“Anything can happen on a race track." And when you read the track stories related here, you’ll agree that "anything” is a large word
FOUR years ago, a sale of racehorses took place in the paddock of the now defunct Windsor Jockey Club. The horses belonged to J. K. L. Ross, Montreal turfman, who at that time owned the most pretentious racing stable in Canada, and the sale attracted a large number of American horsemen. After several animals had been auctioned off for fair prices, a groom led into the sales ring a four-year-old chestnut.
“What am I bid for this royally-bred colt?” demanded the auctioneer. He looked hard at a tall American who had been an active bidder on previous occasions. “Do I hear Mr. Blank say $3,000?”
“You do not,” shot back Mr. Blank, adding in an audible aside: “I wouldn’t give a nickel for the horse. He has curbed hocks.”
His companion nodded. “Who’d want a cripple like him? I’m willing to bet he’d never stand training, let alone racing.”
The auctioneer strove manfully to get an opening bid from his keen-eyed, expert audience, and after some persuasion secured an offer of $200. Then, stage by stage, the amount was raised to $450, at which price the chestnut horse was sold. The purchaser was E. M. Doumani, a fruit merchant of Windsor, Ontario, who was subjected to a fair amount of good-natured banter as he led his acquisition from the ring. Said one wit: “He’ll do all right to haul bananas, but you’ll never make a racer out of him.”
“Maybe not,” grinned Mr. Doumani, “but I'll try.” The horse was Knockany, and five weeks later he came out on the track wearing the newly-registered silks of his owner.
His appearance under colors furnished the experts with another opportunity to point out that the racecourse was no place for crippled horses. “With those bad hocks of his,” they prophesied darkly, “he’ll quit in a hundred yards.”
Knockany didn’t break down; neither did he quit. He won the race. In five weeks’ time he won another
six, beating some of the fastest horses in Canada, and returning to his stable after each race apparently as sound as the proverbial brass bell. In those five weeks he must have materially swelled the bank account of his fortunate owner and the shrewd trainer who handled him in his engagements. The experts were dumbfounded. Here was a horse, afflicted with curbed hocks, winning race after race, when by all the canons of training he ifever should have stood the gruelling preparation that a thoroughbred must undergo for a speed test. A miracle they called it. But then on race tracks, miracles, or what might pass for them, are of fairly frequent occurrence, as I have learned in my daily work as a turf writer.
For instance, let me take the case of Care Free, perhaps the best-known horse in Canada, winner of sixty-six races in a career that has extended for ten Seasons; a great, upstanding bay gelding, whose temperament vies with that of the most capricious prima donna. For Care Free resolutely refuses to run for anyone but his present owner, Mrs. A. E. Alexandra, of Toronto; and not even for her unless he is blindfolded before being led from his stable to the saddling paddock. Other horsemen have claimed Care Free from those special contests which permit the owner of a runner to claim any other entry in that particular race, only to return gladly the big bay to Mrs. Alexandra when all the known tricks in the game have failed to make Care Free run the race of which he is capable. And directly after he has been led back to his old barn, the horse, once again wearing Mrs. Alexandra’s colors, has gone out and won. I have not come across any track habitué who is able to explain the psychology of Care Free, why he should win and keep on winning races for one owner, and refuse to “run a lick ” for any other. The secret remains in Care Free’s keeping—that is all I can say.
Speaking of Care Free reminds me that up to last June he established a record for consistency at Hamilton track that has never been equalled anywhere else in the world. Here, at the course of the Hamilton Jockey Club, he had started in eighteen races, and never once had he taken dust from another horse. That was his record up to June 24, on which afternoon he went to the post for his nineteenth racing effort in Hamilton. In view of his impressive record, it was little wonder that the large crowd installed him a short-priced favorite. Everywhere one went, in the paddock, in the clubhouse or in the public stand, one heard the same opinion. “Care Free’s unbeatable on this track.”
While the wagering was in progress a Hamilton sportswoman asked me if I thought that a horse called Pledge had a chance to win.
“Yes,” I told her, “my handicap figures show that he has a most excellent chance.”
Her eyes gleamed. “Don’t think I’m foolish if I tell
you something. On Saturday night”—this was Monday —“I dreamt I saw a light-colored horse plodding slowly up a hill. He looked so tired, and he was just covered in mud. And then I heard a lot of people saying: ‘Poor old Care Free, he’s done.’ . . . Now, please, don’t laugh !”
“I’m not laughing,” I protested. “Better play your hunch, for dreams have been known to come true.”
“But that’s not all,” she interrupted. “When I told my husband, he said: ‘If I was so wrapped up in racing that I couldn’t sleep without dreaming of horses, I’d take the pledge.’ Now do you see—the double hunch?”
I did. And so impressed was I by her story that I made a small investment on Pledge. It’s turf history now that on this, his nineteenth start at the Hamilton course, gallant old Care Free was beaten. And the horse that beat him was Pledge, who paid $43.40 for a $2 ticket.
The Magic of a Number
rT"'HE regular player, that is, the man or woman who follows the bangtails from day to day and from track to track, turns a deaf ear to hunches. Not so the casual visitor, who relies on them far more than on past performance. I remember at the spring meeting of the Ontario Jockey Club nearly two years ago, a Toronto lady confided to a circle of friends that five was her lucky number. Before the opening race was run off, she announced her firm intention of betting the Number 5 horse in each of the seven events.
“My dear,” said one of her friends, a keen judge of racing quality, “you are going to do a very foolish thing. After all it’s the horse that counts, not his number.”
But the hunch player refused to be shaken from her original plan, even when Number 5 in the first race finished in ninth position. The next race was a steeplechase, and she bet Manifold, number 5 on the programme and a rank outsider. To the astonishment of at least 10,000 race patrons, Manifold won; only by an inch or so, but on a race course an inch is as good as a mile. In two other races, the lady’s belief in her hunch was thoroughly substantiated by the results, so that when the wagering opened for the seventh and final event on the afternoon card, she was a handsome winner.
“Are you still going to stick to your Number 5 in this race?” asked her sceptical friend.
“Indeed, I am,” replied the hunch bettor. “For I just know it’s going to win.”
“If it does,” rejoined the other, “then the age of miracles is still with us, because your Number 5 is Circus Rider and it has never raced farther than six furlongs.” This race, be it explained, was over a course of a mile and 110 yards.
The advice was spurned. The lady who believed in numbers invested ten dollars on Circus Rider, and a few minutes later had the supreme satisfaction of seeing the horse win by a neck after a terrific battle that lasted for almost the entire length of the quarter-mile stretch. And then came the super-thrill when the price was posted. For Circus Rider returned a dividend of seventy dollars for each dollar invested, which meant that the hunch-player had won $700 over and above the amount she had netted by her previous lucky bets.
A Hundred-to-One Shot
' I 'HE King’s Plate is our Canadian classic, and no race that is run during the five-month season attracts so much attention as this nine-furlong test which is always decided at the opening of the Ontario Jockey Club spring meeting. It is confined strictly to horses bred in Ontario and owned by residents of that province. There are other conditions which, however, need not be discussed here. Suffice it to say that in the three or four weeks of training operations prior to the contest, the keenest interest is maintained by the sporting public in the activities of each of the candidates. Remembering this, and also remembering that an army of expert dockers are always present when the horses perform their trials, it may readily be deduced that the owner of a smart prospect has considerable difficulty in “keeping him under cover.”
However, let us go back six years when fourteen horses went to the post to decide
which of them was best entitled to the $10,000 purse, the King’s Guineas and the plate. The Seagram Stable had two entriés, Beau of the West and Isoletta. The trials of the latter had convinced most people that the race was at her mercy. And, failing Isoletta, there were a number of others which appealed to the sporting public. No one gave a thought to a solidly-built chestnut horse that had been trained at Oakville and had come to Woodbine Park a short time before the day of the big event. If they did, it was to dismiss his chances as hopeless, for he had raced only once before in his threeyear-old life, and nothing had developed in that race to stamp him as anything out of the ordinary. And yet he won! Maternal Pride was his name, and when the barrier was sprung he dashed ahead of his field and ran in front of them all the way to the judges’ stand, winning by a two lengths’ lead over his most persistent rival. That afternoon, anyone—and there could only have been a few who invested a $2 ticket on Maternal Pride— received back $193.50. Which, by the way constitutes a record price for a King’s Plate winner, in spite of the fact that the race has been run for seventy years.
I know of one young man who profited greatly by this amazing victory of a rank outsider. And when I tell the story, perhaps you will agree with the timeworn turf adage “That anything can happen on a race track.”
On the morning of the race, this young man, whose father kept a store close to the Woodbine track, sold some tobacco to astable hand. In the course of the transaction the young fellow mentioned that he was going to the track that afternoon and asked his customer if he knew of anything good.
“I’ve got a warm baby that’s going to take the King’s Plate,” said the horseman. “He isn’t in our stable, but I know he’s real good, and if they don’t get wise to him, he’ll pay plenty.”
“What one is it?” eagerly queried the youth.
“I’m not goin’ to tell you now,” retorted the other. “But if you get down to the rail at the east end of the track just before the horses go to the post for the Plate I’ll signal its programme number with my hand. All you’ve got to do is to count the fingers I show and then bet the horse.” Incidentally, that is a trick commonly employed by racing followers, who know that to mention the name of a horse frequently results in a rush being made to bet it, with a consequent shortening of the price.
The young man squeezed his way to the appointed place and there saw his friend of the morning on the other side of the fence, close to the stable entrance. It seemed to him that the stable hand also had seen him for suddenly he placed the index finger of his right hand to his forehead. “He means Number 7,” thought the youth. But the next moment, the other, staring straight at his young acquaintance, raised his hand, held it to the side of his head for an instant, and then dropped it.
The action perplexed the young speculator. Then swiftly light dawned. One and five make six. That was it. Hurriedly, he scanned his programme. Number 6 was Maternal Pride. The odds-board showed it was 100 to 1. Good enough! He forced a passage to the betting wickets and invested four dollars on the horse to win.
That evening in his father’s store, while he was receiving the felicitations of a number of friends who had heard of his amazing luck, the stableman walked in.
The elated youth shouted a welcome. “That was a peach of a tip,” he cried.
“Aw, don’t rub it in,” said the other peevishly. “The horse did his best, but I guess the pace was too hot.”
“But he won !” debated the young man.
The stable hand stared. “What horse are you talking about?”
“Maternal Pride, of course. Number 6, the number you tipped me off to.”
The horseman doubled over with laughter. “I gave you the office to bet Maypole, Number 5, the horse that ran third. Do you think I’ve got six fingers on my hand?”
“But,” persisted the puzzled youth. “I distinctly saw you put up one finger, drop it after a while, and then raise your hand. That’s how I got Number 6 out of it.”
“Which shows that you were born lucky,” grinned the stableman, “because Maypole was the nag I wanted you to play. If you saw me stick up one finger it must’ve been because I wanted to rub my eye or somep’n.”
You Never Can Tell
the track, directly under the judges’ stand, and escaped their observation.
I have seen a tout walk up to a man and represent himself to be the owner of a certain horse, and endeavor to cajole his prospective victim into making a big wager. And the very man on whom the tout has concentrated his attentions has been the owner of the horse. That happened to Frank W. Callaghan, Toronto turfman, at a local track, when a tipster introduced himself as the owner of Mineralogist, a Canadian-bred racer of which Mr. Callaghan is inordinately proud.
I have seen a player lose six straight races, take his programme, shut both eyes, and stab with a pencil at the list of entries for the seventh. And the point of the pencil has landed on a 100 to 1 shot, and that 100 to 1 shot has won the race.
I have seen a bettor buy a ticket only to discover, when too late to change it, that the ticket was for a horse that he hadn’t the slightest intention of playing. I have seen him go from person to person in an endeavor to sell that ticket—to meet with refusal each time. And then disheartened, and more than a little sore, he has turned to watch the race. And, wonder of wonders, the horse which he backed inadvertently, and whose prospects he valued at zero, has romped home an easy winner.
Not so long ago I saw a man obtain a fifty-dollar ticket on a horse in a two-yearold race. Three minutes later he discovered that he had been given the wrong ticket and he rushed back to the vendor’s wicket. For a couple of minutes he
subjected the unfortunate clerk to a tornado of abuse. “I asked you for a ticket on Landlord, ” he shouted, “and you gave me one for a dog called Jopagan. I don’t want it at any price.”
Another man stepped up and said quietly: “I’ll take it.” The-disgruntled bettor promptly handed him the voucher, received fifty dollars and obtained a ticket on Landlord. Five or ten minutes later Jopagan won by a short head, and the sickest man in the grounds was he who had just disposed of the ticket. For' Jopagan paid 50 to 1 that afternoon.
I have seen a horse coasting along to easy victory with nothing closer to him than some tiring animal, twenty lengths in rear. And then, with less than fifteen feet to reach the winning post, I have seen this assured winner stumble and fall sideways, losing the race.
I have seen a horse left at the post in a six-furlong dash, throw up his head and refuse to run. And meanwhile the public has laughed uproariously at the attempts of the jockey to make his mount behave like a rational racer. And then I have seen this erratic animal suddenly take the bit between his teeth, bolt along the back stretch like some crazed thing, catch up the leaders one by one, and win comfortably by two lengths.
Yes, one sees many strange things at a race track, but I never yet saw a man who went there, determined to win muchneeded money, succeed in his purpose.
Seemingly, that’s something that isn’t written into the record.