Trotting Races

SINCE 1824, when trotting may be said to have begun as a sport, the record has been reduced from 2 minutes 40 seconds to 2 minutes 8¾ seconds. Whence comes this great advance ? It is due to improvements in trotting-courses, in sulkies, in horseshoes, in boots and toe-weights, in harness (particularly in the device of the overdraw check), in training and driving, and finally in the speed and endurance of the trotters themselves. The gain in actual speed for a short distance has been much slighter than is commonly supposed. So long ago as 1866, Hiram Woodruff drove Mr. Bonner’s gray mare Peerless (who was bred like Dexter, being in part Messenger and in part Star) a quarter of a mile at the rate of a mile in two minutes, — and this not to a sulky, but to a skeleton wagon, a four-wheeled vehicle, which is much heavier. It is doubtful if this rate of going will ever greatly be surpassed, though it is, I think, commonly believed by horsemen that some time or other a mile will be trotted in two minutes. The gain will probably be not so much in speed for a short distance as in the ability to maintain speed for a full circuit of the track. Even Maud S. flagged a little on the last quarter of her fastest mile.

For the past fifty years, and especially for the latter half of that time, much ingenuity and inventive skill have been employed to afford the trotter all the mechanical assistance that is possible.

Tracks are made of an elliptical instead of a round shape, because the two long stretches or straight pieces thus obtained give the horse, particularly a big-striding one, the opportunity that he requires to get up his speed. Courses laid out in this way are found to be much faster than the old tracks, which were more nearly round. Then, too, the footing has been improved. The best tracks now have an underlayer of turf, which makes them springy, and the surface is soft without being deep or heavy. The sulky drawn by Dutchman, the old-time trotter, of whom I spoke in a former paper,1 weighed eighty-two pounds. Hiram Woodruff, writing in 1867, mentioned this fact, adding, “ I now have two that weigh less than sixty pounds.” The present weight is about forty pounds.2 This reduction of forty pounds, or one half of the total weight, since Dutchman’s day makes a great difference in time for a mile, being probably equivalent on the average to about one and a half seconds.

Equal mechanical skill has been exerted in another direction. Many horses cannot be driven at anything like their highest speed without danger of cutting themselves, by striking one foot or leg against another, especially when they “ break ; ” and to protect them from injury in this manner a great variety of " boots ” has been invented. Counting different sizes of these articles separately, the number of them now on sale is over two hundred. Very few trotters are able to dispense with boots entirely, and many of them could not be used as race horses at all except for these appliances. The shoeing of trotting horses, again, is an art in itself, and so is the use of toe-weights, which are small pieces of brass screwed or otherwise attached to the hoofs of the fore-feet. Heavy shoes and toe-weights are employed to make horses trot who otherwise would pace, to keep them level in their gait, and sometimes to cause a lengthening of their stride. The difficulty and importance of these matters may be gathered from the fact that a change of no more than two ounces in a trotter’s fore-shoes or toe-weights would, in many cases, make a difference of several seconds in his speed for a mile, and consequently of thousands of dollars in his value as a race horse. The necessity for toe-weiglits or heavy shoes lies in some defect of conformation or of gait, and when a trotter is obliged to carry a heavy load in this manner his feet and legs suffer. The famous Smuggler, a noble brown stallion with a white blaze in his face, a heavy and powerful animal, was originally a pacer, and in his races he wore shoes on his fore-feet, weighing two pounds each ; in fact, he is said to have carried at one time three pounds on each fore-foot. His great strength and courage enabled him to bear this burden, but eventually it disabled him. Smuggler was once sold for $40,000, the highest price, until a few months ago, ever paid in this country for a horse ; and though he was capable of very high speed, he must be regarded as on the whole a failure. If he made a single break in a race, he lost so much ground that he was pretty sure to be distanced. This peculiarity is explained by Mr. H. T. Helm, an intelligent writer, who says that Smuggler’s stride with his fore-legs is not long enough to correspond with the tremendous stroke of his hind-legs, and consequently that he is apt to lose his balance. If he does so, one of two things must occur: he will either fall headlong and prostrate on the ground, — which of course does not happen, — or he will throw out both fore-feet together ; in other words, gallop instead of trot. But Smuggler gallops very high in front, and therefore it is not easy for him to change quickly back again from the gallop to the trot: his speed has to be very much reduced before he can pass from one gait to the other, and in this way he loses so much ground that the other horses in the race are very likely to disdistance him. That a horse so heavily handicapped by toe-weights could trot such races as Smuggler did is a good illustration of equine strength and pluck.

The last factor in the development of the trotting horse is the driver; and here we touch upon the great difference between running and trotting races. A running race may be described, with some exaggeration, as a brief but spirited flight of colts ridden by boys, whereas a trotting race is a long-drawn contest between seasoned horses and mature men, who are commonly the trainers as well as the drivers of their steeds. Not all running horses, to be sure, are colts, nor all their riders boys, but the limit of age in the horse and of weight in the man is quickly reached. In trotting races, the jockeys are always men ; the standard weight is 150 pounds, and if the driver falls below that he must carry lead enough on his sulky to make up the deficiency. In running races, steeplechases excepted, the weight (including that of the rider) varies, roughly speaking, from 75 to 130 pounds, and a Fred Archer who tips the scales at anything over 120 must retire to private life. Then, again, running races, nowadays at least, almost invariably consist of a single dash, whereas trotting races are in heats, the best three in five : and this affords an opportunity for stratagem and patience on the part of the driver; for courage, endurance, and even for recuperation on the part of the horse. There is, therefore, in the trotting race, an element of subtlety which gives it a peculiar fascination. The typical driver who has been evolved from these conditions is a spare but sinewy man, with a quiet manner and a firm mouth, — as distinctly American a person as any that can be found. His chief qualities, so far as the horse is concerned, are sympathy and resolution. “ Confidence between the trotting horse and his driver,” said the great master of the art, " is of the utmost importance: it is all in all. Some men inspire it readily, so that a horse will take hold and do all he knows the first time the man drives him. For another man the same horse will not trot a yard. The truth is that the horse is a very knowing, sagacious creature, much more so than he gets credit for. If a driver has no settled system of his own, or if he is rash or severe without cause, it is not likely that confidence will be inspired in the horse even in a long time.”

It is a fact often remarked that some drivers succeed much better with certain equine families than with others, the reason doubtless being that they are better adapted to them in disposition. A trainer, for example, who did very well with a well-known high-spirited and willful breed failed conspicuously with another strain, of a milder and more gentle nature.

There are, indeed, some boisterous drivers, but they are not the most successful ; in fact, the quality of a horseman can almost be discovered by observing the manner in which he goes up to the animal’s head or enters his stall. The loud, rough fellow may be a judge of soundness, and pretty well qualified for the box seat of a hack ; but he is not the man for a close finish with a tired horse, when victory depends upon calling out the last reserve of strength; nor will he make the successful trainer of a highstrung colt. The trotter, moreover, cannot be convinced by mere noise and violence: he is much too clever an animal for that, and will hardly be cheated into thinking that the jockey possesses any quality which he really lacks. But when a driver has the required combination of sympathy and force, the trotter is quick to recognize his master and ready to obey him.

“ One half of a horse’s speed,” wrote Mr. George Wilkes, “ is in the mind of his rider or driver. When it is known to the world that a horse has made a mile a second or half second faster than it was ever made before, some rider of some other horse, nerving himself with the knowledge of the fact, and infusing that knowledge into his horse by dint of his own enthusiasm, sends him a second or two faster still ; and the result of the mental emulation is a permanent improvement which never is retraced. Hiram Woodruff was the first to take this mental grip of the powers of the trotting horse; and the result in his ease was that, by dint of his own mind, he carried him triumphantly over the gap which lies between 2.40 and 2.18.”

“ Dan Mace,”said Woodruff himself, speaking of another famous reinsman, now dead, “is very resolute, and the horses that he handles know it.”

To drive a trotter with art is, first, to get from him the highest speed of which he is capable; secondly, to keep him from making a break; and, thirdly, to bring him back to the trot with as little loss as possible after a break has actually occurred. To do this well requires a light and “ sensational " hand, a sympathetic intelligence, and a vast deal of practice. The break is prevented, sometimes by restraining the animal with voice and rein, when it is simply a case of too much eagerness, but more often by moving the bit in his mouth. If the break happens, the horse “ leaving his feet,” as the phrase is, and going to a gallop or a run, he must be “ caught ” by pulling his head to one side, so that he will have to come back to a trot in order to keep his balance; and in extreme cases it will be necessary to pull him first this way, and then that. The break does not come without premonitory signals; there is a sort of general unsteadiness of the horse’s gait, when the change is in contemplation, and at the last, moment he moves his ears backward. “The sign of a coming break,” says Hiram Woodruff, that excellent writer from whom I have quoted so much already, “ will be discovered by watching the head and ears of the horse. The attention of the driver ought always to be fixed upon the head of his horse. Many a heat is lost by neglect of this matter. A driver is seen coming up the home stretch a length or a length and a half ahead. Both the horses are tired, but the leading one could win. The driver, however, when he gets where the carriages are, turns his head to look at the ladies, or to see whether they are looking at him. Just then the horse gives a twitch with his ears ; the driver does n’t see it; up flies the trotter, and the ugly man behind holds his horse square, and wins by a neck.”

Of all muscular pleasures, there is none, perhaps, more fine and delicate than this of the skillful reinsman. Whirled along at the rate of a mile in two minutes and a half, he keeps his trotter steady by a slight turn of the wrist, thus moving the bit in the animal’s responsive mouth, and so distracting his attention and jogging his memory. If there is any parallel to this exercise, it will probably be found in those clever manipulations of rod and line by means of which an angler transfers the shy but gamy trout from water to land. Nor is it necessary to mount a sulky in order to experience these delights. Mr. Vanderbilt drove Maud S. and Aldine, harnessed to his road wagon,. a mile in 2.15½; at Cleveland, some years ago, a four-in-hand accomplished the same distance in 2.40; and a moderately fast horse, a moderately light wagon, and a smooth road supply all the necessary conditions for artistic driving.

There is another function of the bit scarcely less important, and that is to encourage and restore a tired horse. When, at the end of a stoutly contested heat, two trotters are struggling for supremacy, they can be urged by the voice, reinforced either by the whip or by the bit. A coarsely bred, sluggish animal may, at this critical moment, require the lash, but its application to a beast of any spirit is pretty sure to disgust and dishearten him. In some subtle way, however, when the driver moves the bit to and fro in his mouth, the effect is to enliven and stimulate the horse, as if something of the jockey’s spirit were thus conveyed to his mind. If this motion be performed with an exaggerated movement of the arm, it is called “ reefing,” and it sometimes appears, when it is “ neck or nothing,” at the end of a heat, as if the driver were actually “sawing” the horse’s mouth, whereas in reality he is only giving the bit a loose but vigorous motion therein.

At this point, it might not be amiss to state the conditions of a trotting race, for it is highly probable that among the readers of The Atlantic there is at least one hapless person to whom the following explanation will not be superfluous : —

The race is over a mile track, almost elliptical in shape, and the judges are perched in a two-story balcony close to the track, and pretty near one extremity of the ellipse, so that at the end of a heat the horses have a long, straight stretch before reaching the goal. Across the track from the judges’ stand, and high enough to clear the trotters’ heads, is stretched a wire, by the aid of which, in a very close finish, the judges can determine which horse has won. The race is usually “ best three in five ; ” that is, in order to win, a horse must come in first three times, not necessarily in succession. Thus it will be seen, if there are many contestants in the race, it may be prolonged to seven, eight, and even ten heats, before any one trotter has secured three. But if a horse has taken part in five heats without winning a single one, he is ruled out, or “ sent to the barn,” as the expression is, and cannot start again. So, also, he may be ruled out if at the close of a heat he is very far behind the winning horse. At a point in the home stretch one hundred feet from the judges’ stand (one hundred and fifty, if eight, or more horses are engaged in the race), a man is stationed with a flag in his hand, which he drops when the winner reaches the wire ; and if any lagging horse has not passed him when his flag falls, that horse is “distanced,” and cannot start again. It is possible for a driver to “ lay up ” a heat, as it is called ; that is, if his horse be tired, or for any other cause, he may content himself for that heat with just “ saving his distance,” making no effort to win. The start is a flying one. When the judges ring their bell, the drivers turn about at or near the distance point, and come down past the judges’ stand almost or quite at full speed. If, when they pass under the wire, they are upon pretty even terms, the starter (one of the judges) cries out, “Go!” and on they rush. If, however, the start would not he a fair one, the bell is rung as a signal that the drivers must comeback and try again. Sometimes the scoring, as these attempts are called, is prolonged for a long while; but the judges are authorized to fine any driver who comes down ahead of or behind the “ pole " horse ; that is, the horse who has the inside position, or that nearest the poles which mark the quarter, the half, and the threequarter mile points. All the positions are assigned by lot. The attempt is occasionally made by a combination of drivers to tire out or excite some particular horse by unnecessary scoring, and in former years this nefarious plan was often practiced successfully, but of late the rules are enforced with more strictness. Even with the best intentions on the part of all the drivers concerned, it is sometimes difficult to get a fair start, especially if the horses are young or badly behaved, and the scoring is frequently spoken of as a great drawback to the pleasures of a trotting race. These false starts, however, afford a most interesting exhibition of horses and men; the spectator has such an opportunity as he could not otherwise enjoy to study the gaits of the various trotters, to note how well or ill they “ catch,” and to observe the skill, temper, and courage of the jockeys. There is a great difference in the behavior of the different horses. Some pull and tug on the bit. despite the signal to return, carrying their drivers down to the first turn in the track before they can be stopped ; whereas others, old campaigners as a rule, will slacken speed at once when they hear the bell, stop, and turn around of their own accord.

Goldsmith Maid, a mare whose natural cleverness enabled her to profit by a long and varied experience, showed wonderful intelligence in scoring. When turned about to come down for the start, she would measure with her eye the distance between herself and the other horses ; and if it seemed to her that they were likely to get first to the judges’ stand, she would refuse to put forth her best speed, despite the efforts of her driver. The result in such cases was, of course, as she foresaw, that the judges, perceiving that the start would be an Unfair one, rang the recall bell. “ On the contrary,” says Mr. Doble, “if she had a good chance to beat the other horses in scoring, she would go along gradually with them until pretty close to the wire, and then of her own accord come with a terrible rush of speed, so that when the word was given she would almost invariably be going at the best rate of any horse in the party.... If she had the pole, she would make it a point to see that no horse beat her around the first turn, seeming to be perfectly well aware that the animal that trotted on the outside had a good deal the worst of it.”

Close to the fence, but inside of it on the track, opposite the judges’ stand or thereabout, there is always a motley group of “ rubbers,” grooms, and helpers, with pails of water and sponges in their hands, and blankets, thick or thin according to the weather, thrown over their shoulders or deposited conveniently on the fence. Here, very often, the driver pulls up for a moment, on his way back to the starting-point, after the hell has rung for a recall, while the groom hastily sponges out the horse’s mouth and nostrils, adjusts the cheek-rein, takes up a hole in the breeching, or makes some other slight change in the harness.

These are tense moments in an important race, especially if the contestants are known to be pretty evenly matched, and each driver is anxious that the others shall take no advantage of him. At such times, a reputation for courage is of some service; it is always a temptation for one jockey to “ cut out” another, or unfairly drive in to the “ pole ” ahead of him. just as one boat in a rowing race may take another boat’s water. Under these circumstances, it is the right of the driver whose territory is invaded to keep on, even though a collision may result; and a resolute man will do so, undeterred by the fact that spokes are flying from the wheel of his own or of his adversary’s sulky, as the two gossamer vehicles come together. “ The quarter stretch looked more like a tooth-pick factory than a race-course,” was facetiously remarked of one occasion, when the driving had been reckless.

With this explanation, I shall venture to give a short account of a notable race which occurred at Cleveland, in July, 1876, between the famous horses Smuggler and Goldsmith Maid. The latter was at this time nineteen years old, but she was thought to be invincible, and in this very year she repeated her best record, 2.14, first made by her in 1874. The Maid was the fastest trotter from the time of Dexter, who achieved 2.17¼ in 1867, to that of Rarus, who in 1878 covered a mile in 2.13¼; and I may add that on her twenty-first birthday she showed the lasting stuff of which she was constructed by going one heat in 2.16. A slight sketch of Goldsmith Maid was given in my former article on Trotting Horses, and I have already in the present paper stated the chief characteristics of Smuggler.

There were three other fast horses in the race, Lucille Golddust, Bodine, and Judge Fullerton ; but none of them, excepting perhaps Lucille Golddust, played a part of any importance. Goldsmith Maid was driven by Budd Doble, a young man whom Hiram Woodruff picked out to succeed himself in the charge of Dexter, and who has since amply justified the selection by intelligent training and skillful driving of many celebrated horses. He is, moreover, one of the few jockeys whose reputations are without flaw. Charles Marvin, who also ranks high in the craft, sat in the sulky of Smuggler. But the judges are ringing their bell, the horses have been “ warmed up,” the rubbers are gathered at the wire, a hush has fallen upon the vast throng of spectators, anticipation is on tip-toe, and it is time for the

First Heat. At the third trial, the horses received a fair start, and Goldsmith Maid, pursuing her usual tactics, made a rush for the lead, and secured it. The first half mile was trotted very fast, and for the first quarter Bodine was second and Smuggler third. Smuggler, however, went by Bodine in the second quarter, and soon after the half-mile pole was passed he came very close to the Maid, but at this point be faltered a little. The cause was not known at first to the spectators, but after the heat a mounted patrol judge galloped in with a shoe which Smuggler had cast from his near fore-foot. Despite this accident, — and its importance may be estimated from the fact that his fore-shoes weighed two pounds each, — Smuggler came down the home stretch with tremendous speed, pushing the Maid hard; and when she swept under the wire in 2.15½, his nose was on a level with her tail. This was a great heat, and Smuggler would probably have won it had he not cast a shoe.

Second Heat. There was some trouble in scoring, for Smuggler broke badly, but on the fourth attempt they were sent off, Goldsmith Maid being a little ahead of the others. In going around the first turn Smuggler made one of his characteristic breaks, and had to be pulled almost to a standstill before he regained a trot. His driver therefore contented himself with just saving his distance. But the Maid was given no rest, for Lucille Golddust was close upon her heels, forcing the Queen of the Turf to trot the mile in 2.17¼. These two fast heats distressed Goldsmith Maid, but those who had backed her were still confident, relying upon the great speed and steadiness of the old mare to pull her through.

Third Heat. The Maid, having won the preceding heat, had the inside position. and kept it, although she broke at the first turn ; hut her breaks were not like those of Smuggler. To the halfmile pole she led, with Fullerton second, Lucille Golddust third, and Smuggler fourth. But after this point had been reached. Marvin called upon Smuggler for an effort. The horse answered gamely ; he passed Lucille Golddust, then Fullerton, and when Goldsmith Maid turned into the home stretch Smuggler was close behind her. The race was extremely close from this point; but Smuggler gained on the Maid inch by inch, and finally dashed under the wire, three quarters of a length in advance, amid tumultuous applause. Time, 2.16¼. “The scene which followed.” says a contemporary and graphic report in the Turf, Field, and Farm, “is indescribable. An electrical wave swept over the vast assembly, and men swung their hats and shouted themselves hoarse, while the ladies snapped fans and parasols and burst their kid gloves in an endeavor to get rid of the storm of emotion. The police vainly tried to keep the quarter stretch clear. The multitude poured through the gates, and Smuggler returned to the stand through a narrow lane of humanity, which closed as he advanced. Doble was ashy pale, and the grand mare who had scored so many victories stood with trembling flanks and head down. Her attitude seemed to say, ‘ I have done my best, but am forced to resign the crown.’ ”

“ During the intermission,” according to the same account, “ the stallion was the object of the greatest scrutiny. So great was the press that it was difficult to obtain breathing-room for him. He appeared fresh, and ate eagerly of the small bunch of hay which was presented to him by his trainer after he had cooled off. It was manifest, that the fast work had not destroyed his appetite. The betting now changed, for it was seen that the Maid was tired.”

The race, however, was not over yet. Smuggler had two heats to win before victory would be his, but Goldsmith Maid needed only one more. She was legweary, to be sure, but then she could be counted on to make a humanly sagacious use of her opportunities, and a single bad break would cause Smuggler’s defeat. Excitement subdued the spectators to perfect stillness, and not a sound was heard except the rhythmical tramp of the five horses, as they thundered down the stretch to the wire.

Fourth Heat. At the second attempt the judges gave the word “ Go ” as Smuggler was trotting steadily, although somewhat behind the others. The Maid, as usual, rushed off with the lead, and Lucille Golddust took the second place, being pulled out a little, so as to bring her near the centre of the track. This left Marvin in a very bad position, technically known as a “ pocket.” He could not slip in between the other two horses, for Doble kept the Maid back just far enough to prevent such a move ; and if he should check his own horse sufficiently to get past Lucille Golddust, much distance would be lost. What he did was to remain in this helpless situation until the home stretch was reached, thinking that the driver of Golddust would finally get out of his way; but this did not happen, and when Smuggler was but three hundred yards from the wire, when Goldsmith Maid had a long lead, when " a smile of triumph lighted Doble’s face, and the crowd settled sullenly down to the belief that the race was over,” then at last the driver of Smuggler pulled him back and turned to the right, so as to get out of the pocket and make desperate play for the heat. Contrary to what every one expected, the horse did not break, despite this interference with his stride, but, keeping level and steady, came down the course, when he saw the way clear before him, with that burst of speed which will always be famous in the chronicles of the American turf. His ears were laid flat on his head, his neck was stretched out low and long, so as to bring his head scarcely above the level of his withers, and fire flashed in his eye.

“He trotted,” says Mr. Helm, who was among the spectators, “ with a grim desperation, that cannot readily be forgotten by the thousands who were present. His fleet-footed and never faltering opponent, the victor in a hundred trials, the Queen of 2.14, was already thirty-five feet ahead of him. With a gathering of resources never, perhaps, held by any other, and a rate of speed never equaled on the trotting turf, he made for the front. There can be no doubt, I think, that he moved for six or eigiit hundred feet at the rate of a two-minute gait. He trotted then as if he knew he could and would win the heat; and in his very eye there was the look of win it, or perish in the attempt. Woe to the animal or vehicle that should come between him and the end of that race! His speed was terrific, his momentum was fearful, and his stroke as steady and true as any ever beheld. His very appearance was a sort of magnetism that electrified the thousands that were present.”

“ It was more like flying than trotting,” says the report from which I first quoted. “ Doble hurries his mare into a break, but he cannot stop the dark shadow which flits by him. His smile of triumph is turned into an expression of despair. Smuggler goes over the score a winner of the heat by a neck, and the roar which comes from the grand stand and the quarter stretch is deafening. The time was 2.19¾. Smuggler again cooled off well, nibbling eagerly at his bunch of hay. The Maid was more tired than ever, while Lucille Golddust showed no signs of distress.”

Even yet, however, the race was in doubt.

Fifth Heat. It was evident that the other horses, or rather their drivers, had formed a combination against Smuggler. They worried him so much in scoring that twice again he pulled off the shoe from his near fore-foot, and nearly an hour elapsed before a start was obtained. “ The shell of the foot,” relates the excellent writer in the Turf, Field, and Farm, “ was pretty badly splintered by the triple accident, but the stallion was not rendered lame. Misfortunes, however, seemed to be gathering thickly about him, and the partisans of the Maid wore the old jaunty air of confidence.” The other horses had an unbroken rest while Smuggler was shoeing, so that they all appeared fresh when the word was finally given. ” Fullerton,” says the Turf, Field, and Farm,

“ went to the front like a flash of light, trotting without a skip to the quarter pole in thirty-three seconds ; " but Smuggler passed him near the half-mile pole, and kept the lead from that point, although Goldsmith Maid came along with great speed on the home stretch, forcing Smuggler to trot the heat in 2.17¼, and finishing a good second.

Thus ended what was perhaps, all things considered, the best race ever trotted. Here were five heats in 2.15½, 2.17¼, 2.16¼, 2.19¾, 2.17¼, each one being gallantly contested, and the result remaining in the utmost doubt till the very close of the fifth heat. “ The evening shadows had now thickened, and as the great crowd had shouted itself weak and hoarse, it passed slowly through the gates, and drove in a subdued manner home.”

There is one other race of which I cannot forbear giving a brief account, because the winner displayed the same admirable qualities as Smuggler, and triumphed where his defeat was supposed to be inevitable. There were eight contestants, but the real competitors were three, namely, Nobby, Felix, and Florence.

Nobby was a very peculiar horse: a dark bay gelding, with a long neck and body, fine head, and altogether a thoroughbred and even greyhound appearance. His gait was long, low, and smooth. He was, however, a wild breaker and extremely nervous. “ The twitter of a canary bird on a limb,” said John Splan, his driver, “ would have more effect on Nobby than a full brass band on an ordinary horse.” Both his mouth and feet were in bad condition, but Splan, who took the horse for the first time on the day of the race, poulticed his feet, and relieved his mouth by driving him with an easy bit and nose-band attachment. He also stuffed the horse’s ears with cotton, so that he should not be scared or worried to a break by the shouting and whipping of the other drivers. “ Nobby,” said the contemporary report in The Spirit of the Times, “ impresses you with the idea that he is constantly trying to lose the race by making a mistake. Splan drove him as carefully as if he were handling eggs.” Felix was a bay gelding, and a horse of speed, — much speedier, in fact, than Nobby; but, as a reporter of the race remarked, ” he has a solt spot in him somewhere when pinched.” Florence was a beautiful mare, also fast, and a good breaker. All three, it should be mentioned, were driven by masters of the art.

The first heat was won by Florence after a sharp contest with Felix, Nobby making no effort. In the second heat Nobby outstripped the others on the home stretch, but made a wild break, passing under the wire on a run, and Florence was awarded first place. In the third heat Nobby again broke badly, and Felix won after another hard contest with Florence. In the fourth heat Nobby showed his quality. At the threequarter pole Felix led him by four lengths, but from this point Nobby began to gain inch by inch, Splan driving him with great patience and skill. His long neck showed nearer and nearer to the sulky of Felix, as the two horses approached the judges’ stand, until at last they were side by side. Then Felix seemed to fall back, and Nobby won amid wild hurrahs. “ I have seen his sire do the same thing in California,” said a noted horseman who was among the spectators. In the fifth heat, however, Nobby made another disastrous break, and Felix won easily. Five heats had now been trotted, and the coming heat would decide the race if it fell either to Felix or Florence. Nobby, so far, had only one to his credit. This brings us to the

Sixth Heat. It had begun to rain a little ; the track was sticky, and all the horses were tired. “ Their courage,” says the report, “ was cheered by sherry.” It is more likely, however, that Nobby was treated to champagne and seltzer water, that being the agreeable dose usually administered by Splan under similar circumstances. Only the winners of heats, Felix, Florence, and Nobby, were allowed to start; the others, who had not secured a single one out of the five heats that had been trotted, being “ sent to the barn,” in accordance with a rule already stated. The pools sold fast and furious on Felix against the field, twentyfive dollars to six, for what slight chance Nobby ever had was thought to be gone.

Now came one of the most stubbornly contested heats ever seen on a trottingcourse. At the start Felix showed much more speed than the others, and was a length ahead at the quarter pole, with Florence second, and Nobby trotting steadily in the rear. At the half-mile pole Felix had gained three lengths more, and looked, as the sporting phrase is, a sure winner. Soon after this point was passed Florence gave place to Nobby, and “ now,”said The Spirit of the Times, “Splan began to show his tactics, ' wait and win.’ His gain to the three-quarter pole was almost imperceptible, and Felix still kept a long lead; but from this point Splan began to use every particle of speed that was in his horse. When they turned into the home stretch Felix was swung out to the middle of the track, where the footing was better, but Nobby was driven close to the pole. ‘I can’t spare a foot of distance, was my thought,’ Splan afterward remarked.”

“ Nobby gamely entered into the spirit of the task ; a stern chase, it is true, but gradually he lessened the gap. At the drawgates, where the path was hard, he wavered, as if about to break, but Splan steadied him with a slight pull, and on recovering his stride he now measured the distance to be overcome. Slowly but surely came he nearer to Felix ; within a few lengths of the wire they were almost even. Just at the last moment Splan roused Nobby for a final effort, and landed him first under the wire by a neck. Time, 2.25.”

Seventh Heat. Twilight was coming on as the tired horses scored for the word. At the third trial they received a fair start. Felix broke almost immediately, and lost three lengths, but Florence gave Nobby no rest so long as her wind and courage lasted. She hung close to the wheel of his sulky until they had got midway of the second quarter, when Nobby began to draw away from her. At this point Felix came along, and the driver of Florence, seeing that she had “ shot her bolt,”kindly pulled her out from the pole to the centre of the track, thus allowing Felix to slip into her place. Florence then dropped behind, but Felix continued to gain, and at the half-mile pole he was trotting neck and neck with Nobby. From this point, as before, Felix out-trotted Nobby, and when they turned into the home stretch for the last time he had a good lead of three full lengths. Again the driver of Felix brought him out to the centre of the track, and again Splan hugged the pole. The brush down the home stretch was an exciting one. Felix trotted fast, but behind him still pegged away the unconquerable Nobby, and the distance between them was reduced inch by inch, until at last Splan brought his horse up on even terms with the other. They were now but a few yards from the goal. Both the horses were exhausted, and Nobby could not be aroused by the voice, for his ears were stopped with cotton. Splan took “the last, dying chance,” as he called it. Running the risk of a break, which would have been fatal, he leaned forward and touched Nobby lightly on the shoulder with his whip. The move was successful. Nobby kept steadily to a trot, but, gamely responding to the appeal, made one final effort, and fairly staggered under the wire, a winner by a head.3 Time, 2.28¾.

Thus ended a memorable contest. It was won by the horse who proved himself the slowest trotter and the worst breaker of the three competitors, — won through his own courage and endurance, and through the skill and patience of his driver. “ But who cares to see a race which falls to the slowest horse ? The race should be to the swift,” is a comment that might perhaps be made. Such a criticism would be founded upon a false notion of sport. All Sports practiced for the amusement of a spectator are noble according as victory in them depends upon the exercise of moral and mental qualities. The attentive reader of Boxiana will conclude that, taking the history of the ring as a whole, the fight was usually won by the man who had determined that he would not be beaten ; and from this circumstance alone a pretty fair argument might be made — how far adequate need not here be considered — in support of pugilism.

In trotting races, for the reasons already stated, and as is apparent from the illustrations that have been given, there is a peculiar opportunity for the exercise of admirable qualities on the part both of horse and man. It is true that, so far as the drivers are concerned, their skill is often prostituted to the exigencies of the pool-box, but no accusation of this sort was ever brought against a trotter. The breath of suspicion may at times have rested upon Splan, but the name of Nobby is untarnished. In the two contests just described all parties to the fight honestly exerted the qualifications that nature and experience had given them ; and although victory perched first here and then there, the prize finally fell, as should be the case, to superior courage, endurance, patience, and skill.

H. C. Merwin.

  1. Vide The Atlantic for May, 1889.
  2. I have seen lately in a Boston warehouse a skeleton wagon that weighs but fifty pounds, and a top buggy that weighs only one hundred and twenty-eight pounds. Such vehicles might almost be described as works of art.
  3. Since the writing of this article, Nobby has been sold at auction. He brought $2000, and his purchaser, as the sentimental reader will be glad to learn, was John Splan.