Aristides and the Starting Gate, Daily Racing Form, 1923-01-24


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Aristides and the Starting Gate BY SALVATOR SALVATORDuring During the racing season of 1922 a number of articles and communications appeared in Daily Racing Form in which the origin of the barrier or starting gate were discussed Various claims were made regarding its in ¬ vention and introduction and Australia Eng ¬ land and America were assigned the credit by different correspondents At the time I wondered if these sportsmen were really aware of the fact that the starting gate is one of the oldest appurtenances of the race course and that its history can be traced back to the very beginning of turf sport as its records have been preserved preservedThe The genesis of horse racing as we moderns know it goes back like so many other mod ¬ ern forms of sport to the great athletic games of the ancient Greeks There were four different series of these games namely the Olympian the Pythian the Isthmian and the Nemcan that were of the first impor ¬ tance but among them the Olympian over ¬ shadowed all others and this name today still stands after over two thousand five hundred years as typical of sport in its highest estate throughout the civilized world worldThe The Greek games were in the beginning religious or semireligious festivals and on this account assumed a semisacred char ¬ acter The Olympic games were panhel lenic or allGreek in status Ancient Greece consisted of a large number of different states or provinces and their civil wars were practically continuous there was never a time when some of them were not embroiled with each other But when the time for the Olympic games came around all war was suspended and from all parts of the Hellenic world the crack athletes and everybody else able to make the trip flocked to Olympia J for the farfamed festival The Olympic games were held every four years and these periods called Olympiads were used by the Greeks in all their computations of time as the standard unit everything being dated in or from such or such an Olympiad OlympiadRACIXG RACIXG 3IOST IMPORTANT SPORT SPORTMany Many different forms of games and sports figured in these athletic festivals but as the ancient Greeks were great lovers breed ¬ ers and users of the horse it was natural i that horse racing should be one of the prin ¬ cipal and in time the most important of them all The origin of the games at Olympia is veiled in mythology but in all probability they began over a thousand years B C They are supposed to have been organized by Iphitus King of Elis in 888 B C but it is certain that in some unorganized form they had been celebrated for centuries previ ¬ ously Beginning in the twentyeighth Olym ¬ piad in 77G B C a register of the victors was kept and this was maintained until 217 A D or for 993 years The games were finally discontinued in the fourth century centuryA A D after they had sunk into a mere ghost of themselves as Greece had long been a Roman province and the old pagan religion was giving way to Christianity ChristianityIt It is believed that horse racing was the first of the games to originate at Olympia In just what form is doubtful Some stu ¬ dents of Greek archaeology think the horses were ridden some that they were driven but the best authorities seem of the opinion that the chariot race antedated the straight horse race The ancient Greek horse was a small animal of Oriental origin a mere pony in size It required two to pull a chariot and the first horse races at Olympia were probably races for twohorse chariots The date at which races for fourhorse chariots were first introduced has been preserved namely the twentyfifth Olympiad or 788 788B B C It became so much more popular that in time the twohorse race was discontinued and only the quadrigas contended but later on the former was revived revivedA A CREEK RACIXG CARD CARDAt At the height of their fame the horse racing program at the Olympic games com ¬ prised six events three each for mature horses and three for colts These three races were respectively one for fourhorse chari ¬ ots one for twohorse chariots and one for horses ridden not under saddle but bare back The colt races which it has been sur ¬ mised by modern writers were introduced for the improvement of the breed of horses that so laudable object which according to the prospectus is the mainspring of every thing nowadays from Chagrin Falls to Bel mont Park were not introduced until the fourth century B C Still later special races for mares were given in which the riders dismounted and ran alongside their steeds the last few yards would it not be interest ing to see Fator Sande et al performing some such stunt as this at Saratoga next summer But it cannot I fear be hoped for forAnd And to come now to the starting gate my original text It was a conspicuous feature of the horse races at the Olympic games Its technical name was aphesis n Greek word meajiing literally sendoff The aphesis is said to have been invented by Cleoetas probably in the fifth century B C and it was later improved by no less a person than Aristides one of the greatest men the Greek race ever produced Aristides was exiled from Athens his native city and home town by a vote of its citizens who explained that they were tired of hearing him called the just he was famed for his moderation and impartiality Whether his improved starting gate may have been thought just a mite too perfect and helped to produce this very unjust result is some ¬ thing which turf historians may at their lei ¬ sure speculate upon It the aphesis has been described as follows followsDESCRIPTION DESCRIPTION OF THE GATE GATEIt It consisted of a triangular structure like the prow of a ship the apex pointing down the course Along the two sides of the triangle which pointed down the course a number of stalls were arranged in pairs on either side In these stalls the chariots were placed with a rope stretched in front of each At the signal the ropes in front of the pair of chariots nearest the base of the gate were dropped or withdrawn in what way we do not know As these chariots drew level with the next pair the next pair of ropes were dropped or withdrawn and so on until the whole field had started It la obvious of course that if the whole number of stalls were not required the unoccupied ones were those nearest the base The length of each side of this structure was 400 feet we do not know how many stalls thenj were Fields of forty chariots each drawn by four horses are known to have started upon occasion which would make 160 horses in competition To get off such a field certainly must have required a very elaborate aphe ¬ sis but can you imagine a lot of modern thoroughbred sprinters getting off in that way You may be certain that any Aristidea who tackled the job would not only be glad to resign it but even to be exiled if neces ¬ sary to attain that end endI I have delved into various volumes of antique lore in the effort to find out some ¬ thing more about the Hon Cleoetas the ascribed inventor of the aphesis but with ¬ out result But for the fact that he devised the first known starting gate for a horse race his name would not have descended to posterity I am constrained to believe however that could we transport outselvea to Greece of the fifth century B C wo would find the correspondents of the Athen ¬ ian Corinthian Spartan and other turf pa ¬ pers of that period writing communications to them in which the Hon Cleoetas was given to understand that his claim was ri ¬ diculous and that at least a hundred Olym ¬ piads ago similar things only better were in use at hippodromes long since out of com ¬ mission which devices he had simply copied and palmed off as his own For the ancient Greeks as we know were a very captious critical and contentious people much given to things of that sort If some of the lost comedies of the ancient dramatists could be recovered or some of those old turf papers be dug up they were doubtless en ¬ graved upon stone or stamped upon molten bronze we might find out much about it itORIGIN ORIGIN OF A FAMILIAR EXPRESSION EXPRESSIONThe The topic of the horse races at the Olym ¬ pian games as well as the other great Greek ones particularly the Pythian at Delphi is one upon which divers interesting yarns might be spun but space forbids I must not omit to mention however that another modern aspect of horse racing familiar to everybody also traces back to them themEverybody Everybody is accustomed to hear the ap pelation of the sport of kings applied to turf contests and it is the usual supposition that it originated when in the seventeenth century the early Stuart sovereigns of Eng ¬ land began to patronize the races at New ¬ market and one of them Charles II the Merry Monarch even rode his own horses in matches there thereBut But the early kings of Greece had about twentyfive hundred years the start of the royal patrons of Newmarket The rise of the great games of Greece began originally with the horse race and the horse race was the favorite sport of the Greek kings It was their hcrses and chariots that competed and often they drove them themselves As time went on and the fame and pomp at ¬ tending the games grew greater and greater kings of distant lands from Asia Africa Italy etc entered the field and sought the Tlory of victory victoryPRUDENCE PRUDENCE OF THE KINGS KINGSBut But by this time the danger of actual com ¬ petition had so increased that they prudently turned over their horses to hired profes ¬ sionals The Greek courses were rough and uneven the turns were difficult and sharp Accidents were many and often they resulted fatally So the monarchs let the profes ¬ sionals do the teaming and then hired the greatest poets of the day like Pindar and Simonides to celebrate their victories in deathless dithyrambs which still some of them survive Reading these the unsophis ¬ ticated modern would suppose the king him ¬ self had steered the winners but as a matter of fact he was sitting in one of the royal boxes looking on and no doubt so situated as to allow the populace to locate him easily for an ovation ovationA A movie of one of the horse races at Olympia How tame it would make that one of the match between Man o War and Sir Barton appear especially if all the associated incidents were duly thrown upon the screen Kings all wore their crowns in those days whenever they appeared in public and there were scads of em ad ¬ dicted to the turf What a rare crowd it must have been But alas there were no queens in attendance The rules and regula tions of Olympia forbade any female per ¬ sons admission to the games In which K spect it must be admitted that Belmont Paic and Saratoga to say nothing of Newmarket and Ascot have it faded

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