Deweycheatumnhowe - 2008
An orphaned colt named for a comedy act turned the tables on the harness world and instead developed into a deadly serious contender on the racetrack, dominating all competition for two straight years. Deweycheatumnhowe, named for a skit about an unscrupulous law firm, defined his career by trotting decisively into the history books as the first ever undefeated horse to win the Hambletonian.
"Dewey" was foaled at breeder Steve Jones' Cameo Farm in Montgomery, New York. Six weeks after his birth, his dam died from intestinal problems and Dewey was left to fend for himself. He remained with the broodmare band and their foals, and grabbed meals wherever there was an opportunity.
Dewey met the first adversity of his life head on, and grew to be more than 16 hands, or about 65 inches at the shoulder. His size, even as a 2-year-old, may have worked against him in the auction ring, but trainer/driver Ray Schnittker felt the colt looked good enough to warrant an $80,000 final bid. Schnittker retained an ownership share in the strapping son of Muscles Yankee, and regular partners Frank Baldassare and Charlie Iannazzo, as well as Ted Gewertz (an attorney with a sense of humor) went in on the colt as well. Gewertz had actually owned the dam of Deweycheatumnhowe, Trolley Square, but sold her in 1998.
"In his first baby race, I could tell that he might be something special," Schnittker reflected on his youngster's progress at 2. "He finished second, yet he made up 15 or 20 lengths, and he was really motoring down the lane. It was his stride. I always thought he'd be at least a decent horse, and maybe better later on in his career because he was so big, but he's also so athletic."
Dewey proved Schnittker right, and racked up 10 straight wins – including victories in the Harriman Cup, New Jersey Sire Stakes final, International Stallion and Bluegrass Stakes, Valley Victory and Breeders Crown – as he marched through his freshman campaign to divisional honors. By August of his freshman year he added more owners, in the form of Jerry Silva, who also owned the top 2-year-old filly contender, Snow White, as well Alan and Meg Leavitt's Walnut Hall Ltd. of Kentucky.
In October 2008 it was announced that Dewey would stand at Walnut Hall Ltd. for the 2009 breeding season at a fee of $25,000, with a limited book of 140 mares. Shares in his breeding future sold furiously and many of the sport's top breeders and owners across the globe had a new rooting interest.
Schnittker and Dewey set a single-season earnings record of $936,191 for a 2-year-old trotting colt and were quite properly voted Dan Patch and Nova awards as the best of his group. Dewey assumed the mantle of Hambletonian winter-book favorite.
During the off-season Schnittker rode, swam and jogged his charge, to keep him fresh and sound. The regimen worked so well that Schnittker incorporated the unorthodox exercise into his racing schedule, often swimming the big horse at a pond on his farm. Deweycheatumnhowe may be the only Hambletonian prospect ever ridden under Western saddle.
By June, Dewey was ready to launch his Hambletonian assault, and after a pair of ridiculously easy qualifiers, made his debut in winning the Dickerson Cup. Schnittker had purposefully planned a road to the Hambo that did not involve leaving the Meadowlands, and with the Stanley Dancer Memorial elim and final ahead, the route looked clear. Dewey lowered his lifetime mark to 1:52.2 in his Dancer elimination, and his best competition, Clerk Magistrate, could not get within four lengths of him. Once again Dewey proved his versatility, causing Schnittker to marvel at the ease with which his big horse could switch gears on the track.
"He was just awesome coming down the lane. He hasn't lost so I guess that's where we want him to be," said Schnittker. "He can do anything; he can leave, he can come from behind. He's real easy to drive, just a really great horse. At the head of the lane I asked him and he just opened up three or four [lengths]. He's got tremendous speed."
One week later Dewey removed any doubt that he would be the overwhelming Hambletonian favorite, cruising to his 13th straight win in the Stanley Dancer Memorial final by a comfortable margin. With two weeks off, Ray and his veterinarian wife, Dr. Janet Durso, entertained a constant stream of visitors and well-wishers who wanted to see the amiable Dewey go for a swim or a trail ride in lieu of traditional training preps. NBC racing analyst Donna Brothers traveled to Middletown, N.Y. to do a feature on Ray and Dewey and the former jockey ended up reporting from atop Dewey's back!
Despite Dewey's dominance, 22 other sophomore trotters dropped in the Hambletonian box against him. Win No. 14 came in the Hambletonian elimination, and one of the perks of winning was choosing a post position for the following week's $1.5 million Hambletonian final. The other elim winners were Crazed and Atomic Hall. Schnittker was second to pick his post and took the rail, the same spot from which he won the $350,000 Stanley Dancer Memorial.
"I've won a lot of races off the rail," said Schnittker, who also qualified Make It Happen for the Hambletonian final. "I'll just see how things develop. You can't tell until the race gate opens up."
Ironically, Schnittker's other Hambletonian qualifier, Make It Happen, was placed in the open draw and drew post 10, so Schnittker interests bookended the field. Deweycheatumnhowe was installed the prohibitive 2-5 favorite for the biggest race of his life.
Hambletonian Day featured a thunderstorm of biblical proportions, but it passed as quickly as it gathered. The track was fast and the air thick with tension as the 10 colts lined up behind the starting car.
In his trademark fashion, Schnittker sent Deweycheatumnhowe sailing to the front in a snappy opening quarter of 26.4 seconds. Schnittker gave his colt a breather down the backstretch, reaching the half in :55, and began to pick up steam again as they put away the challenge of Velocity Hall on the final turn. At the head of the lane, Tim Tetrick popped Crazed out of the pocket, prompting Schnittker to call upon his colt again. Deweycheatumnhowe responded, gamely digging in for a half-length victory over Crazed in 1:52. Schnittker's other Hambletonian entrant, Make It Happen, rallied from eighth at the head of the lane to finish third.
"I was trying to back into Dave [Miller and Velocity Hall] as much as I could," Schnittker said. "I knew he didn't have much stock and was just trying to keep Crazed from having a fresh shot at me, [trying to] keep him in as long as I could. About a quarter of the way down the lane, we were trying for all we could go. He [Crazed] was coming; it was a dogfight. I would have rather won by eight [lengths].
"I have a lot of great partners and a lot of great owners," he added. "I had a lot of people pulling for me and wishing me luck – drivers, race secretaries, judges – it was really surprising."
The win was Dewey's 15th straight, making him the first horse to ever carry an undefeated streak both into and out of the Hambletonian. American swimmer Jenny Thompson, one of the most decorated Olympians in history, presented the silver Hambletonian trophy to the delighted owners, even placing a mock Olympic medal around Dewey's neck.
Dewey may have been named for comedic value, but his extraordinary talent and ability gave him the last laugh on Hambo Day.
If there was an unfortunate spin to the nearly perfect career of Deweycheatumnhowe, it was that he was foaled the same year as pacer Somebeachsomewhere, hailed as one of the greatest pacers to look though a bridle. The "Beach" lost just one race in his career, beaten a neck in the $1 million Meadowlands Pace – and he and Deweycheatumnhowe were very close in the polls for Horse of the Year prior to the Breeders Crown in late November.
Dewey, who had never put a foot wrong in two years, finally suffered a setback in mid-November. A swelling in his throat clearly affected him in the Breeders Crown final, and he finished an uncharacteristic third in the year-end championship series. Somebeachsomewhere won his Crown division in devastating fashion. The die was cast. In February, Somebeachsomewhere was voted Horse of the Year over Deweycheatumnhowe. Dewey, however, is one of only 84 Hambletonian winners, and the only undefeated horse to win it.
Deweycheatumnhowe was voted Trotter of the Year with 155 votes. Two-year-olds Muscle Hill received two and Honorable Daughter had one. "Dewey" also received Dan Patch honors as the best 3-year-old colt trotter.
Deweycheatumnhowe became only the second trotter to reach $2 million in a single year, earning $2.2 million in 2008, and was the first trotter in history to reach $3 million in lifetime purses at the age of 3.
Ray Schnittker was also showered with love by the Harness Writers in the year-end honors. He was voted W.R. Haughton Good Guy and Glen Garnsey Trainer of the Year.
Co-owner Jerry Silva was voted Owner of the Year.
The colt's victories after the Hambletonian included the $930,000 Canadian Trotting Classic, $565,000 World Trotting Derby and a three-heat triumph in the Kentucky Futurity. His eligibility to the Yonkers Trot was discontinued after his 2-year-old season, therefore there was no attempt at becoming a Triple Crown winner. He finished 2008 with 12 wins in 15 races and closed his career with 22 victories in 25 starts and $3.1 million.
Schnittker, a rarity among the catch-driver dominated scene at the Meadowlands, has been down the road to the $1.5 million Hambletonian several times before. He finished third twice with a pair of 40-1 longshots, Armbro Plato  and Armbro Trick , the closest he had come to the Hambletonian trophy.
Runner-up Crazed represented a third generation Hambletonian legacy. His 24-year-old trainer Frank Antonacci Jr., followed in the footsteps of his father, Frank J., uncle, Gerry, and grandfather, Sonny. The Antonaccis and/or Lindy Racing were involved with numerous Hambletonian winners, including Lindy's Pride (1969), Speedy Crown (1971), Probe (1989), Harmonious (1990), Victory Dream (1994), and Continentalvictory (1996).
None of the other foals of Trolley Square, a Speedy Somolli mare who made only $3,100 on the track, achieved the success of Dewey. Breeder Steve Jones purchased Trolley Square in foal to Giant Victory for $37,000 as part of a 1998 dispersal sale of horses owned by Ted Gewertz. The six Trolley Square foals sold by Jones yielded $384,000 at sale. Dewey was Trolley Square's last offspring as she died on June 1, six weeks after he was foaled on April 12, 2005.
Cameo Farms is located in Orange County, N.Y., the birthplace of Hambletonian 10, the great father of all Standardbreds racing today, in whose honor the Hambletonian race was created.
Jones came up with the name Dewey, Cheatum & Howe, a fictional law firm cited in multiple comedy routines over the years by figures as divergent as Johnny Carson, the Three Stooges, Daffy Duck and Groucho Marx, thinking it might attract bidding from Ted Gewertz and his wife, Claire Chappell, who are both attorneys and previously owned Trolley Square.
Deweycheatumnhowe was sold at the 2006 Lexington Selected Sale for $80,000 to Schnittker, Charles Iannazzo, Frank Baldassare and Ted Gewertz. In August of 2007, breeders Alan and Meg Leavitt of Walnut Hall Limited bought a 50 percent interest in the precocious colt as the Deweycheatumnhowe Stable. Schnittker retained 15 percent for himself, Gewertz and Iannazzo each kept 12.5 percent and Baldassare retained 10 percent.
Schnittker has up to 50 horses in training, split between Mark Ford's new training center, in Wallkill, N.Y., and the historic Goshen, N.Y. oval. The Buffalo native worked alongside his father, Warren, and campaigned a strong stable of claiming horses on the New York circuit in the 1980s. Schnittker's breakthrough at the Meadowlands came with Covert Action, who won the 1991 Presidential [paying a stakes record $118]. Covert Action earned $1,183,594 while racing from 1987 through 1995, winning 49 of his 251 starts. The pacer's success gave Schnittker the financial freedom to buy better quality horses. He credits his wife, equine veterinarian Dr. Janet Durso with playing a vital role in the stable's success, lending her expertise to both the daily care of the horses and in selecting yearlings to buy.
Deweycheatumnhowe was driven in all his starts by Schnittker. Despite the overwhelming prevalence of catch-drivers in the sport, Schnittker joined a growing group of trainer/drivers who have triumphed in the Hambletonian in the past decade. They include Vivid Photo [Roger Hammer – 2005], Windsong's Legacy [Trond Smedshammer – 2004] and Scarlet Knight [Stefan Melander – 2001].
Schnittker also developed and sold Here Comes Herbie (2006) and Strong Yankee (2005), who reached the Hambletonian final in their 3-year-old campaigns for trainer Trond Smedshammer.
Ted Gewertz now has three Hambletonian trophies to his credit, with two previous wins coming from Giant Victory (1991) and Windsong's Legacy (2004).
Jerry Silva also added a third Hambletonian trophy to his collection. He was part of the ownerships of prior Hambletonian winners Continentalvictory (1996) and Self Possessed (1999).
Charles Iannazzo and Frank Baldassare, longtime patrons of the Schnittker stable, celebrated their first Hambletonian win.
Walnut Hall Limited produced 2003 Hambletonian winner Amigo Hall. Walnut Hall Limited is owned by Meg Nichols Leavitt, 63, of Lexington, KY, and Alan Leavitt, 72, of Lexington, KY. Meg is the great-granddaughter of Lamon Harkness, who founded Walnut Hall Farm more than a century ago. Walnut Hall Farm produced eight Hambletonian winners from 1932 to 1956.
Dewey never lost a stakes final until the Breeders Crown, the last race of his career. His only prior losses came in an elimination race for the Canadian Trotting Classic (snapping his 17-race win streak) and a heat of the Kentucky Futurity.
Deweycheatumnhowe is a son of 1998 Hambletonian winner Muscles Yankee.
Earlier on the card, Illinois émigré, Andy Miller scored the biggest win of his driving career behind Creamy Mimi in the $750,000 Hambletonian Oaks for fillies for trainer Trond Smedshammer. Lantern Kronos, the 3-5 favorite, was caught wide early and made a three-wide move to finish second. Stage Show was third.
Trainer Trond Smedshammer was relieved to finally hoist the Oaks trophy after near misses in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Creamy Mimi was a $165,000 yearling purchase by owners Marvin Katz and Al Libfeld of Ontario.
A crowd of 25,006 turned out to watch the 83rd Hambletonian. A total of $1,524,115 was wagered on the eighth race Hambletonian.