In 1923, the stunned crowd at the Belmont Park horse circuit watched as Sweet Kiss crossed the finish the line at the head of the pack. At 20 to 1 odds to win that day, it was shock, though not quite as much of a shock as when Sweet Kiss’ rider slumped off the horse’s back and fell to the dirt.
Both the horse and the jockey were virgins on the circuit, and the race was their horse racing debut; not just at Belmont, but anywhere. Frank Hayes, the rider, was a longtime stableman who’d cared for the horse though the owner didn’t see much promise in either. Frank, however, managed to convince his boss that they were ready and they were given permission to lineup alongside everyone else.
Belmont was a major track back then, and even now it’s one of the highest profile courses on the Thoroughbred Circuit. Most notably, it hosts “The Belmont Stakes,” the final leg of the “Triple Crown” races. Tough competition for two first-timers, and even their low odds were generous.
All were surprised by Sweet Kiss’ lead, no more than Frank Hayes who suffered a heart attack towards the end of the race. He was dead before he crossed the finish line.
Hayes holds the somewhat dubious distinction of an undefeated record and, an almost guaranteed spot in the record books as the only athlete to ever win an event after dying.
The horse, though established as a winner, would never be raced again, as superstitious jockeys feared suffering as Hayes had. This serves as an important reminder that in the sporting world there is one thing more important than victory — staying alive.