Recalling Tales Of Famous Old Kentucky Horses From The 1830s

Washington Star - 1903

Race track devotees nowadays want quick action for their money," said Senator Blackburn, of Kentucky, to a reporter of the Washington Star the other day. "When I was a young man, the betting proposition was subsidiary to the sport and was in the nature of side wagers between owners. Now racing has grown to be a game wherein everyone who loves the thoroughbred for what he is and what he can do regrets that he has of late years become to a large extent the tool of the gamblers. I also think a ray of light, however, is penetrating the clouds which hang over racing when men like William C. Whitney, August Belmont, S. S. Howland, and numerous others who might be mentioned become interested in it. It is not the sordid end of it that these men seek, but the glory of seeing their horses win. I may add in this connection that the spirit thus manifested was that which animated our fathers and the rock on which they built.

The Days Of Four-Milers

"My father was among the first citizens of Kentucky who bred, trained, and raced horses. Blackburn's Whip, whose blood has blended so kindly with trotters and thoroughbreds, was his property. Huston, sire of the immortal Lexington, died in my father's stable, and the great and unbeaten Eclipse was in my father's possession in the years 1837 and 1838. These horses were the champions of their day and the greatest horses of their generation; they were not furlong sprinters, but four-milers. It will hardly be believed in these days of palatial stables that while these valuable horses were in my father's care they occupied a very ordinary log stable, through which the winds whistled on wintry nights, and through which the snow drifted on occasions. When Boston and Eclipse were brought to Kentucky they did not make the trip in palace cars, as do the costly thoroughbreds of today; walking was good enough for them. Thus, it was by walking every inch of their route that they reached their destination.

Death Of An Old Racer

"Boston caught cold on the way to Kentucky and went blind soon after his arrival. I was a small lad at the time and used to visit Boston's stable every morning to see him cared for and walked by the groom. In the fall of 1849, then 17 years old, he began to grow decrepit from the effect of severe racing and duties in the stud, and frequently had to be helped to rise. When on his feet he seemed to be all right again and able to take his morning exercise. Early one morning, in the year named, I slipped out of the house and down to Boston's stable. The door was closed and fastened within. I hammered on it and clamored for admittance. The door was cautiously opened far enough to admit the passage of my body, when a hand seized me by the hand and dragged me inside. I was no sooner in than the groom was out and the door fastened. I took the matter good-naturedly until my eyes became accustomed to the light, when I saw something that curdled the blood in my young veins. Boston was lying on his side in a corner of his stall lifeless, and great splashes of blood were on the wall. In his dying struggles he had beaten his head against the logs. I screamed lustily for the groom, and, seeing he had carried the joke far enough, he came to my rescue. My life has been in danger a score of times since on battlefields and elsewhere, but I was never quite so badly scared.

Boston's Peculiarities

"I presume I am among the very few men living who ever saw Boston. He was the greatest race horse and race horse sire of his day, and his descendants are even now racing at Bennings. He was bred by the late eminent jurist, John Wiskham, of Richmond, Virginia, foaled in 1833 and was got by Timeoleon, by Sir Archy, out of an own sister to Tuckahoe, by Ball's Florizel; a horse that during his turf career was never touched by whip or spur and was never beaten. The great-great-grand-dam of Boston was never fully traced. In his two-year-old form, and while he was unbroken, he was sold to Mr. Nathaniel Rieves, of Richmond, Virginia, for $800. A peculiarity about him was that he could not be safely ridden with a spur. In his first race he bolted because his rider used a spur on him and was distanced. He was never again ridden with a spur until he ran against Fashion in his old age and was beaten. In 1839, he became the property of James Long, of Washington, for $12,000 and half the purse. Boston was a chestnut horse, with a blaze in his face and white stockings behind. He stood 15 hands, 3 inches under the standard, but looking taller on account of his prodigious size. He was a short-limbed horse, with unusually short canon bones. His eyes, ears, and nostrils were fine, but his head was not what you could call pretty. His neck came out well from his shoulders, the latter being oblique, broad, and muscular. His depth of chest was immense and his throttle perfect.

"His back was the prodigy of strength as well as his loins, so that 10 pounds extra weight was not felt by him at the end of a hard day. The muscular development of his arms and thighs was almost unparalleled. He ran close to the ground and was not a long strider. Usually, he began a race without much show of spirit, running the first two or three miles with his back. When he began to get warm and interested in the running his head was gradually elevated, and when he drew it up, he set at work in earnest. Then you saw a sure enough race horse, for no locomotive on four legs that tried was ever able to go the pace with him.

The Great Eclipse

"Eclipse was also a chestnut horse and was foaled 19 years earlier than Boston or to be exact in 1814. Eclipse was by imported Blomed(?), the latter being Boston's great-grandsire; dam Miller's Damsel, by Messenger, the great-great-grandsire of Hambletonian X., founder of the Hambletonian family of trotters. He was bred by Gen. Nathaniel Coles, of Long Island, and his training commenced as a three-year-old. He had a star on the forehead, and his left hind foot was white some distance above the ankle. In height he was about 15 hands, 2 inches, but was built on a massive pattern. He was not a handsome horse, probably due to his Messenger blood through his dam. Duroe, his sire, was an exceedingly handsome horse. Eclipse's action in front was heavy, and he struck the ground heavy, dwelling a little, but the style and regularity with which he brought up his haunches and the power with which they propelled him forward overbalanced, all criticisms of his individuality and way of going.

"His temper was good, and he required a good deal of work and in his running a good deal of whipping. Eclipse was the greatest horse on the continent. The account of his great race with Henry, which was virtually between the North and South, still thrills the blood of men who have an ounce of love for the thoroughbred in their hearts. Henry won by a head in the first heat, but Eclipse won the race. It is estimated that 25,000 people witnessed the race, and that over $200,000 in side bets changed hands.

A Visit From Henry Clay

"While Eclipse was in my father's stable my father received one day an unexpected visit from Henry Clay, who was accompanied by several gentlemen from Fayette and Woodford Counties. They had been fox hunting in the immediate neighborhood. Mr. Clay was a connoisseur of thoroughbreds and a breeder of them, and he was very anxious to see the horse that had won worldwide fame on the turf. My father was peculiar in that every horse he owned or had charge of was a trifle better than its predecessor. He was a fluent talker and could describe all the good points of a horse. Mr. Clay, it appears for the amusement of the gathered company, decided to draw out 'Uncle Ned,' as my father was called. After Eclipse had been viewed and admired, the guests adjourned to dinner. Mr. Clay was in excellent spirits. While the wine was being passed, he raised his glass to his lips and proposed a toast. My father was not to be outdone. Filling his glass and rising slowly from his seat, and bowing to Mr. Clay, he responded, 'Eclipse is among horses, but Henry Clay is among men.' This display of repartee and gallantry put Mr. Clay on edge, and he scintillated as only 'Gallant Harry of the West' could when he was at his best. Eclipse lived to be 33 years old and died at the farm of Jilson Yates, near Shelbyville, Kentucky.

Importations Of Arabians

"The breeding problem is worthy of profound study, for those who seek to solve it enrich mankind. It is not and never can become an exact science. I state this as an abstract proposition without going at this time into the whys and wherefores. I knew Mr. A. Keene Richards, who attempted to solve it by importing Arabians, very well, indeed. He was an excellent man, an enthusiast, and deserved a better fate than was his. As Senator McCraary has already said in the Star, he bred his Arabians with the very best blood that could be found in Kentucky. When his youngsters came on the turf, they were badly beaten. Turfman who disbelieved his theory that the Arabian could fertilize the blood of the modern thoroughbred allowed him, first, seven pounds and they were beaten. Then they made the generous concession of 14 pounds, equal to a double distance, and still they were beaten.

"Mr. Richards did not give up the fight. Accompanied by the eminent animal painter, Troy, he turned his face once more toward the Orient. He lived with the Arabs in their tents. He ate and slept with them, worshipped with them, and dressed like them; and all for the purpose of getting the best Arab horses to be found among the descendant of Ishmael. He studied and rode Arab horses until he could judge of conformation, disposition, and type, and he was especially careful to purchase nothing that could not be raced in an unbroken line to one of the mares of the prophet. His later purchases proved as great failures as his first.

Why The Experiment Failed

"Now, as to the facts. Mr. Richards did not comprehend what every successful breeder must comprehend: that a horse has a psychical, as well as a physical, organization, and that these Arabs had no inheritance of a racing will. Having it not themselves, how could they transmit it to their progeny. It is as plain as the nose on one's face that you cannot make a good whistle from the tall of a pig, nor can you gather grapes from thistles, nor figs from thorns. Nature works more intelligently. She performs miracles, but produces results through natural laws. The supreme trial of the Arabian consists in being mounted at midnight and carrying his master 100 miles across the desert without food or water. In this style of racing he could beat Hamburg, Henry of Navarre, and a Tenny of a Salvotor. The truth is the Arabian has not been subjected for 200 years or more to a scientific course of training and preparation to run one mile or four miles, and having no cultivation of will nor consciousness of power to beat all other that distance, he miserably fails when brought to a supreme test.

"A single illustration of my proposition is important to every man who breeds either runners or trotters, and I am done. In Abbeville District, South Carolina, in the last century, there lived a large breeder of thoroughbred horses named Richard A. Rapley. He imported a number of the most fashionable bred stallions and mares that could be found in Great Britain. He was scrupulously careful in all the crosses that he made, and soon he gathered about him a herd of purebred animals that had never seen a racecourse. He kept up this fancy through several generations of horses. The attention of racing men was naturally turned in time to this stud of purebred animals, and a number were selected and tried. But notwithstanding their high lineage and perfection of form, they did not prove to be race horses. The speed which they inherited from their ancestors had been lost through lack of usage. The consciousness of speed and the will and ambition to win had died out."

Home | Covers | Story | Things | Contents | Index | Samples | Genealogy
Features | Happenings | Books | Historical Societies | Sale | Links | Hot