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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79

V.—Of Racing Blood

V.—Of Racing Blood.

Still, admitting all this, I shall be told that the general effect of racing is good, inasmuch as it improves the quality of our horses. As far as that goes, I grant you that for my own riding or driving I like something with a large admixture of the thoroughbred, while not overlooking the remarkable value of a dash of pony. That is all right as far as it goes. But when you tell me that the object of racing is to improve the quality of our horses, I can only reply that of all the insolent misstatements in the annals of misrepresentation I know of nothing to excel this one. I do not know what vague or chimerical ideas may be floating around in the brain of any or every man who may own a brood mare or so, though I could tell you what reasons have prompted me to keep one, but to anyone with a knowledge of the rules of racing, to anyone who has attended a race meeting or even read the report of one, it is perfectly obvious that the sole end and aim of racing authorities is to provide facilities for betting. I am perfectly aware that among stewards, committeemen, and owners, there are plenty who do not bet. That proves nothing, except that they appear to agree with me about betting. Nor does it shake my contention, which can be tested by sitting in an armchair and studying the news-papers, that the goal of all racing authorities is "a good betting race."

page 24

Improve the breed of horses! Is that the explanation of the system of handicapping? Is that why men are paid hand-some salaries so to adjust the weights that the worst horse in the race shall have the same chance as the best? What would be said of an Agricultural Show where the Merino Cup went to an undersized wether carrying less than seven pounds of wool, while rams and ewes carrying nine or ten pounds were unplaced; the Clydesdale Championship to a weedy gelding; and the Red Ribbon among cattle to a Jersey steer? Yet have we not just seen the richest prize of the year (1916) won by (a) a gelding, (b) carrying 6.11, and (c) not worth twenty pounds for any purpose but racing?

But, we shall be told, the racecourse is the convincing ground, the racehorse is subjected to a searching and strenuous test. I know. And what then? Prince Palatine is sold for 45,000 guineas; 50,000 would not buy Pommern. What is their destiny? To what uses are they put? Will they be employed in the production of those remounts, chargers, artillery horses, about which racing men are always talking ? Hardly. Carbine was sold for 13,000gs. To what extent has he improved our utility horses? How much has his son Wallace done in the same direction? Will Trafalgar, the son of Wallace, be so employed? The racecourse is the testing ground! Quite so. And it is only those horses which the racecourse reveals as useless that are available for the production of these remounts, etc. Useless, that is, for racing purposes. May we not ask, then, whether it is worth while employing all the machinery and pharaphernalia of racing simply that we may discover the worst racehorses and use them for "improving the breed" of our utility horses? The question looks like a somewhat urgent one. And if you refer me to my own statement about the difference between a winner and a mere place-getter, I ask again why should we take such an infinity of pains, and waste so many millions, merely to reveal that small margin of difference? On the other hand, if the difference is as great as the difference between the value, or anyhow the selling price, of Pommern, and the average horse available for producing utility horses, a difference, not of one in five hundred, but of anything between 100 and 500 to one, how is it that these terribly keen, alert, shrewd, racing men cannot discern that difference without "submitting the issue to the supreme arbitrament of the course?"

Other people engaged in breeding animals, farmers, poultry breeders, dog fanciers, and the like, just ordinary, hum-drum members of the workaday community, manage to get what they want without converting the whole country into a gambling hell? For fine wool they have produced the Merino, for coarse the Lincoln, for mutton the Southdown; for beef we have the page 25 Shorthorn, under more rigorous conditions the Hereford or Polled Angus, for cream the Jersey; and, inasmuch as fashion has decreed that a bull-dog shall exhibit a tail which looks as though it had been broken and clumsily set, every bulldog duly terminates in such an appendage. For every variation of soil or climate man has bred just about what he wants. But the breeder of the thoroughbred horse is such a slow-witted, unobservant, resourceless, helpless, imbecile, that he alone is unable to produce what he is after without resorting to the racecourse as a convincing ground. That is not my statement of the position, but the yarn which is submitted to our intelligence by those who are always telling us that racing is essential to the maintenance of decent, utility horses.

Anyhow, thoroughbred blood is not the only element that goes to the making of a useful horse. The Clydesdale, the Suffolk Punch, the Percheron, for example, are just as essential, but breeders of these have managed to establish and maintain a high standard of excellence without plunging the whole country into a vortex of gambling. The Clydesdale or Shire Championship is determined and awarded without the assistance or intervention of all the rogues and blackguards in Christendom. I do not suppose that one racegoer in a thousand has ever heard of "The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft." Let me quote one extract:—
To-day's newspaper contains a yard or so of reading about a spring horse-race. The sight of it fills me with loathing. It brings to my mind that placard I saw at a station in Surrey a year or two ago advertising certain races in the neighbourhood. Here is a poster as I copied it into my notebook:
"Engaged by the Executive to ensure order and comfort to the public attending this meeting:—
  • 14 Detectives (racing).
  • 15 Detectives (Scotland Yard). 7 Police Inspectors.
  • 9 Police Sergeants.
  • 76 Police, and a Supernumary Contingent of specially selected men from the Army Reserve and the Corps of Commissionaires.

The above force will be employed solely for the purpose of maintaining order and excluding bad characters, etc. They will have the assistance, also, of a strong force of the Surrey Constabulary."

I remember once, when I let fall a remark on the subject of horse racing among friends I was voted "morose." Is it really morose to object to public gatherings which their own promoters declare to be dangerous for all decent folk Everyone knows that horse racing is carried on mainly for page 26 the delight and profit of fools, ruffians, and thieves. That intelligent men allow themselves to take part in the affair, and defend their conduct by declaring that their presence "maintains the character of a sport essentially noble," merely shows that intelligence can easily enough divest itself of sense and decency.

Those last dozen words appear to be applicable to those who, at this crisis in the world's history, defend not only the continuance but indeed the increase of racing in our midst, by resorting to the snuffling cant, the maudlin hypocrisy, of saying that racing is essential to the supply of remounts.* Nor was I surprised to read the speech of that president who justified his determination to continue racing upon the ground that some other person had given £15,000 to Patriotic Funds. Our own racing authorities are not so explicit as the executive quoted, and in any case there must be many more rogues in London than in Wellington; but anyone who has the misfortune to travel by a race train has a fine opportunity of coming into contact with those who are attracted by "a sport essentially noble."

From this digression I return to the point that breeders of the other elements in remounts manage to arrive at a decision as to the respective merits of their animals without resorting to betting. Nor do they degrade themselves, and insult their hearers, by any concealment of their real motives, or any indulgence in professions of patriotism, or drivelling references to remounts. They will tell you, quite honestly and straight-forwardly, that they breed horses as a means of making money. And if the breeder of racehorses would but speak the truth, he would drop all this nauseous piffle about improving the breed, and tell us that all he wants is to breed a racehorse which shall be about, a length faster over a mile than any other.

The suggestion that, if racing were abolished or diminished, the thoroughbred horse would become extinct, or suffer in quality, is negatived by what man has done in respect of other animals, and indeed other kinds of horses. If it comes to that, the most remarkable specimen of a thoroughbred horse I ever encountered owed none of its excellence to racing. It was a Timor Pony in Java. I had been much interested and a good deal amused by the roguish enthusiasm with which these little rascals scampered about in front of various vehicles at one and eightpence an hour, but these feelings were to merge into something deeper upon closer acquaintance.

Arrived at the foot of a mountain at 10 a.m., I was introduced to the means of conveyance up its slopes, in the shape of a pony mare, whose wither was exactly level with the middle page 27 button of my waistcoat, which is some forty-five inches from the ground, or about 11.1. Now, I walked over fourteen stone, and, as she was already surmounted by a full-sized English saddle and a great wad of blankets, whose purpose I shall refer to, she had over fifteen stone to contend with; indeed, as we stood side by side, it looked a moot point which of us ought to carry the other. However, I decided to exhaust her powers first, and climbed aboard. Wearing, as I was, green goggles, a pith helmet, and a white umbrella, I felt more like Sancho Panza than one likely to witch the world with feats of noble horsemanship.

At the start she behaved abominably, chucking at her bit, sidling about with her ears back, going very short, and, in a general sense, misbehaving herself atrociously. But at a word from the boy I let her assume the lead of the procession, when she at once became as demure as a Quakeress, and remained so for the rest of the trip. Our path—it was nothing more—lay up a mountain 1500 feet high, whose side was crossed by many rocky gullies. As we approached the first of these, and I saw the patches of bare smooth rock below, I felt a good deal like dismounting and walking. But in the East a white man does not do that sort of thing, so I merely withdrew my feet until only my toes touched the stirrups, so that when she fell, as seemed inevitable, I would simply stand erect while she slipped from under me. But she was as safe as a goat, and the thoughtful precision with which she picked her way down one side was equalled by the ease and determination with which she breasted the other. Finally, when, at 12 o 'clock, we reached our destination, she had not turned a hair. I say that neither in the hollow of the shoulder, where a horse sweats first, nor under the straps of the bridle, had she turned a hair. Fifteen stone, eleven hands and a half at most, two hours uphill at midday, in a climate where no one who can help it stirs outside between eleven and four, and every vehicle has its canopy! Trained to the hour, what more could Carbine have done? When the boy removed the saddle, preparatory to dousing her with numerous buckets of water, she was found to be wet under those inches deep of blankets, which it would make one sweat to look at, but nowhere else. And then, as I began to realize what she had done, and how she had done it, I walked round and round her trying to find out where she, got it from. Judged by any equine standard that I had met with in half a century among horses, I found this an impossible quest. All could see was a very small, but faultless, specimen of the thoroughbred. She had an antelope's muzzle, a broad forehead, a full dark eye, delicious ears, a skin like satin, a mane and tail like silk. Her bone was like glass, and when I picked up her page 28 feet—she was unshod—I felt one might as well try to drive a nail into a bull's horn. For the rest, there was nothing to see. No "great banging quarters," no "coupling to command atention," no trace of cobbiness—three-fourths of those blankets were supplied to fill the rider's legs—nothing that stood out or excited remark. Everything was just so, neither more nor less, and I can only suppose that it was the marvellous balance and proportion of the whole structure that produced those results which still stagger me when I think of them. In fact, she might be described as the sublimated essence of what we refer to as "quality." That morning, being a working day, she had received a pint of maize. Her midday meal, like all others, consisted of a bundle of coarse dusty grass, like Paspalum, culled from roadsides, the banks of streams, and similar places, in a country where grass paddocks are unknown.

I have dwelt upon this experience because I could hardly write about horses without referring to it, and because it serves to emphasise the contention that racing is not essential to excellence, not to say perfection, in horses. Racing has produced nothing finer than this tourists' hack, purchasable for a tenner, I dare say a fiver. Whether she was the product of natural or supervised selection, she exhibited everything to be found in the 50,000 guinea Pommern, size alone excepted. And her size amply sufficed for the work she was intended for, as the Javanese are distinctly on the small side.

* Appendix C.—Page 50.