John J. Ryan
Original Text By Joe Ryan
Jack Goes Forth in Triumph to Saratoga
Less than six weeks after his acquittal in St. Louis, Jack Ryan was in Saratoga Springs, New York, with his family—his wife, Anna, and his three daughters, Marie, Helen, and Francis. They came in a caravan of French-made De Detriech automobiles, Jack leading the parade in a Torpedo into the driveway of the Fitzpatrick cottage at 203 Union Ave.
203 Union Ave, Saratoga Springs, today; built in 1888
It was the first week of August and everyone of consequence in the world of horse racing was there: John Gates with his son, John, Jr., and his side kick in the racing game, John Drake; Diamond Jim Brady, too, whose racing stable, led by Gold Heels, had won major races in 1902 (In November 1902, Brady sold Gold Heels, presumably broken down, to E.J. Arnold who used the horse as a prop in his get-rich-quick scheme). Also present were two of Jay Gould's sons, several Vanderbilt's, August Belmont and son, Cincinnati Mayor Julius Fleischmann and his son, Max, along with their welshing cousin, Bill, Leonard and Travers Jerome, J.D. Widener and his beautiful wife, and the current leader of the pack—William C. Whitney, the chairman of the Saratoga Association for the Improvement of the Breed of Horses, and the man most responsible for the race course that Jack could see in the distance through the trees, as he stood smoking a cigar on the broad wrap-around porch of the Fitzgerald's cottage.
The Racing Form News, July 25, 1903
(The suspicion is there that Arnold and Ryan were working together)
Diamond Jim Brady
J.A. Drake and John "Bet-a-Million" Gates
J.D. Widener & W.C. Whitney, Saratoga 1903
Mrs. J.D. Widener, 1903
August Belmont Jr.
William K. Vanderbilt II, 1903
William Travers Jerome
Born in Ireland in 1834, John Morrissey was three years old when his parents came to America. By the age of ten he was a gutter urchin, became a gang fighter and, in 1853, became heavyweight champion, defeating Yankee Sullivan in sixty three rounds at Boston. Using the purse won, "Old Smoke" opened the Gem Saloon on Broadway in 1854 and, backing Fernando Wood for Mayor, proved himself a master of New York ward politics which meant the management of repeaters. By 1864, Morrissey had control of sixteen gambling houses in Manhattan. In 1865, he organized the Saratoga Association for the Improvement of the Breed of Horses and installed as its president, William R. Travers, with Leonard W. Jerome as treasurer. Cornelius Vanderbilt held a sizable chunk of the Association's stock.
In 1867, Morrissey, now a U.S. Congressman, began construction of the "Club House," Saratoga's first gambling casino—a red brick three story structure situated on terraced lawns with elm-shaded approaches from Broadway. The ground floor was divided between a women's salon, drawing rooms, and a large public gaming room packed with faro and roulette tables. Upstairs there were private rooms where the plungers could indulge themselves in 24 hour poker and crap games. And that same year, he opened the original Saratoga race track—Horse Haven. By 1870, daily attendance was 10,000, with public betting done in the form of pool selling, which Morrissey controlled, until it was outlawed in 1876. When Morrissey died at the age of forty-seven, in 1878, the race course passed as part of his $50,000 estate to a gambler named Reed, who sold it to a bookmaker named Walbaum, who sold it to W.C. Whitney's syndicate, in 1901. The Club House went to Richard Canfield, who, after renovating it, opened for business in 1903.
Canfield's Casino on Congress Street, Saratoga
Saratoga Race Course and Grand Stands
Standing there, smoking the cigar, feeling the breezes rustle through the giant trees, hearing the faint voices of his women inside, the clatter of the carriages in the street, the growl of a souped-up automobile going by, Jack looked across the avenue at the flags waving from the spires of the Saratoga grandstands, and must have realized it wasn't going to get any better than this. The years of his youth growing up poor in Cincinnati, getting on his own to St. Louis, his brother Ed following; having the good luck as he came up, of finding friends in the Considines, getting in with Sullivan. And now, at the age of forty, or was it thirty-eight?, he was at Saratoga on top. He thought of Folk for a moment and, laughing out loud, turned and went inside.
The next day, under a broiling late-morning sun, Jack came out of the cottage dressed to the nine with his wife and daughters. They climbed into a flower-decked carriage hitched to a pair of white horses, the driver in livery, and cut into the traffic flowing toward the track. It was like being in the Bois du Boulogne on a Sunday morning in Paris, the sun glittering on the polished surfaces of the carriages and harnesses of the prancing horses whose hoofs filled the air with the clopping sound of rhythmic tattoo. Carriage load after carriage load revealed the familiar faces of New York City Society's racing set, the patriarchs of the old money families and their sons—Belmonts, Vanderbilts, Wideners, Whitneys and Paynes—responsible for the existence of the tracks at Saratoga, Sheepshead Bay, and Brighton Beach.
The New York Times, Jack and Diamond Jim, 1903
Stopping in the circle drive that leads down the tree-shaded lane to the grand stands, Jack helped his wife and daughters step from the carriage, and walked with them as far as the betting shed; there he stopped and gave them admission tickets, telling them the number of the private table waiting for them on the Club House porch—and he went in.
Jack was hardly the first to gain the national reputation of a plunger. Riley Grannan was probably the first: he was a sky-the-limit plunger, suddenly appearing and then disappearing. He was born the son of a tailor, in Paris, Kentucky, in 1868. By the age of twelve he was a bell boy in a New Orleans hotel and by 1895 he had gained national attention, when he mounted a box at Graveshead race track, took off his coat and, chalking up greater odds on Domino in a match race against Henry of Navarre than the other bookies were, announced to the mass of bettors in the ring that he was going to bet his last dollar on Henry of Navarre. Sixty-two thousand dollars were dumped into his book by the big horsemen, with thousands more coming in from the suckers, but Grannan didn’t wince, didn't back down the odds; instead he stood on the box and screamed at the crowd—"that all you got? Come on, break me!" In the event, the two thoroughbreds crossed the Finish Line in a dead heat.
The next year Grannon was ruled off the New York tracks on a charge of bribing a jockey and he went to Europe; returning to the United States in 1898, he frequented the Mid-West and California tracks until 1903, when he appeared at the New Orleans track in July and bet $18,000, all he had in the world, on a horse named O'Hagen to win. Andes galloped home the winner instead, and Grannan turned to the tout business. Then he appeared at Gravesend in September; then he was nowhere to be found until he surfaced, in 08, running a saloon in Rawhide, Nevada, a gold rush town 100 miles south of Reno. There he died of pneumonia at the age of forty-three.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 12, 1903
New York Times, April 4, 1908
At his death at Rawhide, a prospector pronounced the eulogy over his plank coffin, to a crowd of gamblers and miners, floaters and girls from the dance hall. "When we look back over his past, the prospector had said, we can understand that he was absolutely invincible in spirit—a dead game sport."
Rawhide, Nevada, today: one vast mine pit 100 miles south of Reno
Pittsburg Phil was another of the great plungers: he died young, too; leaving an estate of $2 million. John Gates another: in 1903, Gates and his pal, Drake, together lost $400,000 betting on horses. Diamond Jim, too: once at Saratoga, beating the bookies badly, he sent his Japanese houseboys down to the betting ring to collect the cash in wicker baskets, a device Jack turned on its head.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Ryan in the Saratoga Betting Ring
George Considine was waiting for Jack at the threshold of the betting ring when he came in, and they walked arm-in-arm into the center of the throng where Irish John Cavanagh, the head of the Metropolitan Bookmakers Association, met them.
The three men then strolled from one bookie stand to another, with Jack tossing out bets: to Virginia Carroll went down $5,000 on Trespass to win; to Joe Gleason, $15,000 on Highlander to place; and to Sol Lichtenstein, $10,000 on Tha-a-Boy to win; another $20,000 on McChesney to win went to Bill Cowan with a handshake—the bookies handing him markers as he passed.
Then the three men left the shed together; going through the tunnel under the grandstands, they came out on the lawn, and, shouldering into a place at the rail, watched the thoroughbreds come out of the clubhouse turn—stretching, straining, flowing down the home stretch, graceful and ageless in their rhythm, flying past the Judges Stand at the Finish Line.
In the first race, Trespass got caught in a blind switch at the far turn and when he was set down for the drive, he found himself along the rail where the going proved too deep. In the second, Highlander, owned by Julius Fleischmann, was backing away from the field at the start, jiggling a little sideways, completely unprepared; when he finally got moving he ended up in a pocket and was out of the money. In the third race, Tha-a-Boy was ahead by a length at the quarter pole and then, suddenly, a long shot drove past him through a hole on the rail and stayed ahead all the way home. In the last race, with a wave of excitement sweeping over the crowd, McChesney was in a drive with another long shot, the two gleaming animals plunging, neck and neck, like rocking horses, past the eighth pole and into the stretch, when the jockey on the long shot brought his whip down on McChesney's neck and the stallion lurched, his plunging gait breaking with a bunching of the four feet, while the long shot kept steadily on, the first to cross the line. McChesney's owner, William Vanderbilt, sent a protest to the Judges Stand but to no avail.
The next morning Ryan appeared in the betting shed with a basket full of cash. The place was jammed, overflowing with 5,000 bettors, and a hush fell over the awed mob of men as they made an opening for Ryan to pass, making his way, first, to Bill Cowan's stand, then to Lichenstein's; then to the others, passing out the cash to one and then another.
What do you think had happened? Under all the circumstances of the case there can be but one reasonable explanation: The races were fixed by the bookies for Ryan to lose, to give him the basis to say to the St. Louis public in general and Holy Joe Folk, in particular—See, just another testament to the glorious uncertainty of the turf! The losses constituted visible, public proof that Ryan's books, showing the eight hundred grand had been lost, were true. And, of course, the uncertainty of the tuft having been demonstrated to be what it was, who could complain if tomorrow Ryan's luck turned and his bets won?
Ryan's view of things:
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Query: Is it a coincidence that the Kentucky State archives of the Racing Form News does not contain any form charts for the months of August through October 1903?
And Ryan's "luck" certainly did turn. On the day he paid the bookies off, he bet big on Castalian, a long shot and won $15,000; and, on the last day of the Saratoga meeting, he won $35,000 on Irish Lad and $30,000 on Africander. With this money in hand, he bought a string of horses—Monster among them—and, racing them at Graveshead and Brighton Beach, won huge amounts, just about six hundred thousand dollars in less than six weeks. Or did he? What happened, with the bookies getting their taste, Ryan had laundered the St. Louis suckers' money.
New York Evening World, August 5, 1903
New York Evening Word, August 6, 1903
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Jack made such a splash at Saratoga that he was welcomed by the rich society boys to join their dinner party held in Canfield's new dining room.
Canfield's Casino Dining Room, 1903
Here began Jack's history with fast automobiles which led to at least one known disaster.
The Saratogan, Aug 5, 1903
Jack's De Dietrich Torpedo Automobile
New York Times, Aug. 5, 1903
New York Times, Aug 8, 1903
The New York Times, August 29, 1903
Who can say? The fact is that the proposed automobile race did not take place, perhaps because of the rainy weather that covered the area the last week of the meeting, perhaps because Jack hyped to the newspapers the whole thing. But, given Jack's developing interest in automobiles and the country roads readily at hand, it is possible he decided to give the route a try, and, reaching the intersection that constitutes the village of Quaker's Springs, he swept through it at high speed, to the consternation of the Brightman's horse. Jack certainly had accidents with his automobiles; and he was, in fact, quick to be a very bad-tempered man.
St. Louis Republic, Sept. 4, 1903
New York Times, Sept. 16, 1903
New York Evening World, Sept. 16, 1903
New York Times, Sept. 20, 1903
($1 million, not $100,000, up in smoke)
So high up in the dough Jack would never be again, but he was indeed a good businessman and he would make the money last, brushing away the law again and again.
End of Part IV