A Petite Histoire

I seem to have come to something of a crossroads with this blog. I am working on another research project. That project, alas, will take about another three months to finish.

In the meantime I do not have much to write about (unless something jumps right out at me). I do have more Charles Hatton, but I get the sense that you readers have had about enough Hatton as you can stand. Understandably, since I have already profiled most of the interesting nags about whom Hatton wrote.

I could be wrong about that though. So comment and let me know if you would like to read more Hatton. Or the opposite. Comment and let me know if you have had enough Hatton.

Today I am going to do one more piece from Hatton (possibly the last). It is an excerpt from his description of 1970 Horse of the Year Fort Marcy in the 1971 American Racing Manual. Actually, it is several digressions from his ruminations on Fort Marcy.

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It is said a really smashing racehorse is impartial in the matter of track conditions, but they have been a crux to more than one champion. Back in Kentucky some half-century ago, this observer got himself caught up in a burning question of whether George Long’s Free Lance was a better three-year-old than his archrival, Maj. Tom McDowell’s The Manager. Everybody in Kentucky was agreed that they had one thing in common, to wit, they were great colts.

There was just one thing–neither of them could stand up in the mud. The Manager ducked the Kentucky Derby when the going became muddy, and Worth buried Free Lance under several lengths of gumbo. At bit later at Latonia, known in turf circles as Death Valley, Free Lance dusted off both on a fast track for the Latonia Derby. . . .

A lapse of five years and we come to C. K. G. Billings’ Omar Khayyam and August Belmont’s Hourless, equally bitter rivals for the three-year-old honors in 1917. Little Omar Khayyam, deceptively dainty as a cameo in appearance, was tough enough for any assignment that involved running. He won the Kentucky Derby and nosed out Hourless in a desperate Realization finish. It is said Buxton on the winner stole Butwell’s whip in the drive. There was a ten-furlong match at Laurel to settle the issue, and Hourless put the stretch runner Omar Khayyam on the lead, then beat him a length in 2:02.

But Hourless was a big colt, with a stride to match, perhaps rivaling Waterboy’s 27 feet. In dry going, he went as if shod with seven-league boots, but sad to say he was another who could not stand up in the mud. Nobody ever said anything about great horses running in any going in the presence of Hourless’ trainer, Sam Hildreth.

Recalling Exterminator and Mascot

Geldings are supposed to be placid individuals, pleasant as Kelso or as Exterminator was popularly believed to be, but was not, actually. Stoical at the races, he really needed his mascot, the pony Peanuts. Some horses are gelded because they are ornery little critters, full of evil cunning, which makes them awkward to handle, as in the instance of Armed. Psyching out Fort Marcy was simple, in contrast to Max Hirsch’s exasperations with Epinard’s conqueror Sarazen, who came to be known as “Sulky Sara,” and got so he would not go near a race track if he could see where he was going, so had to be blindfolded.

One of the most colorful of geldings was the Alexandras’ Care Free. He had great character. a whim of iron and was always doing something picturesque, so that he became a legend in his own time.

Hildreth had him for a time and said, “Care Free is the fastest horse up to his day. I never could find out how fast he could run.” It might be mentioned, sotto voce, he was contemporaneous with Man o’ War no less.

Care Free was by unbeaten Colin out of Domino Noire, by Kingston, the second dam Dominoes by Domino, and for conformation he put it all together. Except he was a chestnut, he was cast in the beautifully balanced mold of his sire.

Unfortunately, Care Free was like the little girl with the curl, and was reduced to running in claimers. Once at Long Branch, he won by 15 and set a six-furlong track mark. Jockey “Dude” Foden slid off him and told Bert Alexandra, quite seriously: “That old devil wouldn’t extend himself an inch!” At another meet, he was all out to beat a plater a nose, the came back and galloped to Senator Norris.

Care Free Did “Impossible” at Woodbine

It is tempting to relate a few other of his more maddening peccadilloes. There was the time, in his odyssey of the tracks, Care Free drew number one at Woodbine, ducked off the course coming out of the chute, and was 40 lengths last when Roxy Romanelli got him back on course. He nevertheless won by five, going only six furlongs. It was calculated he ran in 1:09.

It was the prudent thing to blindfold Care Free taking him through a gap to the course, else he would head for it in a race. Alexandra used to tie a lot of tin cans ingeniously to the end of a broomstick and stand in the gap, rattling them in an effort to frighten the horse off as the field passed. Once at Hamilton where he won 19 straight, Care Free got the pitch, identifying the cans with the location of an exit. he went right through the outside fence, taking the rails and the cans with him, then wheeled back onto the course and won the race by two.

He developed more tricks than Merlin. If a rider drove him, the perverse old gelding would pull up, but if the jockey hauled at the reins, he would drag him helplessly to the front. (Mad Hatter also used to do this.) Jockey Jack Chalmers got ruled off in Maryland for winning on Care Free. The old rebel was so far out of it Chalmers took hold of him. Instantly, Care Free took off. About the 70-yard pole, Chalmers thought he just might win and sat down to drive.

Care Free stopped in his tracks. Catching on to his mount’s idiosyncrasy in the providential nick of time, Chalmers dropped his hands and won by a nose. We are afraid the stewards were not very understanding. They thought Chalmers was trying to throw the race and threw the book at him.

Care Free was claimed from Alexandra nine times and always he disappointed the claimant, who would drop him down so that the Canadian recovered his pet at a profit. Alexandra had spoiled him rotten with sugar and indulgence, but none of his contemporaries would trouble about kind hearts and coronets. To conclude this petite histoire of Care Free, he raced until he was 13, betimes serving as a lead pony, making 227 starts of which he won 67, taking 36 seconds, 35 thirds, and a princely $59,873, with which he bought a farm and retired.

Fort Marcy may yet attain Care Free’s charisma, though not the mystique which made him so psychologically interesting. Owner Paul Mellon intends he shall continue campaigning as long as the idea appeals to him at all. What else?

Of course, it is with horses as with humans. Life is something what happens to one while one is making other plans. A Thoroughbred is a terribly fragile property, and the Care Frees and Tippity Witchets run very few to the acre. But belonging to Paul Mellon is a good thing for a horse.

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4 Responses to A Petite Histoire

  1. Qatmom says:

    I could go on joyfully reading Hatton. Contemporary turf writing just doesn’t have the wit or insight of the Master of turf prose.

  2. Barry L Tannenholz says:

    Keep it coming. People need context (that’s what history is) and nowhere more than in this sport, whose practitioners seem to believe nothing happened before yesterday, which is a hard thing to do 365 days a year.

  3. Tony Stevens says:

    Yes, Hatton was a master at his craft and I could read an excerpt a day until eternity (or my eyes fail me).

  4. Ned Williams says:

    Anything of interest seems appropriate to me. If you have any thoughts on best practices beyond what has been well said, I would love to hear them. Hatton is interesting and a beautiful writer. No need to apologize.
    I find it interesting when your readers respond and joust. You have attracted a sharp and interesting group. Keep it rolling if you are so inclined. I certainly appreciate it.

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