This is the final post in a series of four guest posts by 2016 Daniels Fellow Martha Wolfe. Martha’s 2016 Fellowship focused on studying The Life of an American Sportsman: Being Reminiscences by Harry Worcerster Smith, an unpublished autobiography.
Undeterred by his spills the spring and summer of 1900, and against everyone’s advice, Harry entered The Cad in the $10,000, 3 ½ mile Champion Steeplechase at Morris Park, Saturday, October 6, 1900. Ollie Ames met him at the clubhouse that Saturday morning.
“You are not going to run The Cad are you?” Harry recalls Ollie saying. “He’ll break your neck!” Next, Mr. B. F. Clyde of Philadelphia admonished him, “Now, look here, Harry Smith, I have seen you ride a great many times around New York, Philadelphia and Saratoga; I have the greatest admiration for you as a sportsman, in fact I am very fond of you. Now, Please don’t take your life in your hands and ride The Cad today against all those professionals.” It seems Mr. Clyde had his money on another horse; Harry thanked the man and walked away. “Then, about noon,” Harry writes, “a Western Union boy came up and handed me a telegram. It was from Mrs. Smith: ‘Don’t ride, get best professional possible. Signed, ‘Mildred.’”
Harry went to the stable where he found The Cad “munching a light feed of oats, his lovely mane and foretop shining like black seaweed, his coat smooth as satin, his skin so loose you could pick up a handful of it anywhere, every leg as cold as ice, cords and tendons standing out, muscles hard and tucked up just enough to show that he was ready to go the distance… I never thought of not riding.”
Odds were twenty to one against Harry on The Cad. Silas Veitch was the favorite on “Plato.” “There’s an old Arab saying,” Harry writes, “‘The grave of the horseman is always open’ … I am frank to say, that while I don’t worry, I appreciate the chances.” Harry was an amateur running against a field of six professionals. When it came right down to it, who in his right mind would bet on him?
“As there were only seven horses it took only a moment or two to get us in line, and down went the flag!” From start to finish “right at my left was Veitch with Plato.” The course started and ended on a track, but the jumps were on a left-handed circle up and around a water tower on a hilltop. There was a sod-topped stone wall measuring 4’9”, a wide water jump, a Liverpool with a ditch and several 4’6” hedges.
“The Cad was full of running,” Harry writes. “My mind was running apace as to how I could best win and when to make my run.” Halfway through the race, The Cad “sailed” at the water jump “and landed fully two lengths the best of Plato,” but The Cad took the bit and ran straight instead of rounding the next corner, putting Plato four lengths in front. The Cad caught up at the Liverpool and then, at the sod-covered stone wall Harry “saw Plato change his feet and knew instantly he was tired.” Another horse had earlier crashed through one of the hedges, making a hole, and Harry aimed The Cad straight at the hole.
William C. Whitney later said to Harry, “Why, I never saw anything like it! You were running at top speed neck and neck and suddenly like a skyrocket The Cad went to the front and you had six lengths going to that hole in the next jump!” Next jump, he “took off at the edge of the wing and must have cleared twenty feet.” Around the track and the last time over the Liverpool: “All my life I shall remember that jump,” Harry writes. “Knowing that I was going to let him go at it at full speed The Cad seemed to spurn the ground and so perfectly did he time his takeoff that he glided over the far side hedge and seemed to only touch the ground lightly as he landed and went on all in perfect rhythm.” Now it’s a horse race.
Harry was determined not to take any chances over the last three jumps. The Cad was “going like a steam engine, not one sign of tire, so going down at the last jump I steadied [him], shortened his stride and really bucked him over the jump.” Just as he landed, “a wide scarlet nostril flashed close to my knee,” and Veitch was beside him again, then nosed in front. Harry wasn’t worried: “I knew the gameness of my gallant bay, grandson of Lexington.” As they reached the edge of the grandstand for the home stretch on the track, the crowd was going wild, and “I pulled up even with Veitch and The Cad went on to win by three-quarters of a length.”
There was a victory dinner that night at The Waldorf. “I insisted on Wheeler coming,” Harry writes, “even though he was colored.” Harry drank in his success. “As I walked down ‘Peacock Alley’ I could see people nudging each other and hear them saying, ‘There is the gentleman rider who won the big race.’”
Though he never raced again due to a bowed tendon, The Cad spent the rest of his life as Harry’s favorite hunt horse. “He was one of the most intelligent horses I have ever known,” Harry writes. “I used to wear a blue sapphire scarf pin, and when I stood beside his box he would reach over and pick the pin out of my tie in his teeth…the glint of the stone seemed to magnetize him, but oh, he was so careful about it, he opened his lips away back and would not soil my tie, and then he would hold it in his mouth until I took it away. He was clever as a monkey in undoing the latch of his box and time and time again we would find him loose in the morning, and alas! One morning he stole his way out of the box, then it being warm the door of the kennels was open and out he went, and as he was a hearty feeder, just filled up with apples, and a dose of colic, which we were unable to fight off, carried him away.”
The Cad was one of Harry’s mounts in The Great Hound Match of 1905, the contest between Smith’s American-bred foxhounds and Alexander Henry Higginson’s English hounds in November of that year. But that’s another story.
Martha Wolfe is an independent scholar, author, and three-time John H. Daniels Fellow at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her most recent book is The Great Hound Match of 1905, chronicling the hunting competition between A. Henry Higginson and Harry Worcester Smith. Read more about Martha and her research at www.marthawolfe.net.