Racing Maxims and Methods of Pittsburgh Phil (Part 2)

Pittsburgh Phil: forefather of modern horse betting

Pittsburgh Phil: father of modern horse betting

Pittsburgh Phil, aka George E. Smith, was one of the most famous and successful horse racing gamblers of all time. His wisdom was condensed into a book written in 1908 called "Racing Maxims and Methods of Pittsburgh Phil". And, as you'll see in this second part of the serialization, he was a very long way ahead of his time.

Part 1 can be read here, and sets the scene perfectly for this second part, which is all about the betting process and the mechanics of 'handicapping'.

CHAPTER 3 -- The Reason for Speculation

The betting ring after all is the center around which racing as a speculation revolves. If there were no betting there would be no racing, at least as we know it today. I do not propose to enter into a discussion of the ethics of the question when I am going to treat it as a business. Such it has been to me for some years and to many other men.

Sufficient knowledge to tell when to bet, or not to bet, or when to bet heavily, is of paramount importance to every man on the track. This is based upon his knowledge of the horses, their owners, their jockeys and everything connected with them. You may know a horse or a jockey are at their best. If you have not this knowledge you will lose many a foolish bet.

The basis of all betting is the amount of profit to be obtained on an investment. That is, every bettor should have such a definite conclusion as to the probable result of the race, that he can form for himself the market value of all horses in a race, and make a schedule of the prices as they should be in his opinion. I regard that as one of the reasons why I have been successful. To explain: There is a field of six or eight horses. I figure and handicap those that have a winning chance. I then fix the odds that appear to me to be legitimate quotations. Possibly one of these horses is quoted at eight to five, another at three to one and so on down the list.

When the bookmakers put up their quotations, it has happened that my prices and the ring prices differ. In one particular case the horse that I had quoted at three to one was a favorite at seven or eight to five when the betting opened. That called for a revision of my own figures, and I handicapped the horses again to see if the error was the bookmaker's or mine. I considered each horse with regard to the particular race, the weight it carried, the distance and all other conditions, the jockeys and the stable connection. Sometimes it developed that there was a quiet report of the one particular horse being "wrong."

Such a report always sent me to the paddock where I inspected the horse myself, and if satisfied that it was in good condition I would return to the ring where I and my agents watched the doings of certain men whom I considered it necessary to observe at that particular time on account of their friendly connections with stables. If my agents reported that liberties were not being taken by the men who would do such a thing if everything was not legitimate, I could generally figure whether my quotation or the ring quotation was right. If I could get a bookmaker to bet me three to one or more against a horse winning that should, in my opinion, be no better than eight to five it was a good investment in my judgment. Upon occasions of that kind I have made my largest wagers, and I may say without egotism that my deductions were correct, so far as the scale of prices was concerned, seven times out of ten. Of course, I was wrong sometimes; no man is infallible.

Take the reverse of the race of which I have just spoken. In the first instance I made my largest wagers, but where the horse I fancy is at a price a shade less than I think it should be, I make the most modest bet. I always financed my money to the best advantage, investing much heavier when I believed I was getting a better price than I had quoted in my own mind against a certain horse. Few men knew how hard I worked during the racing season, and it was in the betting ring that my hardest work was done. It was no easy matter to watch every move of the market just as the big financiers do in Wall Street; but I had to do it.

To get all the data that I wanted before betting on a race I frequently employed a half dozen men at one time. I have supplemented their labors by an acquaintance with the runners and commissioners who ply between the paddock and the ring; I knew by sight every betting commissioner on the race tracks, whom he represented, and how heavily he bet. This knowledge was possessed by the men who worked for me. They were always on the watch for some clue to the purposes of persons who might have an important influence on the race. As a result of this there was a never ending fight of stratagem and ruse during the day. If I had watched them, I knew they watched me.

Many a time, for instance, I have seen a commissioner come into the ring and bet possibly five hundred dollars on a certain horse with a certain bookmaker, after which he would bet $100 or so with other men. Immediately the whisper would go about the ring that "so and so's commissioner was betting on such and such a horse." The unthinking and uninformed usually took that as sufficient reason for following the lead. it is here that the fine work began. My man would stand at the book where the commissioner bet his $500 and watch the effect of that wager. He would be able to tell in a few minutes.

Many a time the same bookmaker has accepted the money, say at three to one, and immediately laid the top price in the ring against the same horse. That would satisfy me. It was a bet for effect. There was collusion between the bookmaker and the commissioner, which would have to be thrown out of the betting calculation altogether. It was intended to trap the unsuspecting public and I regret to say that it frequently succeeded. Nine times out of ten such horses do not finish in the money. But such things do not happen frequently, in fact in these days of racing they are of rare occurrence.

The advantage of this particular incident to me was that it eliminated a possible contender, and in a four- or five-horse race that had an important effect. it even helped me at times in beating the race on the Dutch book system. Knowing that one horse out of four, say, was not good, I would bet on all the others, thus in some cases winning twenty-five cents for every dollar invested. In other words, I bought their dollar notes for seventy-five cents each. I recall one instance, some years ago, of the value of close observation in the betting ring. This occurred when "Mike" Dwyer was the heaviest bettor on the turf. I will not give the names of the other persons concerned for the reason that some of them are now men highly respected, and who have lived down anything that they might have done in days gone by.

The race I allude to was run at a track in the vicinity of New York City, and it was practically a two horse affair, one of the horses being owned by the Dwyer Brothers, then partners in the best stable of horses that was ever trained. To hide the identity of those concerned in the affair more thoroughly I will designate the horses as "A" and "B." I may say that the incident was about the most cowardly piece of highway robbery that ever occurred in this or any other country. The race looked such a certainty for the Dwyer horse, which i will designate "A", that when the betting opened it was a one to four shot.

Few cared to speculate at those odds, consequently the business in the ring was light. I never dreamed of making a bet that day and had dismissed the race from my mind, when as I strolled toward the paddock to look over the horses entered in the following race, I met Charley Dwyer, who was then quite a youngster. We exchanged greetings and I said that it was a walk over for his father's horse. The boy replied that his father was of the same opinion and had just given an order that $30,000 be bet on the horse at any old price. I do not know what prompted me to go back to the betting ring. Possibly it was curiosity to notice the effect of a $30,000 commission on a horse already held at one to four. To my surprise there was little or no change noticeable in the odds.

The commission had evidently not yet been placed and began to watch more closely. The horses were called to the post, and still there was no change- one to four was obtainable all over the ring, while the contender showed signs of support from some quarters. In those days, and in these days too, for that matter, a thirty thousand dollar- commission would or will drive a one to four shot to at least one to seven. There was therefore "a nigger in the woodpile." My mind worked quickly - that commission was being held out. The man, or men holding it out, would do so only with the knowledge that the jockey riding the favorite was in their conspiracy. I may say right here in justice to one of the most reputable men on the turf that this jockey was not "Jimmy" McLaughlin.

As soon as i reached this conclusion, I bet several thousand dollars on the horse designated "B." The race was run and Mr. Dwyer's horse was beaten. His thirty thousand dollars had gone into the hands of some unscrupulous men and a jockey. I never said a word to him and it is possible that he never knew the truth of the affair. A funny part of this whole transaction is that other men, who had caught the drift of things, have since accused me of being implicated in the plot, because my wagers had been heaviest. But the facts are as I have related. My betting was due solely to my close observation of the ring's proceedings.

In contrast to the foregoing, I can say that oftentimes I have been influenced by a certain person betting one hundred dollars on a certain horse, although hundreds of thousands of dollars of so called wise money may have gone on others in the same race. That one hundred dollars to me represented the confidence of a conservative owner or trainer, and was wagered only after a shrewd mind had drawn a careful conclusion. Hence it is not always the heaviest commission that counts, any more than it is the flashiest horse or the flashiest stable.

Financing your capital is one of the secrets of success on the track. You must learn to know the value of your horse. There have been times when I have bet twenty thousand dollars and at other times I hesitated about betting one hundred dollars, although the figures might show that the two horses were equally probable winners. "it all depends," and upon that little sentence hangs a world of worry and work in a maelstrom of excited humanity, the betting ring. If the ring is active with smart money coming from every quarter, and the price offered is genuine, then fail in line with a good wager if the horse being bet upon is a true performer.

There is one individual highly important to every man who bets on horses, and that is a "clocker." But he must be an expert and he must be honest or he will ruin you. I notice that much has been printed recently of early morning trials at the various tracks, but I would not place too much dependence on these reports where one man pretends to have "clocked" say fifty horses in one morning. To have recognized them, and to have got their time accurately as he is pretending, is an absurdity. Better pass that kind of information over to somebody else if you cannot get the services of a good man who will go to a track with a definite purpose of finding out how the best horses are coming along, and then report honestly. The "clocker" is something like the scout in the army.

He is on the battlefield hours before the main body arrives. He learns when a horse is doing good work, when a horse is getting too much work, when he is sulking, and that all helps. It has frequently been as much to my advantage to know when a horse is track sore as it is to know when he is rounding to form. Possibly a horse, which has gone off, becomes a favorite in a race. That gives me what is called a good "lay." That is an opportunity for me to bet that he does not win. My acquaintance with bookmakers enabled me to do this by having them bet my money for me against the public. With this knowledge also I have whipsawed a race if there were but two contenders. Knowing one was wrong I laid against him and bet on the other, beating it both ways. A game of hide and seek goes on in the betting ring. I have told the story of the five hundred dollar bet made to get the public to follow a horse that was not meant to win. I have made five hundred dollar bets in a ring on horses that I knew could not win, but my motive was to get the better of the market.

The bookmakers are not in the business for their health, and as soon as they learn that certain persons fancy a certain horse and are betting upon it, they shorten the odds upon that horse. It happens that sometimes I have been compelled to use strategy to obtain fair odds upon what I considered to be a possible winner. I have bet five hundred dollars, or more, at times on horses that I verily believed did not have a chance, simply to have the rumor get about that "Pittsburgh Phil" was betting on such and such a horse. It has sometimes had the effect I wanted.

The price of the horse I knew could not win would shorten and the price of the horse I really fancied would lengthen. Then it was that my commissioners would get busy on the dark horse, betting possibly six or seven thousand dollars. I may have lost a thousand dollars or so on the strategy bet but the odds on the other more than made up for that. When the pool rooms were running in great numbers, it was possible to get a good bet down in the city and I have frequently played the institution in the city against the other at the race track. For instance, I would bet a thousand or more dollars at the track on some horse for a place. My betting would reduce the odds on one horse and raise the price on the other. In the city my commissioners would get into action and in a few minutes the telephone and personal interviews would enable them to wager a large amount of money at a fair price on the horse I believed would win.

You cannot be a successful horse player if you are going to get the worst of the price all the time. It has taken a whole lot of maneuvering for me to keep even with the several hundred shrewd bookmakers. I know they have trailed me and my men everywhere on the track and off. They wanted to know everything that I did and was going to do. That never made me mad because it was business on their part just as it was business for me to mislead the spies. I rarely have been able to keep the same set of betting commissioners for any length of time, with the exception of Walter Keyes and my nephew "Jimmy" McGill. A few bets and my commissioners were pointed out and watched. Some of the men I have used were most interesting. I have taken them from almost every walk of life.

It has happened many a time that a bookmaker in looking over his sheet after a race has found wagers of "fifties and hundreds," cash bets, and has wondered when a rural looking stranger has come to take down the winning. I have heard the bookmakers say to the cashier, looking at a long whiskered winner, "I wonder who that man is." To which the cashier replied, "He is a stranger to me." If that same bookmaker and cashier could have seen that rural looking stranger later hand over to me the winnings, they would have regarded it as important knowledge. But I never told them and sometimes I never told my dearest friend, Walter Keyes, or my nephew. I have had strangers work for me for weeks before somebody discovered the trick after which the man's usefulness was destroyed.

To conclude this chapter, the financing of your money is the high road to success. Learn when to put down a heavy wager by picking out an almost sure winner. In a race where three or four horses have a chance to win the odds are much against you, and the wager should be small or pass the race up.

I have lost as many as twenty-seven straight bets and got even and become a winner on the next two races. The average bettor should always cut his wagers when running in a losing streak and press them when luck favors him. Doubling bets when losing is ruination to any person. The time to double is when you have the bookmakers' money in hand. If a bookmaker gets you hooked, try to wiggle off with as little loss as possible, but if you get a bookmaker hooked set in your money, and if your judgment is good and you go at him cold blooded, betting on what appears to be certainties, you have a grand chance to win a small fortune.


CHAPTER 4 -- Handicapping

Many systems are employed to handicap horses. Some are successful while others are decidedly faulty. In my opinion the old-fashioned way of handicapping by comparison is the best - which is to draw conclusions from weight and class standpoint, time being a minor consideration. As the official handicapper takes weights for a foundation for his work, why should a different system be employed by a player of horses? After the official handicapper has allotted the weights to be carried in a race, it is then that the player is put to the test, and it is his judgment against that of the official handicapper. If he can find a flaw in the official handicapper's work, he will probably find the winner of the race.

The player has a great advantage over the official handicapper, for the reason that he has the opportunity of considering the present condition of a horse, when the handicapper must not let such a factor enter into his calculations. When he starts his work, he bases his calculations on the best performance of every entry, and to him all entries are supposed to be in the best physical condition possible.

For instance, when Mr. Vosburgh, the Jockey Club's official handicapper, gets the entries for the Suburban and Brooklyn Handicaps in January, and the races are not run until June, there is no chance for him to consider anything but the bare facts of horse against horse. He judges on their past, and so allots the weights they are to carry, that, in his opinion, the race will finish in a dead heat as it were. He endeavors, in his calculation, so to weigh each that all will finish together. Condition enters so much into such races as the Brooklyn and Suburban Handicap, however, that out of an entry of seventy or eighty horses sometimes not more than ten go to the post.

This is not always because the owners are not satisfied with the weights allotted, but on account of sickness or mishaps of some kind that have come to the horses during their preparation, which prevents them from being sent to the post. It is rarely that more than fifteen per cent of the entries in the classical handicaps go to the post, and not more than from seven to ten per cent in the big stake races. This shows the value of the condition of a thoroughbred when called upon to race. I mention this as a fact-that the condition of a horse in a race has considerably more to do with his winning, or losing, than the weight he carries. In other words, a horse might be allotted 126 pounds in a handicap, and he might be beaten by a moderate horse carrying only 110 pounds.

This does not mean that the moderate horse will always beat him at that difference in weight, for the condition of the two horses might reverse matters very decidedly a week or two later. A horse usually carrying top weight in a handicap could not win with 90 pounds up if he is not in condition. Sysonby once ran a dead heat with Race King. Such a result could not have been possible with both horses at their best.

For instance, a horse in the Brooklyn Handicap carrying 110 pounds, might beat the top weight carrying 126 pounds, yet in the Suburban, the condition of the top weight would be so much improved that he would run away from the horse that beat him in the Brooklyn. If any of the readers of this volume will go through the records of the classical handicaps, they will see that such cases have frequently occurred. This demonstrates absolutely that the player of horses, if he is a close student of the disposition of a horse and its condition, can almost tell the official handicapper what horses should be prominent at the finish with average racing luck. This is because he knows which horses are in the best condition.

Horses are the same as human beings where condition is the test of superiority. If a first class prize fighter, foot runner or athlete of any kind, is not in good physical condition, he can be defeated by an inferior man, where if both are in the best condition possible there would be no question which would win. It is exactly the same with horses, and picking the winner of a race rests entirely upon the ability of a man to tell when a horse is in good condition and when he is not. if one good horse is not at his best and there are inferior horses which are at their best, they will beat him in nine cases out of ten. Hence the condition of a horse is of much greater importance to a person who is playing the races, to adhere to the cast iron rule of some persons who say: "because this horse gave that horse fifteen pounds in actual weight and beat him he should beat him again today."

While he might do it, it is not a sure thing, as the reverse condition of the two horses might change the result. From this cause many people attribute the result of a race to crookedness, when it is nothing more nor less than the good condition of one horse and the lack of condition of another. The trainer may not be at fault, he has possibly done the best he could and possibly believes his horse to be in excellent condition. But horses cannot talk. They cannot tell you when they are not feeling well, and they do not always give any outward sign, though they occasionally do. I have had horses which I believed to be in the most perfect condition, yet they ran most disappointing races. I have seen horses work for a race and the work has been so impressive to my mind that I have made very large wagers on them; yet two days later in the actual race, when they should have run up to their work, they have fallen far behind. Many times a very fast work before a race does more harm to a horse than good.

From this a very common saying has arisen among the trainers: I worked my horse this morning 1 1/4 miles in 2.06, and he looks as if he will win sure." The other trainer will reply: "You have just about made him run his race to-day," and it has been proven times out of number, the fast work of two days prior having dulled his speed.

To get down to actual handicapping, you begin with the old fashioned scale weight, wherein it is prescribed that horses of certain ages shall give horses their junior so much weight at certain distances, and at different seasons of the year. This scale is the real foundation of handicapping. After a race in which these horses have met, the handicapper will decide for himself which horse is the best under the scale condition, and in future races he will put on or take off weight as he deems fitting to bring them together, or to make them run a dead heat as it were.

A man like Mr. Vosburgh, who has had years of experience and has the value of every horse that he has seen run at his finger ends, can so allot the weights that to the casual it will be mystifying. I have seen handicaps of ten horses in a race where it was next to impossible to tell which would win out of the ten. This is where the man who is a judge of the condition of a horse and of his disposition has an advantage over those who have not acquired such knowledge. It may be that some of the horses will not run over the track prescribed, while others have performed creditably over it. Some horses will not carry their weight as well as others.

Then again jockeys will make a great difference in the running of horses. All these things have to be considered and every horse must be treated separately and his entire disposition analyzed. Some things will be found in his favor and others will be found against him. After drawing a conclusion as to the most probable winner, one of the most important items is to draw a mind picture of how the race will be run - for there are many times that some horses are aided considerably by the way a race is run. while others are killed off early in the race.

One thing can be depended upon positively-if there are two or three very fast horses in a race, one or two of them will quit before the end of the journey if the route is of reasonable length. In other words they will race themselves into the ground, generally because their jockeys have no better sense than to be carried along with the early pace in a race. It is in such cases that an intelligent rider will sometimes win on the third or fourth best horse. This is where an intelligent jockey has a great value, for he profits by the mistakes of others-and lest I forget it, in future talks, you can say right here that seventy-five per cent of the inconsistency in horse-racing, which is generally put down to criminality, is nothing more nor less than lack of intelligence on the part of the jockeys.

Many times a handicapper is deceived in horses through their poor showing in races. This usually is when horses are going back after having reached the keen edge of condition. Sharp, practical trainers will then run them three or four times, knowing that they are not at their best, the intent being to get the handicapper to reduce their weight in races. Then there will be a lapse of time before such horse is entered again, but he will appear on the list with possibly the same weight to carry as he did in his last race. Instead of being in poor condition the rest he has had will have done him good, and he will be in perfect condition.

It is in such cases that killings are made. In speaking of killings many are attempted but few are accomplished, for the reason that while one man has been conniving to make a killing with one horse, there are others that have been playing the same game, and frequently three or four killings are attempted in the same race, when only one can be made. The others will be losers.

If a player can, through close observation of the market, find out that three or four different horses are being heavily played, it is a good time to test his skill as a handicapper to decide which in his opinion is the best horse of the number, and speculate accordingly, and if he cannot determine for himself exclusive of tips, stable information and the like, which is the best horse, it is best for him to watch the race without speculating, for he will not confine his attention to the one horse he is playing, but divide it between all the horses concerned, and he may see something during the running of the race that will stand him in good stead upon some future occasion, when the same horses meet again, as they frequently do after a short interval.

I have made several big winnings during my career. The biggest I ever attempted was on Parvenue, but unfortunately I did not win one-fifth of the money that I should have won, owing to a technicality. I owned Parvenue and he was a good racehorse, so good that I never really knew how good he was. A race came up at Monmouth Park for which he was eligible and I prepared him for it. Prior to my purchase of him he was a common sort of horse, but he improved much after I bought him; consequently few knew very much about him, or even entertained the thought of his improving sufficiently to beat good horses, but he had shown me in his work that he could do almost anything I wanted him to do. He looked such a real good investment to me that I had five or six men in the pool rooms of New York, of which there were many in those days, and each one had from two thousand to four thousand dollars to invest.

When the betting opened, Parvenue was quoted in some books as high as forty to one, and my commissioners told me afterwards that they placed some money at those odds, and that the lowest price they took was fifteen to one. At the track i also had several commissioners betting my money, and the lowest they got was twelve to one. Just before it was time to go to the post there was some trouble in the steward's stand. A horse, I believe it was Dagonet, had been carded on the programme to carry a certain weight, when according to the condition he should have had a much lighter or heavier impost. The mistake was not discovered until nearly post time, and the stewards decided to scratch the horse. All bets were declared off, and a new book was made.

This, of course, upset my calculations entirely. It at once disturbed the equilibrium of things. The men in the pool rooms, who had bet my money, had to wait in line to get their money back again, and when the new prices were put up Parvenue was quoted at much less odds owing to the big commission having been placed all over town, and becoming common property. The same condition of things existed at the track. My commissioners there had to wait and get their money back before they could bet it again, and this time when the prices were quoted, the highest I got was twelve to one. Much of the money was placed back again on the horse by my commissioners in the city and on the track, but nothing like the original amounts. It is unnecessary to say that Parvenue won all by himself, and after all the trouble and excitement I won over $45,000. 1 was so disgusted with the turn affairs had taken that I really never reckoned up how much money i would have won on the race had not the bets been declared off the first time, but it would have been an enormous sum.*

[* I interviewed "Sam" Doggett, who rode Parvenue in this celebrated race, and he gave me the most lucid description of "Pittsburgh Phil's" confidence in the horse and his coolness under such nerve straining conditions. He had thousands upon thousands of dollars at stake when he gave Doggett instructions how to ride. In the language of Doggett: . . . " `Pittsburgh came into the paddock and said to me, `Sam, you are riding a pretty good horse. Just let him rate along, and when you get to the head of the stretch let him down for a few strides and you will be in front. After you get there do not show him up too much.' Why, if he had been my horse and I had four hundred dollars depending on him I would have won by a sixteenth of a mile if I could, and I think if I had ever known the amount of money he stood to win on that horse I do not really know what would have happened, but I did not know that he was betting more than one hundred

dollars on him. You talk about a cool and collected man, 'Pittsbugh Phil' stood alone. He knew more about horses and horse racing than anyone and seemed to have phenomenal knowledge and confidence in his own ability. The Editor.]

In handicaps the top weights are at a disadvantage always, unless they are very high class horses, for the reason that they have to do so much more work than their opponents. It is not advisable for the top weights in a long race, say at one and a quarter miles or longer, either to make the pace or follow it too closely; for if there is too much speed in the early stages of the race it will affect the horses that try to keep up with the leaders; hence it will be seen that the top weights are generally mixed up in the middle of the bunch or in the rear if they happen to get off badly,

which causes them effort in threading their way through the field, especially if it contains anywhere from twelve to sixteen horses. They have to be very intelligently ridden to avoid interferences from horses that are dropping back, and many times they have to run outside three or four horses when they are making their run, which is very costly, for a horse loses considerable ground in running outside other horses. Then there is always the chance of their being jumped on or cut down in a race. In fact there is so much racing luck against horses, especially those carrying the heavier weights, that they are many times beaten through bad luck.

I once went over the year's record of Ethelbert and found that he lost thirty per cent of his races through bad racing luck-races that he would have won under normal conditions. This rule would not apply to a horse like Hamburg, or any very high class horse, because a real high class horse is good enough to go to the front from the start, or attain such a position in the advance guard that he will not be bothered nearly so much as a horse like Ethelbert, which was not a high class horse, but merely a first class handicap horse.

All these things have to be considered well when seeking for the winner of a handicap, or in fact any other kind of a race. Many a time a good horse is beaten in the spring of the year through lack of condition. There are few trainers who can send a horse to the post the first time out for a big race, in perfect condition. The horse may appear so to them, but they lose sight of the fact that a horse that has been trained for the race in private, should be fit to run a mile and a quarter if he is expected to run a mile race. I mean by this, that when a horse has not had a race for some months and has been prepared for a hard struggle he loses a certain amount of nervous energy while walking round the paddock, while being saddled, in the parade going to the post and in waiting for a start.

The surroundings of a race track have a great effect on some horses. They are high strung and of nervous temperament, and they waste a whole lot of energy and a great deal more the first time out after a let up than they do after a race or two. There is nothing like racing horses to be assured of their condition. One race for a horse is equal to two or three private trials. It will do him more good. It will make him hardier and it will relieve his nervous condition considerably.

A horse can be compared to an actor in this regard. An actor going to produce a new play, while he has all the ability and is satisfied in himself that he is perfect in every detail, will invariably falter at some stage or another the first night, but he will improve after that first night's experience. So it is with the majority of horses. There are some horses that seem to be devoid of nervousness. They do not fret or worry about anything. McChesney is an example. There was a horse that walked around the paddock like an old cow. He would not lose an ounce of nervous energy in a year under any condition. If he were keyed up to run one mile and a quarter he would run one mile and a quarter. You could bet anything that he would run the race that he was ready for. McChesney is an exception in this regard.

It is in such cases as these that the "clockers," the man who gets up at three o'clock in the morning to watch the horses working, is a necessary adjunct to a successful horse player. If he is a good man he will tell you exactly what the horses are doing and how they are doing it. It is not always a question with him that because a horse has worked three-quarters in 1.13 he should beat a horse that has only worked three quarters in 1.14. The horse that has worked in 1.13 has possibly received a hurried preparation, and being of a nervous disposition possibly would lose a certain amount of energy before a race, while the horse that has been worked in 1.14 has been steadily prepared and possibly carried heavier weights while working than the horse that worked in 1.13. It does not follow that because a horse has worked three-quarters in 1.13 that he will run in 1.13 in his race. He may do it much better alone than in company. It is in such cases that the disposition of a horse is the deciding factor. Then again a horse may be fully extended that has worked in 1.13, while the horse that worked in 1.14 had considerable in reserve. It is only the expert "clocker" who can discover such things, by his constant watchfulness.

I have found that track conditions are of the utmost importance. Some horses will run good races over certain tracks, while in the same company under similar conditions on other tracks they will run very disappointingly. A horse will run a good race at Sheepshead Bay while at Gravesend he will run quite the contrary.

There also are horses that like the shape of some tracks and not others; but I attribute this change of form to the action of a horse more than anything else. There are many horses that cannot make sharp turns, while others are exceedingly nimble.

For instance, Lady Amelia can run around a hat, while a great big horse finds it difficult to make a good turn. Hermis can run on any old track. He is a good horse. The same can be said of Beldame. In fact good level headed thoroughbreds can be depended upon almost anywhere. It is only what I term sucker horses that book their going and have likes and dislikes.

The Bennings track, for instance, has a very deep soil, and it takes a mighty muscular horse to win there. It needs a horse with strength. A strong horse with only moderate speed-a rater I might say, would beat a much faster horse at Bennings for the reason that the fast horse would become leg weary, and the strong horse will get him when he is nearing the finish.

On any track like Bennings where the going is deep and of a sandy nature, it is a good system to play horses that have shown a liking for such a track. If you will look over the records you will find that winners repeat frequently, while those which are defeated will be defeated almost continuously.

I won many wagers through studying the disposition of horses on certain tracks. Nothing could be more noticeable in this respect than the running of some horses on the grass track at Sheepshead Bay. It is a recognized fact that some horses improve many pounds over the grass course. One in particular, Decanter, you could always depend upon to run a good race over the turf.

There is another important item in regard to the turf course at Sheepshead Bay. It has a peculiar formation, and one of the fundamental principles in trying to figure out the winner is the early speed of a horse. Early speed is essential and a horse possessing that commodity has a much better chance to win over the turf course at Sheepshead Bay than a slow beginner, as the trailing horses usually go very wide on the turns owing to their not being banked the same as they are on the main courses. While horses do win over the turf course and come from rear positions they have to be much the best.

Another fact that I discovered in horses racing over the turf is that they will go further than they will over a dirt course. They do not get tired so quickly. A sprinter, which has been used to running three-quarters of a mile, will go a mile over the turf invariably.

A horse accustomed to running one and one sixteenth-mile races, will hold out for one mile and a quarter on the turf. I was never satisfied as to the cause of this but thought possibly that the footing was better and did not cup out with the horses like it does over a dirt course, which is naturally trying on the muscles, as it is to a man who tries to run over the sand at the seashore.

Next week: Handicapping by Time; Class and Weight; and, Treatment of Horses


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9 replies
  1. 10 Things You Didn't Know about Geegeez Racecards
  2. (John) Paul Ambrose
    (John) Paul Ambrose says:

    Fascinating…will go back to part 1 now (bad habit of doing things the wrong way round, like he says about doubling up on losing runs)

  3. sondrio2
    sondrio2 says:

    i like the wood pile bit, you could never say that these days .
    and the staking makes sense, never thought of that,
    very interesting.

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Yes, it’s published ‘as is’, George. And, obviously, no offence is intended.


  4. racingguy
    racingguy says:

    I’ve read that before, but I do love stories and that was priceless.

    Not quite as good as your one about how your family moved from Italy, which was the best post ever, but that was very good. It’s amazing how not a lot has changed in the last 100 years!

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Paul

      Glad you liked it. It’s a great little book, despite its age.

      On that Italian post, I almost reposted it on Monday – was my dad’s 77th birthday!

      Hope you’re keeping well.

  5. racingguy
    racingguy says:

    You definitely should repost that one. I know you’ve written some amazing pieces about races and so on, but that one was a little bit special. You know what I mean.

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      I couldn’t find it, not even on I’m pretty sure I posted it on nag-nag-nag back when that was on the blogger platform, but couldn’t track it down earlier.

  6. racingguy
    racingguy says:

    I didn’t think it was on NNN. I’m pretty sure it was on here, but I just spent an hour on the search terms “father” and “retirement” and I couldn’t find it either.

    (Should try those searches, for nostalgia if nothing else!)

    Before I Start, The Best of The Rest

    Today I am 40

    There are other, well, quite good ones too, but I’m not wanting to have you crying into your Ovaltine tonight, because it’s getting quite late.

    I do hope you can find that one about your Dad though…. I remember it well.

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