThe website of David Pietrusza
re: his book ROTHSTEIN: The Life, Times and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003
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While most American men of Patrick's generation grew up talking to their Dad about baseball and the likes of Mantle, Ford, Berra and DiMaggio, he and his father covered the racing beat and talked of Ruffian, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and John Henry.
The son of a newspaperman, Patrick spent his summers a "spoiled" child, but not in the traditional sense. Spoiled because his August months were spent at Saratoga Race Course watching the best the game ever offered.
Breakfast in the mornings, races in the afternoons and the occasional party when kids were welcomed in the evenings, he has lived a privileged childhood.
For better than 10 years Patrick worked in varied frontside positions in racing, "living the dream" as he calls it.
Today at age 41, he reverts back to his life as an eight year old with the same passion and love for the town of Saratoga he always had, but with the perspective of an adult. His appreciation for her history and his desire to go back in time revives every summer, while never forgetting the glorious life he lives today.
Patrick and Saratoga.com invite you to come back to Saratoga's 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries and a little bit about today, too.