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Varieties of opinions-Country pursuits-Epsom races in former days. The change
-Chance against judgment-Phosphorus Increase of betting with the million -Rise and progress-Lotteries-Effect of betting—Analogy between lotteries and racing sweepstakes-Ancient manner of losing a race- A supposititious case of fraud- Remedy for the suppression of betting-offices-Distinction between the higher and lower classes-Acts of fraud in commission bettingDaniel Dawson's offence-Origin of some prevailing customs--Causes of the inerease of racing-Reaction- Epsom and Ascot-Change of character--A sug. gestion for the improvement of race meetings.
Marvellous fantasies excite men's brains--strange conceptions pervade the human mind”-exelaimed an old friend to me, after an apparently studious revery, as he sat enjoying the perfumes of his havannah ; “no two men think alike on all subjects, though they may agree on many. He then ran through a series of events touching the social condition of the country, the policy of Lord Derby's administration, conjecturing what measures weuld be adopted on certain exigencies-all of which are foreign to these pages, if I except agriculture with reference to its conveetion with sporting pursuits; on this he expatiated voluminously, maintaining, with perfect truth, that if the immoderate preservation of hares and rabits is prejudicial to the farmer's crops of grain, the presence of a kindly-disposed wealthy landowner on his paternal estates during the cheerless months of winter more than compensates for the damage done by game, unless in arable districts, where it is preserved to a most inordinate and destructive extent. The numerous arguments which he brought forward have been so frequently expressed that it is needless to repeat them. Presently, his conversation was directed to the existing condition of racing affairs, contrasting it with that of former times, strongly maintaining that delinquencies are not more numerous comparatively with the increase of racing, a subject upon which my friend is in a position to form tolerably just conclusions.
For several years he and I were in the habit of attending the Epsom meetings together, and during the week occupied rooms in the vicinity, to which we usually sojourned about the Friday or Saturday previously, that we might have an opportunity of personally scrutinizing and passing our judgment on the action and condition of the respective candidates for public favour, which, in those days, had arrived at their temporary quarters, and took their exercise on the Epsom, Leatherhead, or Mickleham Downs. A more animating scene could not be imagined. The beauties of the surrounding country, at that season of the year when nature had just provided a new mantle of verdant foliage, was in itself an attraction sufficient to enliven the senses till the various strings made their appearance, in each of which were found one or more competitors for the forthcoming great event. The various rumours afloat touching favourites, however much or little credit they might deserve, served to increase the excitement ; while owners of horses, trainers, jockeys, bettors, and touts, were anxiously watching every stride as the horses took their gallops. But the present customs of racing have completely changed these affairs. The horses do not quit their home stables till the day or two before they run, all their work having been previously performed. To them and their trainers it is a great accommodation to be able to move from place to place by rail, yet it has deprived the public, who feel an interest in such matters, of much gratification. Even on the Sunday morning prior to the Derby scarcely a horse will be seen in the neighbourhood, unless it be an outsider or two that may happen to be trained on those downs. To this cause may in a great measure be attributed the host of touts which has so formidably sprung up within a few years. As to the amount of reliance to be placed on their information, that is very hypothetical. If they could do what they profess—invariably select winners--they would very soon enrich themselves ; but their nature is too generous for that, they would rather place fortunes within the grasp of strangers. A betting man may, however, sometimes know too much ; and Dame Fortune, with all her capricious vagaries, is occasionally a kind friend, a fact that was fully exensplified on one occasion when my friend and I were enjoying our visit to Epsom. We were on the downs betimes in the inorning, anxious to see every horse that was engaged in the forthcoming struggle ; but a certain gentleman was there before us, and happened to see Phosphorus pull up lame. Being a man of industrious propensities he lost no opportunity of turning his knowledge to account, and, feeling convinced the horse would not run, backed another outsider against him with me for two hundred, and was very anxious to make it five. Having myself backed the horse which he selected at long odds early in the year it was a lucky hedge for me. In the course of the morning it was rumoured that Phosphorus was hors de combat ; and as my friend and I were discussing onr matutinal meal, and proposing to share some bets which we had made, we were unable to negotiate them because he declined to participate with me in the bad bet I had made about Phosphorus. Great was my satisfaction and surprise when I met George Edwards, in riding costume, on the morning of the race, just emerging from Leatherhead, en route to the downs, when, upon enquiry, he informed me what he was going to perform upon; and still more complete my satisfaction when Phosphorus was declared to have defeated the great Caravan.
Reminding my friend of the aforesaid occurrence, who had now taken up the running pretty strongly on his favourite topic, and having imbibed just enough whiskey toddy to render him communicative of his thoughts, he observed—“I can relate a few anecdotes calculated to prove that this is not the only age when rascally devices are practised. My memory, which is not the best, affords me a great number of events, both private and public, quite as bad, or even worse, than those we now experience or hear of. They ought not to have been so frequent, because there were not nearly so many race meetings; and, as to the number of persons who now speculate on horse racing, they must have increased a hundred fold. Twenty years ago if the country shopkeeper, saddler, tailor, bootmaker, or man of any other craft, was known to make a bet, the first time the commercial traveller came round for fresh orders and cash, some kind neighbour, following an occupation in which their interests clashed, was sure to impeach the offence, and then farewell to credit ; and if any of the aforesaid worthies thought of attending a raee,
unless one which took place at their own town, their credit and their customers forsook them simultaneously. But what is their position in the present year of grace? No sooner does the agent for dealings in soap enter the shop of the village grocer, than he inquires of his customer what he fancies for the Chester Cup, the Two Thousand, the Derby, or any other important event ; and, if it be the winter season, some steeplechase is introduced to fill up the hiatus. These speculations being arranged, he can condescend to take orders for the house which he represents. The shop-boy, while weighing out the plums, listens to the conversation, and is forcibly impressed with the effect of weight on hearing that subject eloquently discussed, as thus— What chance could Nancy, a four years old mare with 9st. llb., have against a son of the honest Venison, three years old, with 4st. 10lbs., over a distance of ground exceeding two miles ?' of the effects of weight he soon becomes convinced ; his next embassy to deliver goods, he calculates the number of pounds each parcel weighs, times himself on his journey, and discovers that he can return home much quicker and with less exertion without his load. His thoughts are now on racing deeds intent. He has heard some one say he knew such a horse would win ; but as the sage individual never explained that his knowledge did not come to him till after the race, the shop-boy is deceived with an impression that he can as readily discover so valuable a secret as other persons ; then, seeing attractive advertisements from persons kindly undertaking to give information, the youth consults with companions equally desirous to become rich as himself, and they club together to obtain the important office. The next affair is to back the animal which is certain to win ; that can be accomplished by forwarding a post-office order, or stamps, to an advertising betting-ofice in London, when the thing is done, and the deluded youths are done with equal facility. Precisely similar inducements to gamble were afforded by lotteries, but they did not extend so profusely through the provincial districts, therefore were more harmless, and the legislature, finding the morals of the people were injured, suppressed those speculations ; now, seeing that betting on horse racing is equally injurious to morality, it is quite as necessary to restrain the evil. Scarcely a week passes but we have accounts of some miserable being putting an end to his existence, some defalcations by men holding responsible and lucrative engagements, of servants robbing their masters, in consequence of the facilities afforded to betting speculations. The origin is readily traced. Gambling with dice, which had acquired a dangerous footing, was, like the lotteries, suppressed. The proprietors of the gaming houses then devised and substituted sweeps or lotteries to be decided by racing events, and they were allowed to continue till the inconvenience was manifest which inculcated a taste for racing speculations. Their analogy to the ancient lotteries was sufficient to authorise the suppression of these specious attractions. Unable to play that game with impunity, the originators opened shops for similar purposes in the broad glare of day, with brazen fronts, simply avoiding judicial interference by a slight change of tactics. Intrinsically where is the difference between an event, upon which money is dependent, being decided by one horse beating others, the east of a die, or a number being withdrawn from a box? With all other opportunities of gambling prohibited, and racing most unaccountably thrown open to feed that passion, it is by no means extraordinary that every individual, possessed with an appetite for speculation, should resort to that which alone affords him food ; neither is it surprising, when so many individuals are concerned in it, that it should be productive of so much moral harm. Thousands of those who now bet on races know no more about the horses than the hazard player did of the animal which produced the bone wherewith the dice were made. Their opinions are formed from the knowledge of others, and their speculations or investments regulated by reports. Thus opportunities are afforded to unscrupulous persons, by getting up horses as favourites for races on which there is a heavy amount of betting, of colleeting (for it cannot be termed winning) considerable sums of money without ever intending to try to win the race. But such practices were adopted more than fifty years ago. There is an authenticated fact at York, in the year 1718, of a rider throwing himself off intentionally to avoid winning when past the distance post. There were high odds betted on the horse which he was riding ; nothing, therefore, but a tempting offer could have induced a man to commit so rash, hazardous, and barefaced an act. In 1728 a horse was drawn after running the first heat for a plate in consequence of a match having been made. Thus there is a very early precedent for a practice which cannot escape censure at any period, and these examples testify that means were adopted in the early days of racing to avoid winning with as much audacity as at the present time. Such things are now accomplished with a more masterly and gentle hand. There are laws provided for the suppression of fraud which are practically applicable to such cases. We will suppose an exampleAn owner of a horse engaged in any race upon which there is a vast amount of betting, which, according to custom, is considered p. p.—or even if the observance of that rule were done away with, bets would, by mutual agreement when made, be always subservient to that understanding—the aforesaid owner having determined not to start his horses, but, by direct and indirect means, leads persons to the belief that it is his intention to try to win, sets an agent or agents to bet against the horse, and by so doing defrauds persons of their cash. On sufficient proof the parties so conspiring are liable to an indictment for fraud ; and a some. what similar precedent has not long since taken place.
" The rules of racing affect persons who are absolutely engaged in that occupation as owners of horses ; but there are many of them still very defective, although they have been amended and revised on many occasions. Our ancestors found it expedient to pass several laws on the subject of horse-racing, all of which are repealed; there is consequently no tribunal but the Jockey Club, who, unfortunately, have not the power of examining witnesses on oath; or, in fact, of compelling any persons to give evidence. Important facts, therefore, in many instances cannot be proved. The acknowledged rules of betting can only be held in force by members of Tattersall's and the Rooms at Newmarket, extending them likewise to frequenters of Epsom, Ascot, Goodwood, York, Doncaster, and other influential meetings, where any person guilty of infractions can, on complaint and proof, be excluded ; but the bettinghouses have opened a new arena for the devices of defaulters and others of unscrupulous character. In that respect they are seriously injurious to the welfare of racing ; but if they could be confined to respectable persons, and those persons acknowledged members of Tattersall's, they would be no more objectionable than betting at the Corner or on tho
course, and there are some established on that footing ; but as there does not appear to be any practical means of distinction, in all probability Government will interfere and adopt measures for their suppression--an accomplishment which may be very readily effected by passing a law against giving or depositing á sum of money in order to have a certain sum repaid on the issue of a race or any other event. The betting-houses could not be conducted upon any other principle than that of having the stake deposited. They could not trust strangers for shillings, half-crowns, crowns, or sovereigns, to be paid after an event, according to the usual manner of betting in the ring. Such a measure wonld restrain the immense amount of betting in little sums, while it would not interfere with the recognized rules of betting, except that which relates to staking or covering a bet in the event of persons not having confidence in each other. It has been urged as unconstitutional to attempt to restrain betting or gambling among the lower orders without including all classes, but that is a weak argument; there is a palpable distinction between inexperienced youths being induced to gamble without means, and, consequently, seduced by the flattering, fallacious, hopes of gain, to rob their parents, their employers, or strangers, for the purpose of procuring those means, or of the man who, by his industry, knowledge of his craft, and frugality, is barely enabled to support his wife and children, or of the little tradesman, whose condition is similar, either of whom must, under any circumstances, straighten himself to provide the necessary amount, and the man who is possessed of experience and capital sufficient to enable him, even if unsuccessful in some of his ventures, to wait the time for the return of his money."
My friend then proceeded to relate three most glaring acts of fraud, two of which occurred more than five-and-twenty years ago, emanating in employing an agent to negotiate bets. « On one occasion,” said he, " I had a horse to run at one of the hunt meetings for a forced handicap made on the course ; considering the weight very unfavourable, I was desirous of hedging my stake, which was ten pounds, and, as I was about to ride the horse myself, requested an acquaintance to do this for me, and declare what he had done to any respectable person in the ring. My horse proved himself better than I expected, as he was second in a field of six others, and was only beaten by the superior jockeyship of the gentleman who rode the winner. On seeking the person to whom I had given the commission, he informed me he had not made the bet, yet my horse was backed by many at five to one, and some time afterwards I accidentally discovered that he had won ten pounds about my horse ; thus, had I won the race, he would undoubtedly have informed me he had made the bet, and the greater portion of the stake would have been appropriated to its liquidation." On another occasion he told me, that having backed Memnon for the St. Leger at ten to one, in the course of the summer when he had risen to three to one he was desirous to hedge his money, and being in the country wrote to the same individual, not then suspecting the trick he had been served on the other event, to request him to lay those odds ; shortly afterwards he received an answer stating that he had laid three-and-ahalf to one, which was more than the current betting ; but, as the name of a very substantial frequenter of Tattersall's was given, he made no further objection than expressing a slight dissatisfaction.