What’s in a (Race) Name? The Dwyer Brothers

A trio of elite runners campaigned by the Dwyer brothers (clockwise from left): Hanover, Hindoo and Luke Blackburn. (WikiMedia Commons/Public Domain)

In the long history of Thoroughbred racing in the United States, it’s possible that no ownership team has been more thoroughly dominant than that of Philip J. Dwyer and Michael F. Dwyer, two brothers who campaigned one of the deepest and most remarkable stables in the industry.

It helped that the two brothers had ample money with which to purchase horses; as described in “The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America,” by William H. P. Robertson, “their father owned a butcher shop … which the boys inherited and expanded to a highly successful wholesale meat business.” In fact, Philip Dwyer would wind up as a millionaire.

A list of the great horses raced by the Dwyer brothers reads like a “who’s who” of champions from the late 1800s. These include …

Hanover: Remarkable win streaks and busy schedules were common for horses owned by the Dwyers, and Hanover was no exception. After an abbreviated 2-year-old season in 1886 during which he went 3-for-3 (all in stakes races), Hanover came back even better as a 3-year-old and won 14 races in the span of just 10 weeks, extending his win streak to 17 consecutive victories while winning such important races as the Belmont Stakes and Brooklyn Derby. He eventually retired with a record of 32 wins from 50 starts, and his career earnings of $118,872 stood as a record for the time.

Hindoo: As talented as Hanover might have been, his sire, Hindoo, might have been even better. As a 3-year-old in 1881, he did even better than Hanover by winning 18 straight races, among them the Kentucky Derby and the Travers Stakes.

Kingston: While Kingston never compiled a single winning streak as impressive as those of Hanover and Hindoo, he won often enough that by the time he retired at the age of 10—recognized as a two-time champion older male—he had won a record-breaking 89 races. To this day, no North American racehorse has surpassed that record. Thanks to his longevity and astonishing number of victories, Kingston was briefly the all-time leading money earner in North American racing history.

Luke Blackburn: During an incredibly busy 3-year-old season, Luke Blackburn won a staggering 22 of his 24 starts; Robertson noted that when Luke Blackburn won the Grand Union Prize Stakes with ease, “jockey Jimmy McLaughlin was so tired from trying to hold back the winner that he had difficulty returning to [the] scale for weighing in.”

Miss Woodford: Just as Citation became the first horse to win $1 million and Curlin became the first to win $10 million, Miss Woodford was the first to reach a much earlier milestone. The remarkable mare, viewed as Horse of the Year in 1883 and 1884, became the first horse to surpass $100,000 in earnings, doing so as a 5-year-old in 1885 on her way to a final tally of $118,270.

Incredibly, the five horses described above were simply the future Hall of Fame runners owned by the Dwyer brothers. Other stars included the champions Tremont, George Kinney, Sir Dixon, and Bella B., to name a few.

Disagreements caused the Dwyer brothers to go their separate ways in the early 1890s, though the split did little to halt their individual success in racing. Mike Dwyer would campaign several more champions, including the Kentucky Derby winner and future Hall of Famer Ben Brush, as well as Potomac, Longstreet, and Cleophus. Phil Dwyer never raced another champion, but did own Handspring, a talented colt that was beaten by just a neck when second in the 1896 Belmont Stakes.

Mike Dwyer passed away in 1906, while Phil Dwyer lived until 1917. Following Phil Dwyer’s death, the Brooklyn Derby was renamed the Dwyer Stakes in 1918 and has remained an important race for 3-year-olds ever since.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and recall the history behind a few other upcoming races …

Grade 3 Victory Ride Stakes at Belmont Park

At her preferred distance of seven-eighths of a mile, Victory Ride was an unstoppable force — she went 4-for-4 at that distance, including a decisive 3 ¼-length victory over future champion Xtra Heat in the Grade 1 Test Stakes at Saratoga. At all other distances, Victory Ride wasn’t as successful and compiled a 1-for-5 record, though she ran well in three of those losses, including a narrow defeat in the one-mile, Grade 1 Acorn Stakes.

River Memories Stakes at Belmont Park

River Memories wasn’t a frequent winner — in fact, she didn’t win at all during her 4-year-old season in 1988 — but when she did win, you could almost guarantee her success would come in a race of significance! Starting her career in France, River Memories won three group stakes races before a trip to North America yielded a victory in the 1987 Grade 1 Rothmans International Stakes at Woodbine. She was eventually transferred to the barn of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and remained in the United States, where she picked up another Grade 1 win in the 1989 Flower Bowl Handicap at Belmont Park.

Bertrando Stakes at Los Alamitos

There have been horses more consistent than Bertrando, horses that won more races and horses that won more money. But for durability and versatility over the course of many years, relatively few can compare with the California-bred star. As a 2-year-old in 1991, he won the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes, Grade 2 Del Mar Futurity, and finished second in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, just missing out on a championship. But unlike some juvenile stars that fade away as they get older, Bertrando improved with age and was named the champion older male of 1993 following victories in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic, Grade 1 Woodward Stakes (the latter by 13 ½ lengths) and a runner-up effort in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Later on, he would even win a stakes race on turf!

Who Doctor Who Stakes at Horsemen’s Park

Horsemen’s Park isn’t one of the best-known racetracks in the country, but the Omaha, Neb. track puts on a few stakes races each year, including a $20,000 sprint race named for Who Doctor Who, a beloved Nebraska-bred fan favorite at tracks throughout the midwest. Running 64 times from age two through age nine, Who Doctor Who won 33 races, including a memorable match race at Ak-Sar-Ben against fellow fan favorite Explosive Girl.

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