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Claiming Races For Thorough Bred Horses

( Originally Published 1898 )

SELLING RACES—Selling races are the lowest forms of contest recognised by the rules of racing ; and selling handicaps, the lowest of all, are, on the face of them, manifestly ridiculous. " Winner to be sold for 50 sovs." is the notification in the conditions of the smallest, the selling price being raised on occasions to much larger sums, though perhaps .10o is the most common, and no prize can be less than £100 under Jockey Club Rules. Weights range from 9 st. to 6 st. ; and it is manifest that if one horse can give another 3 st. and a beating—a beating which may tend to prove that he could have given much more—and if the winner is only worth £50, the defeated light-weight must be worth a great deal less; or, on the other hand, if the bottom weight wins, and the top weight, giving the 3 st., is only just defeated, receives, let us say, a 3 lb. or 4 lb. beating, he or she must be worth a great deal more than the winner. No one can fail to see the cogency of this argument ; and the man of logical mind who did not understand the exigencies of racing would at once say that there was no denying the common sense of the cry for the abolition of, at any rate, the selling handicap. But the exigencies of racing are not governed by logical considerations. The point is how a man can get rid of a very bad horse ; and the selling handicap supplies the nearest approach to an answer. An owner tries a two-year-old to be very bad—a youngster of which, very likely, he may have formed high hopes, based on his breeding, make and shape, action and apparent capacity to gallop. He fulfils an engagement, and runs wretchedly. "First time out; ran green," is the excuse ; and he is started again. Again he is badly beaten ; but the owner, perhaps, lays the flattering unction to his soul that the winner is something out of the common, has extraordinary speed, chopped his field, that his own horse did not get off, was shut in, or in some way the victim of accident. Once more he tries his luck in moderate company ; and the truth, which has in fact been actually plain all the while, has to be recognised : he is a very bad horse. " We shall have to put him in a selling race,” is the verdict, and in such a contest he figures. If beaten, he descends still further to the selling handicap, and should he fail even here his future becomes indefinite. If he is believed to "look like jumping," he may be claimed and tried at hurdles ; if not, some one may pick him up at auction for a hunter, a hack or a cab—one may be dragged down Piccadilly by an animal whose name not long be-fore has figured largely among the entries for great stakes. The decadence of a promising but deceptive two-year-old has here been traced ; but horses come to run in selling races later in life. Possibly, for some mysterious reason, they have lost their form ; perhaps they show a more or less pronounced tendency to go wrong in the wind ; it may be that a leg has gone and been patched up, or else shows signs of going. For some cause or other it appears urgently desirable to get rid of them while they retain a scrap of form and reputation ; and the doubtful animal is put into a selling race. Some screw must be loose or he would not be there, is the natural deduction ; but many who want to bet will reply that he has never run in such company before, and at any rate ought to beat this lot. Thus one object of latter day sport, the making up of a race which may lead to an exciting struggle (and possibly to a brilliant display of horsemanship) is fulfilled.

It will at once be seen how readily such a system might be turned to a source of very possible profit by what are called " astute practitioners." Place a really smart horsein a selling plate, a horse that could win in good company, he will only have platers the term is one of reproach to beat, he is sure to win and his friends may bet, as the phrase goes, "till the cows come home." The plan has often been carried out with profitable results supposing that two or three other Owners are not playing the same game at the time, but there arc dangers attached to the experiment. In the first place "the ring " are very ready to estimate the situation of affairs, to refuse to bet against the good thing, or at best to make the backers lay long odds on it. It wins ; but the stake is paltry ; in order to make money by betting a very great risk has to be undergone, and the danger is not yet over. The winner of a selling race has, of course, to he sold by auction ; the owner receives no more than the entered selling price, probably £100, possibly £50 (the lowest sum recognised), and the surplus is divided between the race fund and the owner of the second horse. If the owner of the winner, who has effected his coup, wants to retain his animal, he may very likely have to give a great deal of money for it, as the circumstances of the race, the confidence with which it has been backed, and the ease with which it won, have left no doubt about its value. Buying in is, therefore, an exceedingly expensive business. An actual example will best demonstrate the case. An American importation, named Banquet II., won a selling plate at Newmarket, worth £100 ; he was entered to be sold for another 10n (so far as memory serves—the record of the race in Ruff 's Guide omits the selling price), and he was bought in for 1,510 guineas—£1,575 10s. The deficit, therefore, £1,375, had to be won by betting, which in this particular case, would have involved a risk of probably at least £l,000. The owner (Mr. Croker, the "Boss of Tammany"), received £100 for the stake and had to pay £1,475 to retain his horse. Banquet II., as was then made evident, was regarded by his owner as worth at least some £1,600; but let us see what happened in this typical case. Notwithstanding his appearance as a " plater," the horse was entered for a £2,000 stake, and beaten ; he ran again in a race of character, and again suffered defeat ; after which another coup was attempted in a selling race. This time it miscarried. The horse was beaten a length by an outsider and promptly "claimed."

This is another risk run by owners who wish to gamble on selling platers. A rule of racing says that " all other horses starting" [other than the winner, that is] " may be claimed for the selling price plus the value of the stake or plate by the owners of horses running in the race or their authorised agents." Claims may be made by owners according to the places their representatives obtain ; thus the owner of the third has priority of claim for the horse that ran second. In this rase Banquet was entered to be sold for £200 ; the stake was worth another £200, so that he was claimed for £400 ;

just a quarter of what has been shown to be his owner's lowest possible estimate of his worth ; and of course the ,money betted on him, doubtless a heavy amount or the gamble would not have been remunerative, was also lost. It will be seen from this example how dangerous a game it is. The owner of the exploited plater must bet heavily in order to be able to afford to buy in his horse if he wins; and if he is beaten he is very likely to lose the animal, for a ridiculously inadequate sum, as well as his bets. It happens on occasions that an owner loses money by winning a selling race. His horse runs better than he has expected it would do, and he thinks he would like to keep it. He has not backed it, and so, entered to be sold for £100, he may have to hid, say £500, to retain it ; which means that he must pay 400 for division between the owner of the second and the race fund— £500, less the Lino entered selling price. He is consequently £300 out of pocket, plus the jockey's winning fee of five guineas and incidental expenses. These gambles are not healthy ; they are not in accordance with the true spirit of the sport, and by way of preventing them a rule was some time since instituted in France that horses might be claimed for the entered selling price plus the value of the stake, before a race was run. The owner who had intended to "have a dash" on a useful horse that was put in to meet inferior class animals might thus be very awkwardly circumvented. There was a good deal of common sense in the idea, but apparently it did not answer.

It is inevitable that mistakes should be made; and at times horses rise from the ranks of the selling platers and greatly distinguish themselves. Their owners have lost patience with them after a disappointment, it may be ; or they improve in an unexpected way, possibly by shaking off some ailment which has affected them, and has not been recognised by their first trainer; or it may be that he has misunderstood their constitution or capacity, so that in more appreciative hands they do better. If space permitted a string of examples might be given, but the case of Victor Wild may be quoted as a remarkable one. He belonged to Golding, a particularly shrewd and capable trainer, who makes as few mistakes as any one, but who, however, doubtless for some reason that seemed good at the time, put him in a wretched little 100 selling race, the Brockhurst Plate, at the now extinct Portsmouth Park Meeting. He won a couple of lengths from the best of four wretches who followed him, and, entered to be sold for £I00, fetched 330 guineas—less than a twentieth part of his value. He next ran in a Nursery Handicap with a selling clause, met opponents of the most moderate character, and won comfortably, actually receiving weight from some of them. This time he was bought in for 64o guineas, and gradually started the career in the course of which he has often so memorably distinguished himself. Hampton, who won such fame as a sire, also figured in selling races. Thus a " plater" may become a famous horse ; but he will be an exception to the rule, for the course of the plater is almost invariably down hill by more or less rapid stages.

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