Time For Horse Racing
( Originally Published 1898 )
TIME—Occasionally in reports of races a comment is appended to the effect that the time was so many minutes, seconds, and fifths of seconds. The chances are that the figures lack correctness; but, if they happen to be accurate, they are utterly worthless for all practical purposes. The accuracy is to be doubted, because in this country men have so little experience of taking time, and as a matter of fact, when it is done, the totals are usually found to vary considerably on different watches ; more-over, when so little as fifths of a second are reckoned, it is to be noted that horses do not start exactly at the post, but "at such reasonable distance behind the starting post as the starter thinks necessary." After the flag has fallen therefore, and before the precise distance line is crossed, some fifths of a second must often be occupied. Of course it is obvious that the animal which really covers a given distance in exceptionally short time must have great speed. No one can deny that. But the utter worthlessness of the "time test" is proved by the circumstance that horses which are Unquestionably bad have very frequently won races in better time than that taken by horses universally acknowledged to be of the very first rank. It is far from certain that a mile has ever been covered in better time than the 1 min. 39 secs. recorded for Brag in the Brighton Cup, for about this time there seemed to be an unusual agreement ; but it is certain that very few persons would care to maintain that Brag was the best horse of his generation, or indeed anything approaching to it. The object of a race is not to accomplish the distance in the least possible time, but to arrive first at the winning post. Nothing is more common than to read that some good horse has "won in a canter." If he had galloped his best, it is obvious that his time would have been considerably shorter. The fallaciousness of the " test " is further increased by differences in the going and in the nature of courses. If the turf is deep and holding, horses are likely to take longer than they would if they were galloping " on the top of the ground," and five furlongs down the hill at Epsom or at Brighton is a speedier business than up the hill at Ascot or to the finish of the Bunbury Mile, or of the Criterion course, if any five-furlong races are run there. Examples bearing on this have not seldom been quoted, but may be repeated here. Galopin, one of the very best horses that ever won the Derby, took 2 min. 48 secs. ; Sir Visto, one of the very worst, took 2 min. 431 secs. ; Lord Lyon, whose excellence will be dwelt on in the section on " Famous Horses," took 2 min. 50 secs. Merry Hampton, a very poor specimen of a Derby winner, took 2 min. 43 secs. Wheel of Fortune, one of the best mares ever known, took 3 min. a secs. to win the Oaks ; Lonely, one of the worst, took 2 min. 43 2/3, secs. The mighty Ormonde's Leger time was 3 min. 24 secs. ; The Lambkin, a very moderate animal, was only 3 min. 14 secs. in doing the distance. These instances will probably suffice. " The watch " may possibly be of some service in showing whether a two-year-old has speed, whether he can cover five furlongs in such time as to suggest his ability to race with good prospects ; but it has been found in many years' experience that a carefully chosen trial horse will give the same assurance. As an almost universal rule, to take (or attempt to take) the time of a race and to draw deductions from it is an utterly futile proceeding.