Broadcaster Vic Stauffer keeps his name before the public several times a day in Oaklawn.
“Entering Larry Snyder’s Winners Circle….”
Oaklawn and his eight-time riding champion were good for each other. Charles J. Cella, then the track’s president, offered him a job in the stewards’ box after Snyder’s last full season of racing in 1994. Among the floggers he encountered in his new job was Pat Day, known as a troublemaker. in the jockey’s room before becoming a Hall of Fame racer whose Oaklawn records of 12 annual championships and 137 wins in a single season (1986) look increasingly unquestioned.
The late Kim Brazzel often asked in print, “Why isn’t Larry Snyder in the Hall of Fame? Keeping that vigil was unofficially passed to me following the death of the veteran local Arkansas journalist in late 2011.” , one I accept as a rite of passage after covering Oaklawn since 1980.
As Oaklawn prepares to honor Hall of Famers on Saturday, the question bears repeating: Why isn’t someone who achieved 6,388 career wins in a sport that distinguished himself on and off the track most remembered? Why doesn’t his bust appear in Saratoga Springs, New York, home of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame? Why doesn’t his name appear annually for the nomination, the same question Brazzel asked Willard Proctor, the veteran California coach who died in 1988 and is still awaiting induction from Saratoga?
Snyder, as I recall, dodged the question repeatedly before his death from cancer in 2018, aged 76. He went to work every day knowing that a nosy trainer or owner could change jockeys at will. One such snub cost Snyder his mount in future Kentucky Derby winner Sunny’s Halo after the two-year-old Canadian champion won the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn in 1983. There is talk of Snyder being replaced in the saddle. riding before the Arkansas Derby invaded the track until Eddie Delahoussaye, winner of the previous year’s Kentucky Derby at Gato Del Sol, landed the mount that would take him to Oaklawn and Churchill Downs glory.
“They said they wouldn’t replace me with (Angel) Cordero,” Snyder joked when the subject was brought up thereafter. “They didn’t say anything about Delahoussaye.”
Snyder’s failure to win a Triple Crown or Breeders’ Cup race is considered by some to be one of the causes of his absence from the HOF. Oaklawn, where the Toledo native began riding in 1960, had yet to become a national center for racing. It wasn’t until 1976, when Arkansas Derby winner Elocutionist took the Preakness, that an Oaklawn racehorse won a Triple Crown event.
Snyder went 0-for-3 in the Kentucky Derby with a high finish of fourth aboard Arkansas Derby winner Dansil for trainer Frank Brothers in 1989, repeating that effort in the Preakness (both races won by Sunday Silence). He finished 13th aboard Nostalgia in 1977, when there was no way to beat Seattle Slew, but suffered professionally from his 19th-place ride in Top Avenger in 1981.
Too often, when Snyder’s name came up in conversation among the sport’s top riders, the first fractions established by Top Avenger in 1981 (Pleasant Colony Derby) were used against him. Shouldn’t a professional jockey know better than to send a horse at 21 4-5, 45 1-5 and 1:10 1-5 going a mile and a quarter?
Never mind that Hall of Famer Mike Smith, retired from the undefeated Rare Brick (cited lack of experience) prior to the 1986 Arkansas Derby (where the horse was lost due to injury), rode Bodemeister in such a manner. dizzying in the 2012 Kentucky Derby. To Smith’s credit, trainer Bob Baffert didn’t tear the jockey apart when the horse finished a grueling second after I’ll Have Another after the first splits of 22.32 and 45.39 seconds. (Smith won the 2018 Triple Crown aboard Justify for Baffert, now a persona non grata at Churchill Downs.)
In his prime, Snyder went all out on both the betting and the cheap horses. I remember one day he did a somersault at Oaklawn and stood up to honor his remaining mounts. Some graybeards tell me that the late Lonnie Ray could have had more talent, but he was always involved with the stewards. Over time, Snyder became the dominant driver at the track and won some of his biggest races.
In addition to the Arkansas Derby at Dansil, Snyder won the 1969 Apple Blossom (long before his six-figure glory) with Jay Roam for Robert L. Irwin, the 1970 Oaklawn Handicap with Charlie Jr. for Dewey Smith, and the 1981 Count , 1983 and 1988. Fleet Sprint Handicap at General Custer, Dave’s Friend and Sun Master for Dennis Werre, Jack Van Berg and Brothers. He won a Southwest Stakes in 1990 aboard the Van Berg-trained Tarascon.
In addition to setting daily records of six wins at Oaklawn in 1969 and five at Louisiana Downs in 1981, Snyder led the national jockey list in 1969 with 352 wins. Van Berg, for whom he rode a lot in those days, was quoted as saying that Snyder could do anything on a horse that was asked of him. That was intended for critics who maintained that Snyder could only win with fast horses sent to the lead.
Only when Calvin Borel kicked Rockamundo in the 1993 Arkansas Derby do I remember more cheers in the Oaklawn press box than when Snyder won the same race aboard Dansil four years earlier.
Larry and his wife Jeanette, who made silks for horsemen, were treated like Oaklawn royalty. The decision to name the track’s winner’s circle after Larry was widely celebrated. Now if we can give him a similar respect in Saratoga.