#EqHist2018 Plenary

Plenary:
“Breeding Rebellion, Racing to Revolution: The Mystery of Honest Tom’s Missing Stud Book; or, The Political Legacy of the Woodstock Mare.”
Richard Nash, Indiana University Bloomington

    Dr. Nash is a leading scholar of Human Animal Studies and eighteenth century English culture, and is Professor of English at the University of Indiana, Bloomington. He is the author of numerous academic articles, including “‘Honest English Breed:’ The Thoroughbred as Cultural Metaphor,” in The Culture of the Horse: Status, Discipline, and Identity in the Early Modern World (2004)–one of the landmark works that reinvigorated the field of equine history. He co-authored The Heath and the Horse: A History of Racing and Art on Newmarket Heath (2015), and his book Wild Enlightenment : The Borders of Human Identity in the Eighteenth Century (2003) won the Walker Cowen Book Prize. He served as past president of the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts, and has held fellowships from the British Academy and the Huntington Library.

Read our profile of Dr. Nash here.

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#MemberMonday: Mike Huggins

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Mike Huggins
University of Cumbria

Ph. D., Lancaster University, 1999
Diploma in Reading Studies, Open University, 1988
Diploma in Management Studies, CNAA, 1986
MA, CNAA, 1983
Diploma in Religious Studies, Cambridge University, 1976
BA (Hons), Open University, 1975 (first class)
Certificate in Mathematics, National Extension College, 1969
Cert Ed, Durham, 1967

What got you in to history? horse history?
I initially taught in primary schools, specializing in reading, and later worked in teacher training and school inspection. But I did a doctorate on the nineteenth-century history of British horse racing to fill my time during the school holidays, and that motivated me to move into the academic world to teach leisure history.
Rather like Saul of Tarsus my conversion to horse history took a long time. I’ve never ridden a horse. Though amongst my many books are three on British racing’s history, covering the period from 1660 to 1939, including my most recent on the long eighteenth century, they’ve focused on cultural, social, economic and political themes and the debates about betting, and did not foreground the horses anywhere near as much as I should have. But I’m belatedly giving it more thought now.

Who is your favorite historical horse?Statue of Kincsem
Kincsem, the thoroughbred mare foaled in Hungary in 1874, is a favourite of mine, not least since mares can be overlooked. She won 54 races from 54 starts, many of them high standard, on racetracks across Europe, and later through her offspring influenced the breed.

What are you working on now?
I am currently exploring the cultural transfer and knowledge circulation of thoroughbred breeding and racing between Britain and Europe between 1700 and 1880.

 

#SourceSaturday: Dr. Fager’s Mile

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   50 years ago yesterday, Dr. Fager set a new world record for the dirt mile: 1:32 1/5. America’s Best Racing calls his record “unbreakable,” and certainly it has stood untouched for half a century. 

 Much of racing history is caught up in these statistics, but we also have at our disposal a century of video to examine not only what these horses did, but how. Watch Dr. Fager’s record smashing Washington Park Handicap here.

Image: DRF (click to read about his name sake).

#MemberMonday: #EqHist2018 Keynote Richard Nash

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We are pleased to announce our keynote speaker for Equine History 2018, Dr. Richard Nash. His work likely needs no introduction, including “‘Honest English Breed:’ The Thoroughbred as Cultural Metaphor,”  in The Culture of the Horse: Status, Discipline, and Identity in the Early Modern World, one of the works that reinvigorated the field of equine history.

PhD, University of Virginia, English

What got you into history, and into equine history?

   I have only worked two places in my life: the university and the racetrack; my parents were both English professors who met in their first year of teaching at the University of Louisville at a New Faculty mixer at Churchill Downs.  As my webpage indicates, my developing interest in theorizing nature-culture hybridity as integral to understanding “modernity” directed my attention to combining my two lifelong interests by studying the role of the creation of the thoroughbred horse in early modern culture.  That project, once began, kept proliferating and generating more avenues for exploration, which I imagine I will continue to pursue for some time to come.

Who is your favorite historical horse?

   I am sure many will agree with me that this is an almost impossible question to answer; there are simply too many possibilities for different reasons, and my mood fluctuates too much, for me to ever settle on just one.  I will say that we tend to think of “historical” in terms of the distant past, but it also extends right up to the present.  More than any horse in my lifetime, American Pharoah arrested my attention every time he AmericanPharoah_AE-Lmoved.   No matter what I was doing, if someone sent me a video clip of him galloping– not even racing or working, but just galloping– I would stop what I was doing to watch it immediately, because he hit the ground so perfectly when he ran.  That sheer aesthetic pleasure in pure animal physicality is an important part of how humans admire horses.  But my historical work is grounded in the era of the foundations of the thoroughbred and of the sport; and my interest as a historian, has always been in recovering significant figures too long neglected by history.  I have several of those who I work on, in various ways, but let me mention two in particular. A horse named Buckhunter, but most often referred to as the Carlisle gelding ,was arguably the first important gelding as a racehorse.  Obviously, he left no lasting mark on the breed, but early in his career, he won important races at York; and while he changed hands frequently, working his way down the ladder of competition, he continued winning when placed at the proper level for nearly a dozen years, finally breaking down in his final start, and being buried entire,* near where he died.  In many ways, he set the type for an important– and difficult– part of the sport.  Arguably, the most important horse to the bloodlines of the modern thoroughbred is a mare named Old Bald Peg.  While her importance has been known for some time in at least a statistical way– if one follows both sides of the pedigree, not just sire lines, no name shows up more often in a foundational role– some of my recent research is directing me to an argument that the breeding program developed around her by Lord Fairfax was also profoundly influential on those near neighbors of his in North Yorkshire who established the protocols for developing the thoroughbred.  So, now I have managed to name an intact male, a gelding, and a mare, so I will stop here.  Though I could go on forever.

What are you working on right now?

   My primary contribution to The Heath and The Horse was to tell the story of the early years of the Jockey Club, which had long (mistakenly) been thought to have been created Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 9.36.36 AMin 1751.  My work shows that the Club was founded in association with King George’s visit to Newmarket in 1717, and the events that followed from that– one way or another, we can say that we have just witnessed the 300th anniversary of the Jockey Club. That work is, itself, part of a larger story that I am working on about the intertwining of horse racing with cultural and political history in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries; while there will be some discussion of preludes and codas, the heart of my narrative focuses on roughly the 100 years between the Restoration of Charles II and the death of the Duke of Cumberland and the breeding of Eclipse a century later.  The piece of that project that currently engages my attention is the important era– for both horse racing and national politics– between the last years of the reign of Charles II and the succession of Queen Anne; and the process by which certain racing courtiers active in the sport during the reign of Charles negotiated the establishment of parliamentary monarchy, and how horse racing served a purpose of political theater in that process that would serve as a prototype for the founding of the Jockey Club by their immediate descendants.

Where do you see the field going?

   This question takes me back up to those theoretical questions where my project began: how do we think about modernity in relation to the question of nature and culture? How is such a set of theoretical questions necessary to re-thinking the anthropocentric stories of human history told by modernity, in order to develop better, more ecologically attuned historical narratives that see humans involved with other animals in a common history.  If the world we live in is not here for us, but rather includes us within it, then any proper historical understanding of how we came to occupy our current place in this ecology requires us to attend to more than just human actors. I think the future of the field is in contributing to a much larger transformation of thought, as we begin to learn how to think ecologically instead of anthropocentrically.

*This was a huge honor! See US Sport History: Death of a Hero for how recently it was unusual to bury a horse whole.

#ShelfieSunday: Here Comes Exterminator!

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Review by Eric Banks

     In Here Comes Exterminator!, writer Eliza McGraw revisits the life of the 1918 Kentucky Derby–winning gelding Exterminator, one of the most celebrated American thoroughbreds of the first half of the twentieth century. Few geldings have won the signature race in its history—Exterminator is one of only nine, although the third in a short span between 1914 and 1920—and his career as a racer was prolonged for a greater period than most three-year-old champions. Much of McGraw’s book, and the appeal that Exterminator exerted for most of his racing life, concerns the determination of the horse’s owner, Willis Sharpe Kilmer, to surpass the career earnings of Man O’ War, which totaled $249,465. Exterminator did so as a nine-year-old in 1924, finishing fourth in a stakes race and collecting a small purse at the newly established Tijuana Race Course, nipping Man O’War’s winnings total by just over $3,000. Five starts later, he raced for the final time at Blue Bonnets Raceway in Montreal, pulling up lame while finishing third, and retiring with a remarkable record of 50-17-17 in a 99-race career.

     Griswald, a contributing writer to Equus magazine, charts the horse’s tenacity against the background of Exterminator’s erstwhile trainer Henry McDaniel, who conditioned the horse following his purchase as a lightly raced three-year-old, and his bullheaded owner, the Binghamton, New York–based Kilmer. The former was the son of the legendary David McDaniel, the trainer of the great campaigner of the 1870s, Harry Bassett, and a steady if not spectacular success as a horseman. Kilmer by contrast was a newcomer to horse racing who parleyed a family fortune—his father invented the dubious cure-all diuretic Swamp-Root—into a powerful stable in the late 1910s. Kilmer cycled through trainers over the course of Exterminator’s career; at one point, Griswald recounts sportswriters trying to recall the nearly two dozen who had worked for him at one point or another. But McDaniel was most powerfully connected to the critical decision to enter Exterminator in the 1918 Kentucky Derby and to the later campaign in which he would at last better his paper rival, Man O’ War—a pyrrhic victory given that another horse, Zev, had already overtaken Man O’ War’s tally.

     The recognizable figural motif underwriting Exterminator’s biography might be called “the wrong horse.” Like the stories of other racehorses, including Seabiscuit, Swale, and even Secretariat, which Meadow Stud famously received after losing a coin toss (part of a foal-sharing agreement) to Ogden Phipps, the wrong-horse tale involves the emergence of a lesser-regarded juvenile blossoming into a champion. In the case of Exterminator, he was purchased for a modest sum on McDaniel’s advice to serve as something akin to a workout partner to the highly regarded Sun Briar in preparation for the Derby. After a stellar two-year-old campaign, Sun Briar had put in a desultory performance in the spring of his three-year-old year and trained poorly. He was finally removed from consideration for the race and replaced by Exterminator, one of the longest shots in the field, at 30-1, whose victory echoed that of the extreme long shot Donerail’s five years earlier, in the process galvanizing popular and media interest in the Derby across the country as an opportunity for bettors to strike it rich and for outsiders to be competitive.

     Donerail and Exterminator shared another thing as well: they were both sired by the English thoroughbred McGee, which makes the rags-to-riches narrative sometimes told about Exterminator suspect. Exterminator’s potential may have been underrated, but he had at least one classics winner as a half-brother. He was nevertheless an unprepossessing and gangly young horse whose skinniness earned him the nickname “Old Bones”; as McGraw reports, it’s not clear why the decision was made to geld him, but it reflects the lack of faith in his future as a stallion. Following his Derby victory, the lack of optimism seemed warranted; his win in Louisville on a muddy track appeared to be a fluke, and he lost races throughout the year, while Sun Briar rebounded to win the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Springs. But by the end of 2018, he showed mettle as a handicap horse and ability to win longer-distance races. He and Sun Briar—who remained Kilmer’s favorite, and who named his state-of-the-art indoor training facilities in Binghamton Sun Briar Court—made a formidable one-two punch for the stable, with Sun Briar a difficult horse to defeat at distances under a mile and a furlong, and Exterminator a hard-knocking stayer.

     McGraw writes engagingly about an important moment in the history of the sport. During World War I, a number of influential figures like August Belmont Jr. helped forged a connection, both actual and in the public imagination, between the thoroughbred industry and the US war effort through the Remount Service. The breeding program imaginatively helped to surmount the less salubrious view of the industry as it emerged from anti-gambling initiatives in the years before. The remount campaign, however, posed a question on the status of geldings in racing. The trade-off, however, was a lengthy career in which there was no issue, of course, of retiring Exterminator to stud duty (unlike Sun Briar, who sired the wildly successful Sun Beau after his retirement in 1919). This longevity and later development would later distinguish Exterminator in a manner similar to other memorable geldings like Kelso, Forego, Dr. Fager, and John Henry.

     Exterminator’s virtuoso performances on the track, McGraw writes, endeared him to fans of racing and a legion of sportswriters, from Grantland Rice to the less-remembered Brooklyn Eagle correspondent W.C. Vreeland. His timing could not have been better: a moment when mass spectatorship was emerging around a number of sports (baseball and boxing, in particular); postwar transportation developments were making travel by spectators and horses a vastly easier undertaking; and the nascent film industry widened the distribution of newsreel images and celebrity. McGraw mentions the (now lost) 1919 Hollywood film A Challenge to Chance, which featured the horse (apparently playing himself); the movie was a vehicle for boxer Jess Willard, pegged to be released as promotional lagniappe on July 4 of the same year, when he lost his belt to Jack Dempsey in a heavyweight bout. At any rate, Exterminator achieved celebrity in a decade noted in the United States in particular for developing its own spin on the concept.

     McGraw writes well, if anecdotally, on this pivot moment in the history of US racing, when the industry underwent an early wave of professionalization and established itself as a major mass spectacle sport with a seemingly permanent place in the news cycle. On Exterminator himself, she is a terrific Boswell. The horse may be poorly remembered today—the closest analogy I can think of from another era is probably Stymie, the fabulously popular New York–based who became the leading money earner of the late 1940s after making 131 starts—but McGraw makes an enthusiastic case for his rediscovery just over a century after his birth.

#ShelfieSunday: Mr. Darley’s Arabian

darley    Review by Katherine Mooney

    Christopher McGrath begins Mr. Darley’s Arabian in the starting gate at Newmarket and follows Frankel to victory in the 2011 running of the 2000 Guineas. Watching on YouTube, you can hear the swelling roar of the crowd, the joyous acknowledgement of people who have together seen something numinous. The impetus for McGrath’s book is in that sound, as he spends the next 350 pages explaining how a creature like that came to be in that place at that time. Beginning with the Darley Arabian and following the top line of pedigrees sire to sire for twenty-six generations to Frankel, he tells the story of the modern Thoroughbred.

     McGrath grounds his project with Federico Tesio’s maxim: “The thoroughbred exists because its selection has depended…on a piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby” (292). The Derby gives the book a central focus, but it also dictates the scope of the analysis. If the Derby winning post is the thing that defines the Thoroughbred, then McGrath’s definition of the Thoroughbred exclusively encompasses high-stakes flat racing, mostly in the English Classics, and the stud careers of particularly influential progenitors.

     McGrath’s underlying premise is that the racetrack was not just a space of performance; it was a nexus of power. Everyone was there, and everyone cared about racing. His anecdotal examples range from Admiral Rous crossing the Atlantic in a dangerously decrepit frigate to attend the second autumn meeting at Newmarket to 1926’s General Strikers making way through their lines for Spithead, the gutsy winner of the Chester Cup (154, 282). But McGrath is mainly concerned with the men who paid the bills. “[T]he Darley Arabian line has followed a constant arc—as a monument to economic power. However random its biological provenance, for three centuries the thoroughbred has remained a faithful index of a changing world beyond the racecourse” (6). He begins at the turn of the eighteenth century, as political and economic factions battled through the Restoration and the rise of the Hanoverians. From 1750 to 1846, landed aristocracy and gentry controlled the Thoroughbred world. With the repeal of the Corn Laws came the rise of the industrial magnates, and after World War I the turf came firmly into the hands of a fantastically wealthy global elite. These periodizations remain fuzzy, as McGrath does not so much argue as chronicle. But he broadly paints the evolution of the Thoroughbred as a component of the evolution of British national and imperial identity and power. And he suggests that the results of the Classics are invaluable indicators of shifts at the top, as coal barons, diamond merchants, and Jewish bankers were grudgingly accepted into Newmarket, Epsom, and Doncaster (250). Though he describes today’s partnerships between racing professionals and international moneymen as purchased connections “between the lore and the profits,” his own work makes clear that these relationships stretch back centuries (297).

     McGrath largely takes the realities of power for granted. Indeed, sometimes this chatty amorality is jarring, as when he drily tells us that John Scott’s Whitewall training stable “was never the same once Colonel Anson was posted to India…. Mind you, nor was India.” Anson was in command of the Bengal Army during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (128). The suffragist Emily Wilding Davison, surely the most famous person ever to treat the track as a political space, appears unnamed in a single sentence (259). But McGrath does sometimes step back and remind us of the cost of accumulated wealth and authority to the most vulnerable people in and out of the Thoroughbred world. He does not mince words about the systemic cruelty of industrialist James Merry to the coal and iron workers who made him rich (190). The genial racing man Lord Derby managed to get the jockey Fred Rickaby a safe World War I post in the Veterinary Corps so he could be handy to ride. But when awkward questions were asked in Parliament, Rickaby was reassigned to tanks. Derby got over the embarrassment and in 1918 became Ambassador to France, where his colleagues drew up a “form guide” to help him stumble through his diplomatic obligations. Rickaby died of wounds in France that autumn at the age of twenty-three, leaving a widow and two young sons (275-78).

     McGrath has the advantage of being a superbly gifted writer (this month he was awarded the prize for the Racing Writer of the Year in the U.K. for the third time). He can wield a dependent clause like a stiletto. And his access to today’s mightiest figures in racing greatly enhances the book’s final sections. McGrath’s bibliographical essay references an impressive array of primary and specialist secondary sources. As they tumble over one another in his lists, he demonstrates, in this driest of formats, just how much fun this book was for him to write. It seems churlish to complain about its inevitable shortcomings.

     Scholars will find the book frustrating in its lack of readily available citations, and, for those who have closely followed recent publications in the history of the Thoroughbred, there is not much new. The argument is largely implicit and unsurprising. But for both popular and scholarly readers who love horses and horse stories, the book is amply worth reading; McGrath has convinced me that Running Rein’s Derby of 1844 deserves at least a miniseries. It is a tribute to the author and his framing of his subject that, as he speculated briefly about the possibilities for Frankel’s progeny, my first thought was of Cracksman. Frankel’s three-year-old star took the Champion Stakes at Ascot this year. Will it be Frankel, then? Or will Nathaniel, like Frankel a son of Galileo, carry the blood into the next generation? Nathaniel has, after all, already produced Enable, the three-year-old filly who triumphed in the Arc this year, while Cracksman refused to face her. Both are slated to remain in training. And next spring the story will continue.

 

 

#ShelfieSunday: Race Horse Men

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Katherine C. Mooney
Race Horse Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made at the Racetrack
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014
Hardcover: $35.00
ISBN 9780674281424
Subject matter: Horse Racing, Nineteenth-Century United States History, Slavery, Race and Race Relations.

Review by Charlotte Carrington-Farmer (Roger Williams University)

     Race Horse Men examines how the racetrack was an important political and cultural arena, where slavery was “made” alongside freedom in the United States. The book’s seven chapters, which are structured chronologically, weave together a picture of the lives of the so-called “race horse men” from the early 1800s through to the 1920s. Thoroughbred racing was arguably America’s first spectator sport, and black jockeys were amongst the best jockeys in the country, who rode in (and won) many famous race. Enslaved grooms, jockeys, and trainers were granted significant autonomy from their white masters, and their opinions were valued. They were often well-paid for their work, and were permitted to travel as part of their job. However, Mooney complicates our understanding of slavery and systems of power. Her most persuasive argument demonstrates the shades of oppression within a larger system of total subjection. Mooney convincingly argues that whilst race horse men were some of the “freest” unfree people in the United States, their freedom served to reinforce their master’s dominance. Race Horse Men is not an overly simplified story of how black men crafted nooks of freedom at the racetrack; it is a more complicated story of how white men used the racetrack to advance their power bases and to create a microcosm of their version of the United States, in which they ruled supreme. Masters used race days to “demonstrate their power was rightful” (37), and through the track they “saw in miniature the hierarchical world they wanted, its boundaries policed by violence” (173.)

     Mooney is an Assistant Professor of History at Florida State University, who works on the cultural history of inequality in the United States. Her work adds to the burgeoning scholarship on black race horse men, most notably Joe Drape’s Black Maestro: The Epic Life of an American Legend (2007) and Edward Hotaling’s The Great Black Jockeys (1999) and Wink: The Incredible Life and Epic Journey of Jimmy Winkfield (2005.) However, Mooney’s work goes beyond previous scholarship, which offers an overly sanguine depiction of the lives of black race horse men. One of the strengths of Mooney’s book is that it presents a complicated picture of enslaved lives, which never lets the reader forget the brutality of a slave society. She powerfully describes the horrors of how white owners tortured slaves, which included forcing young jockeys to stand in horse manure to stunt their growth and walk for up to twenty miles with heavy layers of clothing on to shed weight. Mooney’s work shows how enslaved horse men took pride in their work and enjoyed agency, but she goes beyond previous scholarship by demonstrating how masters ultimately controlled their lives and bodies: “Jockeys…were positive proof that slaves could be physically shaped according to white desire…proof that torture could make a perfect slave” (49.) Mooney fleetingly mentions that the largest sale of enslaved people in the U.S. took place at the Ten Broeck Race Course in Georgia, when approximately 436 men, women, children, and infants were sold in 1859. Mooney describes how the slaves were kept in the stables and potential buyers examined their teeth and “prodded them in the ribs,” just like they did with the horses (115). Whilst Mooney acknowledges that this shows slaveholders “ownership of animal and human bodies,” she could push this argument further. Readers interested in learning more about the slave sale at Ten Broeck Race Course should consider Anne C. Bailey’s new book, The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History (2017).

     Mooney traces the lives of black race horse men through the Civil War and into Reconstruction. In the immediate aftermath of emancipation, black horsemen became sports celebrities and were a source of pride, hope, and inspiration. As racing moved north, formerly enslaved jockeys used their freedom to push for change. The fact that the most prominent jockey in the nation, Isaac Murphy, was African-American, served to raise these hopes. Mooney argues that the real change at the track did not come in the immediate aftermath of emancipation, but in the early twentieth century when segregation laws were enforced in the wake of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which legalised the doctrine of “separate but equal.” By the early twentieth century, black race horse men were only employed in the lowest rungs of the racing industry, as “Black horsemen’s success could not be safely channelled into the support of white supremacy” (225.) Whites explained the absence of blacks at the track using a range of techniques, including the scientific racism that gained currency at the turn of the twentieth century.

     Successfully weaving a story together about race and sport spanning over century is no mean feat. Mooney has clearly dug deep in the archives, and the book’s convincing arguments are supported by a plethora of sources, including photographs, newspapers, and personal letters. The images in the book are not only an interesting addition, but they also further Mooney’s arguments. For example, Mooney uses a Currier & Ives lithograph (231) to show white people’s uneasiness with black horsemen’s success under Jim Crow. Mooney’s work builds upon the growing animal turn in history, and it uses thoroughbred racing as a lens to explore the struggle against slavery and oppression. This work will appeal to equine historians, in addition to scholars of the long nineteenth century and race and relations. Mooney’s vivid writing makes this book accessible to a wider public audience beyond the academy, especially those with an interest in racing history. Race Horse Men offers an uplifting epilogue about the reburial of Isaac Murphy next to Man o’ War in Lexington Park in 1967, amidst struggle for black civil rights. Race Horse Men ends by bringing the story up-to-date with the recent Project to Preserve African-American Turf History and social justice initiatives such as the Isaac Murphy Bicycle Club and Everybody Reads Project. As America continues to grapple with its complicated history of enslavement, segregation, and oppression, Mooney concludes that “the ride” for equality “is nowhere near over” (248.)