Original Punters

by Ed Meyer

posted on February 27, 2009 in Educational Articles, General Discussion | No Comments >>

When you read about the history of the first real horse players, a few names stand out that had nerves of steel, and a love of the game.

If you haven’t heard of Pittsburgh Phil, you must have live in a cave. Many would call him the founding father of horse players. In February 1905, that all came to an end. The Utica Sunday Journal picked up a story from The New York Sun that his health was failing. His nervous system had been shattered by intense strain and worry about his endeavors.

He was one who never gave into feelings. He was as cool as a cucumber. This is the way of the big timers. They didn’t yell when they won, or cry when they lost. He made wagers at the time that would translate into six digit bets today.  He always had an edge, and as with many men of the wagering world, this is what makes the good into great.

Michael and Phil Dwyer were former butchers in New York. They became known for their big money stables, and they won the Belmont Stakes five times. They were also instrumental in building Gravesend Race Track in Coney Island.

Their betting stories became legendary. One story told of how Dwyer once made a wager of $40,000 on one of his famous racehorses and lost. He saw that his runner was bested in the last jump and cooly remarked: “That was a fast run race.” – A note, $40,000 in 1900 equates to $975,000 today.

Just as Pittsburgh Phil, his cool and calm demeanor may have been what killed him.  The strain of keeping cool under the strain of such weight takes its toll on anyone.

In 1916, a horse called George Smith won the Kentucky Derby. That was Pittsburgh Phil’s birth name. The Maxims of Pittsburgh Phil were written, and still remain in print over a hundred years later.

New York racing honored the Dwyer brothers when they renamed the Brooklyn handicap the Dwyer in 1918.