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Thoroughbred Weight For Age Races

( Originally Published 1898 )

WEIGHT-FOR-AGE RACES—It has been seen that practically everything depends upon the weight a horse carries. There is an old saying that weight will bring together a donkey and a Derby winner, and the extravagant assertion may be accepted as tending to show how vast a difference a horse's burden is recognised as making. Weight-for-age races are of three varieties. In the first place there is what may be called weight-for-age proper, in which animals of the same age carry the same weight, as in the Coventry Stakes at Ascot and the Champagne. at Doncaster, for two-year-olds ; the five "classic" races for three-year-olds, and a very few stakes which linger for older horses. Here the only variation from even weights is that mares and geldings are allowed 3lbs. In the second place, there are races, like the New Stakes at Ascot and the Middle Park Plate at Newmarket, for two-year-olds ; the Prince of Wales's Plate at Ascot, for three-year-olds, &c., where horses of the same age carry the same weight, with, however, penalties for previous successes, and, in the case of the Ascot race, maiden allowances. In the third place, there are weight-for-age races in which horses of different ages meet and are weighted according to the table already given.

Of weight-for-age races, the five "classic events are supposed to come first, and the Derby first of these. Since this point of view was adopted, a number of valuable and important stakes have been introduced, wherein Derby winners may and do meet each other ; and a special prestige has always attached to the Ascot Cup, in which there are none of the penalties and allowances that "bring horses together," and where also Derby winners and others of the highest class may be found in opposition. The five three-year-old classic races are, however, the Two Thousand Guineas, for colts and fillies, dating from 1809, and the One Thousand, for fillies only (1814), run at the Newmarket First Spring Meeting ; the Derby, for colts and fillies (1780), and the Oaks (1799), for fillies only, run at the Epsom Summer; and the St. Leger, for colts and fillies (1774), run at Doncaster. It is difficult to understand why the Derby should be so generally, if not universally, regarded as the chief of these. The mile and a half Epsom course is far from ne of the fairest, as a horse that has the misfortune to be badly placed when Tattenham Corner is rounded is at a great disadvantage ; whereas the Doncaster course (1 mile, 4 furlongs, 132 yards) is one on which there is much less chance of jostling and accidental interference; it is longer, and so affords a better test of merit—except that in the period of from three to four months that elapse between the races the young horses have " come on" and acquired stamina; and, besides these things, the Derby winner usually runs, to prove or disprove the correctness of the Epsom race, and not seldom he meets the Oaks winner, so that an interesting point as to the relative capacity of the colts and fillies of the season comes on for decision.

Horses are entered for the Derby in the middle of their yearling season,thus the entries for the Derby of 1898 closed on July 21St, 1894. The reason for these early entries has already been given : if owners were allowed to wait until they had ascertained something of the real ability of their animals, many fewer subscriptions would be taken ; as it is, the chances are that the most promising colts and a smaller proportion of the most promising fillies are given an opportunity of obtaining what is supposed to be the highest honour the Turf affords. A few years since there was no " minor forfeit " for the Derby, that is to say, a man entered his horse, paid 50 if he ran it, and £25—half forfeit—if he did not. Now, however, if his representative turns out disappointingly, and seems to have no chance, further liability can be escaped by payment of £5 at a date in the January after entry. The subscriptions seldom fall far short of 300, and have exceeded that total—there were £301 for the Derby of 1897. The stakes have been well over £7,000, but they have also sunk to under £5,000, and now the value is fixed at £4,000, of which the second horse receives £300, and the third £200 so that the winner saves his £50 stake and secures the balance, £5,450. Derby time is never very good, because of the nature of the course. The average for a considerable number of years past has been a rate of 1 minute 48 seconds a mile, and in a well run race a mile ought not to take much more than 1 minute 40 seconds ; but, as is elsewhere remarked, nothing is more foolish and absurd than paying attention to the times races occupy. The subject of Derby winners is treated later on in this article, under the side-head " Famous Horses."

Entries for the St. Leger are made as nearly as possible two years before the event, in the September of the animals' yearling existence. Subscribers pay £25 whether they run or not, and the value of the stake therefore depends entirely upon the number of subscriptions. These are usually some sixty or seventy fewer than for the Derby, but there is no minor forfeit, and the two races are as a rule worth not very far from the same amount. For the Two Thousand and One Thousand Guineas, £100 each, half forfeit, is the condition. Entries for these close about six weeks after the St. Leger, and in number they usually fall short of a hundred. The stakes vary in total between £4,000 and £5,000. The conditions of the Oaks are the same as for the Derby, except that in the fillies' race the nominator of the winner receives £400, the owners of second and third z00 and £100. Another important three-year-old race is the Newmarket Stakes of at least £3,500, by subscription of £30 each. This is run at the Newmarket Second Spring Meeting, and the tendency of it is not wholly for good, as it affords a temptation to owners to run horses which have probably taken part in the Two Thousand a fortnight previously, are to go for the Derby, a fortnight later, and are thus over-taxed. For several years there was a three-year-old race at Epsom called the Grand Prize, set for the day after the Derby ; but this failed for obvious causes, and has been discontinued. Horses that had run the day before were likely to be feeling the effects of their exertions, if, indeed, their owners sent them to the post ; animals that seemed to have any chance for the Derby were almost certain to have been run in it; if any were specially kept for the Grand Prize it was because of their obvious inferiority, and the contest was felt to be unsatisfactory. One thing to be specially desired every year is a good field for the Ascot Cup, but the average of runners is only from three to four, and it is perhaps not unnatural that this should be so. Two or three horses nearly always stand out by themselves, if; indeed, one animal does not appear to do so, and as there are here no penal-ties or allowances (beyond the inevitable 3 lbs. for mares and geldings), few owners care to submit their horses to the ordeal of a preparation for a struggle over two miles and a half, with a very faint prospect of victory. Three-year-olds carry 7 st. 7 lbs., four-year-olds 9 st., five, six, and aged 9 st. 4 lbs. But when worthy opponents are in opposition it is truly a great race. The Goodwood Cup is *eight-for-agewith a difference. One horse may be penalized 21 lbs., another may be allowed 14 lbs., if a maiden four-year-old, 8 lbs. in addition if bred in British colonies or dependencies, making 22 lbs. in all, so that one four-year-old might have to give another no less a weight than 3 st. I lb.

About the year 1884 it occurred to the managers of Sandown Park to inaugurate a race that should be the richest in England, and ingeniously to do so in a way that would not be likely to cost them anything; for these gate-money meetings are commercial speculations, whatever they may do for the sport. A round sum of £10,000 was to be the prize, and owners were to subscribe it out of their own pockets, though if a sufficient number of entries were not obtained there might be an amount for the Club to make up. The idea will be understood by a study of the conditions, which were as follows for the first Eclipse, run in 1884 :

The ECLIPSE STAKES of 100,000 sovs. nett, with 50o sovs. for the second, the third to save his stake of 110 sovs. ; three-year-olds, 8 st. ; four, 8 st. 12 lbs. ; five and upwards, 9 st. ; mares and geldings allowed 3 lbs. ; wmners of a stake value 500 sovs. to carry 4 lbs., of 1,000 sovs., 7 lbs. extra (handicaps not included) ; winners of the Derby, Oaks, St. Leger, or Grand Prix de Paris to carry 10 lbs. extra ; about one mile and a quarter.-265 subs., 103 of whom pay 10 sovs. each, and 66 of whom pay 30 sovs. each. By subscription of 10 sovs. each, the only forfeit if declared by the first Tuesday in October, 1884 ; if left in after the first Tuesday in October, 1884, a further subscription of 20 sovs. ; if left in after the first Tuesday in January, 1885, a further subscription of 3o sovs. ; if left in after the first Tuesday in January, 1886, a further subscription of 50 sovs. In the event of the forfeits exceeding the expenses of the stake, the surplus will be devoted either to a Consolation Stakes for the unplaced starters, or will be divided between the second and third horses, at the discretion of the Executive.

It thus cost £110 to run, that is to say, owners were taking the liberal odds of 10,000 to 110 about their horses, with the chance of certain other recompenses or compensations. The scheme was successful, though in 1887 and 1890 there was no race. In amount, the total of the stakes has varied, dependent as it is on the number of entries. Ayrshire's Eclipse was worth £11,140, St. Frusquin's 9,310. These Ten Thousand Pounders, as they were called, were tempting races for conductors of meetings, and other places followed the lead of Sandown. The Lancashire Plate was started (1888) at Manchester, and Seabreeze, who had beaten Ayrshire in the St. Leger a fortnight previously, beat him again, and credited her owner with the curious sum of £10,222 10s. 10d. Le Sancy, at the time of writing the best sire in France, was third. A race called the Royal Stakes was run at Kempton, and added £9,500 to Ayrshire's large winnings on the year. There he had the best of Seabreeze, who was second. The Prince of Wales's Stakes, for three-year-olds, was also devised at Leicester, and Donovan in 1889 earned £11,000 by his victory ; but the race was a mistake, as it was fixed for April, and it was felt to be doubtful policy for owners who wanted to run their horses in the classic races to have them ready so soon. Colts and fillies could not well be trained for this event and be at their best a few weeks later in the Two Thousand, a month afterwards in the Derby, and between three and four months later still, in the St. Leger. The Leicester race was for a time transferred to the Summer Meeting and reduced in value ; but this, together with the Royal Stakes and the Lancashire Plate, have now been abandoned, though on the other hand, the Stewards of the Jockey Club have introduced two £10,000 races at New-market, the Princess of Wales's Stakes, run at the First July Meeting, and the Jockey Club Stakes at the First October. The conditions of these are on the lines of the Eclipse, and these three are now the only stakes of this value. Comments on them are made in the division of the article headed " Famous Horses." The two Newmarket Ten Thousand Pounders date from 1894.

Other more or less notable weight-for-age races are the Alexandra Plate at Ascot, the only three mile contest run regularly. It is always fixed for the last day, and, as the Cup has been run for on the previous afternoon, and stayers are so few, the field is invariably very small, owners of Cup horses seldom being willing to subject their animals to the ordeal of two such races, especially on the well-nigh inevitably hard ground. The Doncaster Cup (1801) must also be mentioned, and the Jockey Club Cup, over the Cesarewitch course, at the Houghton Meeting ; but for the last twenty years there have never been more than half a dozen starters ; four times it has resulted in a walk over, and on seven occasions been reduced to a match. The Champion Stakes, also at the Houghton, must not be omitted, by reason of the good horses that have won it—Jannette, Rayon d'Or, Robert the Devil, Bend Or, Tristan (twice, besides a dead heat on a third occasion), Paradox, Ormonde, Bendigo, Friar's Balsam, Amphion, Orme and La Flèche. The conditions of the Challenge Cup and Whip will be found set forth in the " Rules of Racing," and need not be repeated. The Whip is a trophy containing hairs from the tail of Eclipse.

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