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Race historians: 20's & 30's race scene

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  • Race historians: 20's & 30's race scene

    OK so my lovely new history class this semester is focusing on the "Great Depression", more specifically the period between WWI and WWII. It's a independent study/research type course and we get to pick topics. Of course this is the first week of class, be we have to have a finalized topic in 3 weeks to start humming and ho-ing through articles for the rest of the lovely course.

    I hate doing typical topics, Dust Bowl, Lindenburg, FDR.. etc. And was thinking horse racing in the 20's/30's and it's effect on the general population during that time.

    So all you smart race people Who were the big names back then? Magic horses? What was the betting scene like? How was attendance? Did racing at that time have any global impact? (prob most important ?) Of course I could google, but COTH seems to give much deeper insight into these sort of things.

    I'm just playing around with the idea. So let me know if you think this could weasle it's way to being 10-12 pages (double spaced of course )

    TIA
    Fourth N' Goal Training LLC.
    ~Specializing in Mom and Kid Approved Equitation and Jumper Horses

    *Horse Collector Status = Six Pack*

  • #2
    City Ponies-Seabiscuit. I gave my very non-horsey father-in-law the Laura Hillenbrand book for his birthday-you should have seen his face when he unwrapped it-he didn't quite know what to say. He loved it-it's such a great report of the time between the war when he was growing up. After he finished it, he bought copies for his brothers.

    Comment


    • #3
      The Kentuckian Digital Library has the Daily Racing Form Archived digitally online. It might be a good place to start.

      here's the address

      http://kdl.kyvl.org/drf/
      Equine Web Design http://www.tbconnect.net | Kingsgate Stud home of Legal Jousting (IRE)

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by City Ponies View Post
        OK so my lovely new history class this semester is focusing on the "Great Depression", more specifically the period between WWI and WWII.
        Not to be a stickler but the Great Depression generally is regarded as very late 1929 through the 1930's. The 20's themselves are the "Roaring Twenties". Two very different times obviously and different wagering habbits in the two eras.

        The great runner Exterminator raced from 1917 until 1924 so he falls into that bright period between the wars.

        I'd say he was - despite sharing the same era as Man O'War - one of the biggest names and with good reason. While MOW was impressive and his legend still cited today he raced for just 2 years. While Exterminator raced for 7 and all highly productive years with 85% of his starts finishing in the money. Essentially he was a horse the public could back time and again and see a return.

        Lavish praise for him many years after retirement upon his death:

        Upon the gelding's death, the great sports writer and historian Joe Palmer wrote in the 1945 volume of "American Race Horses," (Sagamore Press, 1946):

        "He had lived a little over thirty years, a great age for a horse. Many horsemen thought him the greatest horse they had seen; many racing people who had never seen him knew of him as a sort of symbol of indestructibility, of stamina, and of Thoroughbred courage."

        The Thoroughbred Record wrote in its September 29, 1945 edition:
        "A heart attack suffered by Exterminator, faithful 'Old Bones' to the fans of a quarter- century ago, put the final footnote to the career of a horse that stirred more genuine affection in the hearts of man than any other thoroughbred the American turf has ever known."
        Today's heros are almost a dime a dozen. Win one race with a fat margin of victory and you're a hero. Back then you had to dig in and do it again and again before you earned the public's true praise. In an era when a $2 wager was something substantial he was the horse they bet on.

        Google his name with the New York Times and you get a better idea of what the press said about racing in that era.

        Comment

        • Original Poster

          #5
          Originally posted by Glimmerglass View Post
          Not to be a stickler but the Great Depression generally is regarded as very late 1929 through the 1930's. The 20's themselves are the "Roaring Twenties". Two very different times obviously and different wagering habbits in the two eras.

          The great runner Exterminator raced from 1917 until 1924 so he falls into that bright period between the wars.

          I'd say he was - despite sharing the same era as Man O'War - one of the biggest names and with good reason. While MOW was impressive and his legend still cited today he raced for just 2 years. While Exterminator raced for 7 and all highly productive years with 85% of his starts finishing in the money. Essentially he was a horse the public could back time and again and see a return.

          Lavish praise for him many years after retirement upon his death:



          Today's heros are almost a dime a dozen. Win one race with a fat margin of victory and you're a hero. Back then you had to dig in and do it again and again before you earned the public's true praise. In an era when a $2 wager was something substantial he was the horse they bet on.

          Google his name with the New York Times and you get a better idea of what the press said about racing in that era.

          Yea, I know, I'm an econ minor But teacher says.....

          Hence the reason we can kind of forge out of the Depression topics and just pick any event/person/horse (LOL) that had an impact on the American and global public.

          I totally forgot about the Biscuit!! I thought about Exterminator, but I am generally unfamiliar with him except for knowing the name, so I will have to do some research. I feel like there is one other big name horse that was around but maybe I'm thinking 40's??

          Though I think I have a good start to convince dear Professor to let me do an topic on racing. It's sooo much better than Huey Long or Orson Wells silly broadcast!

          ETA: Maybe based on how waggering was in Exterminator times to how the depression affected it and reappeared through seabiscuit era? Brainstorming.. someone remind me it's Friday and Ladies' Night at the local bar!
          Fourth N' Goal Training LLC.
          ~Specializing in Mom and Kid Approved Equitation and Jumper Horses

          *Horse Collector Status = Six Pack*

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          • #6
            I think the two horses who's legends are most entwined with the fabric and psyche of the Great Depression are Phar Lap (at the beginning, '29 to '32) and Seabiscuit (towards the end, he started to hit his stride around '37). Both captured the imagination of a public in their respective countries, I suppose Phar Lap somewhat globally, and both were seen as " the people's horse", back when times were tough and heroes hard to come by.
            Equipoise and Gallant Fox were popular during the period also, but I don't know that the captured the public imagination like the other two.

            In Britain large crowds turned out to see the great chaser Golden Miller, though the real hero of the time in Britain was a not a horse, but a dog, the legendary greyhound Mick the Miller.

            Comment


            • #7
              Seabuscuit is the 30's legend that has legs today, in large part because of the interesting story of his life, which Laura Hillenbrand told so well.
              Having read books of the era (published during and after Biscuit's career) I will say that while he was famous and beloved as the perrenial underdog, he was never really regarded as "better" than War Admiral or Gallant Fox.

              The 20's was regarded as the "Golden Era of American Sports" and racing was as popular as any. The decade kicked off with man O' War's 3yo campaign. A series of international races were held through the decade one of which was won by the little remembered colt, Zev. Sarazen was a popular handicap horse, running til he was 7. Grey Lag ran through the entire decade, with several long breaks. He started out at 2 in 1920 and ran his last race in 1931! The great mare Princess Doreen won 34 of 94 starts, racing to age 6.

              Betting is hard to gauge from that era because most wagering was done with bookmakers on track rather than through the pari-mutuel system we now use, which was not widely in use until the late '30's. Track attendence and newspaper coverage are the best way to determine the popularity of the game at the time. As late as the 1940's the deaths of horses like Man O' War and Exterminator were front page news in major national papers. Man O' War's funeral in 1947 was broadcast on radio!
              F O.B
              Resident racing historian ~~~ Re-riders Clique
              Founder of the Mighty Thoroughbred Clique

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by City Ponies View Post
                So let me know if you think this could weasle it's way to being 10-12 pages (double spaced of course )TIA
                Of course it could. Research anything in history and you can make a book out of it, let alone a paper The effect of American Thoroughbred racing between the wars (1918-1941, I'm guessing) would be an excellent topic - it was part of the party in the twenties, then a diversion from misery and a source of jobs in the thirties. One suggestion - if you examine the history of gambling in America, it helps explain the history of racing in America.

                This time frame is interesting because racing back then was actually part of pop culture. Celebrities went to the races and even got together to open them (Del Mar and AC), and racetracks had some glamour. Del Mar, Hialeah, Keeneland and Santa Anita all opened during this era.

                Comment


                • #9
                  How about Dean Hanover (aka Mr. Watt) and 11YO Alma Sheppard who set a world's record for trotters in 1937 of 1:58 and a piece?

                  From another article on "Deannie":

                  "Thus Dean Hanover has broken records with six different drivers behind him, three of them being amateurs, one a gentleman some 50 pounds overweight, the other a little girl of eleven years."

                  (A Henry Thomas article which provides some Dean Hanover insights as well.)

                  I've more than enough material to appease your project including Alma Sheppard Tolhurst's obit.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by City Ponies View Post
                    So all you smart race people Who were the big names back then? Magic horses? What was the betting scene like? How was attendance? Did racing at that time have any global impact? (prob most important ?) Of course I could google, but COTH seems to give much deeper insight into these sort of things.
                    Well I'm not going to do your research for you, but I will say it could be a very interesting topic given that horse racing actually expanded during the Great Depression.

                    To get you started, look to the tracks themselves. Some of the older tracks have great insight to their history right on their websites, including:

                    Rockingham Park

                    Suffolk Downs (Suffolk has a wonderfully detailed historical timeline in the media guide; info on downloading is included in that link)

                    and the now defunct Narragansett Park

                    Good luck in your studies.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      There is
                      Rosalind (Scotland - Alma Lee)
                      Greyhound (Guy Abbe - Elisabeth)
                      Billy Direct (Napoleon Dierct - Gay Forbes)
                      Calumet Chuck, sire of Titan Hanover and Nibble Hanover
                      Calumet Evelyn, the great double gaited mare....
                      Founder of the Dyslexic Clique. Dyslexics of the world - UNTIE!!

                      Member: Incredible Invisbles

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                      • #12
                        I'm not sure how you would convince a professor looking for a serious historical topic that a research paper about big name horses during the depression was an appropriate topic. What will you argue is the historical impact or significance they had?? You might get away with it if it was a sociology class...

                        You'd be better off looking at racetracks: Both Santa Anita and Del Mar opened during the Great Depression. Pari mutuel wagering was legalized in Cali during the Great Depression. (Sorry, I am from So Cal so my knowledge of this is pretty localized.) An exploration of the political and economic trends involved in this, and its effects, might be a more viable argument to make to your prof.

                        Comment

                        • Original Poster

                          #13
                          Originally posted by shanky View Post
                          I'm not sure how you would convince a professor looking for a serious historical topic that a research paper about big name horses during the depression was an appropriate topic. What will you argue is the historical impact or significance they had?? You might get away with it if it was a sociology class...

                          You'd be better off looking at racetracks: Both Santa Anita and Del Mar opened during the Great Depression. Pari mutuel wagering was legalized in Cali during the Great Depression. (Sorry, I am from So Cal so my knowledge of this is pretty localized.) An exploration of the political and economic trends involved in this, and its effects, might be a more viable argument to make to your prof.
                          I'm not looking to recite the Seabiscuit movie as a research paper. I'm looking to use the racing industry between 1917 and 1945 as a topic, specifically how did the general population view racing pre-depression, during depression, and post-depression. Somewhat of a how did racing affect the lives of the every day American, it was a socialite affair, it was broadcasted over the radio when there was no ESPN. It had a broad general base.

                          I was simply trying to correspond horses the regular college grad would know with the paper to make it more appealling to a vast audience. I doubt most of them know who Big Brown is, but Seabiscuit and Man O' War they can relate to. The class is focusing on human impact not the stuffy econ/political view. Heck some of the proposed topics given by the Professor are Coco Chanel, Flapper girls, Lindenburg kidnapping... pretty mundane stuff if you ask me. I find this highly more interesting (not because I'm a horse person) b/c it really did survive America's toughest times and some amazing stories - both politically/economically/and socially came out of racing back then

                          And I don't want anyone to do research for me, just wondered if it would be a viable topic. But it seems like it will be a fun process. Does anyone know if pari-mutual betting was organized through states or a federal system back then?
                          Fourth N' Goal Training LLC.
                          ~Specializing in Mom and Kid Approved Equitation and Jumper Horses

                          *Horse Collector Status = Six Pack*

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by City Ponies View Post
                            , Lindenburg .
                            I think you are combining the Lindbergh kidnapping with the Hindenburg airship disaster to come up with this unique spelling.

                            Originally posted by City Ponies View Post

                            And I don't want anyone to do research for me, just wondered if it would be a viable topic. But it seems like it will be a fun process. Does anyone know if pari-mutual betting was organized through states or a federal system back then?
                            I thought you did not want anyone doing your research for you? In California, the California Horse Racing Board was created in the 1930s to oversee, among other aspects of the sport, pari mutuel (with an "e") wagering. State laws govern wagering, so the state, not the feds, are involved. I am assuming this is true for all states that permit this type of wagering. It was the tracks themselves that acted as a sort of broker, taking a cut of the money, which is also split with the state and the horsemen/purses.

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                            • #15
                              One thing about the big name horses - they had fans in huge numbers. These horses gave people hope - there was still something good in the world. A day at the races was basically free entertainment - no admission in many smaller venues, and no concession stands, this was a picnic social afternoon for many people. The draw was the big name horses and a chance to get out with little cash outlay in a very cash strapped society. This means of social gathering actually lasted until the late 50's to early 60's, and continues today on a much smaller scale where fair circuit racing still exists. The socio-economic contribution, particularly the social aspect was considerable. My parents talked about going to the races in town, and the sports day that was with it got little mention from either, but the races - that drew people, whole families, complete with picnic lunches; betting was a non-issue at most places that ran the fairs - wagering was illegal except at major tracks, although equine earnings and times were recorded and added to the horses' cards. FWIW, there were several families in my little corner of the world that had trotters, pacers or both, and would travel to nearby races, maybe a 20-30 mile radius. They camped out, drove the race horses, led the rest, and people and equipment in a wagon - remember, no money for gas. The pittance paid as purse money was a welcome addition to the family finances.
                              Founder of the Dyslexic Clique. Dyslexics of the world - UNTIE!!

                              Member: Incredible Invisbles

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                              • Original Poster

                                #16
                                Originally posted by shanky View Post
                                I think you are combining the Lindbergh kidnapping with the Hindenburg airship disaster to come up with this unique spelling.



                                I thought you did not want anyone doing your research for you? In California, the California Horse Racing Board was created in the 1930s to oversee, among other aspects of the sport, pari mutuel (with an "e") wagering. State laws govern wagering, so the state, not the feds, are involved. I am assuming this is true for all states that permit this type of wagering. It was the tracks themselves that acted as a sort of broker, taking a cut of the money, which is also split with the state and the horsemen/purses.
                                Yep, it's early and that wine last night has given me a headache Either way, his trans-atlantic flight nor the missing baby interests me.

                                I didn't think asking a relatively general question was reseach since you seemed to know it without googling But thanks, that's what I thought. I never paid attention to Monmouth Park's stake when I was there, and was trying to figure out in my head how Atlantic City worked (when the track was still there). But AC is/well was it's own sort of entity for a while. I'm just trying to narrow my search, or refine, to tracks I can focus on to dig a little deeper. Santa Anita looks good now!

                                On a side note: And a bit off-topic but since we are discussing tracks from the past. Does anyone remember Par Meadows?? I think it was in NY. I can't find much info on it.
                                Fourth N' Goal Training LLC.
                                ~Specializing in Mom and Kid Approved Equitation and Jumper Horses

                                *Horse Collector Status = Six Pack*

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Are you looking for 'between the wars' - late 1918 to mid 1939, or are you looking for from the beginning of one war to end of the other - mid 1914 to late 1945.

                                  If you are looking between the wars, pick a few race horses that were heros of their time - one from the early twenties, one that may span the roaring twenties and the beginning of the depression and one that is during the depression. Use their fame and any numbers you can find on racetrack spectator numbers to draw a parallel between spectator numbers and troubles of the time. Did horse race spectating take a sudden drop in 1929, what did a horse like Seabiscuit do to increase spectating and what effect could that have on the economy and life at the time?

                                  If you are looking for beginning of World War I to the end of World War II, then expand that to include the wars - such as, despite Seabiscuit, did racetrack attendance go down or did racetrack attendance go up, despite any 'heroes' racing, possibly to get minds off the war?

                                  This could easily be 10 -12 pages - remember these papers are not meant to draw the audience the way a movie or novel would, just use something that interests you to draw a parallel between your interest and how (in this case) it had a global or local effect on people and the economy.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by City Ponies View Post

                                    I didn't think asking a relatively general question was reseach since you seemed to know it without googling
                                    The point is, my dear, that you didn't know it without googling, or coming here to ask as it were.

                                    Comment

                                    • Original Poster

                                      #19
                                      Originally posted by Barnfairy View Post
                                      The point is, my dear, that you didn't know it without googling, or coming here to ask as it were.
                                      Nope, but seeing how I don't even need to start my paper for another 3 weeks I'm not fishing for all the information now. It was really a sporadic question that popped in my head while I was typing my response, so I just added it in. Why google for papers on Saturday? Just thought since we were on topic... ya know?

                                      I did google Parr Meadows and still found nothing much if anyone has insight. It has nothing to do with the paper, my old QH ran there, just my own intrigue on that one.
                                      Fourth N' Goal Training LLC.
                                      ~Specializing in Mom and Kid Approved Equitation and Jumper Horses

                                      *Horse Collector Status = Six Pack*

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                                      • #20
                                        The Jersey Act (passed in 1913 but affected racing for decades) is an interesting topic that might be related to your paper if you are discussing British/American horses.
                                        Sarah K. Andrew | Twitter | Blog | Horses & Hope calendar | Flickr | Instagram

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