Dewey Beat 'Em and How!
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 en route to winning the Dancer Final at The Big M
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.