While leafing through a copy of the June 3, 1905 edition of The Thoroughbred Record, I happened across a piece under the heading “Local Turf News,” that detailed the visit of John Porter to their editorial offices in Lexington, Kentucky.

Surely this didn’t mean the famous trainer of racehorses, John Porter (1838-1922), who trained horses for the likes of the Duke of Westminster and King George V? The first sentence describes the man who visited:

John Porter, jockey; 4 feet 1 inch in height; weight 98 1/2 pounds, was a caller at The Thoroughbred Record office on Thursday afternoon. There is nothing unusual about Porter’s being a jockey. His height and weight would indicate as much, but when one becomes aware that he is just about seventy-five years old — Porter says he is not quite sure as to his correct age, but “that’s how old white folks tells me I am” is the way he puts it — it dawns upon one that he must indeed be the oldest of all American jockeys now living.

It’s obvious this isn’t the British John Porter, but a man with no less remarkable experience with horses. Upon reading the small piece, I found myself drawn to the mysterious story of the unheralded African American jockey who was still riding at age 75.

The first thing to note is that it’s extremely difficult to find anything about John Porter. He is confirmed as an African American jockey residing in Lexington in the Directory of African Americans in Lexington, KY, 1893 by D. Y. Wilkinson. If he was indeed 75 in 1905, he would have been born in 1830. The article in The Thoroughbred Record says that

Porter was born at the Col. Innis place on the Maysville pike and has been a resident of Lexington all his life, and was exceedingly proud of his owners and trainers badge which gained him admittance to the recent spring meeting, which was by no means his first, and, it is hoped, will not be the last…

It’s likely that Porter was born a slave as were many jockeys of the period. The antebellum racing scene was run largely on the labors of talented African American trainers and jockeys. Porter worked with horses from an early age, exercising horses for John Cameron at the Kentucky Association Course.

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Kentucky Association Racetrack, 1920, by Kraemer Art Company Postcard Proofs – Kentucky Historical Association. Via Wikipedia.

His first mount for a race was on a half-sister of Lexington named Maid of Orleans. It did not go well, at least not immediately. From The Thoroughbred Record:

[S]he jumped the fence, spilling Porter, who claims she ran away clean to the Dicks River cliffs before she was caught. She was eventually found and brought back, and gave Porter his first winning ride on the next day of the meeting.

Success brought opportunity and Porter landed at the stables of Dr. Elisha Warfield, who bred Lexington, then known as Darley. The complexities of the ownership and running of Lexington are their own story, but when ownership shifted and Darley was re-named Lexington, the jockey who rode the newly-christened horse to victory at the 1853 Phoenix Hotel Stakes was John Porter.

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Lexington, c. 1870, Edward Troye (American, 1808-1874) charcoal on paper, 26 x 18 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Ms. Elizabeth J. D. Jeffords, 2008.

In fact, it appears that Porter was the preferred jockey for Lexington again for his most famous match against Le Compte, but Porter, according to The Thoroughbred Record, was “with” a Mr. Viley who refused to allow Porter to travel to Louisiana to ride.

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Lexington in Stable, James Mullen – Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views of Kentucky, 1875. Via Wikipedia.

A facial infection caused Lexington to go blind, forcing his retirement in 1855, but was a leading sire 16 times before his death in 1875. Porter, however, went on to success as a jockey, and trainer.

I found another article in The Thoroughbred Record about John Porter, this time from September 7, 1918:

An unique figure at the Kentucky Association track is an exercising boy named Porter, grandson of the famous jockey, John Porter, who rode at Lexington in many races, including the Phoenix Hotel Stakes, and who had the mount on Ten Broek in the St. Ledger at Louisville when the noted record-holder finished second to King Alfonso in that classic.

Another John Porter, a grandson carrying forward the family tradition of working with horses. When giving tours at our Library, I often point out that the threads of history are extremely delicate. Although John Porter was considered famous in Kentucky horse circles in 1918, he is today very difficult to find in the pages of history.

The contributions of African American jockeys were so often unacknowledged in historical accounts, but they made huge contributions to their sport. Although the record-keeping is imperfect, we’re fortunate to have at least some resources that let us trace the events. Without them, I never would have heard about our John Porter, the man who once rode to victory aboard one of the greatest race horses in American history.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. 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

Finding blog post topics is a challenge. I was leafing through an 1888 copy of The New York Sportsman when a headline caught my eye. It documented an embarrassing (and dangerous) episode that occurred in Chicago on Monday, July 16 of that year. The article was reprinted from a Chicago Tribune report, politely entitled “A Panic-Stricken Race-Crowd.” The original article was far less flattering, terming the event a “Ludicrous Panic at the West Side Driving Park.”

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Garfield Race Track, 1890. From Chicagology.

I was born in Chicago, and grew up knowing almost nothing of the city’s horseracing history. The Chicago Driving Park was founded in 1863 and operated continuously under many different owners into the early 20th Century. The track eventually became known as Garfield Race Track, on a portion of today’s Garfield Park in the western part of Chicago.

The track was a trotting track, a hugely popular form of racing for urban communities in the 19th Century. Thousands of attendees would attend (and gamble) on the races, with the massive crowds often packed shoulder-to-shoulder. It created a situation that could easily devolve. Our Tribune reporter paints a scene that’s both humorous and exasperated:

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“All sorts of cries were raised. Some one yelled ‘Dynamite!’ Another cried, ‘Mad Dog!’ Another, ‘The stand’s falling!’ Another, ‘A runaway horse!’ Another, ‘Anarchists!'”

The reporter tells that his notepad and paper were knocked from his hands in the stampede as racegoers crowded to climb the fences and escape the threat of doom. Never forgetting his role, our reporter immediately began interviewing people in the bedlam:

“Every one was asking what the trouble was and no one knew. ‘I had to run,’ explained one, ‘or I would have been knocked down and trampled on. I didn’t know what I was running for, but when I got going I made great time.'”

Racegoers, policemen, and even the bookmakers joined the estimated 12,000 stampeders. The bookmakers kept their priorities in the confusion:

“When the scare came they grabbed their cash-boxes and departed, and the way the clerks got out over the sides of their inclosures would have made a cat envious. Four of them even forgot to take their money drawers with them. But everything was found intact when they returned.”

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Chicago Trotting Park (West Side Driving Park), Picturesque Chicago, by Chicago Engraving Company, 1882 From Chicagology.

But what was the mysterious cause of the stampede? The answer was nothing nearly as fearsome as an anarchist’s bomb:

“[A]s a matter of fact, not one man in a hundred knew what the trouble was until it was all over. The trouble was that the flooring under the gambling shed cracked. That made the noise and started the stampede.Some one heard it, and raised the cry that the stand was falling. In such a crowd it required little to make a scare. The stand was in no more danger of falling than it has been for years.”

Racegoers were lucky that there were no fatalities from the mad dash for the exits. The main result was a sheepish crowd returning to the track and a snarky report in local and national papers the following day.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. 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, the NSLM is fortunate to have received numerous gifts of art from several generous donors. One such gift is a rare set of 22 hand-colored aquatints from 1807 and 1808, Orme’s Collection of British Field Sports: Illustrated in Twenty Beautifully Coloured Engravings from Designs by S. Howitt – an impressively long name for an impressive set of works on paper. Published by Edward Orme of London (who proudly labeled himself as “Printseller to the King”)  the series features scenes of hunting, shooting, and racing. The works were recently donated to the NSLM by George and Susan Matelich and Family.

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(after) W. M. Craig (English, c. 1765-c.1834), Engraved by James Godby (English, active 1790-1820) and Henri Merke (Swiss, active c.1800 – c.1820), Orme’s Collection of British Field Sports: Illustrated in Twenty Beautifully coloured Engravings from Designs by S. Howitt (Title Page), Published by Edward Orme, January 1, 1807 hand-colored aquatint, image: 13 ¼ x 17 ⅜ inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of George & Susan Matelich and Family, 2016 (2016.04.01)

Originally housed in a large folio case, the prints are now framed individually. Yet all 20 plates, plus the title page, list of plates, and the original illustrated folio cover are still together. Oftentimes, these types of works are broken up and sold separately, never to be reunited. Full sets are rare.  Another complete set that is still bound as a folio can be found in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art.

(after) Samuel Howitt (English, 1765-1822) Engraved by James Godby (English, active 1790-1820) and Henri Merke (Swiss, active c.1800 – c.1820) Horse Racing Published by Edward Orme, January 1, 1807 hand-colored aquatint, 13 ¼ x 17 ⅜ inches National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of George and Susan Matelich and Family, 2016 (2016.04.04)
(after) Samuel Howitt (English, 1765-1822), Engraved by James Godby (English, active 1790-1820) and Henri Merke (Swiss, active c.1800 – c.1820), Horse Racing, Published by Edward Orme, January 1, 1807, hand-colored aquatint, 13 ¼ x 17 ⅜ inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of George & Susan Matelich and Family, 2016 (2016.04.04)

Samuel Howitt was an artist known for his images of hunting, animals, and equestrian scenes. This set includes some of his best works and was a prized collection piece. Often described as a highly important set of English sporting images, these prints are excellent examples of the popular sporting art being produced at the beginning of the 19th century.

(after) Samuel Howitt (English, 1765-1822) Engraved by James Godby (English, active 1790-1820) and Henri Merke (Swiss, active c.1800-c.1820) Stag Hunting 1 Published by Edward Orme, March 1, 1807 hand-colored aquatint, 13 ¼ x 17 ⅜ inches National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of George and Susan Matelich and Family, 2016 (2016.04.07)
(after) Samuel Howitt (English, 1765-1822), Engraved by James Godby (English, active 1790-1820) and Henri Merke (Swiss, active c.1800-c.1820), Stag Hunting 1, Published by Edward Orme, March 1, 1807, hand-colored aquatint, 13 ¼ x 17 ⅜ inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of George & Susan Matelich and Family, 2016 (2016.04.07)

The engravings are titled in both English and French. They are in excellent condition, with colors that are still vibrant – no small feat for fragile works on paper that are 210 years old. Deep reds and blues are usually the first to fade.

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Detail of Stag Hunting 1, showing the fine condition of the blue and red colors

Each are numbered and feature the name of the artist, printmaker, and engraver in small script along the bottom edge.

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“Sam’l Howitt del.”

For those of you who have prints hanging on your walls at home and have wondered what the abbreviations stand for, here is a quick Latin lesson:
del. is short for delineavit, meaning  “Drawn By”
excudit means “Printed by” or “Published by”
sculp. or sculpt. is short for sculpsit, which means “Engraved by”

(after) Samuel Howitt (English, 1765-1822), Engraved by John Clark (English, active 1775-1825) and Henri Merke (Swiss, active c.1800 – c.1820) Shooters Going Out in a Morning Published by Edward Orme, March 25, 1808 hand-colored aquatint, 13 ¼ x 17 ⅜ inches National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of George and Susan Matelich and Family, 2016 (2016.04.03)
(after) Samuel Howitt (English, 1765-1822), Engraved by John Clark (English, active 1775-1825) and Henri Merke (Swiss, active c.1800 – c.1820), Shooters Going Out in a Morning, Published by Edward Orme, March 25, 1808, hand-colored aquatint, 13 ¼ x 17 ⅜ inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of George & Susan Matelich and Family, 2016 (2016.04.03)

The List of Plates includes a charming image of a hare. The same hare can be found in the collection of the British Museum in London.

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(after) Samuel Howitt (English, 1765-1822), Engraved by J. Swaine (English, 1775-1860), Hare, Published by Edward Orme, March 9, 1808, 24 x 32 cm, British Museum, Donated by Nan Ino Cooper, Baroness Lucas of Crudwell and Lady Dingwall, In Memory of Auberon Thomas Herbert, 9th Baron Lucas of Crudwell and 5th Lord Dingwall, 1917 (1917,1208.3170)
(after) Samuel Howitt (English, 1765-1822), Engraved by John Clark (English, active 1775-1825) and Henri Merke (Swiss, active c.1800 – c.1820) Pheasant Shooting 1 Published by Edward Orme, June 1, 1807 hand-colored aquatint, 13 ¼ x 17 ⅜ inches National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of George and Susan Matelich and Family, 2016 (2016.04.13)
(after) Samuel Howitt (English, 1765-1822), Engraved by John Clark (English, active 1775-1825) and Henri Merke (Swiss, active c.1800 – c.1820), Pheasant Shooting 1, Published by Edward Orme, June 1, 1807, hand-colored aquatint, 13 ¼ x 17 ⅜ inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of George & Susan Matelich and Family, 2016 (2016.04.13)

These works are now part of the growing collection of prints and drawings in the NSLM art collection and we look forward to putting them on view soon. You can see other works on paper from the permanent collection in the special exhibition Picturing English Pastimes: Sporting Prints at the NSLM, currently on view in the Museum. Curated by visiting John H. Daniels Fellow Jennifer Strotz, this installation of late 18th and early 19th century prints focuses on the British print market and equestrian subjects.


Nicole Stribling is CuNicole Stribling is Curator of Permanent Collections at the NSLM. She has worked at the NSLM since December 2012. As Curator of Permanent Collections, she catalogs and cares for the fine art collections and manages the registrar duties for the collection and loans, coordinating packing, shipping, and insurance arrangements. Prior to the NSLM, Nicole worked at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, in the American and British Paintings Department and in the Exhibitions Department. She earned her BA in Art History from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia and is currently pursuing her MA in Museum Studies at Johns Hopkins University.rator of Permanent Collections at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM). She catalogs and cares for the art collection, which includes paintings, sculpture, works on paper, and decorative arts ranging from the 17th through 21st centuries. Have a question about the NSLM collections? Contact Nicole by email.

When somebody asks me a library question and the initial answer is “I don’t know,” I usually end up learning a whole lot about something. That was true a short time back when somebody contacted me about a horse named Argyle, and his connection to a Supreme Court Justice named Gabriel Duvall. All we knew was Argyle was foaled around 1830 at Duvall’s farm, Marietta.

Looking for broad background information on the horse, Google gave a clue in an entry of The American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine of July 1834:

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A good start. A useful tool is the All Breed Database, and some simple searching found Argyle’s listing.Argyle’s dam, Thistle, could trace a bloodline through Florizel back to the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian, two founding sires of the Thoroughbred breed. On his sire’s side, Argyle’s ancestry also goes back to the Godolphin Arabian.

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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. On view at NSLM until March 26, 2017 in The Chronicle of the Horse in Art.

What made Argyle famous? A more comprehensive check of the Turf Register shows a slew of impressive victories in the American south in 1834 and 1835 (putting Argyle at about four years old). Here is one entry, from April 1835:

Charleston (S.C.) Races. The annual races over the Washington course, commenced on Monday Feb. 9 for the citizen’s purse, of $1000; three mile heats and resulted as follows:

Mr. Walden’s br. c. Argyle, four years old, by Monsieur Tonson, dam Thistle, by Oscar, 102 lbs. 1 1
Mr. Haun’s b. m. Rattlesnake, five years old, by Bertrand, dam Devil, by West Paragon, 109 lbs. 2 2
Mr. Montmollin’s br. m. Alborak, five years old, by Sumter, dam Mary Bedford, by imp. Bedford, 109 lbs. 3 3
Col. Fitzsimmons’ ch. f. Rushlight, four years old, by Sir Archy, dam by Pacolet, 99 lbs.

Time, 5 m. 46 s.–5 m. 51 s.


Fourth day,
four mile heats, purse $1000.

Mr. Walden’s br. c. Argyle, four years old, by Monsieur Tonson, dam Thistle, by Oscar, 102 lbs. 1 1
Col. Spann’s ch. h. Bertrand, Jr. aged, by Bertrand, dam Transport, by Virginius, 126 lbs. 2 2

Time, 8 m. 5 s.–8 m. 8 s.

Two wins, three days apart! Argyle tore through his southern competition (usually in the Carolinas and Georgia), and it appears to have ruffled a few feathers that a “northern” horse should dominate. But more on that presently. For now, the main concern was unraveling the mystery of ownership. In April 1834, P. M. Butler is listed as the owner of Argyle, before rotating to J. McLean, then George Walden. Oddly, in the same issue (April 1835) Walden is listed as the owner for the racing calendar, and P. M. Butler took out an ad responding for Argyle to a challenge by a horse named Shark, sired by American Eclipse.

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Fighting words! P. M. Butler’s advertisement, responding to a challenge of Argyle by Shark, referred to as a “water ‘varment’.” This is likely a less-than-tactful boast about defeating a horse named Rattlesnake at the Charleston Races.

Interesting to note that at this point Argyle was both racing and covering mares at stud for a subscription fee.

By November of 1835, Argyle was considered one of the best horses in the United States. An article appeared in the Turf Register praising Argyle, only to be forcefully contested the following month.

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Exultant praise for Argyle from a writer named “Observer.” November 1835 issue of the American Turf Register.
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A scathing rebuttal the following month. The writer “Truth” points out the perceived weakness in Argyle’s pedigree. Regardless of how well the horse has performed, we shouldn’t consider him a real Thoroughbred.

In the February 1836 issue, the question of ownership is given some shadowy clarity. Apparently both Col. J. H. Hammond and Walden co-owned Argyle, and they retained a one-third stake while bringing on board additional partners for the princely sum of $15,000. There is no further significant mention of him either in race results or articles until August 1836, when an article details an “unsuccessful race with Bascomb” and claims that Argyle has been withdrawn to parts unknown. From 1836 to 1838, Argyle was noted in five races, all in Virginia and Maryland. It appears Argyle retired from racing at eight years old in 1838.

Did Argyle return to Marietta after his racing career ended? We don’t know. But in looking at the history, you can see the contours of rivalry that match with the conflict that eventually tore apart the nation.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. 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 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.’”

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Harry Worcester Smith in hunting cap. Image ca. 1910, in the Harry Worcester Smith Archive (MC0041), National Sporting Library & Museum.

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.

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Harry Worcester Smith and The Cad winning the Champion Steeplechase at Morris Park in 1900.

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.’”

The Cad
The Cad

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_webMartha 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.

This is the third 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. 

I’m not sure that many people would have characterized Harry Worcester Smith as a good-for-nothing “cad;” on the other hand, neither might they have called him a gentleman. He was highly opinionated and he had a temper; he had a wicked sense of humor and he suffered no fool. He was a scalawag, a bit of a braggart, maybe a knave, possibly a scoundrel. It’s perhaps divine providence or poetic justice that his favorite horse, his horse-of-a-lifetime, was named “The Cad.”

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Harry Worcester Smith at his writing desk. Possibly in Aiken, SC or Grafton, MA.

The Cad’s given name was The Cid, “but on account of a misspelling in the Stud book entry,” Harry writes in the “Steeplechasing” chapter of his unpublished autobiography, “the gamest thoroughbred I ever threw a leg over went through life carrying the name which means good-for-nothing.” The Cad’s breeding certainly wasn’t good-for-nothing. His equine ancestors included shining stars in America’s Thoroughbred foundation stock: his sire, Uncas, was descended from Lexington, Glencoe, and Tranby. His dam, Parasol, was descended from Mortimer, Virginia, and Nottingham. The extraordinary Tranby is the horse that carried Squire Osbaldeston in early November, 1831, in his outrageous wager to complete a two-hundred mile ride around England’s Newmarket race course in under ten hours. Osbaldeston was allowed an unlimited number of horses to do the job: he brought twenty. Changing mounts fifty times during the Squire’s race against the clock, Tranby was the only horse to complete four of the four-mile laps at racing speed. It’s clear that The Cad’s ancestors had “staying power.”

“The Cad was very high-mettled,” Harry writes of his favorite’s temperament. “When they were trying to break him at the track to start from the barrier, like a gentleman he resisted the whip in the jockey’s hands, the spur on his heels and the bull-whip with which the assistant starter cut him, and it did not take more than two or three mornings for him to get so bad that they decided that they could do nothing with him; so he was shipped back to Genesee and stabled with ‘Jim Sam’s’ string down near the horse show grounds.” Jim Sam was a Wadsworth, of the well-known hunting family in upstate New York’s Genesee Valley where Harry hunted regularly behind Colonel Wadsworth’s hounds. Here, in the broadly gorged valley, is where Harry first laid eyes on The Cad.

The Cad
The Cad

“He was perfectly balanced, with an intelligent head and eyes that spoke and followed you as he looked through the upper door as you walked around…I was so taken with him that when at the end of the hunting season I had a chance to buy him at $150 I jumped at the opportunity.”

Along with his trusted trainer Dolph Wheeler, Harry rode and trained his own string of steeplechasers: “King T.,” “Sacket,” “George Keene” and “The Cad.” “Living in snowy, frost-bound New England,” he writes, “there was only now and then a day through the winter when one could school his hunters or steeplechasers over the walls about Grafton…Many is the day I would push through business, telephone to Wheeler and, if the going was soft, out we’d go no matter how deep the snow was, and so my horses got their schooling.”

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“Upon the turf and beneath the turf all men are equal.” This drawing is found in a sample collection of illustrations for Smith’s unpublished autobiography. Smith’s lavender and white silks are depicted in the center.

Harry had his eye on the Championship Meadow Brook Cup Hunter’s race at Brookline in the spring of 1900. His confidence got a big boost while training over the course’s water jump. The Cad was four strides out when his hoof beats startled two workmen who had been cementing the basin on the far side of the jump. The men stood, “and as the jump was quite shallow they were fully three feet higher than the hedge itself, but this was nothing to The Cad. He stood off, cleared the hedge, sailed over the top of one man and landed way into the grass far beyond the edge of the cement.” Later, Harry went back with a measuring tape and found that The Cad had cleared twenty-eight feet.

The race itself started well, but ended badly for Harry. At the fourth hedge The Cad “took the bit in his teeth and literally tore at the next jump. I knew he was going too fast but there was no chance to take a pull and in a second he was too close to the jump and so caught it under his knees,” resulting in a bad fall.

Harry hovered “between life and death” for nearly a week. “The concussion was so bad,” he writes, “that [a few months later] a spot two or three inches square” on the crown of his head turned white. “In addition, on both sides, the tops of my back teeth were cracked off.” His convalescence was long and shook his confidence, but The Cad was uninjured and Wheeler kept him fit through the summer and fall. The upside of his accident was that Boston’s provocative socialite Isabella Stewart Gardner “sent me flowers every day.”

That August Harry entered the Hunter’s Steeplechase at Saratoga. Through no fault of The Cad’s or Harry’s, he fell again and the horse’s reputation grew rank.


Martha_webMartha 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.

The National Sporting Library & Museum recently received a donation of photographs originally from the collection of Liz Whitney Tippett. Ms. Tippett was a champion horsewoman, enjoying great success with racing and breeding Thoroughbreds throughout the 20th Century. In the 1930s, she and her first husband, John Hay “Jock” Whitney, lived at Llangollen Farm in Upperville, Virginia, a site of steeplechase races from 1931 to 1934.

NSLM recently published Inaugural Llangollen Race Meeting, 1931: Sketches by Paul Brown, a work commemorating the inaugural race meet hosted by the Whitneys in 1931. Click here to order your copy now.

Today’s image is a bit of a mystery. First, a look at the verso (back) of the photograph, which bears a handwritten note.

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“The small white house I moved over to the finishing line, put in our Vermont furniture, sporting prints and it then was turned into the Royal Inclosure with a fence around it of old redwood — it was really nice. The tent was where the jockeys dressed and the paddock in between tent and house — 7,000 people — no accidents. Please show these around.

How fortunate that we live in an age where we can easily show these around! The recto (front) of the photo is below. Click on it to see the enlarged version. In looking closely, I found:

  • Several picnic parties
  • The jockey’s tent, named in the caption above
  • A golf course

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There is no indication of a date on the photograph. Looking closely, what can you see? Can you find more details? We’ll be sharing more images here, and you can also view more historic images from the NSLM collections by liking our Facebook page.