Stymie – Patience Rewarded

There are a couple of old sayings that seem to have fallen out of favour in today’s society. “Patience is a virtue” and “good things come to those that wait” have become passé clichés to modern men and women. In an age of instant payments, instant news, instant communication, and even instant coffee, we have become a society of impatient people unwilling to reap the rewards of taking things at a slower pace to allow development to proceed to its maximum level. The Thoroughbred industry is a microcosm of this, but it was not always the case.

Let me take you back to 1943 and illustrate how patience benefited trainer Hirsch Jacobs and his Bieber-Jacobs stable after they claimed a two year old chestnut colt from Max Hirsch for $1,500. The colt was making his third career start and had not earned a paycheck. He was a son of the unremarkable stallion Equestrian, a winner of only $1,580 on the track, and was out of Stop Watch who was un-placed in four starts. The name of the colt was Stymie.

Stymie went on to become one of the most beloved Thoroughbred race horses of the twentieth century. He was a classic cup horse and won some of the biggest and most important handicaps in racing, against the best horses of his era. But Stymie was not an instant hit. In fact he did not win his first race until after he had lost his first thirteen races. He did not win his first stakes race until he was four years old, and that race was his sixtieth career start. Good things come to those that wait.

And what a good thing Stymie became. Hirsch Jacobs raced Stymie in the name and colours of his wife Ethel Jacobs. Jacobs preferred to run his charges in races to get them fit, and was never afraid of a few losses on the race charts. He deployed this training regimen for Stymie, with spectacular results. Stymie raced twenty-eight times in a six months long campaign as a two year old, ending the season with a pair of stakes placed results.

Jacobs saw the potential in Stymie as the races became longer in distance, but he would have to exhibit patience to unlock that potential. He put Stymie on the American Triple Crown trail, garnering a third place finish in the Flamingo Stakes and a second in a division of the Wood Memorial. Both of these races were won by Stir Up, who went on to finish third in the Kentucky Derby. Stymie did not start at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, but did start in the Preakness, finishing a distant sixth. Stymie started twenty-nine times as a three year old, winning only three times but placing second or third fifteen times during the year, with seven of those results coming is stakes races.

Following two busy campaigns of hard racing, Stymie was given plenty of time off. A temporary war time ban on racing was implemented by the US government, which helped to necessitate the vacation. This gave Jacobs time to work with Stymie’s issues of trust with people. Stymie was an edgy, nervous colt around humans, so Jacobs decided to reduce the amount of human contact the colt had in order for Stymie to become more trusting with those whom he became used to. The effort worked to calm the colt.

Stymie’s final race in 1944 came on November 25, in the two and one-half miles long Pimlico Cup, where he finished third to Megogo and Bolingbroke. Stymie re-appeared on May 22, 1945 in an allowance race at Jamaica Park finishing second. The time off seemed to give Stymie a refreshed outlook as he matured to become the darling of race fans. His signature come-from-behind style of racing, along with his distinct way of running with his head held high, endeared him to race goers along the east coast. He had paid his dues, learned his craft, and was ready to take the turf world by storm.

Stymie became a stakes winner on June 2, 1945 when he won the Grey Lag Handicap. It was only the fifth win of any type in his career. Following a pair of second place finishes in the Suburban Handicap and the Queen’s County, Stymie became a major winner when he stormed home, after being twelve lengths behind, one and quarter lengths ahead of Devil Diver in the prestigious and lucrative Brooklyn Handicap.

Throughout the 1945 racing season, Stymie raced against the best horses in training, such as Armed, Pot O’ Luck, Devil Diver, Olympic Zenith and Pavot. He won eight stakes races, placed second three times and third four times. Among his stakes wins important nuggets like the Saratoga Cup, Westchester Handicap, and the Pimlico Cup. The latter was the final race of the year for Stymie where he won over a gruelling two and one-half miles on a very heavy track. At season’s end he had made nineteen starts, seventeen of which were in stakes company.

The consistency Stymie showed during this season was remarkable. In his nineteen races, he failed to hit the board only twice. His nine total wins on the year, one was in an overnight handicap, against the top competition in the land earned Stymie champion handicap horse honours in the US. After two years of languishing as a hard knocking horse with some potential, that potential had come to fruition. Patience has its virtues.

The following year was much the same. In twenty starts Stymie won eight times, seven of which were stakes victories. He defended his titles in the Grey Lag and the Saratoga Cup, the latter in a walkover. Stymie also added the Gallant Fox Handicap (in track record time), Manhattan Handicap and the Whitney. New challengers in the forms of Assault, Rico Monte and the great fillies Gallorette and Bridal Flower joined returnees Pavot and Armed in the handicap ranks. While Stymie continued his impressive consistency in placing on the board, he had five seconds and four thirds in stakes races to go with his seven stake victories, the championship voters chose Armed as the top handicap horse for the year.

In the eyes of the public however, Stymie was still their champion. 1947 saw him return to the races on April 30 at Jamaica Park in a six furlong allowance race. Obviously too short for the long-winded stretch runner, Stymie could only finish fifth. He did not defend his Grey Lag title in his next race finishing fourth to Assault, but made amends in a big way the next time out when he came from eleven lengths back to win the one mile Metropolitan Handicap. He won this race, which many consider as one his finest performances, leaving Assault and Gallorette in his wake.

Stymie went on to capture six more stakes races in 1947, including a repeat victory in the Gallant Fox Handicap, finished second in five stakes and third in two. Again he faced the best handicappers in the country and his record was as consistent as before, but he lost out for championship honours to Armed, who was also named as the Horse of the Year.

In 1948 the now seven year old Stymie returned for another year of racing. Racing fans were delighted but it seemed that Stymie was beginning to get long in the tooth in the opinion of the racing press. While he still had some of his flair and those patented long sweeping rushes around the far turn into the home stretch were still there, those performances were not as consistent as they had been. From April 17 to July 24 Stymie made eleven starts. He won four races, including a scintillating repeat performance in the Metropolitan, was placed in all the other races but two. However following a fourth place finish in the Monmouth Handicap, Stymie pulled up lame with a cracked sesamoid.  That finished his year, but not his career.

Hirsh Jacobs brought his star back for another swing in 1948. Stymie made only five starts without winning. The sesamoid was still not letting him run with his usual efficiency. Jacobs retired Stymie following a second place finish in the eighteen furlong New York Handicap in which he was poised to win but could not continue his closing kick due to his ailment. Stymie retired from the track as the all time leading money earning Thoroughbred in the world with a bank roll of $918,485. He would hold the lead until Citation surpassed him in 1951.

The money Stymie earned for the Jacobs allowed them to buy a farm in Maryland, which they named Stymie Manor. However Stymie did not stand stud there. He began his stud career at Hagyard Farm in Kentucky. He died in 1962 at Hagyard, but had spent six years at Sunny Slope Ranch in California before his return to Hagyard. He had what would be called an average stud career getting 12 stakes winners from a total of 214 named foals. He did get 167 winners however and his get were sound honest performers in general.

The most important offspring that Stymie sired was his daughter Rare Treat. A multiple stakes winner of some importance, Rare Treat would produce the exceptional filly What A Treat from a cover to Tudor Minstrel. What A Treat was the champion three year old filly of 1965 and later produced Be My Guest sired by Northern Dancer. Be My Guest was an exceptional miler in England and Ireland before becoming a leading sire in those countries. Another good winner produced by Rare Treat was Ring Twice by Gallant Man. Ring Twice won the Widener Handicap, named after his owner, and the Stymie Handicap, named after his dam sire.

When we look back on Stymie, we have to ask the question, “Where did his talent come from?” His parents were pedestrian at best, but looking further into his pedigree we see some exceptional class.  His sire Equestrian was sired by the great handicapper Equipoise, and was out of the Man ‘O War mare Frilette. Equestrian was inbred to five times leading sire Broomstick as both of his parents were out of Broomstick mares.

Stymie’s dam Stop Watch was sired by On Watch, a son of the great undefeated legend Colin, and was out of a Man ‘O War mare named Sunset Gun. Her second dam Noontide was a daughter of Colin, which makes Stop Watch inbred to Colin 3×5. Thus by breeding Equestrian to Stop Watch, the resulting foal Stymie was in bred to Man ‘O War 3×3 and had multiple crosses of Broomstick and Colin in his pedigree. Top class stuff to be sure.

Stymie was able to draw on his back class, and after a long period of futility and close calls, became an exciting hard knocking champion on the track. It may have taken him a while to become a top class horse, but the patience was well worth the wait.

Few horses have had the fan following that Stymie enjoyed. His was a style of running that has traditionally brought the fans to their feet, coming from well back with one long sweeping powerful run at the leaders. This type of racing style does not always win, but it sure does add to the excitement of the race. His high head carriage also gave have a distinct look as opposed to the other competitors in his races. He was not a brilliant horse, but a steady one. Fans have always appreciated such individuals.

We do not see Stymie’s type anymore. He raced an astonishing 131 times. That number was huge even for that era. He won 35 times, placed second 33 times and was third 28 times. He retired as the leading money earner at that point in time. He took his time to become good, and became one of the great handicap/cup horses of all time. Track conditions did not faze him as we see he won over fast tracks and off tracks with equal consistency.

Stymie was a horse of his time. Today such a horse with minimal early returns on the track would not be given the chance to prove himself. Patience with Stymie was rewarded. Good things come to those that wait.

Colour Photo of Stymie (source unknown)

Photo of Stymie and Hirsch Jacobs (courtesy of Keeneland Library/Meadors Collection)

2 comments

  • Thanks for this. I always enjoy reading your articles and appreciate the work that goes into them.

    Old warriors like Stymie have virtually disappeared in racing today. Imagine a top class horse that ran more than twice as many times as Forego. The spindle legged wilting flowers of the Mr. P and Northern Dancer lines would never survive such a workload. Racing 28 times at two??? Amazing.

    Anyway, thanks again. I don’t comment much but read everything that you write. Much respect.

  • My wife has a newspaper clipping of Stymie and Herschel Jacobs , trainer, from September 1947 from the Sunday news in New York yes D

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