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

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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