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orse racing used to be quite popular back in the day and it is still popular in England. There are many bizarre and fascinating stories from the world of sports within history, but nothing can beat Frank Hayes, a jockey that became popular in the 1920s. Horse riding became very popular in the United States due to the sports betting scene. Out of all the sports out there, betting on horses was the most attractive gambling event around.

Frank Hayes’ Dream

Frank Hayes (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Being a jockey might seem simple, but it was actually quite hard to become a jockey back in the early 1900s. You had to understand horses and care for them for other jockeys before going up in the ranks. Since 1901 when Hayes was born he dreamt of being a successful jockey.

In an article published in the Times Union newspaper on the 5th of June 1923, it is written that Haye’s mother mentioned that he was interested in horses from a young age as well as his dreams of becoming a jockey. It wasn’t until the age of 20 when he managed to become a stable hand for jockeys. His job was to take care of the horses and train them for upcoming races.

He was 22 years old when he first met the horse which would literally take him to glory. Her name was Sweet Kiss and she was a 7-year-old horse that never won a race up to that day. Sweet Kiss was actually the horse with the lowest odds of winning, therefore not many people were betting on her.

For months Hayes had trained Swee Kiss, getting to know the horse and her abilities. Despite what his boss was saying about the incapable horse, Hayes knew that the horse could win a race. Hayes got the horse up to a very good physical standard, but no Jockey wanted to ride a losing horse. Therefore Hayes persuaded his boss to let him ride Sweet Kiss in the next race.

The only problem was that Hayes was too heavy to race, a jockey had to weigh at most 130 pounds in order to have a chance at winning, otherwise it would just weigh the horse down. Hayes weighed 142 pounds, so he had two weeks to lose 12 pounds in order to enter the race. He spent most of his free time running in order to lose weight.

Day of the race

The race took place on the 4th of June 1923 at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York which is actually one of the oldest horse race tracks in America. Belmont Park race track was built in 1905 and since then has seen a fair share of horse races, even functioning to this day.

An article published in Buffalo Morning Express on the 5th of June 1923 mentions that in the morning before the race, Hayes spent several hours running in order to lose as much weight as possible, improving his chances to win. Hayes was very tired from two weeks where he tried to go through an extreme weight loss process and this can be seen on his face.

Frank Hayes and Sweet Kiss before the race in 1923 (Source: HeadStuff)

As the race started Sweet Kiss was holding a strong position in the middle, towards the end of the race Sweet Kiss started to gain an advantage in the first place and managed to win her first-ever race. At some point in the race, Hayes died, however, in a very strange way, his body managed to stay on the saddle despite the horse jumping hurdles.

During the race, no one noticed that Hayes was in fact dead. Some found it interesting that he was holding the saddle with only one hand. Others thought he was just showing off as it was his first race as a jockey. Even after he passed the finish line and his body dropped dead when the horse stopped, everyone thought he just stumbled and fell. It only took a few moments for people to realize that something was wrong with Hayes as he was not getting up.

An article from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle published on 5th of June 1923 (Source: Newspapers)

The doctor present on the track that day was named John A. Voorhees. He rushed to check on Hayes but he was dead. At the first look, the doctor believed it must have been a heart attack. It was later confirmed that it was most probably a heart attack due to the extensive training he put his body through in order to lose weight quickly. Extreme weight loss methods were not something out of the ordinary for jockeys, but till that day no one had died from this.

All the news outlets had exploded, only seeing Hayes’ name on the front page. The best one is definitely the one from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle “Jockey Hayes, Victim of Heart Disease, Earns Goal But the Effort Kills Him.” Although Hayes was not able to live long enough to see that he had won his first race, he reached his goal of becoming a popular jockey and proving that Sweet Kiss could win a race.

Those who bet on Sweet Kiss won huge, with total winning around $1775 (taking into consideration inflation, today that would be $28,710). Not only that, but Hayes managed to make it into the Guinness World Records, despite being dead, making him the first person to achieve a record whilst being dead.

Since that day, Sweet Kiss was forcefully retired as no jockey dared to ride it due to the nickname it has received since the race: Sweet Kiss of Death.

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