Posted on September 9, 2011 - by Annie Johnson
Thy name, swift nag, shall be enroll’d
On every sporting ground.
– New Orleans Picayune, 21 March 1837
Monday, Day Four of the New Orleans Jockey Club’s inaugural spring races over Captain Oliver’s new Eclipse Course might as well have been promoted as Ladies’ Day at the track.
Three chestnut fillies comprised the entries for the $2,000 Jockey Club Purse – “the largest purse, we understand, ever given in America,” stated the New Orleans Picayune; excluding match race stakes that ranged from $1,000 to $50,000 a side, the top purses of the mid-1830’s peaked at $1,000, provided by the clubs of Charleston, South Carolina, Baltimore’s Central Course, and Captain Yelverton N. Oliver’s own National Jockey Club at Washington City.
It was hoped that Oliver’s revival of horse racing in New Orleans would also make a favorable impression on the local female population. “At the north, the ladies ride out to the course and enjoy this, one of the most amusing sports,” The Picayune wrote in the weeks leading up to the March races; “we hope that it may become fashionable to do so at New Orleans.”
As expected, attending the races at Carrollton was all the rage, as women were equally caught up in the fervor. While the stands at the Eclipse Course were filled with representatives of “the Army, the Navy, the Bar, the Bench, the Legislature, the commercial, the political, fashionable, sporting, and theatrical worlds,” the ladies of the port city, likewise, “forsook their boudoirs and ‘home, sweet home,’ to enliven the NATIONAL PASTIME OF THEIR COUNTRY, and grace the course with their presence,” noted the Spirit of the Times.
The New Orleans Bee declared that the day’s four-mile race would be “one of the greatest contests ever witnessed in America.” Two of the “crack nags” were imports from Natchez, Mississippi by Colonel Adam L. Bingaman and William J. Minor: Fanny Wright, by Bertrand, dam by Sir Alfred, purchased within the last year by Bingaman for $6,000; and Kathleen, by Leviathan, out of Sally Bell by Sir Archy.
James S. Garrison of Virginia was also in town “to try his hand against the alligators and snapping turtles of the valley of the Mississippi,” and he entered his filly Glorvina, by Industry, dam by Richmond.
Looking “fine as silk” was Colonel Bingaman’s Fanny Wright, who had triumphed less than three weeks prior in a four-mile Natchez Jockey Club race; Kathleen was also “up to the mark every which way,” reported the Spirit of the Times. Glorvina, however, was not “in a good fix,” having made the arduous journey from Norfolk along with Garrison’s stable earlier that winter.
The Race – After some play at the start of the first heat, Fanny took the lead, closely pursued by the Virginia filly. It was a crawling pace over the heavy track, and Fanny continued to command the course throughout the four miles, winning the heat easily. Glorvina came in second, and “pretty Kathleen going in hand in the rear” was never involved, finishing just short of being distanced, according to the Spirit of the Times. Time, 8 m. 30 s.
In the second heat, Kathleen came alive at the start to threaten Fanny for the lead under a blazing pace, “but the beautiful Fanny could not be caught,” wrote the Spirit, and the daughter of Bertrand again vanquished her foes. Kathleen finished second and Glorvina came home last – Garrison’s filly “having told all she knew in the first four miles,” The Picayune reported. Time, 8 m. 29s [time according to the Spirit of the Times; The Picayune reported the time as 8 m. 38s. – ATT Ed.]
Much credit for Fanny Wright’s victory was awarded to her jockey, though praise for riders was typically lacking during this period when the faith of turfmen and gamblers most often lay in the horse, rather than in a jockey’s expertise.
Rider’s names were not listed along with the entries [see J.C. Purse Entries & Heat Results below as example – ATT Ed.], and race reports included only a handful of the most prominent jockeys by name, the summaries most often referencing them as “the rider,” or “the boy,” if at all. African-American men, both enslaved and free, also played a prominent role within the sport as riders of thoroughbreds, as well as groomers and trainers.
While the identity of the Fanny Wright’s jockey is unknown, Bingaman had enlisted a young African-American boy to ride the filly, who handled her so masterfully that “hatsful of dollars” were showered upon him, according to the Spirit of the Times.
The Picayune echoed these sentiments, writing that the winning filly’s rider “is the best jockey who has yet appeared on the course. He is the same boy, we believe, who rode Angora on the first, and Naked Truth on the third day’s races. He deserves a pension for life, and will no doubt receive one from Col. Bingaman, who is all sorts of a fine fellow to his boys.”
And Fanny Wright, noted as “a beautiful creature, of fine size and superb action,” by the Spirit of the Times’ correspondent, received her own accolades the next day in the pages of The Picayune by way of the following poem:
To Fanny W–
Thy name, swift nag, shall be enroll’d
On every sporting ground.
Where speed or brush, or bottom strong
‘Mong racers may be found.
Altho’ the field was freely bet
Against thy single self,
Thy lengthened wind and fleeter heels,
Have laid them on the shelf.
Not only now, but time’s before,
When the match was rather light,
You have convinced them o’er and o’er,
That Fan would come up (W)right.
P.S. – That she may keep her strength and speed,
Is the writer’s wish – indeed.
Read Part IV. of the series here — No Rest for the Weary: Day Five’s One-Miler Tests the Mettle of Three Returning Racers
Col. A.L. Bingaman’s ch.f. Fanny Wright, by Bertrand, dam by Eagle,* 4 yrs. (1,1)
Wm. J. Minor’s (John C. Beasley’s) ch. f. Kathleen, by Leviathan, out of Sally Bell, by Sir Archie, 4 yrs. (3,2)
Time, 8:30 – 8:29. Track very heavy.
*In the New Orleans “Express Mail Slips,” Alfred is given as the sire of the dam of Fanny Wright. Which is correct?
[Sir Alfred is correct; see Fanny Wright link to Pedigree Query chart – ATT Ed.]
American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine
“The National Jockey Club Races” and “Maryland Jockey Club Races,” V. 8, no. 3 (November 1836): 136-9.
“Natchez (Miss.) Jockey Club Races,” V. 8, no. 11 (July 1837): 460.
Spirit of the Times
V. 7, no. 1 (18 February 1837): 4.
“New Orleans Jockey Club Races,” v. 7, no. 8 (8 April 1837): 61.
New Orleans Bee, 20 March 1837
New Orleans Picayune, 7 March & 21 March 1837
Hotaling, Edward, The Great Black Jockeys: The Lives and Times of the Men Who Dominated America’s First National Sport (Rocklin, CA.: Forum, 1999) 11-13.
Irving, John Beaufain, The South Carolina Jockey Club (Charleston: Russell & Jones, 1857), 47-65.
Somers, Dale A., The Rise of Sports in New Orleans, 1850-1900 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972), 29.
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