The PLAIN and Simple Facts
FRANK MANN HARRIS
NOW I will not go so far as to claim that around race tracks you are liable to get exposed to quite as much religion as if you stuck around moral meetings; but still that does not mean that all us
racing folks are complete heathen as many appear to believe, because there is bad and good in most every racket.
Like for instance there is one old trainer I used to know by the name Uncle Benny Miller who is quite religious at times, and who is a rare hand, especially of a wet Sunday morning when it is too slippery to work horses and nobody has enough dough to start a crap game, for reading religious pieces to all the gang in his tack room. And 1 remember how Uncle Benny Miller reads us one wet Sunday morning a piece all about this King Solomon, who is .supposed to be about as wise as they come and in fact has quite a reputation for knowing all the answers.
But it says that even this King Solomon admits there are three or four matters which have him sort of puzzled to understand; which if such is the case it is a good bet that this King Solomon would never get to first base as a sporting writer, and especially a sporting writer who prints stuff about horse, racing, for the reason that there isn’t anything on earth which those lugs do not know all about, that is, if you will hold still and take their own word for it.
Personally I figure that they six-nd half their time writing stuff that is entirely cock-eyed, and the other half making alibis for what they printed before: but to listen to them you would imagine there is not a single move made on any race track regarding which they do not have the low-down. 1 will bet I have read at least a dozen stories which those lugs have written about me getting set down that time in Detroit, and every last one of them hinted that the guy which wrote it had all the inside dope on why it was that the stewards gave me the old thumb; and if I was not so darned sore about the whole thing I could laugh out loud at how far they are away from the plain and simple facts.
For the truth of the matter is that 1 was susix-nded for just a little mistake which anybody would be liable to make under the circumstances and not for doing anything crooked, as these wise lugs keep hinting. Up to now I have just kept silent and let them rave, but now that I have had word that my suspension will be lifted next week, so that once more I will srxxi be kicking those winners down that old stretch in the style that has made the name of Andy Elliott notorious from coast to coast, I figure that maybe I owe it to my thousands of admirers to state the plain and simple facts of the matter and let them know what a terrible unjustice was done to me.
XJOVV, WHILE my wife did not actually have anything to do with this matter, and even now does not know what it is all about although making many suspicious guesses like wives always do, the whole thing gw* back to the fact that about two years ago I got married, with a wedding which 1 may now tell you was a very swell social affair and must have set the wife’s old man back plenty, and was a big success in every way except for Ambrose Riley, who trains for the B. and X. Stable, getting slightly gaffend at the supper afterward and acting rather unrefined.
What Ambrose Riley does is insist on taking down a horses lux; which the wife’s old man has hanging over the mantel and heaving it after the bridal couple for gcxxl luck, which makes the wife’s old man quite annoyed as this horseshoe happens to be a racing plate off of that great horse Roseben and highly valued as an heirloom, and, of course, it has to get lost in all the excitement after ianding with the full force of Ambrose Riley’s arm smack over my
right eye, leaving a big black shiner which causes considerable laughter wherever we go on our honeymoon, as it seems it is not very customary for bridegrooms to wear big black shiners on their honeymoons, at least not right at the beginning.
Well, while this is a sort of sour note for anybody to start their honeymoon on, everything goes along very smooth and lovely, and it sure must be all of ten days before I and the wife have the first argument of our married life, which comes as a terrible shock to me as up to then we have agreed together just like Cain and Abel. But it seems that my wife has got some
sort of a silly notion into her head that she is going to accompany me to all the various cities where I will be riding that summer, but of course I quickly tell her dif-
"Honey,” I says to her when she first starts talking about what hotel we will stop at in Miami, “honey, don’t you ever hear about how a woman’s proper place is in the home?”
“Whose home?” she says.
“As far as I know, we haven’t got as much home as a canary bird.”
“What is the matter with your old man’s home?” I ask her.
“Nothing is the matter with it,” she replies, “only if you think I got married just to sit at home while you are gallivanting all over the country, you are even more foolish than I suspected.”
And from that, one thing leads to another until finally I have to put my foot down firm and let her know' once and for all who is to be boss of the family.
After this little argument everything goes just like peaches and cream. I am not under contract that season but riding free lance, which makes it nice for us because whenever the wife gets a bit tired of any city we are free to haul out and go somewheres else, thus seeing many parts of the country as she is very fond of seeing different places.
We are just like two little lovebirds in a nest, with never even a cross word or look between us if it weren’t for her sitting in the grandstand every afternoon and then whenever I get beat out in a close finish trying to tell me that evening how I should have rode, being sometimes
rather hard for a high-class rider like I to take, even from one he loves more than life itself.
So when we get to Baltimore this spring it comes like a bolt of thunder out from a clear sky when she suddenly tells me one night that she is going home to her old lady. At first I think she has maybe been reading another mash note some jane has wrote me, as naturally a man in my position is tx>und to get a large amount of fan mail, although why the wife should get so jealous about such matters every time is a mystery to me, as I always tell her that all my affections belong to her alone, and anyways if she had
any sense she might know that any jane who meant anything serious to a jockey would know enough to address his letters in care of the track office instead of to the hotel.
However, she soon explains to me that why she wishes to go home to her old lady is not on account of jealousy, saying jokingly that the entire cast of "The Scandals" could write me mash notes three times a day for all she cares, which shows how in her heart she really trusts me. Why she wishes to go home is because of something which is going to happen that is a secret at present, and when she tips me off to what this secret will be, 1 agree with her that she will be better off under her old lady’s tender care than sitting in some grand-stand thinking up cracks to make about her husband’s riding.
So away she goes and pretty soon, when I see that they are going to hold an extra long meeting at Detroit, I decide I will head for there as I am about sick and tired of hopping from one place to another every few* days; and in addition to that, from Detroit I will be able to get home to see the wife every week-end as I miss her something dreadful and her old lady is about the best cook 1 ever have the pleasure of eating with.
THE MORNING I arrive at the Detroit track, about the first guy I run into is Barney Hallett, who is better known as Halter Barney from his habit of always grabbing any horse that he thinks is cheap in a claiming race and carrying a halter over his arm most of the time to lead his claims back to the barn. I have not seen Barney in a couple of years, but w*e were always good friends and he is very pleased to meet me again.
While I and Barney are standing there talking about one thing or another, an old snowball comes past us leading a big chestnut horse, and I am greatly astonished when I recognize this old snowball as Mose, who has swiped for Barney for many years, because this big chestnut horse does not look like the kind that would be eating Halter Barney’s oats, being about the handsomest horse I ever laid an eye on.
“Well, Barney,” I says. "I will bet that there is one you never picked out of no cheap claim box.”
Barney sort of chuckles. “What makes you think that, Andy?” he asks.
“He is sure awful easy to look at,” I reply.
"He is all of that," Barney says, "and if 1 will ever discover a race track where they pay off on looks 1 will maybe get back the fifteen hundred he sets me back, bad luck
“You didn’t ever get one like that for no fifteen hundred dollars,” I says, surprised.
"I did just that,” Barney says. “And, what is more, if any man was to come right up and shove fifteen hundred cents into my hand I would lx* liable to holler ’Mister, you have bought a horse,’ and throw in a gun to shoot it with to boot.”
“But he looks like he should be full of run,” I protest, because class seems to stick out of this chestnut.
“He looks like he should run and he is bred so he should run and, more than that, he can run,” Barney replies. “The only thing wrong is
replies. “The only thing wrong is that the big hound won’t do it.”
So he goes on to tell me how this horse fetches an awful big price at the two-year-old sales at Saratoga and how everybody thinks he is going to be a stake horse, but he turns out so no account that he slips down and slips down until finally he is running in claiming races and not doing any good even there.
“I think,” Barney says, “that some of his ancestors must of come from some country where they have the finish line somewheres down the back stretch. He will run half a mile as fast as any man’s horse I ever saw, but when he had done that much he thinks he should stop and have tea or scratch himself or pay a call on the patrol judge, and when he gets that notion in his head nothing won’t persuade him dif-
“Maybe,” 1 says, “he didn’t ever have no real good toy to ride him.”
"Perhaps you are right," Barney answers. "The best he ever has on him is Sonny Workman and Mack Garner and punks like them.”
“Even those guys don’t know everything," I tell him. “I wouldn’t mind having a whirl at him myself.”
“I can see that you still detest yourself as much as ever, Andy,” Barney says. “However, you are welcome to him. Tomorrow is his morning to work and if you want to try your luck, lx* here, but don’t say I didn’t warn you."
"D RIGHT AND EARLY next day I walk this big chestnut out on to the track.
“How far do you want me to work him?” I ask Barney. “I am only an innocent bystander, ask the horse,” Barney replies. “He will decide how far he wants to work.”
I think to myself that I know different from that, so after 1 have warmed him up I turn him loose over by the big empty stand, and if I do not reach very quickly and grab a fresh hold I swear that chestnut would have jumped clean from under me. Nobody is bothering to time him, but if he does not beat .47 for the first half mile, I hope I may never ride into that winner’s circle again, and from the feel of him he is prepared to keep on going clear to the moon.
But about a hundred yards after we have gone a half, all of a sudden it seems as if somebody has tramped down on the brakes with a large heavy foot. I am sort of prepared for this and I lay into him with the bat with all the power in my arm, but the chestnut doesn't take any more notice than if I am blowing kisses at him. He stops almost to a walk. Then he starts to run a little again and finishes out the mile, but from the head of the stretch Joe Fenner’s duck would beat him home without raising a sweat.
When we get back to the stable lane Barney is laughing like a fool.
“What do you think of your picture-book horse now, Andy?” he says.
“1 think maybe he would go better in a race,” I reply. “Running alone isn't the same thing as when you have something alongside trying to beat you.”
“I thought that too,” Barney replies sadlike, “until I am near broke paying jockey fees for the privilege of watching him run last. However, there is a race in the book day after tomorrow which, if he can’t win from the kind that will be in it, he couldn't win a fat men’s derby at a clambake. to if you still got confidence in him the trip is yours.” “Okay by me,” 1 answer. “Tell me, Barney, do you always run him -well, stone cold?”
“Andy, I am astonished at you,” Barney says. “You
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should know how bitterly 1 am always opposed to such a crime as giving vile stimulants to dumb beasts, and moreover, what with these newfangled saliva tests and the like, it is very dangerous besides. But I don’t mind telling you that at a certain track in the Middle West, where the folks are broader minded, I did try him out with a slight amount of artificial help one afternoon. The truth is that I shove a shot of the old dynamite into his hide that would blow the lid off a safe, and it don’t have any more effect on him than a chew of tobacco.” In the next week Barney starts the chestnut twice, with me on him and both times we play policeman in the race, finishing a lovely last after busting off on top and running on the front end to the half-mile ground. By this time there is considerable talk about barring the chestnut’s entry7, as many horse lovers are by now getting quite annoyed at betting their dough on him and then not even having a chance to root him through the stretch, as any horse lover who will try and root the chestnut through the stretch must be a very firm believer in miracles.
I AND BARNEY are staying at the same hotel, and in the evening we talk a great deal about the chestnut and his habits, although very' little of our conversation is such as you will hear in any church, and by now Barney is thinking of offering a reward for anybody who will come and steal the chestnut and save feed bills. Butone evening he comes to me with an idea.
“Andy,” he says, “on a race track there aren’t no tricks like the good old tricks. What do you think about trying out the chestnut with a few Thomas A. Edison trimmings?”
“You must be crazy,” I reply. "Why, even on the half-mile tracks the boys are scared to use a battery on a horse these
“Right you are,” Barney answers. “Electricity in a horse race is poison to all rightthinking judges and stewards. But there isn’t any rule that I ever heard of which stops a man from training a horse with a battery.”
Barney’s idea is that we will use a hand battery on the chestnut in his morning works, putting the old wasp on him whenever he shows signs of stopping, and continue to do so until he will think there is a charge of the lightning juice coming when anything jabs him on the shoulder or neck.
I think myself that this is an extremely goofy notion but I do not say so. Much to my surprise it works like a charm, and inside of two weeks the chestnut gets so that I have only got to prod him with my thumbnail, which I have let grow long and sharp on purpose, and he will run and keep on running till further orders.
“To protect myself and you,” Barney says, “the morning of the race I will go to Judge Farley and tell him about our little piece of strategy. Farley is a pretty decent old coot—for a presiding steward, that is— and I know that he won’t have any objections. And for that matter why should he, when what we are doing is no worse than using spurs on a horse, or not even as bad?” It is all set that the chestnut is to go in a race the following Saturday, and I have decided I will make myself a swell bet and clean up big, as the price is bound to be very large on account of all the Detroit horselovers being so sour on the horse, and I know there will be very little risk as I am certain that the chestnut could pack Jim Londos on his back and still win from the kind he will be in with. And then late on the Thursday evening I get a telegram from the wife’s old man telling me I should come at once.
Y\THEN I ARRIVE at the house early W on Friday morning the maid comes to the door and says to me to go to the
hospital. I do so, and on the pavement outside I see the wife’s old man walking like hé is training for a Bunion Marathon or something, and wearing a very worried expression on his pan. He scowls at me and grunts something which I cannot make out and just keeps on walking, turning around the comer of the hospital and disappearing down the side street.
At the office they inform me that all I can do is to wait, so I go out and commence walking in the opposite direction from the wife’s old man. It is a huge hospital and an awful long way round it, and how many times the two of us circle it in opposite directions I would not wish to say as I lose count after the first hundred. Every time we pass one another the wife’s old man gives me another big scowl and continues on his way without speaking, making me feel about three degrees lower than a fishworm. The wife is her old man’s only daughter and I begin to realize then that he thinks the world of her; in fact I begin to realize then that I think the world of her myself.
After what seems like about ninety years of this, we are passing one another right near the hospital door when out rushes the wife’s mother and waves to us. She is laughing and crying both at the same time and when I get close she flings her arms around me and kisses me, which is quite unusual as, while I and her have always been pretty good friends, she has never before acted in such a manner, and this naturally makes me even more worried than previously, if that is possible, until she manages to blurt out that everything is just fine and to come on up and see the fine new baby boy, which is the secret the wife tells me about that time down in Baltimore.
We go up in the elevator and into a room, and in a bed I see my wife looking very tiny and white, but after a while she opens her eyes and smiles at me in a manner which I would not describe even if I knew the words. So then we go into another big room and a nurse fetches a bundle of blankets, and in the middle of these blankets is the cutest kid anybody ever sees. I always hear how new-born kids are ugly little tads, but it is not because he is mine that I say that this one is as pretty as a litter of setter pups, and nobody can go farther than that.
His little fist is half unclenched, and when I stick my finger in it he grabs it with a grip that almost makes me holler out loud— he is so strong.
“Look at that grip,” I say to the wife’s old man. “It is a cinch he will be a great rider like his daddy with hands like those.”
“I will lay five to one he could outride his daddy even now,” replies the wife’s old man, who has lost the worried expression and is now smiling all over.
Pretty soon the nurse and my kid’s grandmaw chase us men out of there, saying that now everything is all right and we are only a nuisance round the place, as the wife’s old man is now offering to bet nine to five that this is the swellest and best-looking kid that is ever bom in this hospital—as if anybody would be sucker enough to take such ridiculous short odds on a cinch proposition like that.
When we get back to the house, the wife’s old man dives down into the cellar and comes up with a couple of very large darkgreen bottles with gold leaf wrapped around the necks, and then goes and fetches a corkscrew.
"This stuff is much too good for the likes of you, Andy,” he says as the first cork goes plop, “but I have been saving it for a long time for some such suspicious occasion as this, so drink hearty to the health of my grandson.”
Now I have never been much of a hand for the bottled goods in any form, and usually a couple of jolts of anything is about as
much as I can handle. But this bubbly stuff slips down like cream and don’t have the slightest effect on me except to make me feel about eight feethigh and want to sing and laugh.
AFTER WE FINISH those two and a -4*couple more that he hauls out of the cellar, the wife’s old man suddenly remembers that he hasn’t told any of his friends about the great event, although if any of them had lived within three blocks they would probably have known all about it from hearing him drinking his grandson’s health, as before he retired from horseracing the wife’s old man is noted for having one of the loudest voices ever heard on a
“Leave us go calling, Andy, my boy,” he says. “A historic occasion like this should not be allowed to pass in silence. We will begin with Martin McBane, whose daughters have never had anything but girls.”
For some reason or other, probably because I was so excited, I do not recollect the exact details of the next few hours very clear. I remember that we call at quite a lot of places and that everybody is very glad to see us and makes a lot of fuss, and I seem to recall that the wife’s old man is finally offering to lay ten to one that my baby is the grandest kid ever bom anywhere, with no takers even at that price.
The next I remember is being on the midnight train for Detroit and the conductor telling me that there are no berths or staterooms left, as there has been a convention. And as I walk through the Pullman on the way to the chair car, I can hear these delegates snoring so loud and in so many keys that I feel that being a convention delegate must be a very tiring racket and no mistake.
All during the calls I have been making with the wife’s old man I have been very careful not to indulge to any great extent, only taking one or two at each place, so that I am not in any ways gaffered but feeling very wide awake and friendly to everybody in the world and wishing to talk to someone. But in the chair car there is only one old man with side whiskers sitting reading a serious-looking book and wearing a very solemn countenance, and when he don’t even crack a smile but stares at me very chilly when I slap him on the back in a friendly manner and say, “How are you, old-timer?” I put him down for some old preacher who has also been done out of his berth by these tired convention delegates.
But I know that many folks are rather reserved on meeting strangers, being somewhat like that myself at times, so his putting the chills on me does not make me indignant like it might well have done, and I sit down in the next chair and commence a conversation just as if we are very old friends. After a while he closes his serious-looking book with a sigh and talks back a little.
AT THE START he hasn’t very much - to say, but when he somehow learns that I am a noted jockey he begins to get quite interested and questions me about race-track life and all like that, very free. Fie appears to be very curious about what I tell him about horses being hopped and things like that, and I may as well admit that I am in such a mood that I tell him a good deal that is not exactly the truth; in fact I may as well admit that I stuff him to the gills with such a tale of racetrack skullduggery that not even a sporting writer would believe.
“This—er—stimulation of horses,” this old preacher says, “is it a common practice?”
“Common?” I says. “Well, I would hardly say that, because often in a twelvehorse field you will find one, or maybe even two, that haven’t had a touch from the old prescription counter.”
“Ah, indeed,” he replies as serious as a hoot owl. "Ah, indeed.”
“Of course,” I says, “there are some horses so tough that the hop doesn't have any influence on them, and in such a case we have to give them something that has real
authority.” And I tell him so much about batteries and electricity that I can see him picturing horses going to the post all wired up like a Great White Way.
“But this use of batteries,” he says, “is it not dangerous? If such things are contrary to the rules, one would think there would be a great chance of the authorities detecting them.”
“You would not say that if you knew anything about race officials,” I answer. “Have you never heard of the test that everybody has to pass that wants to be a judge or a steward?”
“Never,” he replies.
“Well,” I says, “what they do is take a great big bass drum and stick it up on the post in the broad sunlight. Then they take the guy they are testing right up to it and ask him if he can see anything. And if he answers that he can see something which looks like a bass drum they tell him his eyesight is too good for an official and that he don’t belong in any judges’ stand.
“That is why,” I says, “nobody is ever afraid to pull anything he likes to on a,racetrack, as he knows there isn’t a chance in a million of being seen. As a matter of fact,” I says, “this afternoon I am going to win with a horse that, if it wouldn’t be for the battery I will carry, couldn’t even finish ahead of you, old-timer.”
Shortly after that the old preacher gets up and says he is going to bed, as it appears he has a berth after all. He thanks me very kindly for the pleasant conversation, and says, with the first smile I have seen on him, that it has indeed been a revelation to him and he hopes he will meet me again some place. I wish him the same and put my legs up on his chair and fall asleep.
TATHEN I GET to the track the followVY ing afternoon, the news about my baby is already there and I have to stand for much kidding and many congratulations. Up in the jockeys’ room the gang are all standing around me calling me “Poppa” and asking me to sing lullabies and all like that when Mr. Martin, the paddock judge, walks up the stairs and comes in.
He shakes hands with me and congratulates me. Then he says:
“Well, all you boys had better keep your noses clean and be on your best behavior this afternoon.”
“Why is that?” somebody asks.
“Didn’t you hear about Judge Farley?” Mr. Martin says. “On his way home after the last race yesterday a car bumps into his and busts his leg, and we have sent for Judge Nealon to be presiding steward for the balance of the meeting.”
“Where did this Nealon ever tend bar?” I ask jokingly. “I never heard of him.” “There are a lot of things you never heard of,” Mr. Martin replies. “Judge Nealon has been retired for some time, but if you had ever rode down Kentucky way ten years ago you wouldn’t have to laugh. Judge Nealon don’t fool, and he is not like some officials who only watch the two or three front horses. He don’t miss a thing, and even if your horse is beat you had better come down that stretch with your whip flying and trying with all you have, or else you are liable to hear about it.”
I have only two mounts before the sixth, which is the race the chestnut goes in, and I win with one of them and the other quits on me and only finishes third in spite of all I can do. I have seen Barney Hallet down in the paddock and told him to bet a hundred for me. While we are standing by the stalls waiting for the bell to ring for “Riders Up,” Barney says to me, “Did you hear about Judge Farley?” and I tell him that
“Well,” he says, “don’t make it too raw putting the wasp on him, because if he jumps out like he is stung and they see it up in the stand, they might have you up there and give you a going over.”
“What do I care?” I says. “I am not doing anything wrong, and they can frisk me to their heart’s content for all they will find."
THE RACE is at a mile and a sixteenth, and as usual the chestnut steps away from the barrier in front and goes out to show the way. I take a nice easy hold on him and just let him roll. Going down the back stretch we are maybe five lengths to the good and running easy. The other boys are not even trying to catch me, as they know that the chestnut always stops even quicker than he starts.
Nearing the half-mile ground, I can see his ears begin to flatten, which is always the sign that he is going to do his stuff. I wait for about a dozen strides and then I jab my sharpened thumb-nail right in about where his neck meets his body. The chestnut gives a little jump like as if a hornet has stung him, pricks up his ears and goes on about his business. I sit there and commence to think about how much I will get back for my hundred, and how the very first thing I will buy will be the best baby carriage I can find for my kid.
We turn into the stretch still in front by about three lengths and travelling nice. I think to myself that it is all over but the cheering, and what a shame it is to take a jockey's fee for such an easy job. Then, just at the eighth post, if that chestnut don’t pin back his ears and try to stop on me
Of course I know that I am right there under the guns, just a furlong from home and in front where even Blind Ned can see what is going on. But there isn’t anything else for it, so in goes the thumbnail again, and once more the old chestnut leaps like he has sat on a carpet tack. But he starts travelling again, thank goodness, and by knocking on him hard and plenty with the bat I manage to get him home a neck to the
But naturally I am not a bit surprised when I am told at the scales that I am wanted upstairs, and I climb up there prepared for plenty of searching and questioning. However, I am all ready to give those stewards the story of their lives, because
what I have done is nothing illegal in any way, even if it looks bad, so my conscience is quite clear and I am not worrying a bit.
About one minute later I walk down those stairs again with my head hanging and with the words “Suspended indefinitely” in my ears. It is the quickest work I ever see on a racetrack or ever hope to see. I am not searched and I am not questioned, and I am not allowed to say hardly a single thing. I am just given the air without rind or reason, as the saying is.
However, it is not as bad as it might have been, as the result of the race is allowed to stand the way the horses finish, and as the chestnut pays off at better than twenty to one my baby now travels in a carriage that has got more bright paint and shiny fixings than a fire truck, and not a bit too good for him at that. And now that my suspension is due to be lifted I will not have to sit around the house much longer and listen to the wife’s old man sounding off about my baby, as if all the credit for him being such a wonderful kid belonged to him personal, which will be a great relief.
SO THOSE are the plain and simple facts of the matter, like I promised I would tell, and now everybody will understand what a raw deal I got, just on account of a slight error which anybody could make. For, you see, when I tell this old preacherlooking egg on the train to Detroit all that tale about horse-racing, I do not know that he is not a preacher at all but nobody else than Judge Nealon himself. And as any racing man will tell you, old Judge Nealon don’t fool.
“But, judge,” I say to him when he tells me I am suspended. “But, judge, what have I did that is wrong?”
And Judge Nealon just gives me one look out of those old grey eyes—a look that seems to wipe all the arguments I am prepared to make right off my lips.
“Boy,” he says, “you made the same mistake that the parrot did. You talked too much.”