JFK Assassination Anniversary: Dark Days

Fifty years ago today, horse racing would be brought to a standstill.

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy took place 50 years ago today, also a Friday, and plenty of stories, shows, and events have commemorated the sad anniversary. Many tracks opted to take some days off on the weekend that followed the assassination.

In a Blood-Horse staff meeting today, Nov. 22, features editor Lenny Shulman recalled that he attended his first NFL game that 1963 weekend, a contest between the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants at Yankee Stadium. With little reference point, Shulman couldn't recall the mood of the crowd but did remember a team band did not perform before the game and there was no marching band, or any other entertainment, at halftime.

The conversation had us wondering how racing reacted in the days of mourning that followed. The answer was provided in a prominent but short reference in the Nov. 30, 1963 edition of The Blood-Horse magazine. While the NFL chose to play on, most tracks chose to take pause.

"With racing almost completely blacked out last weekend in respect to the memory of President Kennedy, Aqueduct missed two racing programs and postponed the $50,000-added Display Handicap for six days," wrote The Blood-Horse in its "News of the Week" column. 

(Dean Carl, a 3-year-old, would end up defeating older horses to win the delayed Diplay that year, a two-mile race. The 9-5 favorite opened an eight-length lead a half-mile in and cruised to a 13-length score.)

A Nov. 21, 2013 Chicago Sun-Times story noted that only about 20 college football games were played on the Saturday following the assassination and that Standardbred racing at Washington Park was cancelled. It said Pimlico Race Course was the only major Thoroughbred track to conduct racing that weekend.

In the Dec. 2, 1963 edition of Sports Illustrated, the magazine ran an obit on Kennedy focusing on his interest in sport. Toward the end it noted that some sports chose to continue their scheduled events while others took a few days off.

"Now he is gone. Sonny Liston cried. The English Football League went into mourning," wrote the magazine in a story titled, "The President Who Loved Sport." "Dozens of athletic events were canceled out of respect for the President, and dozens were played on the equally reasonable grounds that the President would have wanted it that way."

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