Tall Tales of the Track: Three Times the Victory

June 9th, 2023

The horses come around that final turn and the action picks up as jockeys prompt their horses to pick up the pace in these last yards. Hands and voices frantically move up and down, cajoling, encouraging, and pushing for whatever their mounts have left. The leader spies the wire ahead and knows that it is both imminent and distant at the same time. To the inside, to the outside, challengers rush for the front, their momentum carrying them closer and closer to the leader.

In the final yards, the three come together, head-to-head, eye-to-eye, none giving way and all trying to find something, anything, to gain the advantage. At the wire, the camera captures the indelible image of three heads, three noses, and history all coming together in a click.

The Stage Is Set

The Carter Handicap has long been a feature of the New York stakes schedule. Inaugurated in 1895, the race is named for William Carter, a tugboat captain and Brooklyn contractor who put up a portion of the purse money and the trophy for his namesake race. Both Aqueduct and Belmont Park have hosted the Carter, but for the majority of its history, it has been contested at Aqueduct, where, in 1944, something singular happened.

That year’s edition featured a field of nine, including two horses from Belair Stud Stable, Apache, and Bossuet. Run at seven furlongs, the race was worth $10,000 and also had a patriotic element to it: June 10’s card was one of the War Relief days where the track donated the day’s profits to the War Relief Fund, the American Red Cross, and other worthy causes as World War II continued to rage in both Europe and the Pacific.

The Carter was also a handicap, which means that each horse would carry a different weight based on factors like their record as well as their competition. The goal for the track’s handicapper who assigned the weights was to give the more accomplished horses more weight while giving horses with spottier records lighter weights, with the goal of every horse having an equal shot of winning in the end.

For the 1944 edition, the nine horses had weights ranging from 109 to 132 pounds, with Apache, the Belair Stud entrant, owning the race’s most consistent record. His stablemate Bossuet was assigned 127 pounds and Wait a Bit, who held the record for seven furlongs at Aqueduct the previous year, was tapped with 118 pounds. Also facing the Belair entry was Brownie, whom Bossuet had beaten in the Rosemont Handicap the previous month. His 115 pounds was just below Brownie’s impost, a signal of where the handicapper rated these challengers. The Belair entry went to the post as the favorites, with Brownie going off at just over 10-1 and Wait a Bit at 6.5-1.

To Get to Three

On a sloppy Aqueduct track, the field loaded into the gate at 4:35 p.m. and were sent away in good order at 4:36. From the jump, Doublrab showed first, followed by Apache and Bill Silver, but Eddie Arcaro hustled Apache to the front within the first quarter. Bill Sickle and Doublrab lingered just behind him, with Bossuet, Brownie, and Wait a Bit trailing at the rear of the field. Around the far turn, Bill Sickle took the lead from Apache, who held on to second as they entered the stretch. Bossuet was making his move under jockey Jimmy Stout as they entered the stretch, while Wait a Bit was still back in seventh but only three lengths back of the leaders in the tightly bunched field.

In the Aqueduct straight, Bossuet and Brownie engaged in a head-to-head battle, sweeping past Bill Sickle and taking the lead. As they battled, Wait a Bit mounted his bid for the lead to their outside, with jockey Gayle Smith desperately driving his late-running horse. The three were soon engaged in what was called "a ding-dong battle down the stretch" by the Daily Racing Form, Brownie eking out the barest of leads on the rail as they approached the wire. In the final stride, both Bossuet in the middle and Wait a Bit on their outside came on again, pulling level with Brownie.

They were inseparable at the finish, their fates left up to the impartiality of the photo finish camera. A rush to develop the black-and-white image of the finish ensued, the result hanging on the verdict encompassed in that visual. The crowd of 25,386 waited for the judges to issue their ruling, the minutes ticking by as the men upstairs determined that they couldn’t separate the three. It was a triple dead heat, captured for posterity by the Aqueduct photo finish camera, the names Brownie, Bossuet, and Wait a Bit forever a part of the sport’s rich history.

Rare Moment Resonant

The payouts for the three winners saw Aqueduct dividing the win, place, and show pools three ways and then dividing again by the number of tickets sold for each. The three split the $10,000 purse, with each getting $3,623.33, equal beneficiaries of their "ding-dong battle." Theirs was only the third recorded triple dead heat and the first ever in a stakes race. Nearly eight decades later, it remains the only one.

The list of dead heats in horse racing is long, with such races as the Epsom Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) among the races with two horses finishing together at the wire. But triple dead heats are rarer, their stories a fascinating look at the confluence of events required to bring three horses to the line at the same time. The 1944 Carter Handicap and the iconic image of Brownie, Bossuet, and Wait a Bit lives on in the annals of racing history, a photo that begs fans to find out more.