"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Earl of Glasgow, a Horse's Worst Friend

I have attended racetracks for over half my life. During that time, I have come to know—or know of—a good many people involved in the sport, from trainers to owners to jockeys to stable workers to clockers to management to railbirds to stoopers to handicappers to turf writers to professions-that-are-best-left-undescribed. The majority of the people involved in racing are hard-working, good-hearted, engaging types who see their horses not just as meal-tickets, but objects of love, if not veneration. However, as in every branch of human endeavor, the game has its share of cretins whom I would like to see staked across the finish line as the horses come thundering down the stretch.

For all the lowlifes I have encountered in racing, I do not know of any that quite compare to James Carr-Boyle, Fifth Earl of Glasgow (1792-1869.) In an admittedly crowded field, this man was one of the very worst racehorse owners in history, and unfortunately he had the money to back up every bad instinct he had. And, as racing was his main interest in life, those instincts were plentiful.

Glasgow refused to give his horses names until they had, in his estimation, earned one. As his horses usually ran up the track, they seldom did earn them, which caused a good deal of irritation and confusion among those souls unlucky enough to work in his stables. According to one story—which, considering the Earl, I find all too credible—on the night before one racing event, he was implored to give his three entrants names. He derisively christened them "Give-Him-a-Name," "He-Hasn't-Got-a-Name," and "He-Isn't-Worth-a-Name."

This (in the words of an early biographer) "touchy, crochety, headstrong old Scotch nobleman," was a breeder of disastrous obtuseness. He showed a perverse devotion to bloodlines “of proved uselessness.” The few talented horses he had were often doomed by his impatience, stupidity, and imperiousness. It was said that "no man in the history of the turf ever brought out so many bad horses"--and he had a gift for blaming these losses on everyone except himself.  Glasgow was renowned for his fickleness and capriciousness--he was constantly hiring and firing trainers and jockeys, until finally horsemen of any sort of success in their profession refused to work for him without a three-year contract.  A contemporary turf writer noted, "No one was so wayward and difficult to please, or so munificent when he was pleased."  The only way he kept good workers was to pay them large bonuses whenever they became offended by one of his frequent scoldings.  He was in the habit of ordering that equines who were not training up to his expectations be shot on the spot. One of his trainers said his record was six executions in one morning.

Another occasion turned out more fortunately for his stable—although I suspect his animals sensed they were literally running for their lives. At one racing meet, he became so exasperated by his losses that he had six of his horses run match races with other owners, vowing that all his losers would be shot. His first horse, Senorita, won by a length and a half. Then his Knight of the Garter won by three-fourths of a length. Double Thong looked doomed, but luckily his opponent bolted, making Glasgow's entrant the winner. His next two horses also finished first. Glasgow’s Ernestine was to have met the Duke of Bedford’s Miss Sarah, but the Duke, showing a considerably more humane spirit than his opponent, felt sympathy for these horses running under an open death threat. He gallantly withdrew his entrant, leaving Glasgow to officially sweep the field.

The Finish of the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, by Samuel Henry Alken.
Glasgow's finest horse, General Peel, won the race in 1864.

As a huntsman, the Earl showed the same appalling enthusiasm he brought to racing. When quarry was scarce, he simply designated one of his huntsmen as a stand-in fox and chased the poor fellow for miles.

One of the Earl's obituaries stated: “With all his foibles he was a glorious old landmark to the Turf, and while he was still among us defying the roll of the ages, with his quaint garb and blunt speech, some may perchance have felt that his presence was a wholesome corrective to the modern spirit, which has lowered 'the sport of kings' into a doubtful trade, a contest for honour into a lust for long odds."

Tell that to anyone on four legs. I normally have a soft spot for unabashed eccentrics, even the more outrageous ones, but as far as the Fifth Earl is concerned, may a pox be on his name.

It is a pity no one ever thought to introduce him to our old friend Anna Kingsford.

1 comment:

  1. I too like the eccentrics, especially in the old British aristocracy and gentry, but you find bad examples everywhere. And this is one of them.


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