New York racing, January 1913: “We can only hope for the best.”

When New Yorkers rang in New Year 1913, they did not, as many of us do now, anticipate a day at the races. Even if tracks raced in the winter here then, New York was starting its third year without organized racing, the sport a victim of political activism that made gambling so onerous that tracks elected to close rather than run racing meets without betting.

It started in 1908, with the passage of the Hart-Agnew Law, which placed severe restrictions on betting. Racetracks were able to continue operating because a loophole in Hart-Agnew meant that bets could be taken on-track orally—the prohibition was against writing anything down, and not uncommonly, tracks hired police details to avoid running afoul of the law:

The policemen, 150 in uniform and about 50 more plain-clothes men…The instructions were as follows: ‘Do not allow more than three men to congregate. If anyone is violating this regulation and refuses to move, lock him up, under the regulation provided for disorderly person. If you see any one writing or making notes on a programme, newspaper, or other paper in such a manner as to appear recording a bet or anything that looks like betting, arrest him. If you hear any man offer to bet another man, arrest him. (“Keen Police”)

But exactly three years later to the day, the Times reported that Governor Charles Evan Hughes closed the oral-betting loophole, signing into law an amendment that prohibited people from betting “with or without writing.”

Additionally, Hughes repealed a section of an earlier law that essentially exempt track operators—the directors and trustees—from responsibility for enforcing the law, “provided signs were posted warning patrons against gambling and provided special police were employed to enforce the law.” Now, operators could be fined or imprisoned if betting was discovered on the premises, and it was this that led to the cessation of racing in 1910, when the Saratoga meeting ended.

Hughes left office in October of 1910 to accept a Supreme Court appointment. His lieutenant governor Horace White completed his term, and he was succeeded by John Alden Dix, who governed until December 31, 1912.

William Sulzer was sworn in on New Year’s Day, 1913, and within three days was pointed to as the hope for the return of racing to New York State.

On January 5, an interview with owner and breeder John S. Macdonald appeared in the New York Times and the Daily Racing Form; he was in England, where he bought 18 broodmares. While some New York horsemen dispersed their stock when racing ended in 1910, many sent their horses to Europe, to which trainers and jockeys flocked as well.

Macdonald lauded the quality of U.S. stock sent abroad while praising the racing that still existed in North American, outside of New York:

In regard to the future of racing in America, there is very good racing in Maryland, Kentucky, and other States, and also in Canada, where the racing is carried on in a most businesslike manner, almost purely as a great sport. The Canadians are good sportsmen, and commercialism does not enter it with them as it does on the other side of the border.

He also expressed hope and optimism that a new year and a new administration would bring racing back to New York’s many race tracks, unstinting in his criticism of those who had made it go away.

Now that the first flush of the alleged reform sentiment in New York and other States similarly affected is passing away and people have recovered their senses, there is an excellent chance of the revival of racing in New York.  Gov. Sulzer is fearless, bold, and practical, and is more than likely to consent to the modification of the present obnoxiously stringent restriction of this great sport, which has practically driven or wiped out hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in bloodstock and breeding establishments throughout the country.

He closed, “We can only hope for the best.”

Anti-Betting Bills Signed By Governor,” New York Times, June 16, 1910
Hopes Sulzer Will Let Racing Revive,” New York Times, January 5, 1913.
Keen Police Awe Race Track Bettors,” New York Times, June 16, 1908.

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