Posted on May 9, 2013 - by Annie Johnson
We are pleased to announce that the Times has been featured this week in “The Rail,” The New York Times Horse Racing Blog! Read more here: “The Rail.”
Editor, Antebellum Turf Times
Posted on April 28, 2013 - by Annie Johnson
Dear Readers: Since the following post is outside the realm of antebellum racing, we are making an exception in order to honor the current Triple Crown season with coverage of the first Derby.—Editor, Antebellum Turf Times
It may have been the first Kentucky Derby, but it wasn’t the star attraction of the Louisville Jockey Club’s six-day inaugural spring meeting in 1875.
Yes, opening day on Monday, May 17, 1875, drew more than 12,000 attendees to the new track that would later become known as Churchill Downs in the early 1880’s; four races were on the day’s card, highlighted by the second contest for three-year-olds, the Kentucky Derby.
And Derby winner Aristides broke a speed record for three-year-olds, finishing the 1½ mile race in a time of 2:37¾ against 14 other starters.
Yet it was day four of the race meeting and the Louisville Cup, a “dash” at 2¼ miles, that attracted an estimated 15,000–20,000 fans to the course, known then as Driving Park. “Not only the citizens, but the entire State seems to have turned out in force,” the Daily Graphic reported. Ballankiel beat a field of seven other horses, winning the Cup easily.
The time of 4:01½ was considered so exceptional that the length of the track was questioned, but an engineer provided its measurement at seventeen inches over a mile, presenting a certificate verifying such to the judges’ stand.
When the Cup itself—valued at $1,000—was awarded to owner Mr. Jennings, the crowd cheered, “Let the horse drink out of it!”
This was accordingly done, Ballankeel [sic] putting his nose against the gold lining, wetting his lips, and then gallantly raising his head to acknowledge the applause of the multitude.—Daily Graphic
As the Kentucky Derby was modeled after England’s Epsom Derby, the Louisville Jockey Club’s Kentucky Oaks was likewise a replication of the Epsom Oaks. Contested at 1½ miles on Wednesday (day three) by six three-year-old fillies, the first Kentucky Oaks was won by Vinaigrette, who was erroneously listed as being a five-year-old in the New York Herald-Tribune’s race summary! Time, 2:39¾.
The Jockey Club designed one more race with another English stakes in mind, the St. Leger; this was the Clark Stake (today’s Clark Handicap), a two-miler for three-year-olds that was held on closing day, Saturday, with Voltigeur prevailing in a time of 3:50¼ over 11 other starters.
Racing was alive again in Louisville, for the launch of the new race course and the inaugural Louisville Jockey Club meeting were collectively a spectacular success. “The grand stand is a beautiful amphitheatre with slender iron columns and a beauty of finish that is superior even to the ladies’ stand at Saratoga. No track has such new and perfectly planned stables,” remarked the Daily Graphic.
“The entire race can be witnessed from the grand stand without rising from the seat; nevertheless yesterday (Derby Day) 3,500 people rose simultaneously with the start of the horses, and remained standing until the race was over.”
And the fans have remained standing. We are still compelled to stand today, 138 years later, to witness this sport, from its magnificent triumphs to its most devastating defeats—forgoing our seats as thousands did on opening day at this Louisville track that was once known as Driving Park.
“Racing in Kentucky. Louisville and its Race Course—A Visit to the Races—A Brilliant Scene.” New York Daily Graphic, May 22, 1875.
“Racing in the South. The Spring Meeting of the Louisville Jockey Club—Sights and Scenes of the Stretch and Grand Stand as Viewed by a Northern Woman.” Daily Graphic, May 25, 1875.
“Louisville Races.” New York Herald-Tribune, May 20 & 23, 1875.
Information pertaining to England’s three premier races found at http://www.churchilldowns.com/about/history.
Posted on January 4, 2013 - by Annie Johnson
Best wishes for a prosperous 2013 to all! During late 2012, your Editor was invited to contribute two stories about the historic Eclipse Course (with related images) to the New Orleans Historical web and mobile platform, a project of the University of New Orleans and Tulane University. Please visit the site’s home page here to download the app!
Here’s the direct links to our two stories:
[Many thanks to our avid reader, Joe Depaolo, for noting the proximity of the 19th century Eclipse Course to the local Starbucks]
Editor, Antebellum Turf Times
Posted on October 26, 2012 - by Annie Johnson
It has been far too long between Turf Times publications, and although there are many, we will spare you the excuses (for it’s actually one of our mottos): Never make excuses, which comes second only to History is written by the victors. We have not stopped our research about America’s first national pastime, for there is enough to fill a book, and that’s what we’ve been embroiled in—the writing of a book. While Turf Times postings won’t be weekly as they once were, please check back regularly for future articles.
So without further excuses, and in honor of next week’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships, we’re going to revisit one from the Turf Times vault—a riveting tale in four parts, the story of the 1823 Great Match Race between the North and South.
This regional match-up was so highly anticipated by the American people that it drew an estimated 60,000 fans (20,000 of whom traveled from the South) to Long Island’s Union Course. Imagine this scene of nearly two centuries ago at the Union—“Booths erecting, Flags Flying, Pigs roasting, Fiddlers tuning, and all dust and confusion”—as the masses gathered to witness the race, this 19th century crowd rivaling the attendance numbers of one Breeders’ Cup day!
And now we present—The Great Match Race between the North and South. Click here for Part I., and you will find the link to each subsequent part in the series at the end of each article.
Editor, Antebellum Turf Times
Posted on April 20, 2012 - by Annie Johnson
Contrary to popular belief, the Antebellum Turf Times has not prematurely ended its coverage of America’s first national pastime, for our long absence between publications has been due to the recent relocation of the Times’ offices.
Your Editor, as well as the Times’ loyal racing correspondent, had dedicated weeks to the painstaking task of packing up two centuries’ worth of turf archives—and now we are embroiled in the remarkable undertaking of unpacking two centuries’ worth of turf archives.
Yet no one longs more for reliving the tales of racing history than we do! As this year’s Triple Crown is upon us, we look forward to providing new material for our readers in the coming weeks.
Editor, Antebellum Turf Times
Posted on February 24, 2012 - by Annie Johnson
The Times is pleased the share from the Constitution of the Adams County, Mississippi, Jockey Club (1845) the following selections on rules governing the antebellum turf.
Our racing correspondent discovered this preserved document among the possessions of Natchez turfman William J. Minor, whose papers are currently archived in the Special Collections at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge; both Minor and Colonel Adam L. Bingaman were members of this club [read more about the horses of Minor (Pt. III.) and Bingaman (Parts I.–V.) in the Times' New Orleans Jockey Club 1837 Spring Meeting series].
The excerpts included here are rules on foul riding and “poling.” While the club’s rules were stringent with respect to foul riding, it’s interesting to see some leniency with regard to “poling”—this during a time in racing that predated the railed track.
Posted on January 20, 2012 - by Annie Johnson
While the Times’ loyal correspondent was combing the archives in the search for more tales of the turf, the following untitled poem was unearthed—which recounts the Second Great Match Race between the North and South, held over the Union Course on Long Island in 1836 [please see Part IV.—the Aftermath from the Great Match Race series for more details on this historic contest].
The poem below was written by Isaac Michael Dyckman, whose antebellum family farm was located in what is now the Northern Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood. Although he was a local New Yorker, it remains a mystery if Dyckman had made the journey to Long Island to see the race firsthand. Not only has this poem been preserved but the family’s eighteenth-century home also remains today as the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum!
On the thirtieth day of May,
A race was run for money they say
Between two horses of great speed
And down in excellent time indeed
The people, they collected around
The Union Course of Jamaica town
The wind did blow, the dust did fly
And there collected in every one’s eye
‘Tis true it rained the day before
No matter for that the rain was o’er
Across the water people did glide
To see the speedy horses tried
About One O’clock of that day
The horses appeared in splendid array
Walking proudly across the turf
Both steeds of equal birth
Post-Boy was the Northern horse
Trained upon the Union Course
His large and gallant opponent indeed
Named John Bascomb the Southern steed
The two great steeds were led up and down
No doubt, saw the people standing round
Their heads well up, eyes wide open
No doubt saw the people’s motion
Horses then to show their pride
Walked down with keepers at their side
John Bascomb a sorel [sic] light
Post-Boy was a sorel bright
The keepers then threw off the dress
Well they knew the race to test
The drum was sounded by the judge
Pompously went up both the studs
The riders then mounted the word go
Away went like an arrow from a bow
They, appeared as, they went around
As if they never touched the ground
Bascomb won the first and second heat
Enough to prove Post-Boy’s defeat
Taking in the knowing Northerners
By the witty minded Southerners
Seven forty-nine the first heat won
Bascomb won the second also in fifty-one
The two greatest horses ever run
Excepting Old Eclipse and Henry Young
Posted on January 6, 2012 - by Annie Johnson
Antebellum Turf Times begins the new year with the following homage to the races; we wish we could take credit for this piece, but nonetheless we are pleased to be able to share it with our readers.
This excerpt is from The South Carolina Jockey Club, published in 1857, and written by John B. Irving, the Club’s secretary. We disagree, however, with Irving’s humble assessment that no writer can adequately capture the thrill of the races, when he himself has so eloquently done so here.
From The South Carolina Jockey Club
We cannot catch a wave, nor Daguerreotype its grace and rocket-like velocity. To do this perfectly is beyond the power of man.
So, like-wise, they who essay to convey, by description, the various features: the scenes, the moments of eager and tumultuous joy; the moving figures; the phantasmagoria of life, such as are continually presented and occurring on a Race Ground, will, also, fail in conveying aught but a cold, inanimate picture to the mind of the reader!
Posted on December 2, 2011 - by Annie Johnson
Our faithful correspondent, whose staunch reporting has enabled us to bring you coverage of historic racing in New Orleans and on Long Island, has single-handedly brought new meaning to the concept of participatory sportswriting; having recently endured a series of misadventures and the wrath of the “feathered tribe” while employing a wild turkey trap over the holidays [see November 18 issue, How to Catch a Wild Turkey, Circa 1831], our correspondent is now taking some necessary time to recuperate. We hope for a speedy recovery in the new year and are certain our reports will resume in 2012.
In the meantime, catch up on our two racing series here:
New Orleans Jockey Club 1837 Spring Races — Begins with Part I., Captain Oliver’s Triumph: Opening Day at the Eclipse Course, March 17, 1837
The Great Match Race Between the North and South — Begins with Part I., Napoleon Challenges the North
Editor, Antebellum Turf Times
Posted on November 24, 2011 - by Annie Johnson
We at the Antebellum Turf Times wish our readers the most blessed of Thanksgiving holidays.
We are thankful for the wealth of thoroughbred racing tales that keep our publication in existence — and eternally grateful to our predecessors at the local newspapers and turf journals, who painstakingly recorded these histories for posterity.
Thank you, John Stuart Skinner, for being the first to recognize the importance of “a repository in this country, like the English Sporting Magazine, to serve as an authentic record of the performances and pedigrees of the bred horse,” through the launch of your American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine in 1829. The Turf Register was an expansion of Skinner’s popular “Sporting Olio” column on racing and other field sports that was featured in his first publication, American Farmer.
And as we sit down to enjoy our holiday feasts, we can recall the following trivia unearthed from the archives of the New Orleans Picayune; who else might be guilty of the same error as the “greedy Yankee” mentioned below?
The seeds of the pumpkin were first brought to this country from the Mediterranean, and planted at Rowley, Massachusetts.
Many a greedy Yankee has taken a good sized pumpkin pie in his hands, and walked straight through it the first snap he made, leaving nothing but the ends sticking out in his claws — and all without knowing or caring whether his favorite fruit was indigenous to the soil or no.
- The Picayune, 23 March 1837
Thank you, George Wilkins Kendall, founder & editor of The Picayune, for this newsworthy item — and for your spirited coverage of the New Orleans races.
Quote pertaining to the American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine from its first issue, v. 1, no. 1 (September 1829): 1.