Today in Racing History — April 3rd

IMG_20190525_104332100 years ago, 1920 — The Maryland state legislature was considering the Burke Measure, also known the Burke-Janney law, creating the Maryland Racing Commission and putting racing in the state of Maryland under more state oversight. Once the bill passed, the state’s racetracks — Havre de Grace, Bowie, Pimlico, and Laurel — shared 100 racing days a year and were required to pay $6,000 a day in taxes to the state.

Read more about that in Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crownchapter 11.

75 years ago, 1945 — Racetracks in the United States were dark on orders of the War Department. In England, however, Ascot was open, leaving American soldiers wondering why the Brits were able to race when racing here had been closed for the duration.

Read more in the Louisville Courier-Journal, April 3, 1945.

50 years ago, 1970 — Peter Fuller’s pursuit of Dancer’s Image’s share of the 1968 Kentucky Derby purse continues in Kentucky.

Read the article in the Louisville Courier-Journal, April 3, 1970.

Shut Down by the Spanish Flu

The dark, dank trenches of France behind him, imagine your doughboy stepping off a ship onto American soil. For the first time in many months, he is back in his own country, but he can’t come home to you just yet. Instead, he reports to his unit’s headquarters and finds himself surrounded by frantic doctors and nurses trying to squelch an epidemic.

In the late fall of 1918, as the Great War was winding down and American soldiers were boarding ships back to the United States, they brought with them an unwelcome gift: a new and more virulent strain of the Spanish flu. The previous spring had seen an outbreak of the same flu, but the intervening months had mutated the virus into something more deadly, striking the young and healthy as it spread among soldiers and then civilians so quickly that it overwhelmed cities.

In 1918, the horse racing world was much smaller than it is today. By the fall, events like the Kentucky Derby and Saratoga’s late summer meet had already come and gone, but meets at Latonia in northern Kentucky and Laurel in Maryland were at the mercy of measures that governments had to take to stem the tide of this deadly epidemic.

No, No, You Can’t Go

By early October, newspapers were awash in reports about the outbreak of this new strain of the flu, detailing the rise in cases as well as the measures being taken to treat those stricken. Wartime policies had prevented the spread of information about the virus’s movements until it was too late in some areas. The city of Philadelphia had gone ahead with a parade celebrating Liberty Bonds, which the government had sold to help fund the war effort. Days later, a spike in reported flu cases were a direct result of that decision.

That realization led local authorities in both Maryland and Kentucky to limit public gatherings in that crucial first part of October. That meant that both Laurel and Latonia would have to wait. This delayed a number of stakes races, including the match race between two-year-olds Billy Kelly and Eternal that was to decide the best juvenile of the year. The Daily Racing Form updated readers on the latest regarding each meet, optimistically reporting each time the ban might be lifted.

Sound Familiar?

Finally, the bans were lifted in late October, allowing each meet to go forward. Both were delayed by two or three weeks, but racing resumed nevertheless and quickly returned to normal. The Spanish flu would linger for another six months, with another outbreak in the spring of 1919. By that point, the virus had again evolved to a less serious version, marking the end of a nightmarish epidemic in the United States. No corner of the country had been untouched by the Spanish flu: even President Woodrow Wilson endured his own case as he prepared to sign the Treaty of Versailles.

Our ability to diagnose viral infections and understand how they spread is years from where it was a century ago. This knowledge means that we know what we need to do to deal with an epidemic like the COVID-19, including something unprecedented for most of us: the cancellation or postponement of our favorite sports. While we wait for the First Saturday in September and mourn the loss of familiar joys, let us remember that racing eventually returned to normal in 1918 and that will happen again in 2020.

The Degenerates’ Gift-Giving Guide!

Pete Fornatale and Jonathon Kinchen have a brilliant podcast called the In the Money Podcast, where they talk about handicapping, racing previews, and more. I recently appeared on the show to talk about books, artwork, and other gift ideas for the horse racing person in your life. Here are the books that I recommended!

Continue reading “The Degenerates’ Gift-Giving Guide!”

It’s Giving Tuesday!

Happy Giving Tuesday! With Thanksgiving behind us and the winter holidays in front of us, Giving Tuesday is a day to celebrate those who make a difference in our communities by giving a little to help them continue their missions. If you are looking for racing-related charities to give to today, look no further! Here is a list of some worthwhile organzations doing great work in all aspects of the sport:

  • National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame — Today, they’re looking for 452 donors to give a little or a lot in honor of each of their 452 honorees.
  • Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance — This organization provides a list of aftercare organizations accredited by the TAA if you are looking for a local equine charity.
  • Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation — The GJC conducts research that is fundamental for solving ongoing health issues for all horses. They have funded over 300 projects at a number of universities across the world.
  • Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund — The PDJF relies solely on donations to provide financial assistance to jockeys who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries.
  • Belmont Child Care Association — The BCCA provides childcare for all workers at Saratoga, Aqueduct, and Belmont Park. Since most workers rise quite early and can work late into the day, this organization provides both childcare and early childhood education to these racetrackers.
  • Backside Learning Center — The BLC at Churchill Downs provides educational opportunities to both employees and their families. They offer everything from ESL education for both children and adults to after-school and summer programs for the children of Churchill Down’s equine workers.
  • Thoroughbred Charities of America — The TCA provides grants to nonprofit organizations that benefit the thoroughbred and the people who work with them. You can give to the TCA and know that the funds will go to any number of organizations within the industry, including research, aftercare, therapy, and equine employee assistance.
  • Saratoga WarHorse — The Saratoga WarHorse program provides equine-assistance therapy to veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress. Working with the horses can provide physical, mental, and emotional relief from the symptoms of PTS for these people who have given so much to our country.

These are only a few of the many organizations out there, but I know all of these will appreciate any and all donations. Big or small, whatever you can give will find its use in many worthwhile initiatives that benefit both the horses and the humans of our sport. I hope you will consider giving on this Giving Tuesday!

A Year of Gratitude

Churchill Downs, Pimlico Race Course, Saratoga Race Course, Kentucky Downs, Keeneland Race Course.

The Kentucky Derby Museum, the Keeneland Library, Audley Farm, Long Branch Historic House and Farm, and the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

From Kentucky to Alabama to Maryland to Virginia to New York, thousands of miles via my trusty minivan or leaving on a jet plane.

Continue reading “A Year of Gratitude”

A Century Ago, A Schism

The_Marshfield_News_and_Wisconsin_Hub_Thu__May_6__1920_By early November, 1919 had become a year of mixed blessings for jockey Johnny Loftus. He had been aboard Man o’ War for all of his victories — and his lone defeat. Loftus had ridden winners for a number of racing’s top stables and trainers, everyone from Sam Hildreth to H.G. Bedwell. He had won a Kentucky Derby on Sir Barton but also lost the Dwyer Stakes to Purchase, who Loftus also had ridden to victory that year. Loftus had been set down for rough riding, yet he also had served as trainer Louis Feustel’s go-to rider for a fractious and challenging Man o’ War. With the year winding down, Loftus was looking forward to 1920, possibly his final year in the saddle. Years of fighting his weight left the jockey ready to consider what’s next. In the meantime, he was ready to finish out 1919 on a high note.

The Autumn Handicap on November 5th would prove to be anything but.

Continue reading “A Century Ago, A Schism”

He Nipped Gnome by a Nose

Gnome was a horse on a hot streak. Coming off a win in the Champlain Handicap, the chestnut colt counted the great Exterminator amongst those he had beaten at Saratoga that August. Now, still the beneficiary of a break in weights, Gnome faced the barrier alongside Sir Barton.

Sir Barton had started August with a track record in the Saratoga Handicap at a mile and a quarter. He had then run that distance again at Fort Erie, winning easily, but now he was back at Saratoga for this race, the Merchants and Citizens Handicap. Again laden with 133 pounds, Commander Ross’s champion horse stood at the barrier, Gnome to his left and Jack Stuart to his right. Ahead lay a mile and three-sixteenths. One more race, another step closer to a potential meeting with the juggernaut that was Man o’ War.

Ninety-nine years ago, Sir Barton and Gnome met on the Saratoga oval for a record-setting performance, a finish so close that only the judges could determine the winner. Luckily photographer Charles Cook snapped the combatants as they battled to the wire.

 

A world record, a close finish, and a die cast for a match race. Read more about Sir Barton’s turn in the Merchants and Citizens Handicap in Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown (Chapter 13).

Books of Note: Celebrate Travers 150 With THIS!

The 150th edition of the Travers Stakes, the Midsummer Derby for three-year-olds, will be run at Saratoga Race Course this Saturday. The Travers trophy has legendary origins of its own, as I discussed here, but 2019 features something new for racing fans: an epic book on the history of the Travers Stakes, written by Brien Bouyea and Michael Veitch.

Continue reading “Books of Note: Celebrate Travers 150 With THIS!”

This Week!

I have the privilege of visiting Saratoga Spring, New York and the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame this weekend for two events:

Author Talk: Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown — Friday, August 16th at 6:30 pm. After my presentation, I will be signing books.

Saturday Morning Socials — Lenny Shulman, author of Justify: 111 Days to Triple Crown Glory, and I will be signing books at the Museum before the day’s races at Saratoga. (9:30 – 11:30 am)

I hope you can come by and see me! I would love to talk about all things Sir Barton and racing history with you!