Suspensions, 1899 style

Over at That’s Amore Stable, Frank is disheartened.

In addition to all of racing’s other ills, he’s worried about impropriety, the appearance of it and the genuine article.

It’s a good thing that he wasn’t around in 1899.

That year, Indian Fairy became the first filly to win the Matron; initiated in 1892, for its first ten runnings it was open to colts as well as fillies, making the ridiculous name (Matron? For two-year-olds?) even more ridiculous. Indian Fairy won the Gazelle the following year, one of only four fillies to win the Matron-Gazelle double (Maskette, Idun, and Gallant Bloom are the others), but apparently, the folks involved in New York racing had a lot more on their minds than stakes races when the babies went to the post in October of 1899, the least of which, perhaps, was a drop in attendance because of competing fall New York sporting events:

Society in its gayest mood, with its prettiest show of colors to match the
many-tinted leaves of Autumn, and with its most elegantly appointed
equipages, has in former years graced the Fall meeting of the Westchester
Racing Association, especially the opening day, for at this season of the
year racing at Morris Park is seen at its best. The best horses of the East
and West are pitted together, and the contests in most cases are spirited.
But there were empty seats in the clubhouse stand yesterday, which was the
opening day of the Fall meeting, and a solitary black and yellow body-break
graced the carriage lawn, for society had deserted the race track in order
to watch the [yacht] race between the Columbia and the Shamrock. (New
York Times
)

And as if the damn yacht races weren’t enough, the Westchester Racing Association had to contend with what seems to have been a pretty eventful September, and perhaps breathed a sigh of relief, despite the small crowd:

A brighter better day for racing could not have been asked. There was just
a slight sting of the approaching Winter in the atmosphere, and plenty of
sunshine that showed to advantage the tinted foliage of the woods. The
attendance in the grand stand suffered also from the yacht race, for the big
structure looked almost deserted at the upper end. But the crowd that was
on hand was a more contented one than any that has gone racing for the past month
or so, for there was a promise of good, clean sport now that a number of jockeys
had been punished for suspicious riding. (New York Times)

Between September 2nd and October 4th, three jockeys, a trainer, and a horse had been suspended, and the Times wrote approvingly of the actions of the stewards of the Westchester Racing Association, at times encouraging them to keep up or even increase their law and order stance. I don’t know what’s more interesting: the stories themselves, or the way the reporter writes about them.

The trouble seems to have begun with jockey McCue (jockeys’ first names are seldom mentioned in these accounts) aboard K.C.B. in early September. The article is titled, “Jockey McCue Did Not Appear Eager to Win with K.C.B.”:

When the Stewards at Sheepshead Bay make up their minds to mete out a little
punishment to the jockeys, as those at Saratoga did, Jockey McCue, who rode,
among other horses yesterday, K.C.B, the favorite in the second race, will
probably be one of the first to come in for some attention. At no stage of
the race did McCue seem a bit anxious to capture first money with his mount…He
had clear sailing in front, but McCue apparently disliked the rail and brought
him out into the middle of the track. He could have gone into the lead
from there, but again McCue changed his mind and sent him over to the rail
again. The colt came so fast that even then he came within half a length
of beating Klondyke, who took the lead at the head of the stretch and held it to
the end.

Goaded perhaps by this article, the stewards wasted no time in “meting out” Saratoga-like punishment, reported in an article sub-titled “Stewards Suspend Jockey McCue for His Strange Riding.

The Stewards of the Jockey Club have at last meted out punishment to Jockey
Patrick A. McCue. They met yesterday afternoon and decided to suspend him
indefinitely…

McCue put up some weird exhibitions during the Saratoga meeting when he had the mounts on favorites, and he capped the climax on Friday by two exhibitions of how not to win on a favorite. He rode K.C.B. in a disgraceful manner, as was noted in THE TIMES yesterday morning, and his ride on Vendig was another weird one. His suspension should have a good effect on some of the other boys who act almost as badly.

It’s a shame that these early racing reports are anonymous—we don’t know whether the same person is reporting on each of these events (though I imagine that he is), or what, exactly, spurs his keen interest in the proceedings: a desire for fair play? an axe to grind? Whatever drives him, this indefinite suspension doesn’t satiate him, as less than a week later, he’s again jibing at the stewards:

…there wasn’t much excitement until the last race. Then King Barleycorn
won that dash of a mile and an eighth over the turf track in such surprisingly
easy fashion as to arouse the suspicion of everybody at the track, except
perhaps the Stewards, that the horse had been treated to a dose of that
mysterious speed-producing hypodermic injection, the use of which the racing
rules forbid…King Barleycorn, who could hardly run fast enough to get out of his
own way at his last appearance, was heavily backed by his stable connection
yesterday, even with Keenan, an unknown jockey, up, and won from his field by a
dozen or fifteen lengths. It was a race that was a “facer” to the regular
racegoers, and they want to get hold of a bottle of that particular “dope” to
present to owners of other horses that are occasionally troubled with the
“slows.” The injection is supposed to have been administered in the
saddling paddock while the other horses were waiting at the post and while the
trainer was supposed to be repairing a saddle according to a report sent to the
Stewards. (New York Times)

Is this reporting? An editorial? A gossip column? Whatever it is, it was effective, and once again, the stewards jumped to heed the newspaperman’s call. Less than a week after this column appeared, there was this follow-up:

Messrs. Dwyer, Miller, and Knapp, the Stewards of the Brooklyn Jockey Club,
evidently have made up their minds that they will not tolerate the sort of
racing that has been dished up to metropolitan racegoers since the season
opened…

…five minutes after King Barleycorn’s race had convinced them that he
was not a desirable racer their decision was made. They not only refused
his entry, but they decided to recommend to the Stewards of the Jockey Club that
his retirement be made permanent, and in all likelihood their suggestion will be
accepted.

If such summary justice was dealt out as speedily to some of the jockey there would be better racing.

And though this excerpt from the same article has nothing to do with the alleged corruption polluting New York tracks, I can’t resist including it:

There was nothing about Cleora’s race to indicate that she is the trackburner it
is claimed she is, for, although she ran well enough at the end to get up into
second place, she ran like a cow in the earlier stages of it, and at one time it
looked as if she would finish last.

Like a cow????

But wait…we’re not done. A day after the King Barleycorn decision was announced, the reporter turned his sights to jockey Wedderburn:

Since the Stewards of the Brooklyn Jockey Club made up their minds to see to it
that some sort of decency shall be observed in the racing at the meeting over
which they preside, they have had their hands full…

[Yesterday] They saw from the Stewards’ stand, and the 5,000 visitors who watched the race could not fail to see the same from the grand stand, that the fifth race was not run on its merits, and they promptly suspended the license of Jockey Wedderburn…

…[The race] resulted first in a brutal, cruel exhibition of choking of The Star of
Bethlehem, and then a ride that was as bad as any that has ever been seen on an
American racetrack.

That race having been satisfactorily fixed, things seemed to have quieted down a bit for a week or so…but before September came to an end, another jockey hit the sidelines:

Jockey Spencer, who is under contract to ride for James R. Keene, and who is
really one of the best boys in the saddle in the East when he wants to be, was
at last brought up with a round turn by the Stewards of the Brooklyn Jockey Club
yesterday, when he put up one of the most shameful rides of his career on Mr.
Keene’s filly Pink Domino…yesterday’s ride was such an abominable one that the
Stewards, no matter how strong is the interest behind Spencer, could not do
otherwise than take some action.

…Spencer could have won easily with Pink Domino by a length at least, for she had a clear lead of a couple of lengths a sixteenth of a mile from home, and was going easily. King Bramble, who had been played heavily, came after her in the stretch, and even when he ranged up alongside of her, Spencer made no move to ride the filly. He sat perfectly still while Bullman, on King Bramble, worked like a demon and landed his mount a winner by a head.

October brought further sanctions, but nothing, it appears, like the spate of disciplinary action in that long-ago September. What, I wonder, did our local journalist-agitator write about once he’d gotten all those trainers and owners and jockeys out of the game, if only temporarily? What a great example of journalist as crusader, and one wonders whether the stewards would have been so active had he not been there excoriating the deeds on the track in print every day.

So, Frank, while I’m with you on your concern that folks don’t think that the game is on the level, and particularly on the idea that requesting a race, entering your horse in it, and then sponsoring it doesn’t exactly scream integrity, really, things could be a whole lot worse. At least now, we don’t have journalists suggesting that horses are getting drugged (in the paddock), and we don’t have to worry about people abandoning the horse races (for the yacht races), and a huge spate of suspensions is the exception rather than the rule.

Right?

4 thoughts on “Suspensions, 1899 style

  1. Isn’t it more troubling that nobody cares enough about the game to give a damn whether the race is fixed or not?Apathy is what we need to fear. Not criticism.

  2. Did I convey that the writer’s words were troubling? If so, my failure…there was admiration–and amusement–at his dogged insistence in bringing what he saw as misdeeds to light. We cannot possibly know whether he was right, or whether the power of his pen perhaps wrongly indicted the innocent…but you gotta love a guy who sticks to his guns.

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