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Snapper Garrison
A Garrison Finish

By: Ron Hale

On June 22, 1997, at Churchill Downs, the 3-year-old gelding, Snapper Garrison, owned by Dogwood Stables, finished off the board in a race for non-winners of two

Seeing his name on the program always brings to mind the famous jockey for whom the horse is named.

How famous could the jockey be if some of you have never heard of him?

Quick. Can you name the only jockey whose name appears in every full-size volume of any Dictionary of the English Language? Answer: Snapper Garrison. If you don't believe me, look it up.

Here's what Webster's New World Dictionary says:

Gar.ri.son finish, [after Snapper Garrison, 19th-Cen U.S. jockey] a close finish, as in a horse race, in which the winner comes from behind at the last moment.
Edward R. "Snapper" Garrison was born in New Haven, Conn., on February 9, 1868. He began working as a blacksmith's apprentice when he was 14, but being a jockey was his real dream. He soon was taken under the wing of Father Bill Daly (for whom another outdated term, "On the Bill Daly," comes), a legendary trainer who used every means available (belts, whips, etc.) to train young boys to be good riders. Daly's specialty was turning out jockeys who could get horses to the lead and keep them there. Garrison's specialty became just the opposite.

It was Daly who one day referred to Garrison as "Jack Snapper." The Snapper part stuck forever.

For 15 years -- from 1882 to 1897 -- Garrison became one of the most famous riders in a sport that had only become organized for the first time in this country a couple of decades earlier. Tens of thousands of people knew nothing about horse racing, but they knew the name Snapper Garrison. He brought many of them to the track for the first time, much the way Earl Sande, Eddie Arcaro and Bill Shoemaker would do in later years. The term "Garrison finish" became part of the English language.

In an era where many jockeys could make 80 or 90 pounds, Garrison battled weight all his career. Nonetheless, he won nearly 700 races and $2 million in purses in his 15 years riding -- huge numbers in that era. In 1894, he was paid $23,500 to ride for August Belmont -- the highest retainer ever paid for a jockey to that point.

He won most of racing's major stakes, some of them many times. He seldom rode in the mid-West. His only mount in the Kentucky Derby, a not-too-famous race back then, came in 1886 when he finished second on Blue Wing.

In the years following his retirement as a jockey, Garrison served in many capacities on the racetrack, including owner, trainer, steward, starter, official and agent. He died of heart failure at his home on Long Island in October 1930 at age 62. He had suffered a mild stroke several days earlier. While many famous jockeys of his time died in virtual obscurity, Garrison's obituary in the November 1, 1930 edition of The Thoroughbred Record noted that he had a "wide circle of friends throughout the country."

For most of the first four or five decades of the 20th Century, there was hardly a sportwriter or (later) sports radio broadcaster who did not regularly use the term "Garrison finish" in sports stories. When Babe Ruth hit a homer in the 9th inning to beat the Washington Senators, the newspaper reporter would write that the Yankees won in a "Garrison finish." Those were the heydays when horse racing was a part of mainstream American sports.

When I began following Thoroughbred racing in 1960, every once in a while I would see a sports story written by an old sports writer who still used the term, "Garrison finish." Sadly, there are few sports writers around today who would even know what the term means -- and far fewer readers.

Edward "Snapper" Garrison was elected to the Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga Springs, NY, the first year of inductions (1955).

© 1997, Ron Hale

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