Modern and Ancient Thoroughbreds, Daily Racing Form, 1922-09-15


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Modern and Ancient Thoroughbreds BY SALVATOR The turf axiom, "You cannot compare horses of different eras," really has a much narrower significance. Its meaning is that you cannot compare their speed. It is speed i that makes the race horse speed, more i speed, and still again more speed. There are other things that count gameness, soundness, 1 manners and consistency, for instance. - Also the ability to negotiate any kind of ! going as the "scratches" in notable events of late indicate, many of the petted prancers , of the present period have, in colloquial language, j "to have a race track carried around 1 for them". But all these "other things" j are merely subsidiary to the one supreme i quality, whose possession, in the extreme degree, j marks the thoroughbred for what he is. We can compare the modern thoroughbred with those of former days, in so far as individuality goes, with intelligence. The type has changed and evolved, fropi generation to generation, greatly in the course of the century and a half roughly speaking since Diomed won the first Derby at Epsom. We can trace these things, and reasonably account for them. We can contrast the horse of today with the one of fifty, a hundred, or a hundred and fifty years ago and tell, with sufficient accuracy, how and why they differ. And we can give reasons for preferring the thoroughbred type of one period and that perhaps not the present over another. NO GAUGE ON SPEED PROGRESS. But when we enter the domain of speed, pure and simple, we immediately find ourselves fumbling in the dark. It is impossible to tell, with any accuracy whatever, just how, why, and how much it has or has not improved, because we have no accurate gauge whereby to test it. In the beginning, the time made was a matter of no importance and it is still one that is minimized in racings mother country, England. The reasons for making light of the time test, however, which obtain in England, owing to the great differences in form and surface and grade, between its various principal courses, do not prevail in America and other countries, .and there "the watch" and what its dial says mean much. But the differences in weather and other conditions now enter the equation. -These differences are, in fact, almost innumerable, especially if one desire to split hairs. Almost every turfman of experience believes that the thoroughbreds of today, class for class, are faster than they were even twenty years ago, and much faster than in the days of Lexington and Boston. But thi 1 can never be more than a belief, because there is no way of actually satisfying oneself. A REASONABLE DOUBT. Talking not long ago with a well-known trainer, I propounded this question to him: "Suppose the modern thoroughbred were trained in the same way the old-timers were and raced over the same tracks, would they run any faster?" He scratched his head, fenced and parried for a few moments and then said frankly he much doubted it. The fact of the matter is that the intense speed now so common is largely a matter of condition and conditions. The old-time thoroughbred had intense speed, but his training, and the manner in which he was raced, tended to develop other qualities rather than that. The trainer sought to make him robust, hardy, tough, to give him "bottom" and to condition him to live over long courses, through races of heats. Real "speed making" was not a part of the curriculum, except, as a side issue. Reading, not long since, a member ol Robin Grey, sire of Lady Grey, the third dam of Lexington a horse that was far from "thoroughbred" under modern canons, I discovered that while he was a redoubtable race horse at four-mile heats he was - foaled in 1805, he was also matched at onetime against one of the most famous quarter-horses of his day, in Kentucky, and beat him at his own distance. Evidently, Robin Grey must have had intense speed to be able to accomplish such a iceat. A DIFFERENCE OF OPINION. One often hears the opinion expressed by the modernists that Lexington today would not be more than a selling plater. Contrariwise, can one suppose that many of the cracks of today would be more than selling platers trained as was Lexington, raced as was he over such tracks and under such conditions? When we see our best tracks littered with horses that tail off to nothing after going four or five furlongs and never coming near the front at that we cannot but be aware, if we have any discretion, of the sorry showing they would make under Lexingtonian modes. Practically the only thing that a large percentage of our modern horses possess is their extreme speed. As one of their panegyrists some time ago explained, it is so extreme that to expect them to carry it more than a few furlongs is fantastic. And the first thing that the old-fashioned style of training would do to one of these horses would be take away his extreme speed. And when that had been done what would be left would hardly set the river afire. When, in disparagement of horses of former epochs, the far faster records, at long distances, that modern runners have made, are pointed out, with the allegation that these horses Sotemia, Lucrezia Borgia, The Bachelor, Los Angeleno, etc., were only selling platers, important factors are disregarded. No account is taken of the immense improvements in building and caring for race tracks, none of the similar immense improvement in training knowledge. When a modern turfman reads of some of the things which old-time trainers used to do with their horses and those the best ones of those days he can scarce believe them. He knows in his heart that if the majority of "his birds" were subjected to such regimes they could not, in the language of the street, "beat a fat man." The modern thoroughbred is as a rule a pampered and a temperamental beast, whose : chances of winning are sometimes spoiled if the wind is two points off the selected quarter or a mosquito has buzzed around in his box the night before. The accounts of some of the idiosyncrasies of the species, when soberly listened to, are provocative of risibil-. ity. And therefore when one is encountered to which such things are matters of indifference, that does not have to be handled like a peach-blow vase or a grand opera divinity, one takes off his hat to him and wishes to be allowed to admire a real horse, not a mere hot-house product. This is not to say, however, that some modern horses do not endure a great deal. They do. Everything, including abuse, is at times their portion. The miserable liz-zard and "snow bird" that make the rounds of the "merry-go-rounds," the "bushes" and the "pumpkin shows" are often of the stuff of heroes, in their humble way, worthy of an epic that will probably never be written, as John Taintor Foote prefers high life to low, in thoroughbred society, and I know of nobody else equal to the task. But these belong to the demi-monde, not the beau-monde, of their genus and are, to all intents and purposes, "unknown to history." ELEMENTS IN SPEED DEVELOP3IENT. The greater height and proportionate long-er-leggedness of the modern thoroughbred are supposed to have done much to increase his speed. We may accept Prince Charlie as probably the greatest sprinter that the world has seen, and he stood a shade over seventeen hands in height. Prince Charlie was foaled fifty-three years ago 1869. The "big train," Roseben 1901, popularly accorded the distinction of being the greatest one ever seen in America, was about as tall. I have very serious doubts, however, if Roseben was any faster than either Racine 1887 or Geraldine 1885, neither of which stood sixteen hands and both of which preceded him by some fifteen years. Sprinters are supposed to be tall and short-bodied, stayers long and low. Yet Longfellow, foaled 1867, one of the greatest of Americas long-distance performers, stood seventeen hands, and numerous others of similar type might be cited. Little Minch, foaled 1880, during his long career, in which he won eighty-four races, was one of our champion sprinters, yet he stood scant fifteen hands. In recent years the expression was often heard among racegoers that a faster horse than Roamer never lived, and he was another "little un." So was Hermis. The gigantic frames of such horses as Prince Charlie and Roseben make them comparatively indifferent to weight, but when the handicappers piled 150 pounds on the "big train" they anchored him. Australia is the land of great weight-carriers, also of. gigantic horses, whether sprinters or stayers. France in 1S65 produced Mortemer, which picked up 151 pounds and won the Prix des Pavilions at two miles from so brilliant a performer as Dutch Skater, with but 12S and Mortemer was an enormous horse, lCs hands tall and of tremendous bulk. Rayon dOr foaled 1S7C, lacked but a quarter of an inch of 17 hands, could handle all sorts of weights and won at all distances up to three miles and a quarter. The fact is that they go all distances in all shapes, and that no particular shape has any particular monopoly on any particular distance. The sprinter, per se, lias, however, as a rule, greater breadth of beam and shorter, bunchier muscles than the stayer. But even here the most disconcerting anomalies are to be. met with. Darebin and Sir Modred, the two Antipodean stallions imported by J. B. Haggin, were two of the greatest cup horses ever seen south of the equator, but their muscular conformation, in the hind quarter, was that of the so-called "typical sprinter." They resembled cart horses through their haunches. And if one made the trip from Rancho del Paso to that other great California breeding establishment of that day, Palo Alto, he might see there Racine, a "speed marvel" pure and simple and with no pretensions to cup capacity, whose hips and thighs were almost exactly the same pattern. We are often afforded tne spectacles or were in former days of horses originally able to stay over goodly distances that became famous as sprinters in their latter careers, when age and wear and tear had taken their toll and they could no longer "carry their speed" so far as before. They were then found able to beat the "pure" sprinters and "kings of the T. Y. C." It is also true of even Prince Charlie that nobody knows what he might have done as a distance runner had he not been a roarer; and even despite that he did run second in the St. Leger of 1872. Among trainers the expression is often heard that "speed makes gameness," and ther is much true color to the assumption the longer the subject is pondered. But the fact is that the horse which is so fast that he cannot go farther than six or seven furlongs is not, under any circumstances, to be considered game. There are no "game" sprinters, which are sprinters merely. Everybody remembers how dismally Roseben would curl up and fade away when asked to go beyond his own sprinting distances. The amount of "heart" possessed by such horses is at best negligible. All these "facts and figures" are perhaps interesting, but they are also in a way confusing, for all that they prove is the extent of our ignorance, the fallacy of many of our opinions, the impossibility of erecting any real standards, of laying down any hard and fast rules, in our judgment of racing speed. But one thing is fairly certain. Namely, that it has existed, in the extreme degree, for many generations in the thor-. oughbred breed, although the differences, at different eras, in this degree are proble-; matical and must always be so.

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