Jockeys For Thoroughbred Horses
( Originally Published 1898 )
JOCKEYS—Considerably over 3,000 horses run every year in England. The number in 1896 was 3,189, and almost all these horses have their own boys, who ride at exercise, and, as the phrase goes, " do " them, that is to say groom and attend to them in their stables. Nearly all these boys are at any rate able to perform the elementary duty of sitting tight on a thoroughbred horse—a wiry, eel-like animal, given to antics which would be very liable frequently to displace an inexperienced rider. They constantly have opportunities of learning much about pace, and keen-eyed trainers are always on the alert to discover boys who show any real skill in horsemanship, When symptoms of ability are perceived the boy is put up to ride trials, races on the home training ground, from which, in the ordinary course of events, he should learn much ; and if he displays any promise, and his weight is suitable, he is tolerably sure to be given a mount in public. Out of all this multitude of boys, however, an extremely small percentage ever blossom into jockeys, and there are usually fewer than half-a dozen of these so far ahead of their compeers that they practically command what terms they like. As much as £5,000 a year has been given for the first call on a leading jockey ; for every race this jockey rode he would be paid in the ordinary course of events, in addition to his retaining fee, three guineas for a losing mount, and five guineas for a win. The owner who had the first call on him would of course only utilise his services on occasions ; at many meetings he would have no horses running, and that would leave the jockey free to accept other mounts. As a matter of fact large sums are paid for second and third claims on a successful jockey. One of the leading horsemen now riding not long since refused £1,500 a year for a second claim. It will be seen what handsome rewards await success in this profession, and it may also be judged how rare is the combination of qualities which ensure it. A jockey must have in the first place a very accurate knowledge of pace ; he must know how fast his horse is going, so that though at times he is in front he may still be " waiting "; he must also be able to sum up at a glance what the other horses in a race are doing, what in fact they have left in them for the finish. He must have patience, and at the same time must ride with resolution, noting the psychological moment when his effort has to be made. If he waits too long he will be beaten, and if he comes too soon he may exhaust his horse just before the post is reached. When it is considered what success in a great race means, the mere difference of a few inches, whether the horse just wins or just loses, will be appreciated ; races on the flat may be worth any sum from £100, the smallest amount permitted by the Rules of Racing, up to over £10,000. In many cases owners have bets which amount to thousands more, and in addition to these there is the enormously increased value of the horse which has the reputation of having won a great race.
A few names stand out among recent or contemporary riders whose styles were in many cases widely different but who attained the same admirable results. It may be noted that the most successful jockeys for many years past have, as a rule, averaged about one win in four mounts. In some cases this has been exceeded, as it was notably by the late Fred Archer, though at the same time it must be remembered that he had a great advantage, inasmuch as owners were always eager to secure his services. If they thought their horses had a good chance of winning they were always anxious to engage Archer, unless, of course, they had at command the services of one of his few capable rivals. During one year, when Archer rode an enormous number of races, from 600 to 700, his successes averaged two in five. He possessed one of the chief secrets of his profession, the ability to understand the peculiarities of the various horses he rode. His principal fault was extreme severity ; what might happen to a horse afterwards appeared to be no concern of his ; his mind was set on winning the race he was at the moment contesting, and not a few two-year-olds on whom he had won were good for very little afterwards, his whip and spur having taken all the heart out of them. At the same time, if he could persuade a horse instead of coercing him he would do so. On one occasion at Sandown, in a five furlong race, before the distance had been half covered he leant forward and patted the neck of his horse ; his quick eye had already assured him, even at that early point of the struggle, that he had nothing to fear from any of his opponents. His method of sitting back, and as it were driving his horse before him, was in striking contrast to that of his great rival, George Fordham, who had anything but a graceful seat upon a horse and was a man of little education and general knowledge, but whose appreciation of the delicacies of his profession was simply phenomenal. It may be doubted whether any one who ever lived understood horses and the art of race riding more thoroughly. The value of a jockey's services, it may be incidentally remarked, has vastly increased of late years. It is not long since for the first call on his services Fordham received £100 a year. In contrast again to Fordham was his friend, Tom Cannon, who to the other requisites of perfect jockeyship added extra-ordinary grace. For George Fordham Cannon had the warmest admiration, declaring that all he knew he learnt from his colleague—an ex-pression, however, which may be taken as not a little exaggerated, for he continually profited by his own experiences and singularly astute observation. Tom Cannon's hands on a two-year-old will long be famous in the history of horsemanship. He was usually the personification of gentleness on a horse, and declared that he would as soon hit a child as an anxious young two-year-old that was doing its best ; and in this respect, it may be remarked, George Fordham entirely agreed with him. There can be no doubt that Tom Cannon often got more out of a horse by his persuasive methods than any other jockey could have done by the administration of punishment. At the same time, if he had to use his whip, he could do so most effectually ; but as a general rule one or two cuts in the last three or four strides was the most he did towards what is called "a punishing finish," and when he did hit a horse, moreover, he always hit him at the right moment, not in the middle of his stride, when the stroke would make him "curl up" and shorten, but as he was about to make it ; for such minutice, which scarcely any one notices, are part of the perfect horseman's equipment. Cannon, so admirable a rider himself, was also the cause of good riding in others. His pupils include his son Mornington and John Watts, who have no superiors in the saddle at the time of writing. S. Loates and Kempton Cannon were also his apprentices and do the fullest justice to their master. Mr. Arthur Coventry, the present starter, in his time unrivalled as a gentleman rider, was another pupil of the famous jockey. Watts' style is closely modelled on that of his teacher, as indeed is that of Mornington Cannon, who, however, perhaps finishes with more vigour and determination than his father was accustomed to exhibit. Both father and son were much given to waiting, a practice which some critics consider that Mornington Cannon carries to excess. Both riders, however, when they have just lost races have sometimes expressed the conviction that if they had only dared to wait for two or three strides longer, they would just have won ; and it is by no means certain in this matter that lookers on see most of the game, or at any rate are best able to estimate the situation. It is quite certain that the most usual fault in young riders is the reverse of this, a disposition to begin to finish too soon : they are in too great a hurry to get home, and there can be no doubt that many races have been won by these waiting tactics. It is absolutely certain that Enthusiast ought not to have beaten Donovan in the Two Thousand Guineas of 1889, but Donovan, and Pioneer, who was esteemed his most dangerous rival, spun themselves out before the post was reached.
As Tom Cannon said, in accounting for his most unexpected victory, " they had two or three little races to themselves a long way from the judge's box, and when they came near it I thought I would join in." Few persons who saw the race for the Leger of 1894 will doubt that Mornington Cannon only won on Throstle because he waited well behind.
In the season of 1897, an American jockey named Tod Sloan came to England and won a good proportion of races by tactics of a diametrically opposite sort. His method was to jump off and "come through," as the phrase runs. He was a sound judge of pace and so avoided the common fault when races are thus ridden, of keeping nothing in hand for the final struggle. The fact is that both plans are good on occasions, but the circumstances of nearly every race differ according to the pace, the distance, and the capacity and disposition of various horses.
A few lines must be added about amateurs. At rare times an enthusiast obtains leave from the Stewards of the Jockey Club to ride on equal terms with professional jockeys, but the number of these gentlemen is necessarily limited, because the man who seeks the permission must be what he represents himself to be, and not a jockey in disguise ; there are few gentlemen whose weight enables them to ride on the flat ; and unless the amateur has shown that he is really an expert the Stewards would refuse his request, for the reason that he would be likely to hamper and interfere in a dangerous way with the other riders. The late Mr. George Baird, who ran horses in the name of " Abingdon " and won the Derby and Oaks with Merry Hampton and Busybody, was one of the few amateurs who have ridden much of late years ; and in spite of wasting and severe privation he could only take part in welter races. By constant practice he acquired considerable skill, and at the last held his own with fair success against professional opponents of the second class.