Saturday, February 13, 2021

Another world (but the same one really)

It's been a week of proper cold winter weather.  We had an amount of snow at the start of the week which has gradually diminished during the times when the sun has fallen on it, but it's hardly got above zero at any time so bits of snow have lingered in the shade.  And at times the wind has made it seem a lot colder (even colder) than it is.  We're currently frozen solid.  But surely this is the tail-end of winter?  It's been going on for long enough, hasn't it?  The problem is that I've been thinking that ever since New Year and I've been continually wrong.  However, the forecast is good for the second half of next week, so that's promising.  Whatever - I'll be right eventually!

My delving into the works of the late Caroline Ramsden seemed to work quite well in the last chapter so I'm going to repeat the dose here.  Mind you, one snippet from Farewell Manchester, her history of Manchester Racecourse (of which her father was Chairman for many years and of whose Committee she was a member for the final couple of decades of its existence) does make me feel slightly uneasy, bearing in mind that we're still only halfway through February: her recollection that in 1929 “from February 12th until March 11th there was no racing in England owing to frost and snow”.  Um - we'll just have to see what's around the corner in the next few weeks of 2021.

But the particular aspect of the book on which I'm going to concentrate in this chapter, and which I hope you might find interesting, is the matter of the declaration of runners.  We all know that having an accurate list of runners in the morning papers (leaving aside that there will always, of course, be non-runners) is a recent phenomenon, and that until the legalisation of off-course betting in the 1950s the newspapers carried merely lists of ‘probable runners’.  What has intrigued me, though, are the details which the book carries of how things had previously happened.

It had seemed fair to assume that previously declarations would have been taken on-course of those horses among the entries whose connections were going to run them.  Surprisingly, it seems that even that was a relatively recent development, as she explains.

“1927 was a notable year in the history of the Turf, chiefly because the Jockey Club indicated that they were about to take steps to obtain legislation for the Totalisator …

“With the advent of the Tote some means had to be devised for obtaining the names of all runners in each race much earlier than had hitherto been the practice, chiefly because the administrative staff needed time to prepare their numbered tickets for selling.  With this object in view the Jockey Club and the National Hunt Committee, early in 1929, brought in a new rule to the effect that runners in all races must be declared, in writing, three quarters of an hour before the race was due to be run.  This rule came into force on February 1st and, as Manchester was the only meeting scheduled for that date, we had the dubious honour of acting as pioneers.

"No directions were given as to how the rule was to be enforced, and the Manchester executive decided that the best way would be to accept the  declarations at a table in the Weighing Room, where they could be put into trays, one tray for each race.  Everything went smoothly, but during the following weeks other courses tried out a pillar-box system, in which the declarations were ‘posted’ into slots: this resulted in mistakes, owing to trainers, or their representatives, putting the documents into the wrong boxes, and so some of the horses were unable to run, as they were declared for races in which they were not entered.”

Staggering, isn’t it?  The idea was to produce a list of runners much earlier than had hitherto been the practice, so a system for taking declarations three quarters of an hour before the race was introduced!  How last-minute had the confirmation of the composition of the field been previously?  How did they discover who was running prior to this?  By seeing which jockeys weighed out?  By seeing which horses arrived in the parade ring?  Or down at the start?  That was less than a century ago, but it seems like a different world altogether.

To continue the ‘different world’ theme, I particularly enjoyed a story in the book about one of the horses which Sam Pickering (who trained at Kentford, near Newmarket, and whose string included some horses owned by Joseph Ramsden) ran at Manchester at the first meeting which it held subsequent to the First World War, a four-day meeting in the week of Whitsunday in 1919 when “the fields were on the small side owing to firm going, but there were huge crowds each day and some good racing.  Sam Pickering – the Optimist – brought a number of horses, including two for my father, Braida Garth and Shakerley.  They both finished third. 

“One of Sam’s other runners was a horse named Minorette, a three-year-old, which ran in the second race on the Thursday, a mile seller, with only four runners.  Minorette, starting at odds of 13-8-on, won easily by three lengths, and was bought by Sir Delves Broughton for 466 guineas.  Sam had  hoped to buy it in, but Sir Delves was obviously determined, so, rather than pay more than he considered it was worth, he let the animal go.  It was also entered in Irlams-o’-the’-Height Stakes, the last race of the day: only one other runner turned out for this event, so Minorette was saddled again, and again won easily, the credit for its training going, not to Sam, but to Sir Delves’ trainer Farquharson, who had had charge of the horse for less than two hours.  Sam treated the whole affair as a huge joke.”

Lovely, isn’t it?  There’s enough in racing on a day-to-day basis to keep one’s mind fully occupied, but when one delves into the past, there is such a treasure-trove of riches waiting to be discovered.


David J Winter. said...

It’s quite amusing and really charming...what also ran through my mind was the travelling involved. In the instance you mentioned it was Kentford (Newmarket, no doubt) to Manchester. I know that getting around the motorway system in the UK today is one of the most tiring and frustrating parts of running horses but in those days the roads were a lot less direct and I believe most horses were transited by rail. I have seen many photos of Newmarket Station in the 1920’s with the special platforms and carriages. How the jockeys of the day managed to traverse the country is amazing. I guess there wasn’t so much racing then and less time pressures. Thanks again John...very insightful of days gone by.

John Berry said...

Thanks, David. Yes, those horses would (presumably) have travelled by rail. A serious journey - even the first leg, the four-mile walk from Kentford to Newmarket station. You can understand why, having got to the meeting, they might like to run the horse there more than once if possible. The mind-blowing thing is the amount of winners which Gordon Richards managed to ride. Racing from late March to early November only; no racing on Sundays; no evening racing. The time it took to get around the country. I believe that they would fly by light aircraft quite a lot. I ought to be able to tell you his name - I'm ashamed that I can't - but there was a young Newmarket jockey in the '20s or '30s who had just become the King's jockey who was killed when his plane crashed going to somewhere like Newcastle or Redcar. He might have been called Jack Crouch, something like that. I believe that a lot of the most successful jockeys would live in London, which made perfect sense as if one is travelling around the country by train, living in London is the best place to be as all the main lines spread out from that hub. In Peter Corbett's book on Bayardo, there is some very interesting stuff on the jockeys riding work at Manton and being taken into Marlborough to get the train at some time around 8.00 to go to that afternoon's race-meeting. What helped was that the major race-meetings usually lasted a few days so the horses and jockeys etc. could travel there and then be in the same place for a few days.

David J Winter. said...

London, Wednesday.
The missing aeroplane contain
ing" the King's. jockey, James,
Crouch, ihas been found burnt ;
and the three occupants dead.
Crouch, was the sole passenger in
the aeroplane which, with the pilot
and wireless operator, left London on
Wednesday morning and passed over
York at noon on its way to Newcastle
on-Ty no,
Crouch, whoso mavria^c was fixed
for next week, should have ridden at
Gosford. Lord Derby's jockey was aub
stituted, and the horse finished second.
Yes, John, your memory is faultless...I have copied above a newspaper clipping. Now, I am amazed as I thought travelling by light plane was a relatively new idiom of travel....not withstanding the cost . I am surprised the jockeys could afford this luxury...or maybe the owners subsided the expense.? Did jocks in those days have our senior guy's?

John Berry said...

Oh, well done, David. Such a sad story. I think the thing was that the leading jockeys were on big retainers and that would have enabled them to pay for such expenses. A freelance going there just for his riding fees and the chance of a winning percentage would not have been able to afford to do that.