The Notorious John Morrissey
How a Bare-Knuckle Brawler Became a Congressman and Founded Saratoga Race Course
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
An Irish immigrant, a collection agent for crime bosses, a professional boxer, and a prolific gambler, John Morrissey was -- if nothing else -- an unlikely candidate to become one of the most important figures in the history of Thoroughbred racing. As a young man, he worked as a political heavy in New York before going to San Francisco in search of fortune at the height of the Gold Rush. After returning to the east coast, he was hired by Tammany Hall and was soon locked in a deadly rivalry with William Poole, better known as "Bill the Butcher."
As time went on, Morrissey parlayed his youthful exploits into a remarkably successful career as a businessman and politician. After establishing a gambling house in Saratoga Springs, the hardnosed entrepreneur organized the first Thoroughbred race meet at what would become Saratoga Race Course in 1863. Morrissey went on to be elected to two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and two terms in the New York State Senate.
In this book, James C. Nicholson explores the improbable life of the man who brought Thoroughbred racing back to prominence in the United States. Though few of his contemporaries did more to develop the commercialization of sports in America, Morrissey's colorful background has prevented him from getting the attention he deserves. This entertaining and long-overdue biography finally does justice to his astounding rags-to-riches story while exploring an intriguing chapter in the history of horse racing.
"Nicholson writes with authority on one of the sports world's most colorful characters: John Morrissey, founder of Saratoga Race Course, champion prizefighter, U.S. congressman, New York legislator, and gambler par excellence." -- Maryjean Wall, author of Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel and How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders
"Nicholson has done remarkable research, which adds immeasurably to the standard knowledge about Mr. Morrissey." -- Edward L. Bowen, author of twenty books on Thoroughbred racing
"Nicholson certainly does justice to all the varied aspects of a remarkable life and career... Surely one of the most remarkable figures and great characters in our commercial and political history." -- Washington Times
"Dr. Nicholson's interesting, informative, and well-written book takes you back to a time long ago." -- Horse Racing Business
"James C. Nicholson has focused his writing on the sport of Thoroughbred racing, especially related to Kentucky. In The Notorious John Morrissey: How a Bare-Knuckle Brawler became a Congressman and Founded Saratoga Race Course, Nicholson lays out another slant on the racing world by profiling a colorful, roughhousing man of many and varied experiences from the mid-1880s." -- Kentucky Monthly
"An excellent biography of a very entertaining, working-class politician who deserves better than to be lost to the ages." -- H-Net Reviews
"Nicholson's biography is a lively account of a unique nineteenth-century Irish-American life." -- The Historian