The biggest horse race of them all, the Kentucky Derby, was run for the 140th time on Saturday, May 3.
This is an excellent time to remember that the annual Run for the Roses, which began in 1875, was once won by a jockey from Chautauqua County.
Vincent Powers was born in Westfield in 1892 and spent the early years of his life in the village along the Lake Erie shoreline.
He left home to ride on half-mile racetracks in the south. He was only 15 years old in 1907 when he rode his first winner in a $500 race for two-year-olds at Churchill Downs.
The following year at the age of 16, Powers handled 1,260 mounts and won 324 races. At a time when youngsters of today are thinking about driving their first car or going to the junior prom, Vincent Powers was the leading jockey in the entire nation.
So when the history of the Kentucky Derby is recalled, it's not surprising many turf aficionados reflect upon the 17-year-old young man from Westfield who guided Wintergreen down the home stretch and to victory in the 35th classic in 1909.
Bred in Ohio by Jerome Bristow Respess, the multi-millionaire owner of a brewing company, and trained by Charles Mack, Wintergreen had won five races in 10 starts at age 2, and finished third in one stakes race.
At age 3, Wintergreen prepped for the Derby with only one allowance race at the antiquated Association Course in Lexington, Ky. He finished second in what turned out to be a key prep. The first three finishers in the Derby all came out of that overnight race.
Leaving from the sixth post position, Wintergreen was bumped at the start of the Derby race but recovered quickly. He took a good early lead and held sway throughout. He won in a canter by four lengths with a time of 2:08.20.
The winner's purse in 1909 was $4,850. The 2014 winner banked approximately $1.4 million.
In all, Wintergreen raced six seasons, and while he was stakes-placed several times, the Kentucky Derby was his only stakes win. He remains to this day, the only Kentucky Derby winner bred in the Buckeye State.
Powers' ride on Wintergreen, regarded as one of the easiest victories of his career, attracted the attention of leading horsemen.
One of these was noted trainer Sam Hildreth. Powers rode for Hildreth on a mount named Fitz Herbert, winning several major stake races. Included were the Advance Stakes and the Lawrence Realization Stakes, both contested at Sheepshead Bay Race Track in Brooklyn.
He won back to back championships as the top jockey in the nation by repeating the feat in 1909.
Powers considered Fitz Herbert, the outstanding handicap horse of 1909 and 1910, to be the best horse he had ever ridden.
In 1911, Powers went to Europe to ride. He gained weight overseas and turned his attention to the horseracing sport of steeplechase. His transition proved fruitful as he enjoyed success riding steeplechase on the Continent.
Returning to the United States when World War I broke out, Powers became a contract steeplechase rider for Greentree Stables and its owner, Payne Hay Whitney and his wife, Helen.
Riding successes continued. In 1917, Powers was the leading steeplechase jockey in the country with 15 victories on 39 mounts. As such, he became the only jockey in history to lead the nation on the flats and through the fields.
When Jimmie Owens, head trainer at Greentree, died in 1922, Powers took over the training duties, which he maintained for the rest of his career in horse racing.
Powers, the top steeplechase rider in 1917, was named the top steeplechase trainer just ten years later. He developed Jolly Roger, the first steeplechase horse to earn more than $100,000.
He retired in 1946 and made his home in Queens Village, N.Y. with his wife Hedwig. Powers died at age 75.
His life was full and included some of the finest horses in America that he rode and trained, both on the flat tracks and in steeplechase.
And all from a boy from Westfield.
Submitted by Edward T. Kurtz Sr. of Westfield, with the blessing of the Powers family. Some of the information above was taken from an article written by Chuck Korbar, for the Dunkirk Evening OBSERVER, in May 1982.