June 1906: Reflections on the passing of the great Sysonby and the overlooked Claude

Sysonby and Claude! Two names famous in turf history – one an aristocrat of the turf, born in the purple, reared with the tenderness of a royal infant, the other a humble son of a lowly sire, neglected in his youth, left in his early life to hustle for himself, and sold for a paltry $250. Each was a hero among thoroughbreds, and each in the last week found an all too early grave.

What a life of contrasts, theirs! When the mighty Sysonby died on Sunday, his death was published far and wide; he was acclaimed the horse of the century; long stories filled columns on the front pages of the daily press, the horse and his triumphs were lauded, even editors of leading papers wrote of the colt and his victories; men who had never read of the turf and its battles pored over the story of Sysonby with interest.

When poor Claude died, a belated dispatch carried the news of his death, and his obituary was contained in a paragraph hidden away among the notes of gossip of the sporting pages.

Yet Claude deserves as much credit, as much praise as the famous Sysonby. In his career on the turf he achieved a greater thing than Sysonby – he raised his owner, a poor man, into comfortable circumstances. Sysonby was the property of a man rolling in wealth.

Sysonby had every comfort a horse of royal lineage could be given; a high-priced trainer gave him every attention; a retinue of human servants waited upon his every whim; his food was selected with the utmost care, and only the choicest morsels of sweet new hay or oats found their way to his feed box. When he traveled he rode in state. He had a special car, the sides of which were upholstered with softest cushions. Attendants traveled with him to see that he never wanted. He was guarded as a mother guards her child. He was not raced often, and never when he showed the slightest sign of weakness.

Poor, lowly Claude, early placed in training and never given even a week’s vacation, was buffeted about the country from New York to California and Canada to New Orleans. One day he raced in San Francisco; a week later he was winning the Derby at Memphis; within a few days he was receiving the plaudits of thousands when he finished first in the St. Louis Derby; and two days after he was coming home in front of his field in the Frontier Derby in Canada. No rest for Claude. When there happened to be a race that looked easy for him, the leg-weary Lissak colt was dragged out of his stall to battle against fresher horses. But he was always honest, always courageous; he could be found fighting every foot of the way, and it mattered not how far the distance; he struggled on and on to the end, and often – twenty-eight times – he got to the wire in front. Many and many a race he ran when no doubt his weary legs were too tired to carry him; but he always tried his best.

Sysonby, petted and pampered, ran fifteen times and was defeated only once. He met the best the turf afforded and with that single exception always came out victorious. But he didn’t have to race day in and day out like Claude; he didn’t have to travel all over the United States.

Sysonby won in his two years on the track $180,000; Claude won $75,000 in four years and when three years old placed no less than four Derbies to his credit, and earned the title of the iron horse.

All honor to the royal Sysonby, son of the English Melton: in his third year crowned king of the turf, a distinction fairly won and well deserved.

Honor, too, to the honest, rugged, game, little Claude, son of the American horse Lissak, whose achievements on the turf will not be forgotten by many a man whom he pulled out of a hole and least of all by his owner, “Mike” Daly.

In the death of Sysonby, the American turf has suffered a great loss. For many years men interested in the thoroughbred have been importing English horses “to improve the breed” in this country. Sysonby was a distinctly English type, not handsome, but impressive. He was muscular, full of reserve force, winning each race with just the necessary effort and relaxing immediately, as is the habit of most really great horses. He was kind and gentle, and in his long illness showed remarkable patience. The loss of his blood strain is immeasurable, for without doubt he was an exceptional animal, as the post-mortem examination disclosed.”
(Harry N. Price / The Washington Post, 06/24/1906)


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