The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: Horses

With the Horse Lovers at Thorncliffe Track

You never see people at a cat or dog show studying pedigrees the way they do at a race track.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 11, 1921

Mr. Raney may be right. But he is not fashionable.

For one Mr. Raney there are thousands of men who love horses passionately: racehorses that is, not these great, clumsy wagon-horses.

Mr. Raney has been entirely misled by somebody as to the motives of these tens of thousands of men and women in Toronto who attend race meets. Someone ought to be made to suffer for kidding a minister of the crown.

Does Mr. Raney imagine for a moment that these great hordes of people go to the races only from motives of sordid gain? Is he so innocent as to believe that these mobs of sportsmen and horse-lovers attend the races only to bet?

Mr. Raney must have a very poor opinion of his fellow men.

As a matter of fact, it is time we horse-lovers began to proclaim the truth.

And the truth is, if you are willing to believe the sportsmen who love horses, that betting has nothing to do with the popularity of the racetrack. Betting is done for two reasons: First, because it is an ancient and honorable custom in connection with horses, dating back to the days of ancient Greece and Rome -merely a formality; second, because it encourages horse-breeding. But as for mere money –!

In short, the one and only reason for the great crowds at the race tracks is love of horses.

I will admit, right at the start, that up till a week ago, I held very much the same views as Mr. Raney. Because I had never seen a racecourse. But one day my friend James L., an ardent sportsman and horse lover, insisted on my going up to Thorncliffe with him. I had frequently been guilty of condemning James for his absence from the office. I looked on him as a deep-dyed gambler. And his protestations that it was just his passion for seeing horses run I regarded just as so much tosh.

I went with him. Leaving all my money, my watch and wallet securely locked in my desk, I drove in his flivver with him up to Thorncliffe Park.

“Now,” said James, as we drove up Yonge street, “I have fifty bucks on me. If I bet that on a twenty-to-one shot that would give me a thousand dollars. Then if I planted the thousand onto a ten to one shot – ten thousand. By that time I’ll go close on a few favorites and sure things. And maybe I’ll come home with twenty thousand dollars!”

And James’s face lighted, and he switched up the gas, narrowly missing a traffic constable.

“Think of it!” he cried. “Here I go up Yonge street with fifty measly bucks. And in four hours I may be coming down with twenty thousand.”

“But,” I protested, “what has this to do with horses?”

“My boy,” said James, soberly, “don’t let me kid you. We horse-lovers talk like that about betting just for fun. We all do. But don’t let that deceive you. It’s just our jolly manner.”

But as we passed through the cemetery through which the road to the racetrack runs, I noticed James crossed the fingers of both hands on the steering gear, and turned the lucky ring on his finger.

At the race track – a small grand stand, several stables, all painted white and a large oval race track in front – was a crowd of about seven thousand people.

At first glance, I was not at all impressed by the crowd. There seemed to be a larger than usual percentage of hard-boiled looking people in it. But James reassured me.

“Isn’t it wonderful,” he cried, “what a noble thing is man’s love for a dumb creature, even among people you wouldn’t expect it of?”

And as I looked about at some of the faces around me I was deeply moved that such noble emotions could be concealed behind such unpromising exteriors.

The crowd surged under the grand stand where the betting machines were located, then surged out again to the fence. And before I realized what was doing, a race was run.

It was all very sudden. A bugle blew. Several horse-lovers cried hoarsely: “They’re off!”

Then a tense silence for a few seconds while seven thousand horse-lovers feasted their eyes on the sight they loved best – beautiful horses running.

Then it was over.

And I must say only a very few seemed interested in which horse had won. The rest of the crowd, just turned away, deeply disappointed that the beautiful sight of running horses was soon finished, and went down under the grand stand where the betting machines were, to rest and wait for the next race.

I didn’t see much of James while the races were on. He was rushing about, like a true horse-lover, chatting enthusiastically with different people about the beautiful steeds. In fact, I saw him earnestly talking with some very disreputable-looking men and I marveled at the equality that existed between horse-lovers. These strange fellows he was talking to were pointing out for James on his program the special qualities and beauties of the horses that were to run in the next race.

The horse-lover is an intense person. This crowd at Thorncliffe was not a crowd in the ordinary sense. There was no crowd feeling. They were simply seven thousand individuals, each deeply engrossed in his devotion to horses. They all walked with bent heads, devouring the facts contained in little newspapers specially printed for horse-lovers.

To imagine that all this intensity was over mere filthy money getting, mere greed, would be surely to misconceive the finest qualities of mankind. You never see such devotion at a dog show or a poultry show. You never see cat lovers bumping into each other so intently as they study the pedigree and former prizes won by their favorite cat! These horse-lovers are a race apart.

James and I met at the end of the last race.

He had tired look.

“Well,” said I, “have you got your twenty thousand?”

“You’re a jinx!” said James, with pretended bitterness.

He was very glum all the way down to the city. I then understood how fatigued a horse-lover could become with enthusiasm.

But I also noticed, at the garage where we had to stop for gasoline, that James could only find forty-five cents.

So we only took one gallon.


Editor’s Notes: This can be considered a very early Greg-Jim Story, as “James L.” is definitely James Llewellyn Frise. We also know from past stories Jim’s love of the race track.

William Raney was Attorney-General of Ontario at the time. He was known for his opposition to gambling on horse racing and the sale of alcohol. It is interesting that when the UFO (United Farmers of Ontario) won the 1919 election, the leader, Drury, approached Raney, a Liberal, to be Attorney-General since the UFO had elected no lawyers.

Thorncliffe Park Raceway existed from 1917-1953. It used to exist in the location of the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood in Toronto today.

A “flivver” was early slang for cars, usually referring to a Ford Model T.

Currency conversion for 1921 to 2021: $50 = $665, $20,000 = $265,900.

45 cents/gallon in 1921 equals $1.31/litre in 1921 (which happens to be the same price of gas the day I write this!)

“Ride ‘Em Cowboy!”

“Haven’t you got a lower horse?” asked Merrill.

I’m not sure, but I think I heard laughter from the grooms behind us as we made off down the lane.

I executed a manoeuvre I had learned in the Mounted Rifles in getting off the back of moving lorries.

By Gregory Clark, June 14, 1930.

“My doctor,” said Merrill, “has ordered me to take up horse-back riding.”

“You’ll require a horse,” said I doing something else.

“Horse-back riding,” said Merrill, “is good for the liver, it jounces you around and makes up in one hour for all the jiggling your insides could get from a year’s work with pick and shovel.”

“Have you ever ridden?”

“No,” said Merrill. “I am told there is a kind of electric spark that passes from the horse to the rider as he bounces up and down which does a man a great vitality.”

“I think you’ll enjoy riding,” said I, “if you can persuade a horse that it will.”

“I am counting on you,” said Merrill. “You can teach me to ride. You were with the cavalry in the war, weren’t you?”

“Mounted Rifles,” said I, quickly.

“The same thing,” said Merrill. “When can you come with me?”

Of course, it wasn’t the same thing by any means. The Mounted Rifles may have intended to have horses but all of the time I knew them, they were just plain gravel crushers. Any riding I did in France was on a lorry. But men are silly. No sooner are they flattered with the notion that they were dashing cavalry men than they submit themselves to situations which are unbearable.

So I stand here writing this – I’ve had my typewriter set up on a high desk so I don’t have to sit down – I realize that the most cowardly part of a man is his tongue. Why didn’t I briskly tell Merrill that I knew nothing whatsoever about horses? But no:

“Any time you say,” said I. “Make arrangements for a couple of horses and I’ll go any day”

And the following noon, Merrill phoned to say that he had made arrangements with a riding academy up Yonge St. for that very afternoon. He would pick me up in his car.

Merrill called at the office in riding clothes, hard hat, shiny boots – as if he were a life long member of the Hunt Club.

“Where’s your bag?” asked Merrill.

“I’ve no bag,” said I.

“But your britches,” said Merrill. “How will you ride without britches?”

“The Mounted Rifles never rode in britches and always rode in trousers.”

“The academy fellow said to be sure to wear britches,” said Merrill.

Anyway, we arrived in a back lane that smelled strongly of horses and in a few minutes of being shown through a dark stable by a sun-tanned riding master who seemed to regard me with deep suspicion.

“Haven’t you better have britches, sir?” he said. Merrill had told him on the telephone that a cavalry officer was a friend of his and was going to teach him riding.

“No, no,” said Merrill, interrupting. “The Mounted Rifles always rode in trousers.”

“Merrill,” said I, “you should have a good tall horse, strong and well built.”

“I’ve the very thing,” said the groom. And backed out of its stall a huge brown horse that had to duck its head under the stable rafters. “Here’s a good strong horse, with lovely manners and it doesn’t care what it carries.”

Merrill looked unimpressed. So did the horse. It snorted loudly.

“Haven’t you got a lower horse?” asked Merrill. “A lower, wider horse, with shorter legs and broader across the back. I’d feel more sure.”

Spanked on a Large Scale

This is the very horse for you, sir,” said the groom. “Now for you, sir.”

And the groom stood inspecting me for a moment.

“You’d like something pretty,” said he. “No nags for you, sir.”

“Oh, just a nice little horse,” said I, trying to look cavalry. “I don’t want to be too busy riding to devote some attention to my friend here.”

He backed out a small, yellow horse with its ears pointing back.

“I don’t like its ears,” said I.

“That’s all right sir,” said the groom. “That’s the way he wears them all the time. He’s a dandy little horse.”

With the help of a couple more grooms, the two steeds were soon saddled. Twice I saw my little horse stretch out its neck towards Merrill’s big horse, and both times the big horse backed violently away.

“Are these horses good friends?” I demanded.

“The little chap is playful,” said the groom. “but don’t mind that, sir. You’ll have no trouble managing him.”

When Merrill came to mount, all three grooms had to help him up. It was a terrific heave. They had to push the horse up against the lane fence and then hoist Merrill on with the fence for a backing.

“Wait a minute,” said Merrill uneasily. “Suppose I fall off, are their any loading platforms in the neighborhood where I can get on again, or are you three going to follow me about?”

“You won’t fall off, sir,” said the head groom.

“I feel as if I will fall off at the slightest movement,” said Merrill. “This horse is like a barn roof.”

I have seen hundreds of horsemen mount their charges in the movies, at the horse show, and so forth. I stepped boldly up to my small horse, seized its reigns, raised one foot for the stirrup when the little brute swerved violently away from me.

“The other side, sir!” shouted the head groom. It appears you cannot climb on a horse from any side. There is a particular side. I forget which one now, but with one of the grooms holding his head, I managed to clamber up the side of the beast and get myself in the saddle. Merrill and his large horse were standing waiting in the lane.

I don’t know anything more deceiving than a horse. It looks, from the ground to be a nice round animal, with a broad, smooth back slightly curved downward as if for the comfortable seating of a man. But the minute you get on top, you find it entirely different. A horse is really a three-cornered animal. It is triangular in shape, and one of the edges is up. The saddle is a small seat on this thin and dangerous edge, and your legs hang down two slippery sides.

And even my small horse seemed to be ten feet high.

Its ears were pointing back all of the time. The minute the groom let go, it gave a couple of little skips and, with its neck outstretched, trotted towards Merrill’s horse.

Merrill’s horse wheeled suddenly, almost upsetting him right at the start, and made off down the lane.

When a horse runs, it bobs up and down. By some curious lack of sympathy between man and horse, a man is always coming down just as the horse is coming up. I know of no other sensation quite like it. It is like being spanked on a large scale. And also like being hit on the jaw by a man much bigger than yourself. Both Merrill and I went out the lane being spanked. And I am not sure, but I think I heard veiled laughter from the grooms behind us.

“Whoa!” shouted Merrill, as we came out of the lane to the street. “Hold your horse back away from mine. Mine’s nervous of yours.”

A Horse Can Jump Sideways

I hauled on the reins and mine stopped.

“Which way will we go?” asked Merrill. “Up north of Forest Hill Village is nice.”

“Let’s go there then.”

“Turn left,” said Merrill, pulling on the left rein. But his big horse turned right.

“We’ll go this way,” Merrill called back to me. So one behind the other, we proceeded east towards Yonge St.

Merrill’s horse paid no attention to traffic. But mine began to prance every time a motor car passed. It laid back its ears and pointed itself in different directions, and sometimes it even backed up a little, which was very disconcerting. My trouser legs were beginning to work up and show my garters.

“We’ll go north on Yonge,” said Merrill, as we approached.

But at Yonge, when he pulled the north rein, the big horse turned south.

“Hey,” said I, “north on Yonge.”

“I’ve changed my mind,” called Merrill. “We’ll ride in the Rosedale ravine, it’s more secluded.

My pant legs were working up so high that I wished I had got britches. I don’t believe the Mounted Rifles ever rode in trousers. They probably wore puttees.

Amid traffic, we proceeded at a walk down Yonge St., Merrill having to slow up every little while until my small horse stopped pointing itself at half the cars that passed.

When we came level with the entrance to the Rosedale Glen, Merrill stopped his horse, turned it facing the entrance and then clicked his tongue and started it. But, without the slightest concern, the horse turned and proceeded down Yonge St.

I let my horse loose just a little bit and came within speaking distance of Merrill.

“We don’t want to go down town,” I said.

“He knows where he’s going,” said Merrill. “Take the lead yourself if you like.”

I tried to move my horse past Merrill. In doing so, I must have conveyed the wrong impression to him. I clicked and said “Giddap,” and slightly urged him forward with my body. And the fool horse started to trot!

As soon as he started to trot, Merrill’s big horse gave a lurch and started not to trot but to gallop.

“Whoa!” roared Merrill. I yelled whoa too. But it appears in the best horseman circles, nobody ever says whoa to their horse. Around a corner off Yonge St. we charged.

Merrill’s horse was going at what is called a canter, and Merrill was bouncing easily up and down. But my small yellow horse, with its ears back, was trotting smartly, with the result that I was joggled horribly, and I could only see in a blur. I could see in his elbows that Merrill was trying to stop his horse. Just as he got it slowed, we caught up, and mine gave a small whinny and made a nudge at Merrill’s.

A horse can jump sideways. You would be surprised at how far a horse can jump sideways. I wonder they don’t include sideways jumping events at the horse shows. Anyway, it was all of ten feet from where Merrill hit the pavement to where the horse stood, all trembling and indignant. For fear my horse would step on him, Merrill scrambled up and my horse stood up on its hind legs. I executed a smart manoeuvre I had learned in the Mounted Rifles in getting off the back of moving lorries. I slid off the rear end of my horse while it was standing up.

The two horses trotted in a leisurely way along the street towards Queen’s Park, which glimmered greenly a block distant.

“Well,” said Merrill.

“I was afraid you were hurt,” said I, pulling down my pant legs.

“What about the horses?” asked Merrill.

“What do you say if we let them go?” said I. “They will find their way home. Horses are marvellous that way.”

“It’s all my fault,” said Merrill. “I’m sorry. But if you ‘ll try me just once more, let’s go and catch them and you take the lead. I’ll follow.”

We walked with an accompaniment of small children, over to the park, where our horses were nibbling the grass peacefully and a park attendant was creeping warily up on them.

“You catch yours first,” said Merrill, “and then you can ride mine down and catch him.”

“No, Merrill,” said I. “I’m the teacher. I want you to learn to catch your horse right at the start. It is one of the most important things.”

“But how will I get back on it?”

“Some of this crowd will help,” said I. For all of the people in the park, who had been lying on the grass and lounging on the benches, had suddenly come to life and were gathering to see us catch our horses.

We stalked the big horse carefully. Merrill called “Co-bossy, nice co-bossy,” to it. Just as we were about to grasp the reins, it raised its head suddenly and galloped a few yards away, where it began to nibble the grass again. This was repeated several times, and we had made almost the complete turn of the park when a policeman came walking briskly up and said to Merrill:

“Here, you’ll have to get that horse off here.”

“That’s what we’re trying to do,” said Merrill.

“Well go on – get it off,” said the policeman.

“All right, all right,” said Merrill, approaching the big horse.

“Come on, now, no fooling. Get it off of here right away,” said the policeman.

Merrill reached for the reins and again the big horse bolted a few yards off.

“Look here,” said the policeman, sternly, “are you going to get that horse off of here, or are you not?”

Merrill turned to me.

“I guess you’d better catch yours, after all,” said he.

So we turned our attention to the small yellow horse, which had been watching the whole proceedings out of the corner of its eye while nibbling grass.

The crowd now numbered hundreds. To the nearest of them, I explained how we used to catch our horses in the Mounted Rifles. I said we used to turn out the whole battalion and form a huge circle, just like ring-around-a-rosy, and then narrow it down until the horse was caught in the middle. I asked them if they would like to help us. And a large circle was formed around the little yellow horse, so that five men, the policeman, Merrill and I managed to corner the beast, and a short man with bow legs and a peaked cap walked bang up to the brute and took it coolly by the straps.

“‘Ere’s your ‘orse,” said the little man. “What’s your trouble?”

“I was teaching my friend here to ride,” said I, “and he fell off.”

“Did he fall off bofe ‘orses?” asked the bow-legged little man.

“I got off to help him catch his horse.”

“Ow, I see!” said the little man. “Now then, wot?”

“We’re going to get on again,” said Merrill, “if we can find a sort of platform around here anywhere. Maybe a couple of benches one on top of the other will do.”

“Perhaps,” said the little man in the cap, “you’d like the ‘ave the ‘orse kneel down for you to get on?”

“Will it do that?” asked Merrill, eagerly.

“Sure,” said the small fellow. “An’ roll over.”

“You catch my horse now,” said Merrill to me. “Let’s hurry. This crowd is getting noisy and the policeman is getting out his little book.”

“That Horse is a Killer”

“We’ll catch yours the same way as we caught mine,” I said. “I don’t like galloping all around this park. There are women and children to be considered.”

“Form another ring,” said Merrill.

“Wite a minute,” said the little man holding my horse. “Do you want me to get that other one for you?”

“Do you mind?” I asked quietly.

The little man was quivering with anxiety to get on my horse. You could see that.

Up went one leg, with an easy bound the little man was on top and had hooked his bow-legs over that prancy yellow beast of mine. Its prancing stopped. With an easy twist or two, he rode it up to the big horse, took the reins and brought the two of them to us more quickly than it takes to write about it.

“Now then,” said Merrill, looking haughtily at the policeman, “up we go.”

“Merrill,” said I, holding him by the lapel, “look at the eye of that horse of yours! Just look at it! I didn’t notice it before. But that’s a bad horse you’ve got. A bad horse!”

“Eh!” said Merrill.

“That horse is a killer,” said I. “I’m sorry I ever let you get on such a horse as that. I wouldn’t dream of being responsible for you on a bad horse like that. He’s got blood in his eye.”

“What shall we do?” asked Merrill.

“I’ll ask this little chap if he would like to take the two of them back to the stable,” said I.

“All right then,” said Merrill. “I’m mighty glad you saw in time.”

“Would you like,” I asked the small man, still sitting on my horse, “to take the two of them back to their stable?”

“Right-o,” said he.

“What’s the address of that stable, Merrill?”

“Oh, I knows it,” said the little man. “I come from there and I’m the groom what the boss sent down to follow you two gents in case you got in trouble.”

“The very idea!” cried Merrill indignantly, looking to me to burst out into cavalry temper.

“Right-o,” said the little chap, wheeling the horses and taking them tamely out of sight.

“Let’s walk over to Yonge and get a taxi,” said I. We walked away and left the crowd to sort itself out on the benches and grass again.

“Ouch,” said Merrill.

“What is it?”

“That electric spark from the horse is catching me,” said Merrill. “It feels like a knife inside my leg up there.”

I walked a short distance and noticed the same thing.

We were walking slightly bow-legged by the time we got to a taxi. The next day we both stayed home. To-day I am working at my task standing up.

“What shall I tell my doctor?” asked Merrill.

“Tell him you consulted a cavalry officer who said that you were not cut out for a horseman and ask him if riding in a tank would server the same purpose.”

And the doctor retorted that Merrill should go in for sea fleas.


Editor’s Note: This is a pre-Greg and Jim story, in the similar format, but with Greg and Merrill Denison, another Star Weekly columnist. A few of these stories would run in 1930. Denison would later move to New York and still contribute occasionally to the Star Weekly, and Jim would still illustrate his stories. The quality of the microfilm was also quite bad, so I had to make some guesses with the text.

Gentlemen of the Game

In the dressing-room of the Jockey House

By Gregory Clark, June 5, 1926

At one o’clock the jockeys weigh in.

They are then confined to the jockey house until their engagements for the day are over.

Strictly confined. The jockey house is guarded very jealously by an official. Only the jockeys, the valets and the man charge of the colors are admitted.

The jockeys are not permitted to speak to anyone but their valets and officials of the track who have admittance. Owners’ trainers are barred. A jockey, once he has “made his weight” at one o’clock, is forbidden to speak to or be spoken to by anyone.

You see the jockeys, as they dismount after the race, met by their valets in grey uniforms. The valets take the saddles and whips. The jockeys walk in silence, by a guarded entrance, direct to the jockey house.

This is the ancient etiquette of the race track.

The jockey house is at the far end of the track, next to the paddock. You will see the brightly colored little figures watching from the sunroom windows above. You will see them trooping out, a minute before the bugle to mount is sounded, to the weigh scales where they “make their weight” for the last time just before the race. Their valets saddle up. In the guarded paddock, they mount and parade out before the grandstand. Then, jauntily or dejectedly, you see them filing back into their sanctuary.

In a very special abrogation of the rule, The Star Weekly was permitted to enter the guarded jockey house to report its mystery and its color.

In all that great arena of excitement which is a race course, you would expect the focus, the hot-point of excitement to be concentrated in the quarters of the jockeys, who are the final, ultimate and sole human factor in the actual consummation of the race. Instead, it is a little nest of peace.

The very air above the race track quivers with the eagerness and thrill of the multitude of spectators. The jockey house is so still and serene, some of the boys lie asleep in it.

The mob buses with talk, exclamation, shouts. But in the sanctum of the riders, the little men converse in quiet undertones.

At one end of the scene are the betting machines, and at the other, the jockey house. There perhaps, is the most unfriendly concrete criticism of the sport of kings. The aura of excitement in a race course is deepest in color around the automatic bookmakers. It shades away across the grandstand, becoming a polite pale color within the self-conscious members’ enclosure. It flares up again at the paddock, where the prancing horses are standing by for the race. Then it disappears almost entirely at the jockey house.

The first room within the jockey house is a cross between a Varsity gym locker room and the property of a theatre. It is strange room, like no other in the world. It walls are entirely filled with clothes lockers. Benches for the dressers take up all the floor. Aloft, on rails, completely circling the room, are the colors. Silk, every one, little jackets of red, white, blue, green, yellow, and every combination of them; stripes, part color, motley, white discs on red jackets, yellow discs on white jackets, half one color, half another -these jackets are the color of all the different racing stables of America, ready to be donned by the jockeys when they ride the horse of a particular stable. Beneath the flaming colors, silks, hang tiny riding boots, flimsy little flat racing saddles, frail girths, bridles, everything on the small side, everything on the dainty, delicate side. Here amidst the colorful gloom of the dressing room of the jockey house sit the little men who ride, some dressing, some idling and chatting, waiting for their next mount, resting from a race that made fifteen thousand throats sore. Underneath these silk garments, the boys wear nothing but cotton undersuits. They shiver in the wind. Others are sweating from a race and the silks are dark with wet.

But not voice is raised. Here come six of them, fresh from a race. The first to come in are the also rans. They are smiling or looking downcast, according to their natures. There is no chatting.

“Dog gone!” cries one tiny little fellow with a Kentucky drawl. “‘At horse just bucked like a wil’ horse and when the barrier comes up, none of his feet is on the groun’.”

The last to trail in are the winners, who have been held up at the judges’ stand to be weighed in again in the interminable round of declaring one’s honest weight which is part of the ritual of racing.

“Good ride, boy! More money for the old hip pocket!”

Nine out of ten jockeys appear to be about fifteen or sixteen years of age, and probably are. It is hard to tell with this class of human that is naturally built on miniature lines. About one out of ten is a man undoubtedly in his thirties, little, dark, lean men, with the slim limbs and narrow features of a hawk. But the rowdy, happy-go-lucky spirit which one expects in boys of middle teen age is utterly lacking. There is an occasional swear word spoken with an accustomed and final manner that is startling and causes you to look twice at what appeared to be a quiet boy of high school age, you become aware of a certain assurance veiled behind these reserved lads. For not a living one of them but is brave as a lion. Riding race horses in a man’s job for which mighty few boys are fit. The Arab on his steed wins instant respect as a tamer of wild nature. The little jockey up on his horse is entitled to the same flood of respect, for race horses are wild nature, pure. And the jockey has not the advantage the picturesque Arab has, who sits in a great cradle of saddle, with both legs forking his beast, his feet gripped in deep irons.

Wise Lads and Quiet

If there is one thing that strikes the attention immediately on entering the jockey house, it is the subdued manner of these boys. And the very next fact is the heart stirring assurance of the eyes, that you are looking upon a collection of courageous and fine-spirited human creatures. For courage needs so much room in the human heart, it leaves very little room for lesser gifts. One reason why lifelong followers of the racing game, in Toronto, officials of the courses, have nothing but praise for the little men who ride is that being of proven courage to begin with, there are few bad qualities left to disturb or distress the gentlemanly and sportsmanlike conduct of the finest aspect of the race track – the jockey house.

Upstairs in the house are two rooms, a work room, where the valets keep boots and saddles in spotless trim, and a sun-porch where the riders sit to watch the races and rest between rides.

On the low work-tables where the valets do their spit-and-polish, three or four little figures, in bright and gala costumes, lie carefully covered with greatcoats, sleeping – sleeping within sound of that vast hum and murmur, rising now and then to a roar, of the crowd of those who regard themselves as sportsmen because they stand or sit and look upon the exploits of sportsmen. The horror of a jockey’s life is flesh. The addition of a pound of weight is a grave piece of news in a little fellow. What a jockey knows about reducing would startle the ladies of fashion if they enquired. The reason these little figures are laid out so uncomfortably upon the bare table is no doubt that they are exhausted by their training down to make weight. In the early hours of the morning you can always see these small men on the run in the neighborhood of the tracks, like prize-fighters, loaded down with sweaters, chasing along as hard as they can go, to reduce one pound in order to make their scheduled weight.

In the sun-porch a blaze of color fills all one side, where the little riders are leaning out watching a race. Far beyond them is the background of the excited mob, the murmur rising every instant. The dark mass of them is agitated. The color-clad riders in the foreground are still and unperturbed.

“Eddie’s in the lead. I knew he would be.”

“Poor Sam has got a three-footed horse. Look at him at the turn!”

We stood right behind the watchers at the sun-room windows and these were the quiet, casual comments. It seems as if you took a boy and made a man of him too soon, you are likely to get a gentleman out of him.

“Do you ever have any fights in the jockey, house?” we asked one of the older valets who looked as if he had a good many years of jockeys back of him.

“Only enough to prove the rule,” he said. “Now and again a fellow goes sour under the strain. His nerve wasn’t of the lasting sort. When you get a rough rider, sooner or later he tries his stuff on one of the bigger boys and then there is bound to be a punch or two. Remember, jockeys as a class are sportsmen of the finest type, and it is little enough recognized. There is little rough stuff amongst them for two reasons – one, that it isn’t in them, and two, that they are afraid of nobody and will stand no dirty work from their inferiors.”

Why Jockey House is Guarded

“Do you recall any incidents?”

“Yes, but no names. I remember the time one of the foremost riders in America threw his horse against another jockey, who has since become the greatest rider in Germany, in a deliberate effort to drive him through the fence. He was set down for the offense and fined $200 by the stewards. In the jockey house after the race there was a good deal of silence when the two came in. It was an unforgivable offense, and something was bound to happen.

“‘Well,’ said the offender. ‘you nearly got me last year in California and I said I’d get you some day.’

“This showing that the attempt to drive the other through the fence was really deliberate and planned, the other stepped up and whacked him on the jaw, knocked him into a pail of water and into complete and eternal disgrace in the jockey house.”

Like the theatrical profession, jockeys are always on tour. They are far from home and mother, despite their tender years in most cases. They are under contract to certain stables, travel with the personnel and horses and live with the trainers. But as you see them in the jockey house there are plenty evidences of a mother’s care. One wears a home-made dressing gown. Another has his initials painstakingly worked in silk on his cap.

As they turned away from the sunroom window after a race, without a single trace of excitement, we asked them if they got no kick out of seeing a race.

“When you ride a couple of races a day, just seeing one,” said a slim-legged sportsman, “doesn’t create much kick.”

“I don’t see anybody nervous before the race. Are you ever nervous?”

“Before a big race, with big stakes, or with a lot of good horses over which there is jealousy, we get a bit jumpy. Then there are the two-year-olds and a certain proportion of bad horses that no amount of riding can handle. Going out on them always causes a little nervousness. But, of course, riding year after year, day in and day out, soon hardens a fellow.”

He motioned secretly for us to look at one of the boys in green. This was one of the season’s star riders. He was sitting on a chair staring out the window. His hands were drumming on the sill. He was whistling. Then he jumped up and walked a couple of turns around the sunroom, stopped and stared absently out of the window, his fingers plucking nervously at his waist band.

“He’s got a big bad horse in the last race that he wants very much to ride to a win,” whispered the other boy. “He’s riding him right now, in anticipation and worry.”

The rider in green continued his restless prowl around the sunroom, in his eyes the look of an anxious boy waiting in the principal’s office for an interview. Half an hour later, be rode his big, bad horse to victory and came back to the jockey house all ease and smiles and his nervous hands quiet and controlled.

Jockeys taste some of the most romantic joys of earth – of the circus trouper, of the stage, not to mention the elements that belong exclusively to racing. But on top of all these is sportsmanship, in an old tradition, which the trouper and the actor never experience.

The jockey house, if we get the right perspective on a race track, from the betting machines to the paddock, is guarded for still another reason. It houses the gentlemen in the game.


Editor’s Note: Jim illustrated this early collaboration on a news story with Greg. Based on what we know about them later, Jim was likely much more interested in this story than Greg.

Sport of Kings

Jim, with the quiet air of the sportsman, took Flying Beetle’s bridle….The photographers knelt and banged their cameras at us.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 27, 1939

“I’d like you to meet a friend of mine,” said Jimmie Frise, “Mr. Charlie Spavin.”

I shook hands with the gent, who rose jointedly from beside Jim’s drawing-board.

“Mr. Spavin,” said Jim amiably, to cover my frosty manner, which I could not conceal, “is a well-known sportsman.”

Mr. Spavin collapsed into the chair again. He was a very tall, loose-jointed person, extremely thin, with the look of a starved hound. His facial bones seemed to shine through his skin. His hair was frizzled and wispy. And his eyes, close-set like buttonholes on either side of a big, boney nose, were colorless.

“What sport do you follow?” I inquired, as I hung up my hat.

“The horses,” said Mr. Spavin in a voice such as an Egyptian mummy would use if he could speak.

“Mmmff,” said I, sitting down and immersing myself in the letters on my desk.

“You might be interested in Mr. Spavin’s proposition,” said Jim earnestly. “Charlie, tell Mr. Clark your idea.”

“It’s this way,” said Mr. Spavin huskily, despite me rattling the papers on my desk. “I’ve got the horse Flying Beetle, a nine-year-old maiden. She’s et me to the bone. I’ve owned her two years now. I’ve wasted every cent I own, lost my house, sold my car, all my furniture has been reclaimed, my radio was picked up only this morning, I’ve separated from my wife and borrowed myself off the track with all my friends and even borrowed 50 cents from the very last of my acquaintances, all on account of this here horse I own called Flying Beetle.”

“See?” said Jim. “You always claimed there wasn’t an honest horseman in the world. Mr. Spavin is one.”

“If I never told the truth before,” said Mr. Spavin, with an air of amazement, “I’m telling it now.”

“Tell Mr. Clark why,” prompted Jimmie.

“It’s this way,” said Mr. Spavin. “I claimed this horse two years ago for $200 when I was in the money. She’s a swell big filly. Light bay. Full of life. Raced all over America. Never won a race. Never even showed. Some of the best trainers in the world have had her. She does trials that make your hair stand on end. But in races she just lays back. She’s run sixth in over 75 per cent of her races.”

“Why don’t you get some bets she’ll run sixth?” interrupted Jimmie. “Maybe she’s a trick horse.”

“She’s a trick,” sighed Mr. Spavin. “But she’s got me ruined. And she’s the only horse I own. She’s my last possession on earth. I’ve fed her and pastured her; I’ve made a bum of myself paying her feed bills and stabling. I’ve shipped her all over the country and borrowed money from the jockeys to pay the jockey fee. And now here I am so broke I ain’t had any breakfast yet. There’s a race at four-forty this afternoon, and by all the hokey pokey I think this is the race she’ll win.”

Having a Horse Fit

“A nine-year maiden?” I inquired drily. “Haven’t you thought she’d win several times before this in the past few years?”

“Look,” said Mr. Spavin, sitting upright with an effort, “she never had a horse fit before.”

“A horse fit?” I exclaimed.

“You’ve heard of a cat fit, haven’t you?” said Mr. Spavin excitedly. “Well, a horse fit is something the same. It’s a sign of a great change in a horse. This morning, down at the track, when we took her out of the stable for her exercise, she was all of a tremble. She was sweating even before we got the boy up. She acted crazy. Her eyes glared, she breathed heavy, she seemed to be laboring under some deep emotion.”

“Maybe it’s just old age creeping over her,” I submitted.

“O.K.,” said Mr. Spavin shortly. “If you don’t believe in miracles.”

“I never saw a race-horse that wasn’t crazy,” I retorted.

“Look,” said Mr. Spavin. “We got the boy on her and she started to rear and buck and squeal. She suddenly started to run in little circles, and the boy couldn’t do nothing with her. She ran circles smaller and smaller and I knew she was having a horse fit. I yelled to the boy to jump. He did. And just in time, too. Because she suddenly whirled end for end, fell on the ground and lay there dying, as I thought, her eyes sticking out, breathing like the heaves and, all of a sudden, she grew quiet, got up, shook herself and walked quietly over to us and stood waiting for the boy to mount.”

“Doesn’t that sound curious?” interrupted Jim.

“It sounds a little veterinary to me,” I stated.

“Wait,” said Mr. Spavin tensely. “The boy mounted. She was as cool as a cucumber. She seemed to have grown bigger, stronger. She seemed to exude power. She was lithe.”

“Mmmm,” said I, interested.

“Like a panther,” said Mr. Spavin, “she went to the track. I was nearly nuts. I’d heard of these horse fits. I knew they came only once in a lifetime. But when a horse has a horse fit it is born again, you might say.”

“So?” I encouraged.

“She ran,” said Mr. Spavin in an awed voice, “a mile in one second less than the track record.”

“Whew,” I admitted,

“And she came off that track,” cried Mr. Spavin, “as quiet and easy as if she had cantered.”

“Mmm, mm.” I admired, though I know nothing of horses and care much less.

“And I think she’s going to start running,” said Mr. Spavin, “at last. I think she’s thrown off some trouble that’s been in her all her life. I think that horse fit has made her another horse. I think she’s going to be as good as she’s looked all these years. And, by the hokey old pokey, here I am without the price of the jockey fee.”

“And the purse,” said Jim, “is $500.”

Mr. Spavin collapsed back into the chair.

“Well, Mr. Spavin,” I stated, “only six weeks ago Mr. Frise swore off all horses for a period of two years.”

“Just betting,” put in Jim.

“Don’t quibble,” I said.

A Powerful Hunch

“I swore off betting,” said Jim. “But I didn’t swear off being interested in horses. Can’t I look at a horse’s picture in the paper? Can’t I sit and think about horses?”

“Think all you like,” I said, as one of the custodians of Jim’s mighty oath. “But don’t spend a dime on a horse.”

“Just listen to Charlie’s proposal,” said Jim quietly.

“My proposition is,” said Mr. Spavin, “if you will put up the 10 bucks for the jockey fee I’ll give you a half interest in the horse.”

“And a half interest in her feed bills, et cetera,” I smiled.

“This half interest,” said Mr. Spavin, “to take effect only if she wins today. If she wins you got a half interest in her. If she loses I just owe two more guys another 10 bucks.”

“I never heard of such a proposition,” I declared.

“It’s common enough in the sporting world,” said Mr. Spavin. “Isn’t it, Jimmie?”

“Look,” said Jim, “here the races have been on for weeks, and I haven’t even seen one and I haven’t wagered a cent. Along comes this chance in a million. If you come in for five bucks so will l.”

“You promised you wouldn’t make a bet,” I reminded him, “unless I bet, too.”

“That horse fit,” pleaded Jim, “is famous among horsemen. It’s as old as history. When a horse has a fit, strange and mighty things happen. I’ve got a powerful hunch.”

“You’ve had hunches all your life,” I recalled to him,

“Look,” said Jim. “You’re a sportsman. You fish and shoot. You are an outdoor sportsman. What a lovely day. Let’s go and kill something. But you’ve reached the time of life when more constructive sports should begin to interest you in place of killing things. How about interesting yourself in the breeding of horses, in the improvement of a noble creature, in the sport of kings?”

“I like shooting things,” I informed him; “not running them to death.”

“You’ve come to the end of fishing and shooting,” pleaded Jim. “What more is there for you to learn? Why not take up, for the remainder of your life, something that will give you as much pleasure learning all about it as learning about fishing and shooting has given you in the more active years of your life? Do you realize that by tonight you may be part owner of a thoroughbred?”

“For five dollars?” urged Mr. Spavin. “The cheapest I ever heard of, even in Kentucky.”

“If the horse wins,” said Jim, “you’re a horse owner. If it loses you aren’t stuck in for any bills and only out $5.”

“We put nothing on paper?” I demanded. “This is purely a gentleman’s agreement. If it wins, we’re in. If it loses, we’re out.”

“Exactly,” said Mr. Spavin as if the deal were closed.

As in fact it was. Because lately I have been finding that to get any fishing I have to go farther and farther and all the time I am getting older and older; and I have been looking around for some solution of the problem that sooner or later confronts all who follow any sport other than stamp collecting and who do not die young.

“It’s a waste of money,” I said. But when Mr. Spavin left, all legs and arms, he had $5 each from Jim and me. And Jim and I went down to the sporting editor and borrowed a couple of members’ passes for the afternoon, it being one of those days the sporting editor has figured there will be no race, so he sends his third deputy assistant to cover the meet. And therefore all his friends’ passes are in his pocket.

“Jim,” I said, when we settled down to work, “there is something spooky about these horse fanciers. They have some kind of mesmerism. I never fell so easy in my life. Why, a campaigner for a new wing on a hospital couldn’t get $5 out of me as easy as that.”

“Deep in every man, even in you,” said Jim, “is a love of the horse.”

“I don’t think I’ll even go to the races,” I said bitterly.

“Aw, come,” said Jim, “if only to confirm your low opinion of race track enthusiasts.”

And it being a fine day, I went for that purpose. And I sat in the grand stand and didn’t even look at a program or pay any attention to the prices they put up. In fact, I didn’t even stand up when the races finished and didn’t even look at the silly little squads of horses bobbing around the track; but devoted my whole time to studying the people, the men and women who thronged about, their faces so set, their expressions so greedy, their eyes so narrow, all for the love of a horse. And when Jim came up the steps and said the 4.40 race was next, and wouldn’t I come down and at least see Flying Beetle in the paddock, I got up reluctantly.

In the paddock nine horses were getting ready for the parade, and I must say Flying Beetle was the best of them. But my chief interest was on the melancholy jockey who sat on top of her, by grace of $5 of my hard-earned money. I spent my time figuring which of his colors I preferred, the red or the yellow, for my dough.

They went out on the track. The bugle blew. The crowds swarmed down on the lawns and climbed eagerly into the stands. Jim led me along to a place near the winning post.

“I have a hunch,” he said, rather breathlessly.

There was the roar, “They’re off.” The crowd began, in that curious way, to stir and pop. It is like putting popcorn in the pan and slowly, little by little, the racket grows, until the whole pan is popped. With a wild yell the race ended, and Jimmie was hugging me and dragging me after him and yelling like a maniac, with people bumping into us and everybody gone nuts.

“She wins, she wins,” he explained to me, leaning down to scream in my face.

“She’ll pay nearly $200 for a $2 ticket,” shouted a stranger madly into Jim’s face.

“Jim, you didn’t bet?” I shouted.

“We split the purse,” cried Jim.

He had dragged me through the crowd to the paddock by the judges’ stand.

“Make way for the owners,” Jim roared, shouldering into the mob. And a lane opened amid aisles of respectful people and we got slaps on the back.

Mr. Spavin was not in the paddock and the jockey, very astonished, was sitting on Flying Beetle, while a steward held the horse’s head.

“We’re half owners,” Jim told the gateman, who opened the wicket and let us in.

“Hello,” said the steward, who knew Jimmie through long and mischievous years. “I didn’t know this was your horse? I thought Spavin had her.”

Jim, with the quiet air of the sportsman simply walked up and took Flying Beetle’s bridle and beckoned me to stand forth. The crowd cheered. The photographers knelt and banged their cameras at us. It was all very sudden and tumultuous and I was just realizing hazily that I was launched upon a new chapter of my life when Spavin came bursting through the wicket shouting–

“Get away from the head of that filly!”

I looked around, but there was nobody else but us.

He snatched the bridle and with his elbows bunted Jimmie to one side and me to the other. It was very humiliating.

“What are you lugs trying to pull?” Mr. Spavin demanded furiously.

“Well, we have a half interest, haven’t we?” I demanded, and Jim was trying to get hold of Spavin’s sleeve to catch his attention, but Spavin was striking a pose and having the photographers to do their stuff over again.

“How about the half interest, Charlie?” asked Jim.

“What are you bums trying to pull!” shouted Spavin hotly.

“You said…” I began.

“Do you want me to call the stewards and have you bounced by a cop?” hissed Spavin. “Get away. Let the photographers have a chance.”

“We’ve got…” said Jim.

“Look here,” roared Spavin, and already stewards and judges were coming down the ladder, “what are you bums up to? Have you got any papers? Have you got any I.O.U.’s? Have you got anything? Get out of here.”

“We’ve got a gentleman’s agreement,” I shouted.

“Who with?” shouted Spavin, giving me look so full of meaning that I realized it was no agreement at all.

“Besides,” said Jim, when we got out behind the grandstand where nobody could see us and we could recover from our confusion, “after all, why should we try to horn in, for a measly five bucks, on what must be the greatest moment in the life of Charlie Spavin?”

“The purse was $500,” I insisted.

“If I’d only had 10 bucks on that horse,” groaned Jim.

“There you go,” I scorned, “Why not insist on our rights? Let’s sue him for half the purse.”

“What a swell pair of sportsmen we’d be,” retorted Jim, “suing on the strength of $5 apiece.”

“A gentleman’s agreement,” I sneered. “No gentleman should ever mix up with horses.”

“No,” agreed Jim, “horses are for bums or millionaires. They can’t hurt either.”

So having no further interest in the meet, we went and got in the car and drove back down to lock the office.


Editor’s Note: $5 in 1939 would be $91 in 2021.

Horse Sense

As I backed away from the dog, I felt my hat being lifted from my head….

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 18, 1940

“When the races start…” started Jimmie Frise.

“Horse racing,” I informed him, “ought to be abolished. In time of war, I can imagine nothing more sheerly wicked and wasteful than horse races.”

Jimmie slowly turned purple.

“Horse racing,” he gritted, “is the foundation of the breeding of horses for war…”

“Heh, heh,” I laughed pleasantly. “You’re a bit out of date, my boy. The Duke of Wellington might have used that antique argument. But times have changed. The mechanization of the army has pricked that bubble, my friend. Horse racing is doomed. Since the army no longer needs horses, your horse racing stands forth as what it really is. A sheer gambling device. As bare-faced as a roulette wheel.”

Jimmie slowly changed to a deeper shade of purple.

“It is the sport of kings,” he said huskily.

“And of absconding bank clerks,” I sneered.

“It is the last manly sport left,” grated Jim. “The last he-man game, where a man can feel his freedom and his power. Life is being social-serviced out of all reality. One by one, all sports, all games, are being scienced, organized, made safe and prim. The only game left where a man can go and feel he is a hell-dinger is racing.”

“That’s a fine recommendation,” I scoffed

“Is it?” queried Jim sadly. “Here we are with a war on our hands, and we want fighting men. Yet, for the past 20 years, we have been breeding all kinds of men except fighting men. We have been breeding gentlemen and scholars. We have been teaching our young men to play the game, lawfully and piously. We have been stressing the social rights of men, so that tolerance is our ideal. And all of a sudden, we want a million men with intolerance in their hearts, a high and mighty intolerance.”

“And what has all this got to do with horse racing?” I interjected.

“Well, you say horse racing should be abolished,” said Jim, “which declaration is part and parcel of the namby-pamby spirit of the age. The same point of view would abolish not only horse racing but all the other tough, rough and nasty characteristics of our society that we need so desperately right now.”

“Do you mean to say that if our young manhood was a horse racing lot, they would be better soldiers?” I demanded.

“I certainly do,” stated Jim. “I would say offhand that the more horse racing, corner lounging, pool room loafing, crap shooting, low down element we had in the country, the tougher and more deadly our army would be. There is no use blinding ourselves to the facts. Maybe it would be a fine thing to have a country so advanced that we had nothing but the type best described as splendid young fellows. But in the last war, it seems to me the splendid young fellows were the company clerks. And when you wanted a raiding party, you went snooping around after the corner boys and the crap shooters and the racetrack bums.”

“You’re romanticizing the bum,” I protested.

“Think it over,” suggested Jimmie. “Recollect your toughest job in the old war. Who were the guys with you?”

And I had to recollect Jimmie Post and Sergeant Sturgess and Charlie Windsor and people like that, whom I could hardly describe as public-spirited citizens. In fact, they did know a lot of horses’ names, now that I came to think of it.

More Than a Sport

“What is it about horses.” I inquired, that gets men the way it does?”

“They’re so game,” said Jim, emotionally. “There are only three animals out of all Christendom that have won the hearts of men. The horse, the game cock and the dog. These three have a heart, a spirit, that is high and noble in the sense that men can conceive. Bulls aren’t noble. Rams, cats, hogs aren’t noble. Out of all the animal kingdom the only creatures man has chosen for his love are the horse, the dog and the game cock. Why? Because they fight on though the blood blinds them.”

“It seems a low standard,” I asserted.

“Stick to your high ideals,” cried Jimmie, “and see where you land in this war! This is a war in which the noblest attributes of the horse, the game cock and the dog are the things that count in men.”

“You would drag us down to the level of our enemies,” I stated.

“You bet,” said Jim.

“Still,” I said, “it is some satisfaction to know that the old hypocrisy about racing being important to the breed of horses is exploded at last.”

“Why is the French army buying horses all over Canada and America?” demanded Jimmie. “Why are there ships laden with horses streaming across the Atlantic every day?”

“The French eat horses,” I explained.

“Yes,” said Jim, “but before they eat them, they have them to drag ration wagons across shell riven roads impassable to machines, and to haul guns forward where the last tank has sunk in the mire. Up over the night black tracks and paths, the horses will struggle, laden with ammunition and food and water, while the engines lie dead for want of gas, blown to hell in some vast holocaust. No, sir, in the end will be a man, and behind him, laden till he sags, a horse. That is the old tradition.”

“I still don’t see what racing has got to do with it,” I insisted. “It wasn’t race horses that brought me up my rations and my bombs at Vimy. It was plugs.”

“Racing,” stated Jim, “makes men respect and admire horses. If horses merely hauled bread wagons and plows, men would not respect them. It is that little extra something a horse has that earns men’s respect.”

“It’s a funny world,” I muttered, “when you come to think about it.”

“And when you think of a crowd of 10,000 people, jammed at a race meeting,” said Jim, “don’t forget the tens of thousands who wish they were there, at that minute.”

“I suppose,” I agreed.

“And don’t forget,” went on Jim, “the ones that live by race horses, the thousands of men whose livelihood is breeding and rearing and training horses.”

“Just so,” I admitted.

“Why, when you come to think of it,” cried Jim, “it’s not only a sport, it is not only an industry, it’s a cult. How else can you explain those who get up at 4 a.m. for no other reason but to go down and watch horses train?”

“Lunatics,” I submitted.

“Okay, I’m a lunatic,” said Jim bitterly. “Because this morning I was up at 4 a.m. and down at the Woodbine, and tomorrow morning I’ll be up again at 4 a.m. to drive down…”

“For goodness sakes, what for?” I protested.

“What do you get up at daybreak to go fishing for?” demanded Jim. “You know as well as I do that you don’t get any more fish. It’s just a legend. You get up in order to enjoy the mystery of the sport. To be up with the dawn, while all mankind sleeps on. To look into the mists of the morning, with the birds and the beasts. It’s purely religious.”

Rising With the Dawn

What can you see about race horses at 4 a.m.?” I scoffed.

“Horses,” said Jim raptly, “rise with the dawn. You arrive at the race track, when morning mists still wreath it. In all the little stables and huts you hear the stamp and whinny of the horses and the muffled calls of men. Roosters crow, dogs bark. All is astir. You hear the champ and grind of feeding. The high, spirited yell of blooded horses. Out in the mist, you see the boys leading the blanketed beasts, and the jockeys saddling them up, and the trainers standing by with thoughtful chins. Out on the deserted track you see the gamesters led, and, fresh and full of heat, the splendid beasts run… like wild things, like heroes, like creatures of fire and courage. Between the furlong and quarter-mile posts they rush, in the mist, while the trainers clock them…”

“And,” went on Jim, “along the fences, stand such as I, with our clocks, timing them, too. Yes, at all race tracks, you will find the devotees, the devout, only a handful, straggled apart along all the fences in twos and threes, getting to know the horses by sight, imagining they can tell, from what they see through the mists of dawn, what cannot show in the printed form chart…”

Well, Jimmie went on in such a vein that, somehow or other, I must have become mesmerized by his fervor and I asked him to include me in his plans for the morrow. Because I set my clock for 4 a.m. and got up in the pink gray of dawn, tiptoed about a resentful house for a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal and stood in the silent morning out in front until Jim bowled round the corner and picked me up and drove pell-mell for the race-track.

And it was all as he foretold. Maybe a dozen cars were parked in the open court of the track besides ours. And besides the trainers and stable crews resident at the track, maybe twenty devotees were scattered along the rails in the brightening morning in groups of two and three, intently watching the antics of a dozen horses idly curvetting and now and then racing, in short bursts, about the track near and far.

Jimmie led me along the white fences, greeting this group and that a little standoffishly, as though they were all special worshippers at an early service. We picked a vacant spot along the fence, with nobody within 20 yards either side of us, and there leaned. Jim pointed out this horse and that, by name. The trainers led them out, the jockeys rode them slowly around the track, as though merely exercising them. Every little while one of the would suddenly burst into stride and race madly a short distance. It was then we were all supposed to be electrified, because it was these sudden explosions that were imagined to be the tests by which the trainers knew what shape the horses were in. And it was our privilege to try and time them, clock them, and make shrewd guesses as to what unknown possibilities the various, horses possessed.

“So what?” I inquired after about fifteen minutes of this business of leaning on fences. “It’s a nice scene. It’s fresh air, and the morning is pleasant. But is this all there is to it?”

Jim had his watch cupped secretly in his hand, and was intently peering at a horse far off on the other side of the track, galloping furiously.

“Look,” I said, “nobody is watching you. Nobody cares if you time them or not. This is all pretence.”

“So is all sport,” said Jim. “It’s the hocus pocus with which we invest things, whether they be sport or professions or any belief whatsoever that makes them interesting. If you can’t feel the spell of all this, okay.”

“I sure can’t,” I said, stamping my feet and slapping my hands to warm them.

Animals Are Mind Readers

We walked around the track to the stables.

At the first three stables, there were “no admittance” signs, and when we spoke to the stable boys, they regretted to inform us that the owners did not allow strangers to hang around. But at the fourth stable, Jimmie seemed to be well known for the black man sitting in the doorway of one of the shacklike stables, hailed him cheerily and called, and two or three men popped their heads out the doors and cried “Jimmie” as if they really meant it.

The stables were in pairs, each two being a little household unto themselves. The aisle between was a sort of barnyard, and from the stables opposite, the horses looked out of their stalls amiably. The crews went busily about, feeding, grooming, bandaging, combing tails and manes. And the smell of fried eggs and bacon mingled with the odor of hay and saddle soap.

As we entered, the trainer and the stable boys came forward and shook hands warmly with Jim, which made me feel that there must be some fellowship about this horse business, after all. Jim introduced me right and left.

There was a sort of gipsy charm about the whole affair. Horses whinnyed and stamped, men ducked eagerly about their little chores, voices cried gaily. And a white bull terrier, with slant eyes, the only kind of dog that really can never mean anything to me, came lazily around a corner of the stables, saw me, and broke into a bow-legged and very muscular canter.

Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw it, and there was no doubt about it. It was not the mere fact that Jimmie and I were strangers that intrigued that bull terrier. It was me he was interested in.

He made straight for my calves, and, whirling as he came by, rounded with a high, nasal growl.

“Hey,” said the black man, who was standing by, and he gave a kick at the dog.

“Here, Sam,” warned the trainer, sternly.

But Sam’s slanty eyes were mere slits as he split his long jaw back and bared his bone crushers in another nasty grow at my legs. The fat part.

I backed away.

“Heh, heh,” I said, “nice doggie.”

A small banty game cock came out of one of the stalls all in a fluster of cackles, and, as if attracted by the increasing row, strutted down his wings and advanced upon me. And, as I backed away from the dog, I felt my hat lifted from my head

One of the horses in the stalls behind me had stretched out and lipped my hat, tossed it in the air. Before anybody could so much as speak, a hairy looking goat bounced out of the same stall and snatched my hat off the ground and ran, shaking the hat from side to side. And nibbling at it.

“It’s just a trick,” shouted Jimmie above the laughter and yelling. The black man was chasing the goat and one of the stable boys was driving Sam back, though the dog twisted muscularly from side to side, as though determined to take one bite, about the size of a pound of butter, out of my leg. The banty rooster crowed excitedly and pranced back and forth, taking little runs in my direction.

“Look,” said the trainer, “if you don’t mind I think they’ve got something against you…”

“I’ll be glad to go,” I stated clearly. “If can get my hat.”

“The boy is getting it,” said the trainer. “But if you don’t mind, before they all get upset…”

He was escorting me out.

“Animals are funny,” he said, as we reached the main lane of the stable. “They take scunners.”

The black man came laughing back with my hat. It was shapeless and muddy, and the goat’s chewing was like pleats all along one side of the brim.

“I’ll see you later,” called Jimmie to his friends, the trainer, and boys.

And we walked down the main lane towards the clubhouse and the white fences again.

“You can have your cult,” I submitted.

“Don’t tell me animals aren’t mind readers,” retorted Jim.


Editor’s Notes: Horses were used extensively in World War Two, primarily by the Germans and the Soviets for transport. However Greg was basically correct, in that the war relied more on trucks and engine power.

As we are back at the race track, there is a stereotypical depiction of a black man. See my article About Stereotypes for more information.

A scunner, means taking a strong dislike to something. I don’t know what a hell-dinger is.

One Sure Thing

I felt two large hands seize me by the shoulders from behind. And, glancing back, I saw another very large and heavy stranger had Jimmie by the shoulders.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 19, 1946

“Your prejudices,” declared Jimmie Frise, “are costing you money!”

“I’m willing to pay,” I retorted, “for my principles.”

“Look,” pleaded Jim, “it’s a sure thing.”

“In this life,” I countered, “nothing is sure.”

“Aw, for Pete’s sake,” cried Jimmie. “I tell you we can pay for the winter’s coal with this race. It’s the end of the racing season. All kinds of long shots come home at the end of the racing season. It’s the time for trainers and jockeys and horse owners to balance the budget.”

“You mean,” I sneered, “that racing is crooked…!”

“No sport on earth is as rigidly policed as horse-racing,” replied Jim hotly. There’s a continent-wide organization that embraces every track and every breeder and every angle of the horse-racing game and it is devoted to keeping horse-racing on the level….”

“Okay,” I scoffed, “then how about these benefit races, for balancing the budget?”

“At the end of the season,” said Jim picking his words carefully, “there is a sort of devil-may-care spirit that enters the sport. Trainers who have been nursing their horses along, so as not to overtax them, allow them to go full out in one last fling. Jockeys who are cautious riders suddenly became inspired with the spirit of the end of the season and ride with an abandoned quality that upsets all the calculations of trainers, other jockeys and all the dopesters who do the adding up.”

“Adding up?” I inquired.

“Sure,” said Jim. “How do you suppose the experts pick the winners? Simply by adding up all the factors that go into the race; the condition and past performance of the horse; the trainer; and the jockey. But at the end of the season, all these factors are muddled up by this sort of last-fling spirit. Nobody knows what horse is going to win.”

“Nobody but you!” I laughed.

“More long shots come through this week,” insisted Jim, “than at any other season.”

“Because nobody can pick the winner,” I suggested.

“Exactly,” agreed Jim.

“Then how do you know you’ve got a sure thing?” I triumphed.

“This horse, Schnitzler,” stated Jim flatly, “has been running second and third all season. Why? Because his trainer has been ordering the jockeys to ride him easy and let him develop himself. No forcing. The trainer figures, from Schnitzler’s pedigree, that he is a horse that develops slowly but steadily instead of one of those flash performers that is all through before he’s four years old.”

To Balance the Budget

“It’s all Dutch to me,” I interrupted. “Jim, look. I just don’t care for racing. It’s like stamp collecting. Either you like it or you don’t like it.”

“Schnitzler,” said Jim slowly, “is going to win today in the fourth race. And it’s going to pay 30 to 1.”

“You mean.” I asked, “that for a $2 ticket, he’d pay $30?”

“For a $10 ticket,” said Jim in a low, vibrant voice, “he’d pay … THREE… HUNDRED … DOLLARS!”

“Aw, Jim,” I pleaded, trying to wake him from the trance, “how do you know? What facts have you got to justify this fixation that’s got you, like some sort of lunacy…?”

“I,” said Jim, still in that low intense voice, “know the trainer, I know the jockey and… I know the horse!”

“Ah,” I said, “so you’ve bet on him before?”

“I bet on him all through the season,” admitted Jim.

“But he always came second or third?” I inquired.

“And I always bet him on the nose,” said Jim.

“And you’re going to bet him today again, on his last race of the season?” I demanded.

“The budget,” said Jim with that faraway look that hypnotized race fans wear, “the budget is just about to be balanced.”

“Tomorrow maybe,” I sighed, “you’ll wake up. Ten or fifteen dollars poorer…”

“I’ll have the money,” said Jim, with certainty, “for the winter’s coal.”

All this was at 10 o’clock in the morning.

At 1 o’clock, Jim appeared at the office door with his hat on.

“Coming?” he said heartily.

“I…” I said.

It was a beautiful day. Too beautiful to sit alone in an office pecking at a typewriter.

“Well,” I chuckled, “I might as well go, if for no other reason than to watch the expression on your face as all these castles in the air come tumbling down…”

So we drove out to the track in the lovely Indian summer afternoon and once again I found myself in that completely alien atmosphere of the race-track, surrounded by thousands of people all concentrated on a sport that leaves me cold. I never feel so completely a stranger on this earth as at the race-track. Sometimes I feel all these thousands are queer. And then, suddenly, I feel a little queer myself.

We got into the grandstand where Jimmie seemed to know everybody by their first name. It was like a club. Very chummy. Full of a lingo of its own. I began to feel queer.

These race meetings are something like a symphony concert. Each race is like a number on the program. Each number builds up, like a symphony, to a familiar climax. The first race, there was the usual tuning up, as the horses were walked to the starting post. Then the intense gathering up of feelings and emotions as the horses prepared for the start. That would be like the fine string music of the symphony. Then, suddenly, like the brass and woodwinds of the orchestra letting loose, the start! Then a kind of gathering pandemonium, as the orchestra of these thousands of fans swelled and rose to a crescendo that ended as climactically and violently as a Beethoven symphony …

Jim’s horse lost. He also lost the second race, and the third.

He asked me to come under the grandstand for a cup of coffee and while we were drinking the coffee, he asked me if I had any money.

“I never bring money to a race-track, Jim,” I informed him. “You know that. I have my principles. And I safeguard them.”

“Haven’t you got even five bucks?” pleaded Jim.

“I haven’t got even five bucks,” I replied firmly, fondling the $10 in $1 bills I had in my left-hand pants pocket.

Jim looked desperately around.

Meant For a Killing

“Look here,” I said sternly, “didn’t you say this horse Schnitzel or whatever it is ran in the fourth race?”

“Yes,” gritted Jim. “And I want to put 10 bucks on him. But that last race, the brother of one of the jockeys gave me a hundred to one chance on that horse I bet …”

“I see,” I said, amused. “Sure things all over the place!”

“I was going to make enough to put maybe 30 or 40 bucks on Schnitzler,” pleaded Jim. “But now I’ve only got four bucks left. Do you see anybody you know that you could borrow a few bucks…”

“I certainly do not!” I stated sharply.

“Six bucks,” muttered Jim bitterly. “Six bucks, six measly bucks. Take a walk around and see if there’s anybody you …”

“My friends,” I stated, “are not to be found around race-tracks. Why don’t you make a touch on any one of those sportsmen surrounding you up in the grandstand? You call each other by your first names…”

“I…I…” said Jim anxiously.

We finished the coffee and walked out on to the lawn.

Jim was acting like an expectant father. He was breathing big deep breaths, biting his teeth together, putting his hands deep in his pockets and pulling them out again. He looked at his four dollars several times. And he kept his eyes on the clock. All around us, the eager swarms were reading their programs with fatuous expressions. Already the procession towards the betting enclosure had begun.

“Hello, Mr. Clark,” came a pleasant voice.

I turned and recognized one of my neighbors from up the street.

“Why, how do you do!” I replied heartily. “Are you a follower of the sport of kings?”

“Oh, I usually come out for a few races,” said my neighbor, whom I had always taken for a deacon at least.

Jimmie was gripping my elbow and squeezing it meaningfully. I shook my arm free.

“How have you done?” asked the neighbor.

“Oh, I don’t …” I began.

But Jimmie, linking his arm through mine to show we were buddies, broke in: “As a matter of fact,” he said, “my little friend here has been cleaned in the last three races. And he’s trying to borrow six bucks off me…”

“I am not!” I cut in indignantly, but Jim got a Judo hold on my funnybone that almost made me screech with pain.

“Six bucks is all he wants,” cried Jim jovially. “But one of my superstitions is, never lend money to the guy you came to the races with. It’s okay to borrow from anybody else. But NOT the guy you came with …”

“Why,” laughed my neighbor, reaching into his pocket.

“Not…” I began but again Jim, laughing jovially, gave my elbow such a horrible dig with his digits that I felt myself wilting And at the same instant, he reached out and took the $6 my neighbor was holding out, and stuffed them playfully, in my breast pocket.

“There you are! Come on,” he chuckled, “come on and let’s place the bet…”

And before the slightly puzzled gaze of my neighbor, he swung me around and started up the lawn.

At the same instant. I felt two large hands seize me by the shoulders from behind. And glancing back, I saw another very large and heavy stranger had Jimmie by the shoulders. And we were both being propelled forward at a rate that kept our feet trotting smartly to keep us from falling.

I struggled.

“Here, what the dickens are …” I shouted.

But the two of us, side by side, were hustled through the crowd, up the lawn, out the side entrance past the grandstand and towards the gate.

In the privacy of the entrance, the big men relaxed their shoving. I shook myself.

“Will you inform me,” I demanded, setting my hat back on straight, “will you inform me the meaning this outrage!”

“Okay, bud,” said my man, dusting his hands. “Okay, scram!”

The whole thing was incomprehensible, bewildering. Out-of-place though I feel at a race-track, this was too much.

“I’ll call the police!” I grated, readjusting my clothing.

“Heh, heh, heh,” said both the large men.

“Look,” said Jimmie, who was pale as Swiss cheese, “look, boys, you’re making a mistake. My friend was only …”

“Aw, stow it, bud,” said the one with the black hat, “now scram. We seen the whole transaction. We seen you approach the gent. We seen you pass the tip. We seen you accept the money …”

“Jim!” I commanded. “What is this all about?”

“These are the Pinkerton men,” explained Jim pleasantly. “They watch out for touts and hangers-on. They have mistaken us for touts…”

“Heh, heh, heh,” agreed the two large men, preparing to shove us right out the gate. “If we ever saw a tout, this little guy is the champeen. Come on now! OUT!”

“Too Late”

And before I could even go of my own volition, the big fellow in the brown hat took me by the back of the coat collar and the pocket and fingered the 10 one-dollar bills I had there.

Jim followed.

And the two large men walked businesslike back into the grounds.

“But the race, the race!” suddenly yelled Jimmie, snatching the $6 from my breast pocket and adding it feverishly to his $4. “We’ve got to get this on the race …”

“Jim,” I ordered loudly, “I came here as an innocent spectator. I have been treated to every indignity…”

A bugle blew.

“Too late, too late!” moaned Jimmie, leaning against the fence, a broken man.

We stood there. We heard the silence fall. The slow, muttering silence. Then we heard the wild horse roar … “They’re off!” Then we listened to the rising symphony of the roaring grandstands. Then a mad cheer.

Out the gates poured the little dribble of people who always quits after the fourth, or fifth, or sixth race.

“Who won?” croaked Jimmie, seizing one of them by the lapels.

“A horse named Schnitzler,” said the passer-by disgustedly. “Paid 30 to 1.”

Jim crumpled beside the fence and sat, huddled, counting the $10 in his hands.

I ran my left hand cautiously into my pants pocket and fingered the 10 one-dollar bills I had there.

“Okay, Jim,” I croaked too. “Let’s go and get the car and go home.”


Editor’s Notes: As noted before, Jim was the gambler of the two, who would participate in activities like attending the race track and pool halls that Greg would not. Greg was more of a follower of his Victorian upbringing. Jim was hoping for enough money to pay for all of his coal needed for a coal furnace for the upcoming winter.

Touts at race tracks were people who offered racing tips for a share of any resulting winnings.

Pinkerton men were a generic definition for private detectives. In this case they would have been hired by the race track to root out undesirables.

Touts

By Greg Clark, August 24, 1935

“If,” said Jimmie Frise, “we could only think of a racket.”

“Mmmm?” said I.

“The only people making money nowadays,” went on Jimmie, “are people with rackets. Plain ordinary business no longer pays. You have to have a racket.”

“Oh, I know lots of plain businesses that are doing all right,” I corrected. “Stores, restaurants, nice little factories.”

“No, you don’t,” stated Jimmie. “They look all right, maybe, but they are worried sick, they haven’t any money, they can’t collect their accounts. They’re worried sick.”

“Maybe so,” I said.

“But the boys with the rackets,” gloated Jim, “Ha, they’re doing all right. By rackets I don’t mean anything illegal. I mean legal rackets. Schemes by which you can shake down people in distress. The greater the distress, the easier the racket.”

“Such as?” I inquired.

“I don’t like to name any,” said Jim, guardedly, because he knows I sometimes quote him. “But when people need money badly, they can always be soaked. Or when people are afraid of failing or losing their business, they can always be taken for a ride. Strange as it may seem, when the world is poorest, the pickings are easiest.”

“It doesn’t make sense,” I protested. “Nobody has any money these days.”

“Don’t be silly,” scoffed Jim. “The banks are fuller of cash than they have ever been. A larger percentage of people may be out of work. But the great majority of the people, all those tens of thousands of people living in all those long, long streets of comfortable homes we pass every day, all those tens of thousands who still ride to work in crowded street cars and congest the main streets with motor traffic every morning – all those people have plenty.”

“Isn’t there a depression?” I wanted to know.

“They call it that,” said Jimmie. “But as a matter of fact, people are merely holding tighter to what they have. I know a man that makes stationery. He tells me there has been an enormous Increase in the consumption of those little black notebooks men carry in their pockets to itemize expenses in. Enormous increase. I know men that used to leave a dollar tip for the waiter when they took their family downtown to the hotel for Sunday dinner and even forgot to feel big by the time they walked out the door. Now they leave 15 cents and carefully itemize it in the little black book. To tip, 15 cents; like that.”

“How disgusting,” I agreed.

“In the good old days,” went on Jim, “people threw their money around because they knew there was lots more where that came from. But, all of a sudden, everybody got scared. You’ve seen chickens suddenly take fright, haven’t you, and seen them start running all ways for cover, when there was no apparent reason for It? Well, that’s what happened to us. We’re human, just like chickens. A few years ago we got one of our periodic frights over nothing. Everybody ran indoors, locked and barred the door, and now we are hanging on to our possessions grimly in the dread fear that somebody, maybe the man next door, is going to try and take it from us. Everybody has plenty. We are merely clutching it tighter than usual.”

To Loosen Things Up

“Then how do you racket it away from them?” I inquired.

“By scaring them further,” said Jim. “By showing them ways to make their money safer. And so doing, take it from them.”

“I can’t think of any racket along that line,” I confessed.

“Neither can I,” said Jimmie. “But I wish I could. I’m tired of working for my living. I’d like to be one of those fellows that just sits in a swell office and thinks.”

“All the stories I’ve read,” I submitted, “about racketeers shows that they started with a little racket and then worked up to the bigger rackets. For example, a big millionaire bootlegger started as a book salesman. Don’t you know any little rackets? Haven’t you heard of any ordinary little everyday rackets around the poolrooms or race tracks?”

“Ah, yes,” laughed Jimmie. “Of course. Touts, you mean.”

“What are touts?”

“Well, for instance,” explained Jim, “there are six horses in a race, see? The tout works fast. He selects six sappy-looking individuals and approaches each one. He asks each one for a match. Then he starts in and tells them he is the brother of the jockey riding one of the horses in the next race. He gives each sap a different horse. He tells them the horse can’t fail, because they are letting his brother win the race in order to get married.”

“Well?” I prodded.

“Naturally, one horse has got to win that race,” said Jim. “And when the race is over, the tout rushes to the man he gave the winning horse to, and generally, the sap is so delighted, he gives the tout a ten spot. Or maybe more. I knew a tout once that used this old gag and the man he tipped off bought him a $2 ticket on the horse in gratitude. The horse won and paid $150 for the $2 ticket. Nobody was more amazed than the tout.”

“Jim,” I said reflectively, “that sounds to me like a real racket. It is merely telling a story, that’s all. You tell a story to six men. I bet you and I could make a nice thing out of touting. At last you can start making something out of the race tracks, which have been costing you plenty for years.”

“Touts,” explained Jimmie, “are a rather low grade of bums.”

“All the better,” I cried, “If two respectable-looking fellows like us went in for it, it would raise the standard of touting and we’d make a lot more money. We would be brokers, not touts. Just like the brokers, we would recommend certain investments in horses, and as the brokers make money out of the buying and selling of stocks, we would make our money out of the gifts of grateful people to whom we gave the right tip.”

“But you’d be giving the wrong tip,” cried Jim, “to half a dozen others!”

“Once,” I continued, “we have mastered the technique of race track touting, we can go into it on a larger scale.”

“I think we ought to look into ways and means of making easy money. Not for the money’s sake, but to loosen things up. The more we shake people loose from their money, the sooner money will start to circulate and hard times end. Let us go into this thing on good moral grounds.”

“All racketeers do,” said Jim. “Meanwhile, let’s go out of town to the races. Nobody would know us.”

“I could wear my yellow vest,” I pointed out. “It gives me a very horsey look.”

One Sportsman to Another

“By Jove,” cried Jim. “I’ve got it! You be the owner of a horse. I’ll speak to the saps and tell them that the gentleman with me, in the yellow vest, owns the horse. I’ll tell each one you own a different horse, see? You can be standing off a little to one side, keeping your mouth shut, with your mouth kind of clamped tight, and a beady look in your eyes, like horse owners have. And you can stand sort of gazing across the race track, as if you hadn’t a friend in the world, and didn’t want one. That’s the way horse owners look. And I’ll step aside in each case, borrow a match, and then tip him off that my friend, there, you, in the yellow vest, are about to clean up. It’s in the bag. It’s all arranged with the stewards and the jockeys and everybody. It’s your turn to win, see?”

“Jim, how perfect,” I said. “And people wouldn’t have the nerve to give you, the friend of the owner, a mere five spot.”

“I’ll laughingly tell them,” said Jim, “to buy me a ticket for the tip. One sportsman to another, you know. In that way, my dear boy, we will have a winner in every race.”

Thus we went out of town to the races.

My yellow vest, which I bought for beagling by mistake, certainly gave me a beautiful horsey look. I bought three cigars and hung my field glasses over my neck and threw a raincoat over my arm.

“You look like the Agha Khan himself,” cried Jim triumphantly, as he received me into his car for the drive.

The first race, we did no work, because Jim said it would be better if we just paraded up and down in the crowd, letting everybody have a good look at me, while he kept his eye peeled for saps. He could pick the saps out by the way they looked at me. If they gaped sort of respectfully at me, Jim knew they would be easy suckers.

“Boy,” he murmured to me, after we had made a couple of grand tours of the big lawn, crowded with race goers, “the place is full of saps. You ought to see the way they are gaping at you.”

“I notice it myself,” I said, removing the cigar and waving it about.

When the first race was over, and everybody dispersed after feeling their various disappointments, Jim started to work. He led me to the upper end of the lawn.

“Up here,” he said, “I saw a well-dressed guy that looked as if he had never been at a race in his life before. But his eyes were popping with excitement. And when he saw you, his mouth fell open.”

“Did he look as if he had money?” I inquired.

“No, he was one of those obscure, half shabby sort of men, who are the kind that carry $200 in their pocket all the time.”

“Find him,” I directed.

And it was no trouble finding him.

Moodily standing with one elbow on the picket fence, a gentleman of middle age was carefully studying his program. He was biting the end of a pencil and frowning.

As we drew near, I could see he was aware of us, and was watching us out of the corner of his eyes.

I stepped along the fence a little way, and Jim sauntered over to him to borrow the match. The gentleman gave Jimmie the match and then they started to converse. I could feel them both looking at me, and when I turned, waving my cigar, to stare boldly up at the grandstand, as if wondering how many fools were betting my horse to-day, I caught a quick glimpse of the man, who was listening wide-eyed to Jimmie. And he was staring straight at me with his mouth slightly open.

Acting Like an Owner

In a few minutes, Jim left him and came back to me. We started to walk along in search of more suckers.

“How did he take it?” I asked, out of the side of my mouth.

“Like a lamb,” said Jim. “He wanted to meet you, but I said you didn’t care to meet people. I explained you were the typical horse owner. But he’s going to bet and bet big. I laughingly told him he ought to buy me a two-dollar ticket for the tip.”

Time went fast. By the time the bugle went, to call the horses out for the next race, we had only got two more prospects, one of them a fellow who wanted to split a $2 bet with Jim, and another who just looked at Jimmie all the time Jim talked and never said a word one way or the other.

“Once we get on to this thing,” said Jim, “we can work faster. Anyway, there are only five horses in this race and we’ve got three of them planted.”

“It’s no good unless we have them all covered,” I pointed out.

“I know, I know,” said Jim.

We got a place back a bit where we could watch our contacts, especially the moody gentleman in the corner, the one who wanted to meet me.

The horses lined up. They were soon off. A race with one bet on it is exciting enough. But touts must get a great kick out of having six or seven bets in one race.

Jim cautioned me to show no excitement. Horse owners never get excited. They just stand stolidly, chewing their cigars and occasionally taking a brief glance through their field glasses. I did that.

“Paraboy, Paraboy wins,” shouted Jim.

That was the horse we gave to the gentleman down in the corner.

“Let’s go right down,” I said.

“No, no, I’ll take him oft to one side,” said Jim. “Because if you are the owner of Paraboy, you should be in the steward’s paddock in a minute, leading out your horse.

“Oh, oh,” said I, backing away.

Jim pushed through the crowd.

I saw him work his way to the corner.

I could not see the moody gentleman. He had suddenly vanished.

I saw Jim pushing rapidly back towards me through the slow moving and woe-begone throng.

“Did he skip?” I asked scornfully.

“Skip?” said Jim. “Look where I’m pointing.”

I looked. Jim was pointing into the winner’s paddock where they were unsaddling Paraboy.

“Why,” I said, “he’s in there.”

“Sure he’s in there,” said Jim. “He’s the owner of Paraboy!”

“Jimmie,” I said, “this yellow vest awfully hot. I think I’ll go around behind and take it off.”

“Better than that,” said Jim, “let’s get to heck out of here altogether.”

So we drove home along the lake, admiring the big homes and yachts of the gentry.


Editor’s Notes: The Aga Khan mentioned in this story was the grandfather of the current Aga Khan.

This story was reprinted in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979).

One Grand!

By Greg Clark, June 13, 1936

“With your luck,” said Jimmie Frise, “and my brains we could clean up a fortune at race-tracks.”

“I think racing,” I declared, “is the dizziest pastime in the world. I wouldn’t give you five cents for the races. I would rather stay at the office and work any day.”

“Come this afternoon,” begged Jimmie. “Just to change my luck, see? I’ll buy you a good mystery novel. You can sit in the grand-stand and read it. You don’t even have to look up when the horses come down the stretch. Honest, I have a hunch. Do me the favor of coming to the track. For luck.”

“There is no such thing as luck,” I stated. “There is a co-ordination of circumstances. There is a series of facts, always shifting, always varying in force and value. But there is no luck.”

“You said it,” agreed Jim. “Get all the facts and you get all the luck. But just the same, I have a hunch that if you would come to the races with me I’d make money.”

“How silly,” I submitted.

“Put it this way,” said Jim. “You’re sort of simple. You see things that most other people don’t see, just because you are simple. You could come to a race-track where there are fifteen thousand people and, because you are the only one that never looked at a race-horse before, you could see that race-horse the way nobody else could see it. We would be looking at its legs. You would be looking at the expression in its eyes or something.”

“Offhand,” I admitted, “I would suggest you could tell a lot more about a race-horse by looking at the expression in its eyes than by looking at its form in a chart.”

“There you are,” cried Jim. “It is that instinct you have that I want to work for me. Just come to the races once. Come this afternoon.”

“I would rather go this morning.” I pointed out, casting an eye out the window at a very bright and cheerful day, “if it is to look over the horses you want my particular gifts.”

“There’s an idea,” confessed Jim.

So after a little business of confusing the editors with a few imaginary phone calls and busy dashing out into the corridor and back, which is the way Jim and I create the impression there is a big story about to break and we have it exclusively, we slipped out the back door and into the parking lot and in no time at all, through a shining morning. we arrived out at the race-track. If I were ever to become interested in racetracks it would be only in the middle of the mornings. There is something so old-world, so Kentucky, so lazy and roostery crowing, so stable boys sleeping in the sun about a race-track in the middle of the morning that I wonder anybody can be bothered crowding into the enclosures in the afternoon just to watch a pack of skins go panting around the ring.

“Now There’s a Horse”

“Jim,” I said, as we started to stroll down the first aisle of stables, “do they mind us walking in here?”

“We’re newspapermen,” pointed out Jim.

We nodded smilingly and wisely to little groups of stable boys sitting and lying about, looking up at us from under the peaks of caps. We paused and watched men binding horses’ legs, brushing, petting. We stood and gazed at the splendid beasts, brown and lean and with that curious quality of specialness that you feel in actresses and beauties and all people who do something very extra particular. To me, at least, there is no feeling of communion with a race-horse, such as I can feel with a common horse. It is like looking at a china horse or a picture of a horse. They have developed rice-horses so fine and far they have pushed them almost over the distant edge of plain, hearty, common life.

“What a beauty,” breathed Jim, as we came to a stall where a horse looked with wild bright eye out of the upper half-door. “Did you ever see such spirit?”

“Yes,” I said, “in a maiden lady rowing a boat in a gale of wind. I wouldn’t bet five cents on that horse. It has the jitters. Any horse that can look like that on a lazy morning like this is in need of a couple of months at a sanatorium.”

“All race-horses are like that,” explained Jim. “They wouldn’t be race-horses unless they had spirit.”

“In that case,” I informed him, “the highest form of track athletics ought to be the St. Vitus dance.”

Down near the end of the second aisle of stables we came to a deserted set of stalls where one horse stood looking sleepily out.

“Ah, now there’s a horse,” I said, “There is a happy horse.”

It twitched one eyelid at us. It wobbled its upper lip.

“A healthy horse,” I declared, “A horse without a care in the world.”

Jim stepped up and spoke tenderly to it and caressed its silky nose.

“Hello, baby,” said Jim, running his hand up the horse’s flat face bone and slapping its neck.

The horse opened one eye and looked sleepily at Jim.

“If this horse is running to-day, Jim,” I said, “bet him.”

The horse, with a heavy sigh, woke up and lifted its head and tenderly nibbled Jim’s arm. Its eyes were dark and gentle. Its expression was benign. It stretched out its neck and rested its long chin on Jim’s shoulder.

“It likes us,” I cried.

And while Jim and I admired the great creature with the heavy chin it closed its eyes and kept shifting its chin from Jim’s shoulder to mine and back again, and continued to emit large, lazy sighs.

“I love the smell of stables,” said Jim, stroking the horse’s neck and scratching its ear. “I sometimes think I might have been a great horseman. I get queer feelings when I am around racing stables, as if I had been on earth before. As if something were trying to call me, to tell me, to waken me.”

“I kind of like it myself,” I admitted, taking the other side of the horse’s neck. “The laziness. The color. The interesting people.”

“If we ever make any money,” said Jim, dreamily stroking the horse’s nose, “there is nothing I’d like better than owning a little string of race horses.”

Getting Into the Game

“I could wear the kind of clothes I like, then,” I agreed.

“The Frise-Clark stables,” said Jim.

“I would wear a yellow vest,” I said.

“The King’s Plate,” said Jim. “Mr. Frise and Mr. Clark, from left to right, receiving the King’s Plate from His Excellency.”

I heard footsteps and turned to behold an interesting looking gentleman smiling cheerfully at us. He was tall and had bushy black eyebrows. On his chest dangled a pair of binoculars. He was smoking a big cigar.

“Like her?” he asked proudly.

“It’s a her, is it?” I said.

“That’s Cleopatra,” said the stranger, in a moving voice. “One of the grandest horses running to-day.”

“Are you connected with this stable?” asked Jim politely.

“Connected with it?” smiled the stranger, “I’m the owner of it.”

Jim and I showed we were duly honored. We praised Cleopatra.

“Could you take her out and let us have a look at her?” asked Jim.

“Excuse me, boys,” said the owner. “I never break routine. Cleopatra is resting. She done a grand workout this morning. She’s just cooled out. I would rather not disturb her. She’s got a race this afternoon. And she’s going to win.”

He said this in a whisper and looked around carefully as he said it.

“It must be great,” said Jim, stroking Cleopatra’s cheek, “to be an owner. But I suppose you have your worries.”

“It ain’t the worries,” said the owner confidentially, “It’s the lone responsibility that gets me. I got six horses. I’ve owned hundreds. But I got it down to six of the best. Six of the best anywhere from Tia Juana to Montreal. But sometimes I wonder what would happen if anything ever happened to me.”

He removed the cigar from his mouth and coughed deeply and sepulchrally.

“You should get some partners,” said Jim.

“Never,” said the owner, firmly. “Never. I’ve had partners in my time. But they’re ruin, that’s what they are. Sheer ruin. Never no more partners for me, brother.”

“They gypped you?” asked Jim.

“Gyp isn’t the word,” said the owner sadly. “Not only can’t you trust them, but they are always trying to run the stable. I bet you Cleopatra there would be fit for the boneyard if I ever had partners. You don’t find men with a love of horses every day. No, nor every year.”

“Why,” asked Jim, stepping on my foot quietly, “don’t you take on some ordinary business men as partners? I don’t mean professional horsemen, but sportsmen?”

“Ah,” sighed the tall man, sadly, “but how often do you meet sportsmen?”

“They’re some,” said Jim. “There’s some. Now you take us. We’re ordinary business men. But we love horses. We love the sport of racing. We were just saying a moment ago, as we chatted here with Cleopatra, that if we ever got any money, we’d love to own a little string of race horses. Not to make money, you understand. But just to have something to think about. A hobby. Something we could quit work and go out into the country to see. Imagine us having a horse like Cleopatra here we could come and see every day or so. See her training. See her getting into shape. And imagine the thrill of being on the lawn when she races?”

“You must be sportsmen,” said the owner, sincerely. “You’ve got it. I wish I could find a couple of gents like you to come into the game with me. Not nosey. Not trying to tell me how to train horses. But just to share with me the interest and joy and thrill of it all. Ahhhhh!”

“I wish we had the money,” I said devoutly, for the gentleman was exactly the kind I would like to stand on the lawn with, and me in a gray derby.

“Money,” he laughed bitterly. “Money. It isn’t money you need. It’s the heart. The right spirit. The sporting blood.”

“Money counts,” I pointed out.

“Listen,” said the owner. “I would be glad to sell a half interest in that beautiful mare there, Cleopatra, one of the finest horses running to-day, for one grand. One grand! Can you imagine?”

“A thousand,” Jim explained to me. “One grand is a thousand bucks.”

“That’s it,” I said, dismally. “Where would we ever get a thousand bucks?”

Sportsman At Last

The owner looked at us for a long moment with an expression of mingled tenderness and contempt. Suddenly he laughed and snapped his fingers at us.

“Boys,” he said, half bitterly. “I’ve been a fool before and I suppose I will be again. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give you a half interest in Cleopatra for one grand. I’ll do more than that. I’ll take whatever cash you’ve got in your jeans right now — right now — whether it be a hundred dollars or fifty dollars — I’ll take it as the down payment. And … listen … and … you can pay the balance of the grand out of her winnings!”

“But,” I gasped, “you don’t even know our names.”

“I know a lot of guys’ names,” said the owner grimly.

He held out his hand, cupped.

I had only $3.65. All my life, when opportunity knocked at my door, I have always had about $3.65, Jim had seven dollars in ones.

”Ten-sixty-five,” said the owner. “Good enough. It seals the deal.”

He pocketed the money. He stood looking at us fondly.

“Boys,” he said, “I have a feeling you are going to bring me luck.”

“This morning,” said Jim to me, “you said there was no such thing as luck.”

“When certain of my relatives and friends hear of this,” I chuckled, hardly grasping the splendor of the situation. I reached up and patted Cleopatra’s nose. Jim seized her affectionately and wth a proprietorial air by the neck. She sighed heavily.

Along the long aisle of stables a man in a wide hat was walking slowly. The owner said sharply:

“Well, boys, take care of her. I’ve got a busy morning. See you later.”

And he walked briskly around the corner.

The man in the broad hat strode towards us, head forward, his eyes searching us keenly.

“What do you want?” he asked in a bass voice.

“Where?” I asked.

“How?” asked Jim.

“I say, what do you want?” repeated the man in the wide hat. “I don’t like birds hanging around my horses.”

“We’re not around your horses,” I said. “This is our horse.”

Jimmie took a few fast steps to the corner of the stable and looked in all directions.

“Come on,” said Jim to me. “He’s gone but maybe we can catch him.”

“Who?” I asked, “What are you talking about? This is half our horse.”

“Get going palooka,” said the man with the bass voice. “And don’t let me see you hanging around my stables any time, any where.”

He sort of tightened himself up as if he were going to either kick or punch. I stepped after Jimmie.

As we hurried out past the stables, to look for the man with our $10.65, we heard Cleopatra whinny loudly.

“That’s the horse laugh,” explained Jimmie.

But he had to listen to me all the way home to the city as I chatted about horse racing.


Editor’s Notes: St Vitus’ dance is a term used to describe Sydenham’s chorea. It is characterized by rapid, uncoordinated jerking movements.

The King’s Plate is oldest and most distinguished horse race in Canada. It refers to the reigning monarch, and so was changed to the Queen’s Plate in 1952.

Palooka was a slang term used to refer to stupid, clumsy, oafs, and was particularly used to describe boxers. It was popularized by the comic strip Joe Palooka which began in 1930.

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