The Tale of Frank Hayes, the Only Jockey to Win a Horse Race While Dead

Frank Hayes is believed to be the only jockey in history to win an official horse race while dead. He suffered a heart attack while competing at New York’s Belmont Park in 1923.

According to Frank’s mother, the young stable boy and apprentice jockey had always been fond of hoses and dreamed of one day becoming a full-time race jockey, so when finally given the chance to prove himself in a 2-mile, 12-jump race at Belmont Park, he leaped at the opportunity. Frank Hayes loved training horses, and one of his favorites was Sweet Kiss, a 7-year-old unremarkable mare that wasn’t well thought of even by her owners. She had 20-1 odds in the big race and wasn’t expected to pull off anything extraordinary, but Frank believed she could win, so Sweet Kiss’ owners gave him the chance to prove it. This would be their only race together, but one that would be remembered a century later.

Photo: Jeff Griffith/Unsplash

Having the opportunity to prove himself in a big race at New York’s Belmont Park meant everything to Frank, but there was one big problem. He weighed 142 pounds, way too much for a respectable jockey, and he needed to lose weight fast. He was told that the only way he could take part in the race was to slim down to 130 pounds, but with only days to go, it was an almost impossible goal. But Frank wasn’t going to let the opportunity of a lifetime pass him by…

According to the Buffalo Morning Express, Frank Hayes embarked on a grueling weight loss routine that involved hours of intense exercise and minimal food intake, but with only 24 hours before the race, he was still 10 pounds over the limit. So he pushed himself even harder, denying himself water and sweating like crazy to make weight. He did so, but as he climbed in the saddle for the race, he was visibly weak and tired.

On June 4th, Frank Hayes made history. After a brilliant race that kept spectators on the edge of their seats, Sweet Kiss crossed the finish line first, beating fan favorite Gimme by a head. It was a shocking win that no one, least of all the horse’s owners, expected, so when they came to guide Sweet Kiss to the winner’s circle, they almost didn’t notice that there was something wrong with the jockey.

Frank Hayes lay motionless in the saddle, and the race doctor soon pronounced him dead. At some point during the race, he suffered a heart attack and slumped against Sweet Kiss, but never fell off. Experts had observed that Sweet Kiss swerved slightly while approaching the final jump, which was later attributed to the jockey slumping forward too much. It was a bizarre win, but because the jockey stayed on the horse until they crossed the finish line, the result was valid.


At the time, newspapers wrote that the “exertion and excitement proved too great” for Frank Hayes, but few knew about his pre-existing health problems, which were undoubtedly exacerbated by his extreme weight-loss routine.

Hayes became the first jockey to win a horse race while dead in the saddle, and his name became a legend of the sport, despite this being only his second-ever race. As for Sweet Kiss, she never raced again, as the tragedy of Frank’s death made jockeys unwilling to ride her. Some sources claimed she got the nickname ‘Sweet Kiss of Death’.