Race Courses For Thorough Bred Horses
( Originally Published 1898 )
RACE COURSES—By general consent the best meeting of the year is held at Ascot. The sport here is consistently good, and it is the one place where no selling race is found in the programme. There are only five handicaps during the four days over which the meeting extends, and one of these, the Royal Hunt Cup, is perhaps only second in general interest to the Cambridgeshire. The Ascot Stakes and the Wokingham are also events of importance, though the former is over two miles, and nowadays for all long distance races except the Cesarewitch fields are usually no better than moderate. The Ascot Cup stands out by itself as the great race of its kind. A few years since it was generally understood that a race for a Cup was invariably like the Cup at the " Royal Meeting" as it is called, over a long distance of ground, but in this respect things have altered on many courses. and Cups are often run for at distances of less than a mile. Nearly all the stakes at Ascot are of considerable value. The Cup is now worth as a rule not far short of . 4,000 ;. the Coronation Stakes for three-year-old fillies often amounts to over £3,000, and the St. James's Palace and Hardwicke Stakes are also reckoned in thousands. The Hardwicke, it may be remarked, was named after the late Earl, who revised the Ascot programme during his tenancy of the Mastership of the Buckhounds. The Ascot course is circular, and only some sixty-six yards short of two miles round. The ground rises and falls, with a finish uphill, which is a severe test of a horse's ability, and some of the best jockeys who ride and have ridden there say that races are not seldom lost because riders do not appreciate the severity of the finish, and so make their effort too soon. The great drawback to Ascot, as a rule, is the hardness. of the going. The meeting always takes place about the middle of June, when the sun has baked the course, and scarcely a year passes in which some good animals do not permanently injure themselves by running here.
But to a great many devotees of the sport there is no place which approaches Newmarket. The whole of Newmarket is practically given up to the horse. Most of the training here is done on what is called the "Bury Side," an expanse of ground including the famous Lime-kilns, on which, as a rule, the going is always good. Even when it is hard on other parts of the Heath, if one passes through the belt of trees which separates the Lime-kilns from the Bury Hill, horses can be freely galloped at almost all times, though elsewhere they have to do their work on the tan tracks which have been laid. down, and are utilised by trainers who desire to avoid the jar which would be caused by the hard ground. What is called the " Race Course Side " is also busy in the morning, however. Most of the races take place on some portion of the Rowley Mile, though not all of them finish at what may be called the principal winning post, opposite to the stand. There are three other winning posts on this portion of the course. First comes the Abingdon Mile. This post is situated at the bottom of a descent, so that the course is suitable for speedy horses with little staying power, as they have not to climb up the rise to the Rowley Mile post. The next is the Ditch Mile, and the last is the T.Y.C., capitals which stand for "Two Year Old Course." Every course, it may be remarked, has its T.Y.C. extending to something from 5 to 6 furlongs; thus the T.Y.C. at Newmarket (that is to say on the Rowley Mile course) is 5 furlongs 140 yards ; at Ascot it is 5 furlongs 136 yards ; at Doncaster the "Red House in" does duty for a T.Y.C., and is 5 furlongs 152 yards ; at Epsom and Goodwood it is 6 furlongs exactly. The Cambridgeshire used to finish, as a few races do still, at the Criterion Course winning post, commonly called " the top of the town," but in 1888 the course which had been in use since this handicap was first established, in 1839, was altered. The Cambridge-shire now finishes at the Rowley Mile stand, and is run over exactly 2,000 yards, that is to say a mile and a "distance"; for a " distance" is not a vague term as some people appear to suppose, but a measurement of 240 yards. The hill from the Rowley Mile stand to the winning post at the "top of the town" is a severe one and forms a useful test of a horse's staying powers. Here it was that the old Beacon course, about which one often reads in old racing histories, came to an end. This course was 4 miles I furlong 177 yards in length. It is very seldom used now, never, indeed, unless the Whip is challenged for. On the Rowley Mile and its appurtenances are held the three Spring and three Autumn meetings, the Craven, the First Spring, the Second Spring; the First October, which usually takes place at the end of September, the Second October, and the Houghton. The two Summer Meetings, the First and Second July, are held on another course, familiarly described as " Behind the Ditch." The course runs parallel to the famous " ditch " which was erected for it is an embankment as well as a ditch proper in time immemorial for military purposes, and may still be traced through several counties. Here there are two winning posts: one opposite the stand at the top of a hill, the other, the new T.Y.C., which is 5 furlongs 142 yards, at the bottom of the rise, so that it is not nearly so severe. How trying this hill is to horses is shown by the frequency with which they fail to carry a penalty up it. There can scarcely be a better proof of a horse's merit than success in a race " A. F. ," assuming of course that the field is made up of good animals. " A. F." are initials that signify " Across the Flat," and the course consists of the Rowley Mile together with 2 furlongs beyond it at the start. It is, quite straight, with ascents and descents just enough to try a horse's action ; for though it is in no part very steep, if an animal cannot come down a hill, a consequence of bad shoulders or of his being what is called "upright" in front, the descent into the Abingdon Mile Bottom is sufficient to make him falter. A straight course is more harduous than one round turns, in " negotiating" which an animal must be slightly eased. The breadth of the Newmarket courses is a great advantage, as horses have plenty of room, and with moderate luck and judgment a jockey should never be shut in ; though not long since in a match one of the horses was disqualified for bumping. Before the stands were erected, a great many visitors to Newmarket did their racing on horseback, and not a few gentlemen and trainers have their hacks there at present. When races finish, as they do on some days, at several of the different winning posts, a good deal of exercise is involved in getting about, and a hack is a great convenience. The Round Course is now little more than a name. It extended over 3 miles 4 furlongs 138 yards ; the " Ditch In," 2 miles 118 yards from the running gap (a cutting through the "ditch") to the end of the Beacon Course, is also seldom used, but one or two races are still run over the Two Middle Miles, a course in reality 17 yards short of its nominal distance.
The Epsom Course is one of the worst in the country by reason of the very awkward turn at Tattenham corner.
This was not long since to some extent modified, but it is still extremely dangerous, and on rounding it the jockey finds himself at the top of a steep hill, dashing down which must be something of a trial to the nerves if they are not of the best. The Derby Course is much in the form of a horseshoe, the first part of it being on the ascent, and though, certainly, riders do not seem to ease at all in coming round the corner, it is evident that they must do so, because the Derby time is invariably rather slow. The Bell stands at the bottom of the hill ; from there to the winning post is a slight rise, but its distance is short, and thus horses that cannot come down hill have naturally a bad chance at Epsom, though it may be noted that to judge from a horse's formation whether he can come down hill or not is apt to lead the observer into error. Those who remember Bay Middleton declare that he was as upright as a walking stick, but he came down the hill in perfect style when he won the Derby.
Goodwood, one of the best and most picturesque courses in the country, is some five miles from Chichester on the borders of the Duke of Richmond's park. The swelling Downs with the Solent beyond make a beautiful view from the stands, and for some reason or other, though the meeting is held on the last days of July or the first days of August, the going never seems to be very hard. The courses are very varied in character, the long distance races being run round a hill called " the Clump." Doncaster is a circular course nearly flat, t mile 7 furlongs 92 yards round ; there is a turn into the straight for when a course is spoken of as circular it must not be understood that it bears anything like a close resemblance to a circle but it is a long way from home, and trouble in the nature of jostling seldom happens there, though in Memoir's St. Leger there was a scrimmage at this point, T. Loates on St. Serf having been knocked uite out of his saddle, to which he was restored by Tom Cannon. The nearest approach to a circular course, using the word in its proper meaning, is at Chester on the Roodee, by the side of the river Dee ; the course in-deed has been derisively spoken of as a "soup plate." It is only about 50 yards more than a mile round, and so is very much on the turn and unsuitable for long striding horses.
A familiar phrase on the turf is " horses for courses," and' that there is a good deal in the expression often seems to be proved. Thus the Brighton Course is very like Epsom, and horses that win at one meeting often win at the other, a circumstance, however, which may no doubt partially be explained by the fact that these courses down a long hill are easy, so that a speedy animal who cannot stay has a specially good chance. York has an oval flat course on the famous Knavesmire about a mile from the city. One of the most popular of the few "open courses," as opposed to gate money meetings, which still remain, is at Stockbridge, the headquarters of the Bibury Club, one of the oldest established racing clubs in the country, members of which are ipso facto gentlemen riders, the only other English racing clubs which confer this distinction being the Jockey Club, Croxton Park, Southdown and Ludlow. Besides races for gentlemen riders Stockbridge, situated on the Downs near the historical training establishment of Danebury, has usually some very good two-year-old sport. The place has long been specially popular with many of the leading patrons of the turf, and it is seldom that good horses do not go to the post for the Hurstbourne Stakes—Stockbridge indeed is recognised as having a charm of its own, and much regret has been expressed at the report that a renewal of the lease for the training ground and racecourse cannot be obtained. It was here that the Marquis of Hastings and the Duke of Beaufort had their horses under the charge of John Day, father-in-law of the present tenant, Tom Cannon, during a very sensational period of turf history. The Southdown Club meeting is held at Lewes, where the course on the top of a range of hills near the capital of Sussex has some resemblance to Stockbridge. Of the racing clubs which have lately come into existence Sandown Park was one of the first. Thishas a pear shaped course rather more than a mile and a half in circumference, and is on the whole tolerably easy t for though there is a stiffish hill at the finish, horses in a race of six furlongs or more have to come round turns which necessitate a certain amount of easing. There is also a new T.Y.C. here, quite straight, running through the middle of the park, the awkward point about which is that if races are viewed from the Stand it is impossible to-judge with anything approaching accuracy what has won until the judge has confirmed impressions—or perhaps in most cases destroyed them by hoisting the number. Kempton Park also has a trying turn, by reason of which many calculations are upset. When horses are heavily weighted their jockeys are not seldom greatly perplexed as to the best method of proceeding. Unless they race for the turn, so as to get a good place there, they are in considerable danger of being shut in ; and on a horse that carries a heavy burden it is usually good policy to wait. Gatwick is on the lines of Sandown and Kempton, and like them is undoubtedly well managed. The drawback to the place lies in the nature of the soil ; the clay forms deep and holding mud in very wet weather, and in very dry weather becomes extremely hard. Credit for good management must also be extended to Hurst Park and Lingfield. The former is at Moulsey Hurst, where once the old Hampton Races, the great Cockney carnival, used to be held. Great pains have been taken with the ground, and the going here is almost always good. Lingfield, too, is in all respects a pleasant and picturesque meeting, though the Stands are, as on so many other courses, placed so that it is difficult for a majority of their occupants to obtain a good view of the sport. There is also a racing club at Derby and a very good flat oval course with moderately easy turns rather more than a mile and a quarter round. The racing here is notably popular with all classes. Manchester and Liverpool (the former, to be strictly accurate, at Aintree, some five miles from the city) are leading homes of racing. Newcastle is served by Gosforth Park, and Birmingham has lately started a course marked by special advantages. There is here a straight mile and a quarter, straight actually, not only nominally, and an excellent view of the sport can be had from the stands, the architects having understood at what angle to the running ground they should be built. Leicester has a very good course, and the meeting has lately attained a degree of popularity which was for sometime denied it. There is here, however, a rather steep descent into a hollow and a trying ascent out of it before the level run in is reached. The season always opens at Lincoln, and one of the last meetings is also held there. The course is (nominally) circular, 1 mile 6 furlongs 6 yards. The T.Y.C. is about 5 furlongs, to suit the young horses in their earliest public essays.