On March 24, 1933, the 92nd Grand National was run at Aintree. This year’s race was noteworthy for more than the typical large crowds: every publication commented on the fine running and beautiful weather.

A field of more than 30 horses made the iconic race of four-plus miles, and there were the usual falls and mishaps along the way. The victor of the day was the 25-1 horse Kellsboro Jack, owned by Mrs. F. Ambrose Clark. But she had “purchased” the horse from her husband earlier in the year.

From Kellsboro Jack Scrapbook, National Sporting Library & Museum ARchives Collection, MC0031.

F. Ambrose “Brose” Clark was an influential American sportsman of the early 20th century. Brose was the grandson of Edward Cabot Clark, a partner of the Singer Manufacturing Company. As a young man, he was a gentleman rider in steeplechase races and rode to hounds. AS a racehorse owner, he spent years in pursuit of victory in the world’s most famous steeplechase: the Grand National.

From Kellsboro Jack Scrapbook, National Sporting Library & Museum ARchives Collection, MC0031.

Clark purchased Kellsboro Jack in Ireland, naming him for the horse’s native town of Kellsborough. Kellsboro Jack was trained for the Grand National by Ivor Anthony, and reportedly the horse was treated exceptionally well — one local newspaper reported that the horse preferred to sleep bedded down in soft sheets. Preferential treatment was sometimes indulged for Clark’s horses; he once ordered a rocking chair loaded into a train’s boxcar so he could ride along with a favorite mount.

From Kellsboro Jack Scrapbook, National Sporting Library & Museum ARchives Collection, MC0031.

Clark suspected that 1933 was an unlucky year for his horses. Instead of taking chances on another unsuccessful attempt at Aintree, he opted to sell Kellsboro Jack to his wife Florence for £1. Mrs. Clark was an accomplished sportswoman herself, and maintained her own stable of racehorses. Kellsboro Jack would go on to win in record time: 9 minutes, 28 seconds.

From Kellsboro Jack Scrapbook, National Sporting Library & Museum ARchives Collection, MC0031.

Although the triumph of the day technically belonged to Florence, the ecstatic couple shared the victory together. Mrs. Clark declined the honor of leading in Kellsboro Jack, asking Brose to do it in her stead. Kellsboro Jack would be retired following his record-setting victory, but the horse was brought to hunt meets and to paddock at other races so friends and well-wishers could see him.


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 

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In late 1947, William Woodward was absent from the Gimcrack Dinner, held at York. Woodward was the guest of honor, having won the Gimcrack Stakes with Black Tarquin. The Gimcrack Dinner was described by J. Fairfax-Blakeborough in The Chronicle of the Horse as “an occasion for historic speeches, for the announcement of new Turf policy, of alterations to rules and procedure.” Despite his absence, Woodward sent along a speech to be delivered by the Marquess of Zetland, and the topic was foreseeable: once again, Woodward lobbied for the repeal of the Jersey Act.

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Victor Child Villiers, 7th Earl of Jersey, for whom “The Jersey Act” was named. Image accessed via Wikipedia

The Jersey Act was not a government statute, as its name might suggest. Rather, it was named for Lord Jersey,  the senior steward of the British Jockey Club. Since 1913, the Jersey Act had effectively barred most American racehorses from recognition as Thoroughbreds in the General Stud Book, the register of Thoroughbred bloodlines for the British turf.

The Jersey Act pushed back against the influx of imported American bloodstock in the early 20th Century, following restrictions on gambling in the United States. The crackdown on gambling led to faltering racing prospects and a downturn in the value of horses for breeding. The new rule was expected to protect the value of British bloodlines by demanding bloodline purity.

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Beginning in 1913, the General Stud Book required all included horses to be able to trace their pedigrees back to a registered horse in the General Stud Book. The rule would become known as “The Jersey Act.”

Many American Thoroughbreds had flawed pedigree paperwork, in large part due in no small part to the loss of breeding records during the American Civil War. Without the ability to successfully prove lineage back to the General Stud Book, American horses were excluded from future registration. The American Stud Book, first published in 1873, was much more lenient in its pedigree requirements.

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William Woodward, Sr. Image accessed via Wikipedia

Through the 1930s and into the 1940s, American critics of the Jersey Act made their objections heard loud and clear. They argued for inclusion on the basis of performance as American horses had become extremely successful on the British turf. Woodward, who was chairman of the American Jockey Club, was a leading critic of the rule.

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The American Stud Book, published by S. D. Bruce in 1873, only required five generations of pure lineage for inclusion.

In the end, the Jersey Act was overturned in the aftermath of World War II, when British breeding was left with few alternatives to improve bloodstock in the post-war era. By the time the rule was relaxed in 1949, American bloodlines were among the most successful in the world. It immediately removed the label of “half-bred” from some of the best competitors of the turf on either side of the Atlantic.


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 year marks the 500th running of the Kiplingcotes Derby, the oldest continuously run horse race in England.  It is a grueling four and a half mile, cross country race over the Wolds of Yorkshire that has been run annually on the third Thursday of March since 1519.  The Library holds a copy of The Kiplingcotes Derby: England’s Oldest Horse Race by Alison Ellerington which can shed some light on the history of this ancient race.

It was founded by 48 hunting gentlemen who all contributed between 5 and 30 pounds.  The rules drawn up by this group are dated 1519 so one assumes that the race began that year.  However, the earliest recorded mention of the race that Ellerington could locate was found in testimony dated 1556 which refers to the previous year, 1555.  The account books of the Earl of Burlington show entrance fees for the race in 1679, and the race appears regularly in the Racing Calendar during the 1700s.

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Two entries for the Kiplingcotes Derby in the Library’s collection.  The upper is from An Historical List of Horse-Matches Run, and of Plates and Prizes, Run for in Great Britain and Ireland in 1746. (Gift of Russell Arundel).  The lower is from Racing Calendar: Containing an Account of the Plates, Matches, and Sweepstakes Run for in Great Britain and Ireland &c. in the year 1773 by James Weatherby (Gift of Edmund Twining III).

Among the fifteen rules governing the race are some rather specific requirements.  Any horse, gelding, or mare of any age is eligible to run but all entrants to the race must appear at the Winning Post and submit their stakes money to the clerk at or before 11am.  Anyone that misses this deadline is not eligible to race.  The race must be completed before 2pm.

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Winning Post. Image taken from Hull & East Yorkshire History Calendar. 

All horses must carry a rider weighing 10 stone, or 140 pounds.  Riders lighter than this will have to carry weights upon their person in order to meet the requirement as opposed to carrying additional weight in a saddle cloth as is common in the present day.  Ellerington notes at least one winner that ran into trouble with weights and was disqualified as a result.  In 1961, Jean Cole-Walton carried 11 pounds of lead weights in her pockets in order to meet the 10 stone requirement.  During the race they fell from her pockets.  Although she was the first to pass the winning post, she ended up weighing 11 pounds under the minimum and was disqualified as a result.

The winner of the race is awarded prize money and the Kiplingcotes Plate.  The original plate later became known as the East Yorkshire Plate and has since been lost to history.  Today winners get prize money and a trophy.  According to the rules the second rider to pass the winning post wins the stakes money or entry fees.  Depending on how many horses are entered this could, and frequently does, result in the second place rider winning more money than the first place rider.

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Kiplingcotes Derby trophy. Image taken from Driffords and Wolds Weekly.

On the day of the race, horses and riders present themselves at the Winning Post to register, pay their fees, and get weighed.  After the 11:00 cutoff time for registration, the rules of the race are read to the riders, following which the participants walk the course back to the starting point which is a stone post in the parish of Etton.  The race is run from this starting stone back to the Winning Post.  Alison Ellerington’s map and description of the course are worth quoting in full:

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The Kiplingcotes course from The Kiplingcotes Derby: England’s Oldest Horse Race by Alison Ellerington (1990).

“The course starts 160 feet above sea level and heads in a north westerly direction.  Following the road, the horses galloping along the grass verge climb steadily to 368 feet over Goodmanham Wold.  Galloping towards Enthorpe Woods, over the old railway bridge, the going is slightly downhill, dropping 303 feet — a lull before the hard climb towards the finish.  At Enthorpe Woods the course is now on a green lane left by the commissioners after the enclosures during the 1800s.  From here horse and rider drop a little before the long steady climb up to 438 feet above sea level.  This part of the course is usually thick pulling mud, which tires a horse even more should one make the mistake of riding along the middle of the track instead of trying to keep well into the side by the field.  The course from here is a steady pull up to the main A163, where it levels out with a straight gallop down the grass verge to the winning post over on Londesborough Wold: a hard testing four and a half miles.  Not only do the contours of the Wolds make the race tough, the weather does not usually help; a cold biting wind normally blows and it is not uncommon for snow to be present still, or, failing that, a stinging rain” (p. 15).

Since 1519 there have been at least a few years when the race was only technically run.  In 1947 deep snows prevented entrants from reaching the Winning Post.  A local farmer, Fred Stephenson, was read the rules by the clerk of the race and proceeded to walk his horse through the course in order to maintain tradition.  Stephen Crawford did the same thing in 2001 when an outbreak of foot and mouth disease prevented the running of the race.  He kept the tradition alive again last year when the condition of the course was deemed too dangerous for racing.  Hopefully this week will see good weather and a successful race to mark the 500th anniversary.

If you’d like to take a look at Alison Ellerington’s book, The Kiplingcotes Derby: England’s Oldest Horse Race, you can find it in the Library’s Main Reading Room.

*Update:  The 500th running of the Kiplingcotes Derby was won by Tracey Corrigan on her horse Frog.  They triumphed over a field of 36 competitors and it was her fourth time winning the race.


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Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. 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 Erica by e-mail

Now is the time when people set their resolutions for the new year. The Library’s main resolutions for 2019 are:

(1) Complete setup of the Library’s new Digital Repository
(2)  Catalog the periodicals collection

Speaking of the periodicals project, we were going through some old copies of Thoroughbred Record to catalog them, and picked up the New Year’s issue for 1936 (January 4).

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Thoroughbred Record, January 4, 1936

We came across an article on New Year’s Resolutions by “Salvator,” the pen-name of John Hervey. The article fell under the paper’s “Marginalia” heading.

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Salvator has quite a few ideas for resolutions, all of them best practices for people associated with horse racing in some fashion. For example, he has insightful (and cynical) resolutions for bettors:

Remember that the average of winning favorites is about 38 per cent.
That playing hunches is playing dunces.
That inside info is outside bunco.
That book-makers are your natural enemies.
That the totalisator, only, cannot be bought.
That all players die broke, anyhow.

Or his resolutions for jockeys:

Less rough riding.
More judgment.
More respect for the judges.
Less anxiety to beat the starter.
More skill at the finish.
Drastic treatment for swelled-head.

He even suggests resolutions for the racing commissions, track managers, and breeders. For trainers:

More interest in good horsemanship.
More interest in good horses.
Less interest in bad horses.
A stern stand against “dope.”
More consideration for horses as horses.
Less consideration for them as gambling tools.
And iron hand on subordinates.

How many of Salvator’s resolutions still hold up today? For us, we’re confident our projects will move forward to completion in the coming year, and hope all the best for the resolutions of our NSLM members and blog readers. Happy New Year!


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 

Anyone who has ever witnessed a horse race will undoubtedly recall the riot of color and pattern displayed by the jockeys on their jackets and caps.  Although this flamboyant wardrobe, known as racing colours, adds to the cachet of the sport, the colors and designs serve an important function in the racing world.  Each is unique to a specific horse owner and this “livery” allows judges, announcers, and spectators to more readily tell the horses apart.

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By Paul – HDR Style Horse Racing Photo, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

While reports of color being employed in horse or even chariot races go as far back as ancient Greece and Rome, the racing colours we are familiar with today have their origin in Great Britain in the mid 1700’s.  Up until then races were much longer, up to 4 miles, and usually had relatively few entrants.  This made it easy to tell the horses apart as the small field would tend to get strung out over the long distance of the race.  But as the popularity of racing grew so did the number of horses entered.  Additionally races began to be run over shorter distances at courses.  Both trends resulted in confusing clusters of horses and disputes over which horse had won.  Initial attempts at adding colored jackets were unsuccessful as multiple owners used the same colors or individual owners changed colors frequently.  By 1762 it became clear that something had to be done.

On October 4, 1762, the members of the English Jockey Club requested that owners submit specific colors for jacket and cap. To register their colors and to use them consistently in an attempt to distinguish riders among a field of horses or to settle disputes that might arise. This resulted the famous Newmarket resolution:

“For the greater conveniency of distinguishing the horses in running, as also for the prevention of disputes arising from not knowing the colours worn by each rider, the underwritten gentlemen have come to the resolution and agreement of having the colours annexed to the following names, worn by their respective riders…”

The document goes on to list 19 owners and the color assigned to each.  Once an owner had chosen and declared a jacket of a particular color, it became his property.  He was only permitted to run his horses under that color, and no other owner could run their horses under the same color.  However, after the passage of several years, ownership of the colours could be resigned and a new owner could obtain those colours as their own.  The Duke of Devonshire’s Straw-Colour is still in the same ownership today making them the oldest in continuous use.

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A cigarette card showing the Duke of Devonshire’s racing colours.  From Flickr Hive Mind

After quite a few false starts the racing community in American eventually followed suit and the Jockey Club began registering racing colours in 1895.  The first registered set was the scarlet jacket and cap belonging to John A. Morris.  Although registered in 1895, it is said these colours were in use at the Metairie Track in New Orleans in the mid 1850’s.

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Colours of John A. Morris.  The oldest in the United States.  Bill Christine’s top 10 most iconic silks

Over time patterned design elements for the sleeves and body of the jacket, and the cap have been added to the permitted colors allowing for a great deal of creativity.  Today there are over 28,000 registered colours.

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The Benson and Hedges Book of Racing Colours by The Jockeys’ Association of Great Britain, (1973) National Sporting Library & Museum.

The rules for design of racing colours continue to develop.  In the United States owners may choose to have an emblem or up to three initials on certain designs.  While in Great Britain bespoke designs that don’t have to adhere to the traditional rules can be created and registered for a large fee.

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A bespoke set of racing colours.

What would you choose?  A simple, elegant, single color, or something wild with several colors and design elements?  Try creating your own colours and see if they are available for registration here.


 

Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. 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 Erica by e-mail

To close out the summer I thought I’d share a story of horses at the beach.  No I don’t have photos of horses in lounge chairs or inner tubes, enjoying the sun and surf.  I’m referring to the Laytown Strand Races that take place this year on September 6th.  Laytown is a small town in Co. Meath on the east coast of Ireland, and each year it hosts the only Turf Club sanctioned beach racing on the Irish and English racing calendar.

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Laytown Strand Races. From Field of Play

This year marks the 150 anniversary of the races.  Originally the horses took second billing to the Boyne Regatta.  The sailing was held during high tide, while the horses ran later in the day during low tide.  In 1901 a local priest who was also a racing aficionado, got involved with the races and turned them into a well-organized event.  Until 1994, competing horses charged down the beach to Bettystown, made a U turn and ran back to Laytown for the finish.  More recently safety changes have removed the U turn, and the racing today takes place on a straight, level course along the Laytown stand.  There are six races on the program, run over distances of between six furlongs and one mile.

For most of the year Laytown strand appears as any other along the coast of Ireland but as race day approaches, a race track gradually materializes.

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With the tide out preparations can now be made to prepare the track.  Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images.  From  The Guardian

An elevated three acre field with a good view of the strand begins to sprout temporary facilities for the big day including a parade ring, judge’s box, betting windows, weigh rooms, ambulance room, the bar, the secretary’s office and the grandstand.

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Coreczka, with Oisin Orr riding, powers down the home straight to win the first race of the day, the At The Races Handicap.  Photograph: Pat Healy/racingfotos.com/Rex/Shutterstock. From The Guardian.

In earlier days these facilities, as well as the crowd, were often down on the beach and the horses ran through a narrow gauntlet as can be seen in this video clip of the race in 1921 from British Pathe.  For safety reasons the beach has been reserved for the horses in more recent years.

To commemorate 150 years of racing on the Laytown beach, the Race Committee has commissioned a book on the history of the races, Laytown Strand Races, celebrating 150 years. 

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Laytown Strand Races Launch Commemorative Book to Mark 150 Years of Racing on County Meath Beach. Des Scahill, Ted Walsh and Chairman of Laytown Races, Joe Collins Photo: Healy Racing Photography.  From Horse Racing Ireland

Written by John Kirwan and edited by Fiona Ahern, the book features interviews, statistics, and historical facts about the Laytown Strand Races.  The NSLM Library is working to obtain a copy to add to the collection.  If you would like to take a look, please contact me to find out if we’ve received our copy.


Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. 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 Erica by e-mail

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!

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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