Sep 21, 2012
AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD-HOOFBEATS FROM THE PAST DOOLEY ADAMS: EVERY YEAR WAS LEAP YEAR
By: HOWARD ROWE
The following is an article from the Hoofbeats From The Past book by Howard Rowe. If you would like to order the book call 1-800-645-2240.
DOOLEY ADAMS: EVERY YEAR WAS LEAP YEAR
O’Neil Sevier, the dean of America’s turf scribes who passed on in 1950, was a harsh critic of horse and rider. His terse comments during the running of a race would frequently blister the air, and rare indeed was a flattering remark dropped even when merited. Those who were close to the veteran of 60 racing seasons said only two jockeys ever received verbal bouquets from this crusty reporter: the old-timer Arthur Redfern and a steeplechase rider, Frank David Adams.
Sevier said of Adams, “If the stranglers on the flats saved half the ground in their races that Adams saves in those jumps, we’d have Arcaros at every racetrack.”
F.D. Adams was more than deserving of Sevier’s praise. “Dooley,” as he was known to steeplechasing fans everywhere, was an intelligent and extremely industrious young man, surprisingly mature for his years. A true lover of horses, he was the leader of his profession because of a devotion to the sport itself, as well as the animals he rode. He was as concerned with the future of the game as he was with his personal problems and felt that steeplechasing in his day was merely tolerated and that the racing public generally was apathetic primarily because of a lack of understanding of the true nature of jumping contests.
Having ridden for Mrs. Isabel Dodge Sloane’s Brookmeade Stable, Mrs. Marion dePont Scott’s Montpelier and Rigan McKinney, Adams knew the people behind the scenes and who made the sport possible. Breeders, owners, trainers and, in many cases, riders are in the game because they feel that no sport on earth compares to the thrill of racing over obstacles.
“Steeplechasing,” Adams explained, “is a true test of stamina and courage, for both horse and rider. I have no desire to detract from flat racing, but a much greater demand is made upon the jumper. It is true that the reward is comparably trivial. A champion fencer earns a fraction of the purses available to even mediocre runners.”
In 1949 and 1950 Adams led the list of American jump riders. The total winnings of his mounts in ’50 were only $92,438. Compared with the $1,410,160 earned by the horses Eddie Arcaro rode, this seems a pittance. Of course, jump riders have advantages which flat riders do not enjoy. Tracks that feature a steeplechase stage only one contest daily, and the boys who handle the riding assignments are not overworked. Diet, too, is not much of a problem, for many riders pass the 125-pound mark, which Dooley felt to be the ideal weight. The scale for hurdlers and jumpers starts at 130. Most boys that ride jumps have no agents, and those who are not affiliated with a stable usually solicit their own mounts. The remuneration per mount is considerably higher than the fees flat riders receive.
Dooley Adams was a native New Yorker, born in Port Chester. His mother and dad were both horse lovers, and his mother, Mrs. C.E. Adams, was well known to racing fans as the trainer of such popular winners as Refugio, Reno Sam and Errolford. Adams senior managed the Greenwich Polo Club and later the Watertown Hunt Club in Connecticut, until poor health necessitated a journey westward.
For many years after, the Adams itinerary embraced most of the United States and Mexico, and whether racing greyhounds in Florida or thoroughbreds in Agua Caliente, the life he lived as a youngster contributed much to Dooley’s career. At the tender age of seven, his first attempt to guide a horse over a stone wall resulted in a serious injury. A broken leg, gangrenous infection from the cast, and near-amputation was Dooley’s first in a series of contacts with the medicos.
At the age of 14 and weighing exactly 116 he rode his first jumper at Agua Caliente and was barely beaten out of third money. Just six months later, two weeks before his 15th birthday, Dooley won his first race on Refugio.
Refugio, incidentally, is the same dignified gray that carried Mrs. Adams’ silks in the English Grand National in 1947. Dooley faced 56 competitors in that second largest of all Grand National fields and finished seventh, astounding the British experts who predicted, to a man, that Adams would not get past the first obstacle.
“They were sure that a forward seat would be impractical and dangerous on the treacherous Aintree course,” Adams said. “To skilled Britishers, who knew every inch of the terrain, it proved tough enough. Forty of the 57 didn’t finish that day.” It was obvious that Adams took more pride in finishing a good seventh at Aintree than in riding many a stakes winner in this country.
To return to the Caliente period, young Adams managed to obtain a trainer’s license while not yet 16. Facilus still holds a track record for the mile and three-quarters at the Mexican track. Later, after a siege of jaundice, Dooley tried his hand at flat racing and rode his first winner in 1942, the same year his older sister Joan made headlines by winning a match race aboard Refugio. Joan defeated the Hollywood stunt girl, Marjorie Manning, who rode the imported French horse, Notley.
After a spell of activity at the Hipodromo de las Americas, Senor Pagliai’s delightful arena in Mexico’s capital, Adams, still an apprentice, hit the Big Apple, and his New York record for that year, 1944, reveals a modest three winners. In 1946 he tied Jack Magee for national honors with 28 winners, and the previous year had rung up 19, including a Canadian tally. In 1947 he was second to Tommy Field with 23, and he was the leader in 1949 and 1950. In 1948 he finished second to Danny Marzani with 20.
“Elkridge is undoubtedly the best I’ve ridden,” Adams said. Of course, Adams rode many good jumpers besides Elkridge. He had the mount on Algasir, the gelding for which Mrs. Ambrose Clark gave over a hundred grand and sent over hurdles just once. Sun Bath, War Battle, Oedipus, Floating Isle, Fulton and old Refugio are high on the list of “good ones” that Dooley remembered with fondness. But even a name rider gets a hopeless mount occasionally, and one day Dooley managed to get stuck on a hide entitled Ducker, which had no chance to win, but did and paid exactly $61 for each optimistic deuce.
Dooley considered Jack Magee and George Walker the two best contemporary reinsmen. He also mentioned Flint Schulhofer (now a trainer) who was out of action because of a back injury.
Adams won four runnings of Saratoga’s Beverwick and three renewals of the Saratoga Steeplechase Handicap. He also won the International at Belmont twice, as well as doubles in the Forget Hurdle Handicap at Aqueduct and the Turf Writers’ Hurdle Handicap at Belmont. Suffolk Downs, Bel Air, Delaware, Toronto and Pimlico, where he rode a winner of the Battleship Steeplechase Handicap, are a few of the courses over which Sadams displayed the championship quality which kept him ahead of the class.
“Flat racing,” said Adams, “is aware of the debt it owes steeplechasing. Back in those dark days before World War I, when Governor Hughes had made flat racing a memory, the sport was almost wiped out in this country. The spark of encouragement so necessary to breeders and horsemen to keep it alive was supplied by steeplechase and hunt meetings. Interest and enthusiasm were maintained at a time when a lack of it would have been the end of racing. Horsemen, especially the old-timers, know and remember the part that the jumpers played in this critical period.” Steeplechasing, said Adams, is “the cleanest and finest sport anywhere.”
Note: Dooley Adams died Nov. 12, 2004 in Southern Pines, North Carolina.
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