Thoroughbred Two Year Old Races
( Originally Published 1898 )
TWO-YEAR-OLD RACES—It must be assumed that by a happy combination of gentleness and firmness, by good hands, a strong seat in the saddle, and a temper most under control when most severely tried, the yearling has been backed, after the preliminary processes of bitting, saddling and lunging ; that he has been accustomed to daily exercise with his companions, led by a placid old horse ; and that after being " jumped off" he has shown the possession of such speed as suggests that he is worth training. The 1st of January comes and he is a two-year-old with a prospect of running possibly in as little as three months. In some instances a two-year-old has been entered for races before he was born, as for example in the Buckenham Stakes at the Newmarket First October Meeting, for which subscribers name three mares and send the produce of one to the post. In various other races the animals are entered as foals, and in others again at different periods of their yearling existence. It will readily be understood why entries close so long before the time set for the race. If owners could wait till their young horses gave some actual proof of capacity the number of subscribers to many stakes would be small. A foal or a yearling, well bred, good looking, and with no apparent defects, may, however, turn out well, and so the owner nominates his colt or filly and takes his chance, the conditions of races very often enabling him to strike it out on payment of a minor forfeit should it entirely disappoint expectations or in any way suggest inability to gallop. Much misapplied criticism is directed by ill-informed persons to what they regard as the forcing of the immature animal. The truth is that there are some two-year-olds, usually small and well developed, who if they did not win races early in the season would never win at all. Owners and trainers take stock of their youngsters and enter them accordingly.
Examination of the volumes of Races to Come will show that some horses are entered for stakes run early in the season, their names being rarely or never found in races that take place later in the year for other animals no engagements are made till the summer and they are nominated frequently for events in the autumn. It will be understood why this is so—owners and trainers judge when their representatives are likely to " come to hand." There are those again that give promise of early maturity and have something about them which forbids their owners to despair of subsequent development. It is an extremely rare thing to find a horse entered for, say, the Brocklesby Stakes, run to-wards the end of March, and the Middle Park Plate, run in the middle of October, though at the same time, Donovan, in 1888, actually won both. As a general rule, however, when October comes the winner of the Brocklesby is very lightly esteemed and the chances are that before June the winner of the Middle Park has not been seen on a racecourse. The winner of the Brocklesby " may be anything," as the phrase goes. The Bard won in 1885 and held his own next year, running a good second to Ormonde for the Derby; in four years out of six The Bard would doubtless easily have won the great race. In 1884 April Fool won and soon sank to " plating. " In 1887 Volcano won and not long afterwards was being badly beaten in selling handicap hurdle races, the lowest form of contest the Turf knows. In 1888 Donovan won and subsequently proved himself one of the most successful horses ever known on the Turf. But The Bard and Donovan were notable exceptions to the average run of Brocklesby winners.
It is seldom that two-year-olds destined to attain to the front rank are out before, at any rate,the Woodcote Stakes at Epsom. The Woodcote was originated in 1807, and with the exception of the July Stakes at Newmarket, first run in 1784, is about the oldest two-year-old contest now surviving. Derby winners have won the Woodcote—Cremorne (1871) and Ladas (1893); but in the ordinary course of events it is not till Ascot, a fortnight after the Derby, that one sees the two-year-olds on which the fame of the English racehorse is to depend. The New Stakes at Ascot dates from 1843 ; the list of winners is a brilliant one, and now come names that are to be met with again in the Middle Park Plate, the most important stake for horses in their first season. Of late (since 1890) the Coventry Stakes has been added to the Ascot programme, and this is of equal interest with the older race ; indeed; it is in one respect superior, for in the Coventry all competitors meet at even weights (except as regards the usual 3 lbs; allowance for fillies) and in the New Stakes there are penalties and allowances. Kermesse, Melton, Friar's Balsam, Donovan, Isinglass won both New Stakes and Middle Park Plate, and Ladas won the latter after carrying off the Coventry. At Ascot one begins (often, however, arriving at most incorrect conclusions) to speculate upon how the two-year-olds of the season should be rated, and it is probable that further light will be thrown upon the question by the July Stakes at the Newmarket First July Meeting and the Chesterfield (1834) at the Second July. Here, too, Middle Park winners and Dewhurst winners (the Dewhurst ranking only second to the. Middle Park) are found, as they are in the Richmond and Prince of Wales's Stakes at Goodwood. It was at Goodwood that St. Simon ran for the first time, though in a minor event called the Halnaker. There are rich stakes at Sandown, Kempton and elsewhere which attract excellent fields, but the programmes here are somewhat mutable, and these races have not yet existed long enough to gain prestige by their association with many famous names. The most valuable two-year-old race now is the National Breeders' Produce Stakes, run at Sandown the day after the Eclipse, and worth well over £4,000; but the Portland Plate at Leicester, won by Donovan in 1888, amounted to £4,000. As to the importance of the Champagne Stakes (1823) at Doncaster there can be no question. Occasionally it falls to a moderate horse—Ayah, Solaro and Grandison are poor examples of Champagne winners but of late years one finds the names of Velasquez, Ladas, La Flèche, Riviera, Chittabob (one of three horses that with an advantage of 13 lbs. in weights—beat Donovan), Ayrshire, Minting ; .and further back many others of note. There had for a long time been urgent necessity for a good two year-old race late in the year, a contest that would attract the best horses and really show the capacity of the principal two-year-olds, and such a prize was founded at the suggestion of Mr. Blenkiron in 1870. This gentleman was a breeder of thoroughbred stock at the Middle Park Stud, and the race was named accordingly, he having subscribed £500 towards the stake. At once it became established as the chief two -year-old event of the season. An average of exactly fourteen starters has gone to the post, and the winners have nearly always been animals of the very highest class since Albert Victor's name was inscribed at the head of the list. A fair share of the misfortunes that horse flesh is heir to has befallen winners, it is true. A horse entered here would almost invariably be nominated for the Derby and the St. Leger, so that if all went well with the winner his chance at Epsom should have been specially good ; but for a long time an unfortunate fate seemed to overshadow Middle Park winners in their advance to Derby honours. Something untoward happened year after year. St. Louis and Macheath failed to stand training, and it was not till 1885 that Melton broke the spell, and won the Derby after winning the Middle Park though Busybody after taking the latter in 1883 had won the Oaks next year. Since then the 1esult of the Middle Park has pointed strongly to the result of the Derby. Six horses have run in both, four of them have won both Donovan (1888), Isinglass (1802), Ladas (1893), Galtee More (1894). Gouverneur won the Middle Park in 1890 and ran second, the colt that beat him, Common, not having run in the New-market race. St. Frusquin, who won the two-year-old race in 1895, was just beaten at Epsom.
The Middle Park Plate takes place over the Bretby Stakes Course, six furlongs, and soon after its inauguration it was felt desirable to have another and a still severer test of merit in the shape of a seven-furlong race. The Dewhurst Plate was therefore started at the Houghton Meeting in 1875, and speedily shared the success of the race which makes so interesting a feature in the Second October. The Middle Park Plate is usually worth nearer £22,000 than £3,000, the Dewhurst about £1,000 less, but the lists of winners are of nearly equal merit, and on several occasions both races have been won by the same horse—Chamant (1874), Friar's Balsam (1887), Donovan (1888), Orme (1891), and St. Frusquin (1895). Another noteworthy race at the Houghton Meeting is the Criterion Stakes, first run for in 1829. This is a good test of staying ability as it finishes up the Criterion Hill at "the top of the town," a severe six furlongs. It has fallen to horses of very various capacity, to very bad ones, such as Oakdene, Aureus and Cayenne, and to Jannette, winner of the St. Leger, Thebais, winner of the Oaks, Bruce who would have won the Derby had he been properly ridden and who did win the Grand Prix, to Melton, Ormonde and others of high standing.
Two-year-olds are not permitted by the rules of racing to run a longer distance than six furlongs before the 1st of July; and until the 1st of September they always run at weight for age, with or without penalties or allowances, according to the nature of the race ; but on the 1st of September " Nurseries," or two-year-old handicaps are allowed, and restrictions as to distance are re-moved ; indeed, in the Houghton Meeting there is a Feather Plate over the trying Cesarewitch course, two miles two furlongs, in which the young horses meet their elders, and the race is nearly always won by a two-year-old—who is as a rule worthless afterwards. Another race at the Houghton Meeting, which always promises well and nearly always disappoints expectation is the Free Handicap for Two-year-olds. Horses are not entered by their owners for this stake. The handicapper takes the best known two-year-olds and weights them according to his estimate of their capacity, thus enabling one to learn how they stand in the eyes of an impartial authority. The field, however, very seldom includes those that the lover of the Turf would chiefly desire to see in antagonism.