July 1874: The American Thoroughbred is speed without bottom

“The news of the breaking down of Tom Bowling will be received with regret, if not with something akin to positive sorrow, by all who have ever seen that peerless animal run. When he appeared on last Tuesday, cantering away from Whisper and Ransom, and only kept, by the most prodigious efforts of his jockey, from leaving them altogether out of the race, he seemed the very perfection of equine symmetry and strength and beauty, and to his admirers it will be a grievous surprise that he is so soon to be exiled, a hopeless cripple, form the scene of so many triumphs.

If, as reported, he has ruptured one of the tendons on his left fore-leg, it is scarcely possible that he will ever again appear upon the turf, and he must be consigned to the more useful but less glorious retirement of the stud. The American turf has seldom suffered a greater loss. The noble horse was apparently at his best, and his enthusiastic admirers looked for such a performance from him in the contest for the Saratoga cup, matched as he would be against competitors like Preakness, Wanderer, Springbok, and Katie Pease, as would have surpassed all previous achievements, perhaps even Longfellow’s unparalleled though unrecorded exploit of a mile in 1.40. As it is, he retires with the proud record of having made the fastest single mile and the two fastest mile heats ever registered in the annals of American racing.

But the untoward event may well set lovers of our running stock to reflecting on the causes of the sudden and early breaking down of so many of our best race-horses. Tom Bowling was only in his fourth year, and he is but the latest of a long series of noble predecessors whose early promise has been betrayed by a not less untimely collapse. Harry Bassett was only five when he too broke down. Monarchist, in his sixth year, vanquished the then champion of the track by an effort which ruined him – a costly victory. Kentucky never appeared in public after his famous four-mile race against time. Narragansett’s racing ability did not survive his four-year-old fame. Loadstone died in his sixth. Kingfisher failed in his fifth year, and at the same age True Blue is utterly broken down. And at this very meeting at Monmouth Park, Tammany and Victor and Village Blacksmith, all horses of excellent record, gave way upon the track, the two former having to be killed, while the latter will never run again.

This is certainly not an encouraging exhibit, and it behooves the lovers of our racehorse to inquire into the reason of this lamentable deficiency in endurance. Without going very deeply into the matter, we suspect that two causes will be found to have at least a share in producing this early exhaustion – first, the running of two-year-olds; and second, the hardness and heaviness of most American tracks. The frequent running of horses in their two-year-old form cannot but prove injurious, and the best English authorities have pronounced against it. Yet last week there were at Monmouth Park, with only three days’ interval, two two-year-old races, in both of which many of the same horses were entered and ran. The effect of this early strain on an animal so fine and so high-strung an organization as the race-horse must inevitably be prejudicial to his stamina.

Nor have we ever been able to understand why American turfmen cling so persistently to the dirt tracks which make the very title of their pastime a misnomer. A turf track properly cared for would certainly be easier on the horses, and not less speedy. At any rate the experiment seems worth trying. We certainly cannot afford to lose our best horses in their prime for want of proper scrutiny into the deficiencies or errors of management which exhaust their vitality almost before they are fairly grown. Other things being equal, a horse that has once broken down cannot be so good, even for the stud, as one that is entirely sound and in racing condition, and it may be that the weakness thus transmitted retires so many of the present equine generation prematurely from the track.

We have not examined into the matter very closely, but so far as a cursory glance enables us to judge, it would seem that the Leamington and Australian stock wears better than our own Lexington. Longfellow, a son of Leamington, was probably, take him all in all, the greatest horse that ever stepped upon an American track, and but for the cruel accident that cost him not only the Saratoga Cup in his famous struggle with Harry Bassett but of vastly more moment to our native stock, his life, he would, perhaps, have retained his proud pre-eminence to the present hour.

One thing is certain, that without bottom and vitality speed will give us a very unsatisfactory strain of horses. Here is matter for grave meditation by our breeders and turfites, and it behooves them to bestir themselves if they desire to make of the American running horse anything more than a useless ornament or an idle plaything.” (The New York Times, 07/12/1874)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s