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Horse Racing Officials

( Originally Published 1898 )

Racing Officials. The duties of the various officials will be found fully set forth in the Rules of Racing, and need not be repeated here at length. That a HANDICAPPER should give general satisfaction is of course not for a moment to be expected, as there are many owners who do not really want a handicap with which no fault can be found, but a compilation of weights which gives their horses an advantage. Very palpable blunders are, however, not rare. They sometimes arise from carelessness in trusting to recollection instead of looking up form ; sometimes they are due to haste, a handicapper undertaking work which he cannot possibly do in the short time he can give to it; and not seldom they are a consequence of too close an adherence to book form with no special knowledge behind it. Thus. it has been previously pointed out that a horse may win by a neck and have 3 lbs. in hand or 3 stone ; and unless the handicapper sees the race, and is a judge of riding, he is likely to go far astray. Neglect of this last essential led to results which induced the jockey Club about a year since (at the beginning of 1897) to make an addition to the Rule of Racing which deals with handicappers, to limit the work they do, and to declare that they must attend the meetings for which they have adjusted weights, either personally or by licensed deputy,and when they are vicariously represented it can only be hoped that the deputy is alert, ready to make notes and careful to ensure that his principal has them put before him.

The JUDGE must be in his box when the horses pass the post. He carefully scrutinises the approaching field through his glasses, takes in generally the positions of the leading horses, puts down his glass when the leaders are near at hand, and so notes precisely how the first three at least usually the fourth, and occasionally others pass the imaginary line between his box and the winning post. He can see infinitely better than anyone else how the horses finish ; and though there are legends of judges having made mistakes in short head verdicts, the ' chances are that their decisions have been correct. There is reason to suppose that once or twice a blunder has occurred, and never been protested against, when a horse, out by himself, has been an easy winner, but has come up on one side of the course under the box of a judge whose attention has been fixed upon two or three others on the opposite side fighting out what he has mistaken for the finish. On one occasion there was nearly being no verdict at all. The late Judge Clark, a wholly admirable occupant of the position—though he took no sort of interest in horses or any other animals, and occupied his leisure hours in the study of ecclesiastical architecture went fast asleep one hot summer's afternoon at Goodwood when the horses were at the post for the Stewards' Cup. He gazed over the shimmering landscape before him till he dozed away, to be suddenly aroused by a happily observant policeman, who shook him up to consciousnessjust when the field had reached the distance, so that he had time to fulfil his duties. Only men who have hoped, feared, and anticipated much from the result of a race can realise what those most deeply interested in the winner would have felt had it been declared that the race was void and must be run again, as would probably have been inevitable. When there are objections to winners on the ground of crossing, jostling, bumping, or anything that has occurred in the course of the race, the evidence of the judge is sought, and always carries great weight with the Stewards. Very often after a close race only the judge can say for certain which has won, and the spectators wait with the utmost tension of anxiety to see what number he has instructed his assistant to hoist in the frame; or possibly it may be no number at all, but the " o 0," which stands for a dead heat.

The STARTER'S duties are at present threatened with supersession by the introduction of the "starting machine," a colonial invention, first tried in this country last year (1897), which has found warm advocates and no less energetic opponents. Starts under the system which has for so long a time prevailed not seldom occupy much time, and with the machine in use there is likely to be less delay at the post; somuch must certainly be admitted ; but good starts are by no means assured by the employment of the contrivance. Some horses never take to it kindly, others become very clever at it, and when it is used there must always be a grave risk of accidents ; for the horses advance to the barrier in a compact line, and if a vicious, irritable, or " catfish " animal kicks out, as some always will, broken limbs are an exceedingly probable result. If these is no machine in front of the field, a jockey whose horse becomes troublesome can ride it on in advance, or swing it to right or left : the field are not all wedged together. The opinion of the very great majority of those professionally engaged in the sport is most strongly opposed to the starting machine. Where the English method is in vogue, the starter makes his way to the post, usually on horseback, dismounts, and, red flag in hand, takes the field in charge. The jockeys have drawn numbers in the weighing-room, to determine their places in the line, and these the starter reads out from a paper. His assistant, with a large white flag, then takes his place some fifty yards in advance, his business being to lower his white flag when the starter, by dropping the red flag, has given the signal ; for the red flag will be hidden from several of the jockeys farthest away from it, all of whom, however, can see the white flag well in front of them. The starter's object is to get the field in a line, to see that no jockey is trotting or cantering, but that all are at a walk; and, when the line is once straight, to say " Go ! " and flash his flag to the ground. The business is difficult, for several reasons. Jockeys often cannot restrain their horses ; sometimes a few are all anxiety to get away, just to anticipate the fall of the flag, and so steal an advantage ; on occasions, it is to be feared, they do not all want to get off too well; and there are times when they lose their tempers and give as much trouble as they dare, persistently disobeying orders to " come on " or to " come back." Admirable patience and equanimity are among the chief requisites for a starter : and it must be added that these are found to an extra-ordinary extent in the present chief occupant of the post, Mr. Arthur Coventry.

THE CLERK OF THE SCALES is on duty in the weighing room, his business being to weigh every jockey who is going to ride, and make out a list of those competing. The jockeys declare their weights as they take their places in the scales, and he sees if they draw the amount. After the race he again weighs the riders of the horses that have been placed by the judge, putting an extra. 2 lbs. in the scale to prove that the horse has not carried too much. Jockeys of course weigh with their saddle and weight clothes, and, if they do not quite turn the beam, the bridle may be sent for to ascertain if that will make up the necessary difference.

THE CLERK OF THE COURSE is responsible for the general arrangements of the meeting at which he officiates. He must see that the distances of the course are correctly measured and marked, though this is not often a source of trouble, as the various posts on most courses have stood for many years. A more pressing duty is the publication of cards of the races. He must also engage officials, and see that the meeting is provided with Stewards. Very often those who have consented to act neither appear nor send any intimation of their inability to attend, and the Clerk of the Course is hard put to it to find suitable substitutes.

STEWARDS may for convenience be here included. They are appointed to fulfil duties which they very often perform in a perfunctory manner or not seldom entirely neglect—occasionally from ignorance ; for clerks of courses are apt to invite distinguished persons to act as stewards because they are locally popular or important, and notwithstanding the fact that they know nothing of the sport they are requested to control. There must be at least two stewards, whose task it is to see that in all respects the Rules of Racing are observed and obeyed ; and some knowledge of these Rules is obviously essential. Any disputes which arise are submitted to the stewards, who seek the best evidence obtainable, and act accordingly. If an owner or jockey make an objection for foul riding, bumping, or some such offence, intentional or unintentional, the stewards hear what he has to say, examine other jockeys that have ridden in the race, obtain the judge's version of the affair, and sustain or overrule the objection as they may consider just. They may suspend an offender for the rest of the meeting, and in some cases inflict fines. When serious offences are committed, the stewards of meetings usually report the matter to the Stewards of the Jockey Club, who investigate the subject, and, if proof be forthcoming, sentence the culprits to such penalties as they decide will meet the justice of the case. If stewards of meetings did with more strictness what they were appointed to do, there would be much less scandal and suspicion than are at present found on the Turf. One does not want a steward to be fussy and unnecessarily prone to investigate ; but there are occasions when horses or their riders perform oddly, when perhaps the betting has foreshadowed or suggested something suspicious, and when after the race shrewd and experienced men not the foolish public who generally lose their temper when they lose their money, and immediately proclaim their certain conviction that a robbery has been committed, but cool headed men who know what racing is are deliberately of opinion that dishonesty has been practised. Stewards not seldom hear such whispers if the comments are confined to whisperings,and do nothing. There may be, there often is, a simple explanation of what has seemed inexplicable except on the ground of roguery ; and if only to clear characters that are besmirched, the Stewards should enquire into such cases; especially as, if they feel themselves unable to decide, they can always report the matter to the Stewards of the Jockey Club, leaving the onus of decision on them.

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