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Horse Racing

( Originally Published 1898 )

RACING—ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT—A duller task could scarcely be undertaken than that of endeavouring to trace the history of horse-racing from material furnished by the vague and contradictory accounts of the earliest writers on the subject. It may safely be assumed that racing dates from the period when two energetic men found themselves side by side on high-couraged horses. Whether the steeds or their riders were first fired by the spirit of emulation no one can say ; but surely such a prehistoric spin was the nucleus of the Derby. This is not a theme that could profitably be enlarged upon by a writer whose object is to be practical. Antiquity will be entirely disregarded ; and, skipping over centuries, no effort will be made to summarise the history of Newmarket, or relate what potentates and princes have shaped and sustained the sport upon the historic Heath. There is so much to be said about racing in its modern developments, that no space could well be devoted to archaic matter even if it seemed desirable; and one of many reasons why it does not so seem is that, in all essentials, the sport, as it is conducted in the nineteenth century, differs completely in its character and surroundings from what it was before the Turf became so widely popular. When race meetings were first organised they were held annually near many cities and towns, the runners being provided by the local magnates and gentry. The horses, usually hunters, were ridden at catch weights by their owners or their grooms, and, to spin out the programme, in contests other than matches the races were run in heats. By degrees it became apparent that horses trained systematically and kept exclusively for racing had enormous advantages over others; and it appeared furthermore that men who were accustomed to riding races turned their experience to highly profitable account. By degrees the vast importance of weight began to be recognised, and some rough rules were formulated. Racing, indeed, showed some signs of growing into shape as it is now conducted. Owners of proved good horses ceased to be content with local successes. Prize winners were sent into neighbouring counties, ridden and led by their jockeys with racing saddles strapped on their backs ; and it was probably imagined that finality in the way of convenience had been reached when Lord George Bentinck hit on the brilliant notion of sending one of his horses, Elis, to Doncaster in a van. How animals are now despatched from one end of the country to another, often by special train on the morning of a race, so that those who dislike strange quarters should be away from their stables for as short a time as possible, need not be described ; nor is it necessary to dwell on the immeasurable impetus which has been given to the sport by the introduction of railways, telegraphs, and the modern increase of newspapers.

A few words may be interpolated as to the serviceability of racing as a means to an end. The English thoroughbred horse is the most valuable animal in the world. Five thousand five hundred guineas was paid for La Fleche as a yearling, and as a brood mare she fetched 14,500 guineas; 30,000 guineas was refused for Ormonde; that sum would not have bought Isinglass, and it is credibly reported that signed cheques with blanks left for figures have been proffered to the lucky possessors of other famous animals. The only method by which the excellence of a horse can be demonstrated is by racing him. Opponents of the sport, who do not fail to recognise the value of the blood, have expressed the belief that the exhibition of racehorses at agricultural shows and similar functions would meet every requirement; but this is not the case, for the reason that the creature's worth depends upon the possession of other than external qualities. One does not want a horse merely to look at. Make and shape are not to be despised, but the great point is whether the horse has speed, stamina, constitution, soundness, and other attributes calculated to render its offspring worthy upholders of the family ; and this can only be ascertained by submitting the animals to the ordeal of preparation and testing them on the course. An infusion of thoroughbred blood confers special and peculiar benefits on those so endowed, whether chargers, hunters, hacks, or carriage horses. The fact has been constantly made obvious when horses of what may be described as the royal strain have drifted out of their own class and been put to try conclusions with their coarser bred cousins. The " blood " horse—thoroughbred or even half-bred—that comes to carry a soldier or a sportsman in the hunting-field may not have the size and scope of some of his companions, and may not look so well able to bear weight ; but as a very general rule his action and courage will unmistakably prove what his breeding signifies.

As is generally known, the racehorses of today are almost exclusively descended from three sires the "Godolphin Arabian," the " Darley Arabian," and the " Byerly Turk." The history of the importation of these three animals has been told so often that it would be superfluous to repeat, it here. Previously to this, horses were introduced into England from all quarters of Europe ; and it seems nowadays rather curious to find that many came from Italy, the horsemanship of which country was at one time so highly esteemed that a number of Italian terms and phrases were current in this country in relation to horses ; as will be found on reference to the book of Thomas Blunderville, Master of the Horse to Lord Leicester in the reign of Elizabeth, and one of the first writers of authority who published works on the subject.

Eclipse was the grandson of the Darley Arabian ; he became the sire of three of the first five winners of the Derby, and thus is gained something like a direct connection between the earliest days of recognised racing and the present time. It is said of Eclipse that he galloped at the rate of a mile a minute; and the statement is valuable as showing how utterly untrustworthy and ridiculous the records of sport in the last century must be. No horse has ever galloped a mile in that time with half as much again added to it. There is a doubt as to whether a mile in 1 minute 35 3/5. seconds has ever been done (though it is claimed for an American colt named Salvator); and this would lead, if one were tempted into it, to a discussion as to the relative speed and stamina of the thoroughbred horse now and a century ago—a profitless theme, as there can be no better basisof argument than general belief. That belief is that the horse of today is speedier than his predecessor was, but less gifted with staying power ; though as to the latter article of faith opinions again differ. The crop of thorough-bred horses is now annually so enormous that there must inevitably be a large proportion of weeds ; the more so as, for many years past, at any rate, speed rather than stamina has been the object aimed at by breeders ; but there is no sound reason to doubt that the best horses of today would gallop the four miles and a quarter (less 43 yards, if strict accuracy be demanded) of the Beacon Course at Newmarket at least as speedily as did the horses of any former period. It is not a little strange that, whereas the infusion of Arab blood from the three sires named has made the English race-horse of today what he is, the Arab of today should be in all respects such a vastly inferior animal. The fact is unquestionable. No weight,and what weight means will be presently considered—will "bring together" the best Arab and the poorest of English horses. This was demonstrated some years ago at Newmarket in a race between Asil and Iambic, between the best Arab of his day and the worst thoroughbred ; for, with a huge advantage in weight for Asil and over a course which was supposed to suit him and to be four times more than Iambic could compass, the latter won in a trot. The value of the English thoroughbred is indeed universally recognised, and the whole world supplies itself from England. Europe, America (North and South), India, the Colonies, have each derived their racing stock from this country, and they can only sustain it by continuing to draw from the same supply.

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