History of the Handicap, Daily Racing Form, 1922-11-29


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HISTOR Y OF THE HANDICAP Modern racing methods have made the fc handicapper an official whose importance is not surpassed by that of any of his asso- ui ciates. While the handicap has, from time tl the immemorial, been a feature of the English cs turf, it has only come into favor in the ol of United States in comparatively recent times, ei Our forefathers, say a writer in The Amer- qi ican Turf, published in 1898, would have t stood aghast at the idea and when it was 11 first tried upon the old Fashion course on w Long Island it was received with marked n disfavor. Even up to the close of the nine- h: his teenth century there was a difference of opinion regarding the virtue of handicapping, ol many old turfmen still holding to the old- c fashioned idea that a horse should be al- w lowed to run upon his merit without being s placed upon an artificial equality with his fi competitors. Nevertheless, racing has grown to such g enormous proportions that there is no longer b by any way of ignoring the handicap, for with- fl out it the sport could not be sustained upon h he an extensive scale for any length of time. The theory of the handicap is that it ti to brings all horses to the post upon an equal c footing. Whether this result is attained in "V actual practice may indeed be seriously C questioned. Handicappers, like the rest of h humanity, are fallible. The fact is, gen- s erally speaking, all the great handicaps of t the United States have, a a rule, been won d by crack horses. It is rare indeed that n the second and third rate racers have been able to carry off the gigantic turf prizes of h modern times. S WHERE CLASS TELLS. In other words, although the handicap I I system probably results in calling to the t to post greater fields than would otherwise be seen, it is still the horse of superior class t that comes in first, even though he may be t laden down with weight with the idea of c giving the inferior horse something of a t show. A perfect handicap is, of course, an im- possibility. If it were otherwise wo might 1 be treated to the marvelous spectacle of ! t fifteen or twenty horses finishing a race head and head. Such a dead heat might be 1 sufficiently interesting and would raise the . enthusiasm of the spectators to the highest pitch of excitement- But the knowledge that i such was to be the certain result of the 1 race -would certainly put an end to all bet- . ting and would, in the coruse of time, i weaken public concern in racing, for the 1 greatest interest in a racing contest arises -from the satisfaction of seeing some one 1 horse coming in at the head of his field. Undoubtedly it is the business of the nan- . : dicapper so to distribute his weights that : : the selling plater shall have an equal chance s with the speedy sprinter, but that he is not t : quite able to do this is the salvation of the 5 turf and is a source of gratification to the i turf world which would never be satisfied I if the favorite fast ones did not have an i advantage over the other as they pass the judges stand. HANDICAPriXG BATES FROM 1820. Handicapping came into vogue in England I about 1820. It was not until 1S40, however, that it was extensively applied to racers of t high class. One of the first great races of j this character that was instituted was the 3 Lincolnshire, which was established in the early fifties of the nineteenth century. Others 3 rapidly followed until it was not long before e the handicap became so thoroughly identified j with the English turf that it might reasonably be considered a sort of second English racing institution. In the judgment of English turfmen of the e time there has never been but one handicapper 7 in that country, and that was Admiral Henry John Rous. Born in 1795, Admiral j Rous had a long and brilliant career in public " life. In the navy he passed from the lowest to the highest grade, serving his f country with distinction in active service at sea and in the more peaceful work of the ? navy department ashore. From early youth his passion for outdoor sports was insatiable ,e and it was the source of his greatest satisfaction J" in life that his retirement from active service in the navy gave him the opportunity to devote himself to the turf. From 1830 until the time of his death in n 1877 no great race meeting ever took place in England at which he was not present. In 1821 he became a member of the Jockey y Club and from that time on exercised a a positive influence in the deliberations of that historic body. In 1838 he became a steward d of the club, a position for which no man n was ever better fitted or in which any one ie ever rendered more valuable service to the ie turf. ADMIRAL ROUS STANDARDS. His single aim, from first to last, was to - keep the turf pure and to elevate its standard and he was the awe of all offenders. s- During the last twenty years of his life his is influence became so paramount that he was 18 universally looked up to as the dictator. A turf writer has said of him: "The Admirals bold and manly form, erect -t and stately, dressed in pea jacket, wearing long black boots or leggings, with dog whip ip in hand, ready to mount his old bay horse 3e for the course, no matter what the weather might be, was an imposing sight at Newmarket." About 1855 he took the position of public ic handicapper and his assumption to that office was greeted with acclamation. Previous e- to that, however, he had become well ill known as a handicapper. The first notable le instanec of his being called in to exercise this function was on the occasion of a match :h between Lord Eglingtons Flying Dutchman, n, five years old, and Lord Zetlands "Voltigeur, r. four years old, at the York spring meeting, g, in 1S51. Upon that occasion he made the ie older horse give the younger one eight and id a half pounds. During the larger part of of his career he managed and made all matches es for the Duke of Bedfords stable at Newmarket, v- his success in that capacity being only second to that which he achieved as a handicapper. He wrote much on racing and his contributions i- to the London Times, especially, y, were voluminous and valuable, drawn as is they were from a wide and extended experience. i- As a handicapper, no man who ever lived attained to such distinction or won such enviable n- or well deserved renown. He was the ie Napoleon of the profession and no one has as ever presumed to question his right of superiority. u- He belonged in a class by himself. n- Making a life study of the turf and the tie capacity of Englands thoroughbreds, he became e- an authority such as never existed be fc ui tl the cs ol of ei qi t 11 w n h: his ol c w s fi g b by fl h he ti to c "V C h s t d n h S I I t to t t c t 1 ! t 1 . i 1 . i 1 1 . : : : s t : 5 i I i I t j 3 3 e j e 7 j " f ? ,e J" in n y a a d n ie ie to - s- is 18 A -t ip 3e ic e- ill le :h n, r. g, the ie id of of es v- a i- y, as is i- n- the ie has as u- n- the tie e- fore and has not been seen since. he he During his lifetime the English horsemen W united almost unanimously in lauding him to ch skies, but, at the same time, no one Ca caused more swearing than he did by many tit his handicaps. That he was subject to pi error and sometimes made serious slips is quite true, but he saved himself by main- "i taining the firmest and most persistent be- w: was lief in his own infallibility and brought the re world to believe in him, which was a tre- or mendous triumphs for any man placed in in position. pc In his opinion there never existed any ta other handicapper worthy of a moments is is consideration. Near the close of his life, a a when enfeebled by age and disease, he was tli scarcely able to creep about, he said to a ol of friend : G "Its all very odd. I lose my way, even in going from the Turf Club to my house near qt in Berkeley Square; but," and his eyes oi or flashed with the spirit of his best days as vi added, "I can still handicap." d; There were a few who sometimes ventured sl take him to task to his face for his de- t cisions, but they were generally worsted, tr Whether true or not, it is related that Lord ni Calthorpe, whose favorite horse had been tl handicapped beyond the possibility of any success, ventured to raise the question of hi the justice of the weight imposed and, ad- ir in dressing the admiral for the sake of draw- ol of ing him out and cornering him, said: ti "Now, Admiral, do you believe that my 0i on horse has any chance of winning?" ir "None whatever," was the complacent an- S swer. ci "Do you call that handicapping, then? ti thought that every horse was supposed b be given an equal chance." ol It was not until many years after han- u dicapping had been institnted in England r that it became firmly established in this country. There were various reasons for -this, but the principal one was, probably, I that the rich planters south of the Mason and Dixon line, prior to the Civil war period, were thoroughly imbued with a liking for the sweepstakes for large amounts between owners of horses at weight-for-age and at -. long distances. n Although it became more and more evi- s dent as the scope of racing enlarged that under such conditions the best horse had v too much advantage over those which were s inferior to him in speed or staying qualities, t it was not easy to persuade the old-time t turfmen to the innovation of the handicap, a About the earliest example of the handicap a in the South was in 1S56 or 1857, when the d old South Carolina Jockey Club put upon f its program two or three races of this de- e scription with but little added money to t be run for over the Charleston course. A r more important handicap was the Alien, at f two miles, with ,500 added. That was run r at Newmarket, Va., in 1S5S, when John V Hunters Nicholas L carried off the stakes, c When racing was revived in New York and New Jersey, after the close of the Civil j war, the handicap was for the first time in this country fully adopted as a means of attracting large fields to the new courses. The first experiments were tried at the old 3 Se caucus trade, situated on the salt mead- ows, in the rear of Hoboken, in 1865. Han- j dicap hurdle races, steeplechases and one or two flat races1 were given. The first handicap on the flat was two and a quarter miles, and was won by Colonel , David McDaniels Oakland, five years old, a , son of Revenue and Margrave. These early , handicaps were far from successful and did : not give much promise for the future. A few years later, however, the experiment was tried on a larger scale and under more , favorable conditions when, at Jerome Park, , the Grand National, the Fordham and the , Jockey Club handicaps were instituted by the American Jockey Club. These may be j considered as really marking the definite be- , ginning of handicapping in the United , States. i The isolated examples that preceded them j were in no wise important or successful and had been really put forward as novelties, without any idea of making them permanent. Beginning with these Jerome Park handi- caps, which at once took rank among the most popular contests, both in the estimation of racing men and the general public, year after year, handicapping grew steadily in favor. OXLY FEW IfOTABLE HAJNDICAPFERS. Comparatively few men are successful han-lt dicappers. England has had, up to the close of the nineteenth century, perhaps a half dozen. Of these Admiral Rous was the most eminent. The best known in this country have been J. K. G. Lawrence, Captian J. H. Coster, H. D. Mclntyre, Charles Wheatly and Walter S. "Vosburgh. There is no position connected with the race track where the work is more arduous and the returns so 1 inadeqquate, either in the approval of the 1 public or the satisfaction of the horsemen, While it is, no doubt, a difficult tiling to make a good handicap, it becomes an im-A- possibility to make one that will suit everybody. One would think that the trainers 1 would be people most likely to give valuable opinions on a handicap, but, nevertheless, they are quite as often in error as others. This arises from the fact that, while they may kuow individual horses thoroughly, whether in their own or other stables, they are apt to underrate their own and overrate others when it comes to this important ques-st tion of placing weights. After alL perhaps, . the final judgment of the public is about as good as any that can possibly be had, since : the followers of the turf are practically un-se biased and have as clear a knowledge of E form as many who pass their entire lives in 1 the stable. Every handicapper is liable to be imposed upon. It is at all times difficult to escape the devices of the trainer who is on the 5 alert to take every possible advantage and, therefore, we see horses sometimes running with from ten to twenty pounds in hand, In Paroles first season in England the han-ig - dicappers there carelessly deceived them-a selves and let him in to some rich contests at light weight, a mistake, however, that t was not afterward repeated, Handicapping by committees has been sometimes tried upon the theory that the judgment of several men is better than one, but the result has almost invariably dis--d posed of the theory. It is impossible to have a number of men agree on any subject and it is especially impracticable upon a matter like the handicap concerning which there is opportunity for such wide divergence of opinion and such a multitude of contributing causes. It has become proverbial that no owner e-1 can ever be satisfied with a handicap in he he W ch Ca tit pi "i w: was re or in pc ta is is a a tli ol of G qt oi or vi d; sl t tr ni tl hi ir in ol of ti 0i on ir S ci ti b ol u r which he has a horse in which it happens that he is able to win. Devices that are employed to have weight taken off are numerous and sometimes successful. One of the most common is to run a horse until the handicapper is finally persuaded that is fully entitled to come in at a feather weight. Then some day the owner sees his chance and pulls off some great prize. It occasionally happens, however, that this practice works out just contrary to what was planned by the owner and trainer. Captain Coster was a firm believer in the "ladder" system of handicapping. When he handicapper for Monmouth Park the results that he brought forth through his original method were sometimes astounding. One of his practices was to add five pounds to a horse for winning a race and take off five pounds for losing. The story told that a facetious owner once erected monument over the grave of one of his thoroughbreds and inscribed upon the front the pedestal, "He carried top weight in Costers handicap and won." You can trust the trainers to discover quickly the failings of a handicapper, starter judge, and Captain Coster was often the victim of their cunningness. In his latter days the old captain lost something of his shrewdness and became rather prejudiced. Talcing advantage of this peculiarity the trainers adopted a simple method of engineering a heavy weight on a horse which they feared. Accidentally coming together within the hearing of the handicapper they would talk a mysterious way about the great work this horse, what he had done upon his trials .and how sure he was to beat anything the track if only it was possible to keep information from the handicapper about his splendid form. A sudden surprise at discovering Captain Coster within hearing distance of their whispered conversation would break up the meeting, while the unsuspicious old captain would promptly add ten or fifteen pounds to the weight that he had already fixed for this particular horse.

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Library of Congress Record: https://lccn.loc.gov/unk82075800