Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Turf reminiscences - II

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2879544Once a Week, Series 1, Volume VIITurf reminiscences.
II. Culverstone.
1862Wyndham Smith


[Our readers may rely on the authenticity of the following narratives, though for the real names of the actors imaginary names have been substituted.—Ed. O. a W.]


Another year there was trained in the same establishment as Munster, a horse we will call Culverstone. This horse was entered for the Two Thousand Guineas Stakes at Newmarket and also for the Derby. At the period I speak of he had never appeared in public, and had been at that time but slightly touched upon in the betting market by his owner and the stable party: considerable astonishment therefore was excited in the mind of the ever watchful Phil Spott on observing that week after week he was largely backed: on Phil’s “taking soundings,” as he termed it, and making various inquiries in quarters he could depend upon, he at length discovered that the principal backers of the horse were a Mr. A. and a Mr. B., and that they had not only swallowed up a large sum out of the available public money which is every year forthcoming to be betted against each and every horse in the Derby, but had in consequence brought the horse to a price at which Phil did not seem to think the owner and the stable ought to commence their investments. “This will never do,” said he. “Them as pays the piper has a right to choose the tune. We that keep the cows are not going to take the skim milk, and let others have the cream.” So he considered how Mr. A. and Mr. B. could be induced to disgorge this money, and concluded that this end must be brought about by the same agency which had been instrumental to their investments in his favour—for from close observation, and from a comparison of certain coincidences, he had come to the conclusion that they had received their information that Culverstone was a good horse from a certain jockey called Jack Brown. The latter, living no great way off, used frequently to be at this establishment, and was often employed by Phil when he wanted to give a horse what is called a “Yorkshire gallop;” that is, a strong gallop in thin clothes, not a regular private trial, where the horses are prepared as for a race, by being “set;” viz., by giving them but very little food or water for some hours previous, to keep their wind as clear as possible. By these means, Phil’s first-rate judgment would enable him to form a pretty correct notion of what sort of stuff an animal was made, whose merits he had been trying to discover without exciting that sort of earwigging which always follows a regular trial in a stable; and it so happened that in one, and the only one, of these gallops that he had given Culverstone, he selected but one other horse to compete with him, their riders being Jack Brown and himself, on which occasion Culverstone won.

Now, although his suspicions rested in that quarter, he had no conclusive proof that they were correct; so he set to work to invent one of his ingenious traps, which at all events, if it did not discover to him who was Messrs. A. and B.’s informant, would at least have the effect of sending the horse to the right about in the betting, and thereby enable him and the stable party to back the horse on cheap terms; for he felt perfectly certain that no time would be lost, either by Jack Brown or by somebody else, in conveying to the above gentlemen any reasons that might arise for a change in the opinion originally expressed to them of the goodness of this horse.

Now, Phil Spott had one especial talent, which he possessed in an eminent degree beyond that of any other of his professionals in the racing saddle, and that was not only the power to form a most correct estimate of the relative capabilities of those horses that were running in the same race in which he was riding, but also, if necessary, to conceal the merits of his own. I do not, however, mean to say that he ever exercised this latter quality in any but a legitimate manner; for his fame was unsullied in this respect, and in his public performances he always did his best; and, as he used to say—“The Duke of Wellington and I win when we can:” but in the instance which I am about to relate, it will be seen with what success he exercised that power to the furtherance of those ends which he was so anxious to attain: viz., the return to the public market of those sums which, through private information surreptitiously obtained, had been absorbed by those who had no right to it. Accordingly, as the time progressed towards the debût of Culverstone in his engagement at Newmarket, and about three weeks or so before that event, he proceeded to bait his trap as follows.

At about this time of year, according as it happened that this great establishment had horses engaged, they used to have several private trials, in which some of those animals were tested only amongst themselves, and others with older horses, as they might deem advisable—the conquerors in these different trials, either then or later on, being pitted against each other, still further to solve the problem which was the best. Accordingly, in due course, it was arranged by Phil that a trial of several horses should take place a short time before the first appearance of Culverstone in public. Certain jockeys were written to, according to custom, with a request that they would come down on such a day to ride in a trial on the following morning, and of course in this number was included Jack Brown.

On the day appointed they all assembled, taking up their quarters over night at the trainer’s house, so as to be in readiness for the contest of the following morning, which was to take place as soon as ever sufficient light dawned for the purpose.

On these occasions, on the evening before, and not unfrequently after such events, Phil and the jockeys used to make a night of it, accompanied with much chaff about the respective animals they were to mount, and, on the occasion in question, by a previous arrangement, our facetious friend Phil and the trainer got up between them a bantering passage-of-arms about the merits likely to be developed in Culverstone, who it was settled was to be ridden by our hero on the morrow. The trainer contended warmly that he would acquit himself well, whereas Phil, on the other hand, ridiculed the idea of his turning out a good one, saying, “I’ll ask him a question or two to-morrow morning I don’t think he will be able to answer,” and much more to the same effect, that he would “cut up” badly. Our acquaintance Jack Brown rather winced at all this, having great faith in Phil’s excellent judgment, so he took an opportunity of quietly asking him why he had such a bad opinion of the horse after what he had seen him do some time before in the “Yorkshire gallop,” before alluded to, where he had acquitted himself so well.

“Aha!” said Phil to himself, “the plan begins to work well. You’re the tattler, Master Jack, sure enough; you tattled for yourself before, my lad, and now you shall, without knowing it, do a little tattling on my account; and the other coves in the trial may help you if they like, and the more they talk the better they’ll please me. Nobody rows in my boat this time but the General,” (as he used to call his relative, the trainer). So he said, in answer to Jack, “True enough. At the time, I thought Culverstone a rattler; but, since then, I’ve put the other prad that he beat that morning, through the mill, and he did not come out the colour I wanted, so I have shifted my money from off his back for the Derby.”

“But the governor” (meaning the trainer), “still thinks him a good horse,” said the now disconsolate Jack, who had not only been the informant to Messrs. A. and B., and induced them to back the horse for large sums, but had put on some of his own besides.

“Yes,” said Phil, “I know he does, and it ain’t the first time we have differed. I hope he may be right; at all events I’ll know to-morrow morning what sort of metal he’s made of, for I’ll ride him myself, and be sure you make the pot boil, Master Jack, and have a good face, for I want you to make the running.”

The following morning, when the light was but grey, six horses (including Culverstone, ridden by Phil Spott) stripped of their clothes, and each ridden by a crack jockey clothed in light boots and breeches, and thin jean jackets, and escorted by the trainer and one of the head-lads mounted on neat cobs, left the stable-yard, and walked leisurely to the trial-ground about a mile off. All the other lads and people about the racing-stable were carefully kept at home under the surveillance of some trustworthy person; for, as Phil used to say, he “liked the trials in his court to be conducted with closed doors.”

On reaching the trial ground, the horses walk about for a few minutes whilst the trainer and the head-lad canter off in different directions to see that there are no “touts” (horse-watchers) concealed anywhere. Having satisfied themselves of this, they return, the trainer stations himself at the winning-post, the horses, with the head-lad, walk to the starting-post, and when the jockeys have arranged themselves pretty well in line, he tells them to go, and away they do go, with a crash and a rustling of jackets in the morning-breeze, at railroad speed; Jack Brown, as directed, laying first and making the running at a splitting pace, though now and then taking a furtive look round, to see where his friend Culverstone is. For about the first quarter of a mile, or so (the distance they had to run being a mile), Phil and his horse were last of the six. In a little over another half-mile, and consequently within a quarter of a mile of the finish, he had joined the leading horse, and to the delighted eyes of Jack Brown, looked as if he was going to win: sure enough too at that point (which was Phil Spott’s private winning-post, though known only to himself and “the General,”) he had won, and Phil was then thoroughly satisfied in his own mind that Culverstone was a real good horse: but Jack Brown’s joy was short-lived, for shortly after this, in rounding the last turn before reaching the winning-post, lo, and behold! to his no little dismay, and the surprise of the other jockeys, he began suddenly to drop back a little, then a little more, Phil Spott apparently endeavouring to make the most of him, while one and the other passed him, and he became last of all, in which ignominious position he finished.

When they had all pulled up, and had let their horses stand a few minutes to get their wind, the cavalcade again assembled together to wend their way home, “the General” riding by their side, looking as black as thunder, and not saying a word, upon which Phil began to chaff him, after his fashion, in the hearing of the other jockeys, and especially of Jack Brown.

“Why, General! your face is as long as a day’s march. Your bird did not fly quite as fast this morning as he did over the mahogany last night. Who’s right, now, Old’un? But never mind! Cheer up! Only let me give you one bit of advice. If you, or any of us, are taken ill, don’t you send this flying prad for the Doctor:”—at which all except Jack, who screwed up a sort of ghastly grin, laughed immoderately.

Shortly after they reached home, Phil said to the General, when they were alone, both joining in a hearty laugh:—“I say, Gen., I think we ought to christen Jack Brown, Done Brown, now; for I’ve done him, and every devil of ’em. He is the best horse that was ever lapped in leather: I could have won in a canter!”

“Yes,” said the General, “I knew he would cut up a real good one; but, I say, Phil, I noticed as we walked home, that you had spurred him. Were you beat for pace anywhere?”

“Not I,” replied Phil. “It was when they had all passed me, that I gave him a touch of the Brummagem pegs, for fear they should think he had not been ridden on the square, as I knew they would take stock of his ribs.”

How it happened, readers, that very shortly after this, several speculators, and especially our acquaintances A. and B., betted largely against this horse, and sent him to the right about in the betting for the Derby, I must leave you to guess. All I know is, that their faces, as Phil said of the General’s on that memorable morning, “were as long as a day’s march” when they saw him win the Two Thousand Guineas’ Stakes at Newmarket; they were all compelled, for their own security, to back him again, at fearful loss, for the Derby; and when that eventful race was run, the horse recorded as the winner was Culverstone!