Thoroughbreds and Blackguards

Inside the sordid world of horse racing

The question is a broad one, as broad as that which ranges from the morning cup of coffee to the opium habit. There was, for instance, that great English cup horse that had a notable racing ­career extending over several years, but always required his ale and porter before giving the best that was in him. The Prohibitionists may say that he would have raced with even greater success without it, but I doubt it.

But what becomes of the horse when he is dosed, as a reckless trainer once confided about a horse of his, ‘with enough nitroglycerin to blow up the grandstand’? What has become of the respect for horses when trainers debate over the merits of the respective drugs they use? And where is the noble sport of racing when the race itself becomes, not an issue between the blood of St. Simon and the blood of Lexington, not even a test of riding-skill between a Sande and a Maiben, but a Drug Store Derby between Heroin and Cocaine?

On the effectiveness of drugs in defeating form I take leave to quote the Honorable George Lambton, fifth son of the Earl of Durham. In thirty-two years as trainer for the House of Stanley (Lord Derby) he has won every great race on the English calendar, crowning his career last year when Sansovino won the Derby, an achievement for which the Earls of Derby had been striving for a hundred and forty years in vain.

In his Men and Horses I Have Known, Mr. Lambtort writes of a mare he bought at Newmarket in 1896, after she had beaten one of his own horses that he fancied.

‘She was pouring with sweat, looked very bad, and I thought that I could improve her. That evening, when I went to my stable, my head man remarked that the mare I had bought was a wild brute and had been running around in her box like a mad thing ever since she came home. This was the first doped horse I ever saw, although at the time I was quite unaware what was the matter. I gave the mare a long rest, and got her quiet and looking well, but she was no good. Charlie Cunningham bought her for jumping, but could dc; no good with her. He afterward put her in the stud, where she produced a dead foal.

‘But in 1896 doping was in its infancy, and it was not until 1900 that it began to be a serious menace to horseracing. Even then, although there were mysterious hints of its wonderful effects, few people knew much about it, or really believed it. After 1900 this horrible practice increased rapidly, and by 1903 it had become a scandal. I myself was still skeptical that any dope would make a bad horse into a good one. But very strange things occurred, and one constantly saw horses who were notorious rogues running and winning as if they were possessed of the Devil, with eyes starting out of their heads and the sweat pouring off them.

‘Three veterinary surgeons then told me that the practice was increasing very much, that it would be the ruin of horse-breeding and ought to be stopped. Then there occurred a case when a horse, after winning a race, dashed madly into a stone wall and killed itself. I then thought it was about time something was done, and told one of the Stewards of the Jockey Club what my three friends had said. He was skeptical as I had been, and declared he did not believe there was anything in it. At that time I had in my stable some of the biggest rogues in training, and I told the Stewards I intended to dope these horses. They could see for themselves what, the result was.

‘The first horse I doped was a chestnut, gelding, called Folkestone. This horse had refused to do anything in a trial or a race. He was always last and would come in neighing. I first of all doped him in a trial. He fairly astonished me, for he jumped off in front and won in a canter. I sent him to Pontefract, where he beat a field of fourteen very easily, and nearly went round the course a second time before his jockey could pull him up. He won a race again the next day, was sold, and never won again. I had told my brother, Lord Durham, who was not a Steward of the Jockey Club at the time, what I was doing. So much did he dislike this doping that he was inclined to object to my having anything to do with it. But when I explained that my object was to open the eyes of the Stewards, he withdrew his objection, but begged me not to have a shilling on any horse with a dope in him. To this I agreed.

‘I obtained six dopes from a wellknown veterinary surgeon. They were not injected with a needle, but just given out of a bottle. Their effect was astonishing. I used five of them, and had four winners and a second. Not one of these horses had shown any form throughout the year. One of them, Ruy Lopez, who had previously entirely defeated the efforts of the best jockeys in England, won the Lincoln Autumn Handicap with a stable boy up, racing like the most honest horse in the world. At the end of the Liverpool meeting I had one dope left. I had made no secret of what I was doing, and Lord Charles Montagu asked me to give him one of these dopes for a horse called Cheers, so I gave him my last one. Cheers had run badly all year. The following week he beat a big field for the Markeaton Plate with the dope in him, including a horse of my own, Adrea Ferrara, which I very much fancied.

‘By the following year, doping was made a criminal offense. Some people think there is a great deal going on now. I don’t believe it: the penalty is too severe, although it is possible there are trainers who will take the risk.’

The thought comes that perhaps opposition to horse-racing, and the laws occasionally enacted through the efforts of that opposition, may be partly responsible for the reprehensible ways of so many who are engaged in it.

Our turf-governing bodies are so enmeshed in the political alliances necessary to them if they are to avoid obstruction in the courts and legislatures that discipline and regulation are often impossible. Offenses, rather than being thoroughly aired and denounced by public punishment, are too often hushed up in the fear that they will furnish food for the reformers. Star Chamber inquiries bring forth mysterious verdicts, and by rumor the offense becomes worse than it actually was. Thus the vicious circle.

Racing in America has had its splendid days. The overworked young-and-growing-country apology with which we still explain away so many of our national gaucherie: is nowhere cheaper than when used to justify our racing when it is not what it ought to be. Our turf has too many fine traditions for that. They reach back to the time, even before we were a nation, when the man who was to become the country’s symbol of integrity, and its first President, participated in racing and served as steward at numerous race-meetings.

All the world knows how England’s Lord Rosebery placed the winning of the Derby on a parity with the winning of the Premiership; but in Maryland they will tell you rather of their own Governor Bowie of the seventies, and how he forgot his politics when Crickmore ran for the Dixie Handicap. The Governor mated his mare Katie with the noted stallion Eclipse and confidently predicted a great racehorse as the fruit of the union, because ‘Katie wanted me to have a good hoss so bad she broke three wagon-tongues and five sets of harness when I tried to make a work mare of her.’ Katie’s yearling was turned out in the Governor’s hundred-acre cornfield, and -neighbors remonstrated with him for ‘wasting a thousand barrels of the finest corn in Maryland,’ but the Governor replied that he hoped to raise a colt worth more than all the corn in Prince George’s County. And he did, for when Catesby, Katie’s son, won the Saratoga Stakes the Governor refused ten thousand dollars for him.

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