This week is the 98th running of the Middleburg Spring Races. The first race was run in 1911, organized by Daniel C. Sands, MFH of the Middleburg Hunt, and despite a hiatus during World War I, still endures today. The races are run at Glenwood Park here in Middleburg, which Sands donated in 1963 to preserve the open spaces required for equestrian events.

We recently found an image in one of our archive collections of the Middleburg Spring Races in 1938. Glenwood Park looks almost exactly the same today as it did back then, even down to the areas where tailgates and general admission spectators are located. Click here to get a close up view of the 1938 races!

Middleburg Spring Races, 1938. Photograph by Walter B. Lane. National Sporting Library & Museum, Gerald B. Webb, Jr. Archive.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail


In 1830, a gangling, tall man named William T. Porter came to New York City from the peaceful countryside of rural Vermont. His towering height (six feet, four inches) gave him the nickname “Tall Son of York,” and Porter (1809-1858) was a man with a dream. He had a vision of launching his own newspaper dedicated to sports of all kinds, modeled after the fashionable London newspapers that chronicled the day-by-day activities of popular horse races, prominent fox hunts, and gave advice on raising dogs, fly fishing, shotgunning trips, and even billiards matches.

Wm. T. Porter, editor of the Spirit of the Times / Pierce. From the collection of Thomas Addis Emmet, 1828–1919, NYPL Digital Gallery. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

By 1831, Porter made his dream a reality with the launch of Spirit of the Times. Porter was the owner and editor, and his four brothers were his business partners in the venture. Spirit of the Times grew a large audience in the American southwest, focusing on the active racing scene in the antebellum South. Porter encouraged humorous and satirical entries, and the Spirit played a significant role in popularizing the American tall tale and by 1839, Spirit of the Times was the most popular sporting periodical in the United States. Porter longed to establish a formal stud book for the United States, in similar vein to the General Stud Book in Britain. The goal would not be achieved in his lifetime.

George Wilkes, Esq., Editor of Wilke’s New York Spirit of the Times. — Photographed by Brady. From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 7, 1860. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

The history of Spirit of the Times is fractured and difficult to trace in its earliest roots, but things became complicated in the 1850s. In 1856, Porter sold his ownership of Spirit of the Times to George Wilkes (1817-1885), staying on as editor until his death in 1858. Abraham Dayton, a former employee at Spirit, launched his own rival publication in 1859, called Porter’s Spirit of the Times, creating a confusing rivalry of weekly sporting newspapers with very similar names. After a court case regarding the use of Porter’s name, the original Spirit was re-christened Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times.

Masthead of Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, January 9, 1864. National Sporting Library & Museum.

The Civil War tore apart American society, including the sporting and publishing world. Porter’s Spirit of the Times struggled through the war, andwas eventually reunified as Spirit of the Times under Wilkes, who served as editor and publisher until his death in 1885. However, as the war raged, another luminary of sporting newspaper history was rising to military prominence.

Masthead of Turf, Field and Farm, February 18, 1876. National Sporting Library & Museum.

Sanders D. Bruce (1825-1902), originally from Lexington, Kentucky, had joined his state’s militia as a captain in 1859, following John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. When the Civil War began, Bruce chose to fight for the Union, taking a promotion to Colonel in the 4th Division of the Army of the Ohio. The highlight of Col. Sanders Bruce’s military career was leading his brigade in the Battle of Shiloh, but he was obliged to resign his commission in 1864 due to heart trouble.

The Battle of Shiloh, Thure de Thulstrup, 1888. Restoration by Adam Cuerden. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons. The Battle of Shiloh was the highlight of Col. Sanders Bruce’s military career.

Following the war, Bruce relocated to New York and launched his own sporting newspaper called Turf, Field and Farm. The new paper received an instant boost by purchasing much of its infrastructure and equipment from Spirit of the Times, which was struggling through reduced wartime readership. The two papers vied with each other for decades, and within a few years of the war, Turf, Field and Farm and Spirit of the Times made up two of New York’s three most popular newspapers.

Bruce would go on to write extensively on horse breeding, finally fulfilling William Porter’s dream with his production of the American Stud Book in 1873.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

Last year, the NSLM received a generous bequest from the late Elizabeth Dunn Clark of Middleburg, which included a beautiful example of work by the great British sporting painter, John Frederick Herring, Sr. (English, 1795-1865).

John Frederick Herring, Sr., The Start of the Derby, 1845, oil on canvas, 28 x 48 inches, NSLM, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017

Herring was well-known for his racing scenes and portraits of all the top English thoroughbreds of the day. The Start of the Derby, 1845, is a large composition showing the chaotic lineup at the start of the race in the foreground, and great billowing skyscape above.

F. Cooke, Portrait of John Frederick Herring, c. 1860, albumen carte-de-visite, 3 1/2 in. x 2 1/4 in. (88 mm x 57 mm) image size, National Portrait Gallery, London, Given by Algernon Graves, 1916. NPG Ax14887
© National Portrait Gallery, London

The Epsom Derby, often just called “The Derby,” was first run in 1780 and takes its name from one of the event’s founders, the 12th Earl of Derby. The 1 ½ mile flat turf race is for 3 year old colts or fillies. Held every June, it is one of the most prestigious and popular races in England. The region of Epsom (the source of the famous “Epsom Salts,” which were discovered there in the 17th century) has been known for horse racing for over 400 years.

The winner of the 1845 Derby was The Merry Monarch, ridden by Foster Bell, and owned by Mr. William Gratwicke, and is shown at the center foreground of the NSLM painting.

The horse was described  in George Tattersall’s 1850 Pictorial Gallery of English Race Horses, as a “bright bay horse, sixteen hands high, and altogether a remarkably fine looking horse.”  Unfortunately, despite this attractive description, he was just a one-hit-wonder. The 1845 race was The Merry Monarch’s only career win. He became known as a fluke, and was later described (in the June 1869 issue of The Sportsman magazine) as a “a very bad horse. . . who could not possibly have finished where he did had the others only stood up.” (Ouch!)

Portraits of The Merry Monarch were painted by Herring and other contemporary equine artists. John Frederick Herring, Sr., G.W. Gratwicke’s bay colt The Merry Monarch, in a loose box, oil on canvas, 28 x 36 in. (71.1 x 91.5 cm.) (Image: Christies)

The start of the race featured more excitement than the owners and jockeys would have liked. As they were lining up for the start, one of the best ranked horses of the year, Alarm, kicked another favorite, named The Libel. The two fought, Alarm threw his jockey, and then injured himself before the race could even start. Another top favorite, Pam, fell during the race. Herring’s depiction of the scene shows the crowded chaos.

A hand-drawn key to the painting, by the artist’s son, John “Fred” Frederick Herring, Jr., labels the horse and jockey portraits shown in the foreground. 18 of the 31 entries are identified – though we hardly need the key to tell us which one is the winner, and which are the two who fought at the start!

John Frederick Herring, Jr. (English, 1815-1907), The Start of the Derby (key), c. 1845, pencil on paper, 8 1/2 x 15 1/4 inches, NSLM, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017

1845 wasn’t the first time – and certainly wouldn’t be the last – that The Derby was marked by drama. The previous year, 1844, the winning horse named Running Rein, actually turned out to be a 4-year-old imposter named Maccabeus and was disqualified. One of the most famous and tragic runnings of the Derby was in 1913, when a suffragette named Emily Davison, who was protesting the lack of women’s voting rights, ran onto the track, was struck by a horse, and later died of her injuries.

Even though The Merry Monarch turned out to be a disappointment in future races, the summer race day shown in our new painting was his time to shine.

This Saturday, September 9, our newest exhibition opens at the Museum, and visitors will get to come face-to-face with 2,500-year-old horses.

Attributed to the Workshop of Gorgon Painter, (Greek, Attic), Horse-head Amphora, ca. 580-570 BCE, terracotta, 10 3/8 inches high, Private Collection. Each side of this amphora features a portrait of a horse with halter and flowing mane.

The Horse in Ancient Greek Art is an exciting new show that features painted vases, small sculpture, and silver coins, all from the 8th thru 4th centuries BCE. These objects are beautiful treasures that, amazingly, have survived over two and a half millennia. Every art object has a story to tell and a history to share – but these objects have a particularly long history! In addition to being spectacular archaeological finds, these works of art tell us all about equestrian life of the ancient Greek world.

Attributed to the Orestes Painter, Greek (Attic), Red-figure Column Krater, ca. 440 BCE, Side A: Jockeys racing around column, terracotta,16 1/4 inches high, 14 3/8 inches wide, Private Collection. Ancient jockeys, who rode nude, raced their horses on long oval tracks with a sharp turn at each end.

In ancient Greece, horses represented nobility, strength, and beauty. Horses appear throughout Greek art and literature, play important roles in mythology and legend (some of the most popular examples include the Trojan Horse and Pegasos – spelled Pegasus in Latin), and were a key part of ancient society and culture. The Greeks loved athletics and competition, and equestrian sports became some of the most prestigious events at the Olympics and other types of games.

Euainetos of Syracuse, Sicily, Dekadrachum, ca. 405-400 BCE, silver, 1 3/8 inches diameter, Private Collection, Washington, DC. This coin (equaling 10 drachmas) features an impressive relief of a quadriga, or four-horse chariot, with Nike, Goddess of Victory, flying overhead.

The Greek historian, author, and cavalry officer named Xenophon (ca. 430-354 BCE), wrote treatises on horse care and training. The concepts shared in his manuals on horsemanship and riding basically formed the foundation for modern equitation, and his writings have been referenced and translated over many centuries.

Villanovan or Early Etruscan (Italy), Horse bit, ca. 800-700 BCE, bronze,3 3/4 x 6 x 5 inches, Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University (Photo: Kevin Montague). This ancient bit is a simple snaffle (a single jointed, mild type of bit) with decorative cheek pieces in the shape of a mare and foal.

Many of the objects in the show are vases, or vessels, featuring beautifully detailed decoration and paintings. Most were originally meant to be functional – as drinking cups, pitchers, or storage containers for wine or oil. Now they are displayed so the artwork on all sides – top, bottom, inside, and outside – can be seen and enjoyed.

NSLM partnered with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond for this project. After the exhibition closes here in January, it will travel on to the second venue there. We are thrilled to be able to share so many works on loan from important collections for this show, including: the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Tampa Museum of Art, Princeton University Art Museum, the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and private collections. The Metropolitan Museum of Art,  Fordham University , and the American Numismatic Society are also lending works that will be shown at the VMFA venue.

We are also excited to present the catalog that goes with this exhibition. It features essays by major scholars of ancient art and archaeology and explores the significance of the horse in the ancient Greek world. To learn more about the exhibition, the catalog, or all the great programming we have lined up, visit here.

The Horse in Ancient Greek Art is organized by the National Sporting Library & Museum and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. It will be on view at NSLM, September 9, 2017 – January 14, 2018.



One of the valuable research resources at NSLM is The Thoroughbred Record, a major periodical of record for the horse racing world. NSLM holds issues of The Thoroughbred Record dating back to 1895, and each issue tells some story from the history of racing.

In January of 1896, the American champion money winning racehorse retired. Domino, “The Black Whirlwind,” was being put out to stud by his owner, Foxhall Keene (1867-1941). Domino had been bred by Keene’s father, James R. Keene (1838-1913). Foxhall bought the yearling Domino from his father for $3,000 and the stallion went on a three-year tear through United States racing.

Portrait of James Robert Keene, 1901, from The World’s Work. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Domino was a sprinter, benefiting from the development away from timed heats in American racing. With less emphasis on stamina and more on outright speed, Domino won (among others) the Belmont Futurity, the Belmont Stakes, and the Great American Stakes.

Foxhall P. Keene, 1909. Keene was a successful racehorse owner and breeder, and a World and Olympic Gold Medallist in polo. He purchased Domino from his father, James Keene, in 1892 for $3,000. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

During Domino’s two-year-old campaign in 1893, he split his hoof and never completely recovered, often racing in bandages. Consistent injuries to his feet interrupted his training following his 1895 campaign, and in early 1896, he was retired to Castleton Stud with career earnings of over $190,000.

It has also not been decided whether Domino will ever return to the turf; he probably will not, though “Billy” Lakeland, his trainer, during his visit here this week, stated that he was absolutely sound — that is, as sound as he has ever been since he split his hoof during his two-year-old campaign. This foot has always been under suspicion since, and to it more than to any other cause is attributed the comparative failure of his subsequent form compared with his wonderful two-year-old record.
–The Thoroughbred Record, January 25, 1896.

The following month, Domino arrived in Lexington to overwhelming acclaim. Huge crowds of onlookers, upon hearing about Domino’s arrival, swarmed the stable where he was being kept. So great was the demand to see “the great black” horse that Domino’s handlers spent an entire day parading him for onlookers. The Thoroughbred Record of February 8, 1896, describes the horse’s appearance for its national readership.


Domino’s general appearance seems to have been a bit of a letdown. Apparently, eastern newspapers played up Domino as a dashing figure, a myth dispelled upon his arrival in Kentucky. Nevertheless, The Thoroughbred Record admits his many other anatomical advantages as a racer, and he is named “beautifully balanced” and “perfectly sound,” except for his nagging feet injuries.

Domino produced 20 foals before succumbing to spinal meningitis in July 1897. Of those 20 foals, eight became stakes winners and his most famous descendants include War Admiral, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Gallant Fox, Omaha, Native Dancer and American Pharoah.

Domino was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1955.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

Here in Virginia, we’re excited at the approach of a total solar eclipse which will occur in North America on August 21. While everybody is preparing to view this event, we were also reminded of another solar eclipse that left a major mark on the equestrian world.

On April 1, 1764, a solar eclipse occurred in Europe, with the maximum effect best seen in southeastern England and northern France. Viewing conditions were not ideal in London, leading observers to travel to Edinburgh to avoid cloud cover and get the best view. The eclipse began at 9:09 a.m., and continued until 11:53 a.m. Maximum obscuration was reported at 10:24 a.m. During the eclipse, the most valuable and influential horse in history was foaled.

cropped to image, frame obscured, recto
Daniel Quigley (Irish, 18th Century) The Godolphin Arabian, late 18th Century, oil on canvas, 38 x 48 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. This piece was view at NSLM as part of The Chronicle of the Horse in Art.

The horse, who was named Eclipse for his foaling day, was bred by Prince William, Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765) and son of George II. Eclipse’s dam, Spilletta, was a granddaughter of the Godolphin Arabian, a foundational sire of the Thoroughbred breed.

Eclipse was headstrong and temperamental, and the chestnut stallion was renowned for his temper. We was worked constantly to tire him out, and the exercise made him easier to handle. Eclipse was large (sometimes criticized for having a big, unattractive head), and had great endurance for an era where horse racing was done in heats of two and four miles.

Eclipse At New Market With Groom, by George Stubbs (1724-1806). Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

The racing career of Eclipse is remarkable, as the horse went undefeated in 18 races over two years. His jockey, Jack Oakley, habitually let Eclipse run as he pleased, and made few attempts to hold him back. After Eclipse’s second victory, he was purchased by Dennis O’Kelly (1725-1787), an adroit horse breeder and bettor who was renowned for winning a bet that placed “Eclipse first, the rest nowhere,” meaning no other horse would finish within 240 yards of Eclipse.

Illustration of geometric measurements of Eclipse by Charles Vial de Sanibel. From Essai sur les proportions Geometrales de l’Eclipse, 1791, National Sporting Library & Museum.

After two unbeaten campaigns, Eclipse was retired in large part because of a lack of challengers. It was impossible to find better odds against him than 20 to 1, and his value now resided at stud. His stud fee began at 50 guineas, and he went on to become the most successful sire in history, siring 344 winners of more than 158,000 pounds. It’s far easier to list Thoroughbreds that don’t count Eclipse in their background than those that do. It’s estimated that over 95% of Thoroughbreds can trace their pedigrees to Eclipse in the male line.

Skeleton of Eclipse. Photo number L0000443, Wellcome Library. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Eclipse died on February 27, 1789 of a violent colic. Dennis O’Kelly’s nephew Andrew contracted famous veterinary surgeon Charles Vial de Sanibel (1753-1793) to dissect the body. Sanibel wrote a book on Eclipse from his anatomical findings, measuring the horse in geometric relation to the size of his head in order to establish ideal proportions for representation in artwork and selection of animals for breeding. His skeleton is now housed at the Royal Veterinary College in Hertfordshire.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

This coming Saturday is a big day in the horse racing world! You don’t need us to tell you that May 6 is the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Virginia Gold Cup is also this Saturday, just down the road from us at Great Meadow in The Plains.

There are so many amazing horses, talented people, spectacular stories, and fun facts associated with both of these big events – we could never share them all. Here are just a few stories about some of the four-legged stars connected with the collections here at the NSLM.

Sea Hero
This long-shot bay colt won the Derby in 1993. Today, Sea Hero is the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner and is enjoying a life of retirement standing at stud in Turkey.

Sea Hero
Tessa Pullan (English, b. 1953), Sea Hero, 1995, bronze, on stone base, 88 x 29 ½ x 96 inches, including base, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999, Acquired 2014 [(c) Tessa Pullan]
One of the very few grey horses to win the Derby (only eight have ever done so), Determine won in 1954 – the same year the National Sporting Library was founded.

Man O’War
One of the most famous names in American horse racing never actually ran in the Kentucky Derby, but his progeny went on to win quite a few. The chestnut stallion’s offspring included 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral, and he is found in the bloodlines of most top thoroughbreds, all the way up to American Pharaoh (2015) and Nyquist (2016). Another son was steeplechaser Battleship, the first American horse to win the English Grand National Steeplechase in 1938.

Marilyn Newmark (American, 1928-2013), Man O’War, 1977, bronze, 10 ½ x 14 ¾ x 3 ½ inches, Gift of Jacqueline B. Mars, 2016.  Newmark, who is known primarily for her equestrian sculpture, created this posthumous portrait after referencing the many photographs documenting the champion thoroughbred.

Gallant Fox
Gallant Fox was the second horse to ever win the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont races (1930), and the first to be referred to as a “Triple Crown” winner by the press. Gallant Fox: A Memoir, written in 1931 by the horse’s owner, William Woodward, Sr., is one of the scarcest books ever printed by the Derrydale Press. The copy in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room here at the NSLM is numbered one of fifty (but the whereabouts of only five copies are currently recorded).

The Celebrated Horse Lexington, by Boston, out of Alice Carneal, and Churchill Downs, Derby Day, c. 1946, Published by Currier & Ives, Gift of Mrs. Parker Poe, 1978

Lexington never ran in the Derby either. In fact, he died in 1875, the first year the Kentucky Derby was run. But Lexington was the leading sire in America for decades. This print in the NSLM collection features a portrait of Lexington after Louis Maurer (German/American, 1832-1932). The portrait is surrounded by images of the first 71 Derby winners – from Aristides (1875), up through Hoop Jr. (1945).

You can see a portrait of the 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, along with Derby winners Smarty Jones (2004), Barbaro (2006), and many other gorgeous thoroughbreds in our newest exhibition Andre Pater: In a Sporting Light.

Andre Pater (Polish/American, b. 1953), Secretariat, 2004, pastel on board, 20 x 24 inches, Private Collection [(c) Andre Pater]

Happy Race Day!