Tuesday, 28 July 2015

1884-01-21 Trotting on the Refrozen Surface of the Bay

“Pursuant to postponement from Wednesday, the winter meeting under the auspices of the Hamilton Trotting Association was continued on Burlington Bay Friday afternoon. The weather was all that could be desired, and the new track which had been laid out by the committee was one of the finest that has been seen on ice in Canada.”
Hamilton Weekly Times. January 21, 1884.
Despite valiant efforts to hold the scheduled Hamilton Trotting Association’s event on Wednesday January 1884, the slushy, watery surface above the thick ice below precluded a safe, fair contest.
Two days later, the weather had co-operated in that the temperature, particularly during the overnight hours, had dropped substantially:
“The contrast between the appearance of things on the opening day and yesterday was most striking. On Wednesday, biped and quadruped alike was almost knee-deep in water and slush, yesterday solid ice predominated over the entire surface of the bay, and no matter where they drove, horsemen had a feeling of perfect security.”
“Hamilton Trotting Association : Opening of the Winter Meeting on Burlington Bay Wednesday : A Slushy, Watery Track"
Hamilton Weekly Times.    January 21, 1884.
The conditions on the Wednesday had alarmed many of those present who might not have been familiar with the Hamilton bay during the wintertime:
“On Wednesday, biped and quadruped alike was almost knee-deep in water and slush yesterday solid ice predominated over the entire surface of the bay, and no matter where they drove, horsemen had a feeling of perfect security. Of course, at this season of the year, the ice on Burlington Bay generally reaches a thickness of 18 or 20 inches, but when this fact is not generally known, and when a considerable quantity of water is everywhere visible, it is little wonder, as was the case on Wednesday, that people felt nervous in localities where the crowds do most congregate on such occasions.1
Two days later, it was a much different, less unsettling, track on the bay which was seen by thousands of spectators who attended the event:
“There were, as already been intimated, no grounds for such fears yesterday, and from the first ringing of the bell at 2 o’clock sharp until the gathering shades of evening compelled cessation of proceedings, the sport was carried on uninterruptedly.
“If there were 2,000 spectators present on the opening day, fully twice that number witnessed the races yesterday. All kinds of vehicles were pressed into service by all kinds of people, from the roughly constructed country “jumper” to the most fashionable equipages belonging to leading citizens.
“A great many ladies graced the gathering with their presence, and seemed to enjoy the proceedings as much as their companions of the sterner sex.”1
It was an event that involved trotting horses, not racing horses but as there was considerable gambling going on, drivers and their backers tried for every advantage that could be attained:
“Considerable interest was taken in all the events, and the anxious looks of the hundreds who surrounded the judges’ stand prior to the hanging out of the blackboard at the conclusion of each heat betokened that a great deal of money had been invested in pools.”1
With so much money being changed hands, there were accusations occasionally that some corrupt goings-on had taken place.
One horse, Butcher Boy, was the focus of many suspicions :
“A scene of excitement occurred opposite the stand. It was declared by the backers of Butcher Boy that his driver was making no effort to win. One gentleman asserted that the man had received $100 to ‘pull’ the horse, and the driver of one of the other horses stated that Butcher Boy had been kept on a gentle jog along the far side of the track.
“The judges were requested to change the driver, and Johnny Gillespy was put up behind the Boy for the remainder of the trot.”
In the next heat, with a new driver, Butcher Boy, was the winner:
          “Butcher Boy was the only one that kept his feet throughout the heat, and he, too, did a little running down the home stretch. Frank F. passed the judges’ stand first, but after consultation the judges decided to credit the heat to Butcher Boy, making him winner of the trot. Frank F. was marked second, Pirate third, George B. fourth and Keenan fifth.
“The result, of course, gave unbounded satisfaction to the owner and backers of Butcher Boy, but the very reverse to those who had put their up their money on Frank F. These latter surrounded the stand, and in language which was far from parliamentary, pointed out to the judges the lack of fairness which had characterized their decisions.”1
The Times reporter was near the judge’s stand when the dispute over the judge’s decision was at its most intense. Writing his report back at the office, the following is how he recounted the angry words as remembered:
“ ‘In the first place, judges, you had no business to recognize the horse (Frank F.) at all, if you had determined to treat him in that way. I and scores of others put up our money under the impression that it was a fair deal, but I have it on excellent authority that a friend of one of the judges has money up on Butcher Boy and that this judge promised to see him win. It is downright robbery, and you know it.’ ”
“The irate sport was asked to mention the name of the guilty judge and pointed out Mr. Whitely, of Seaforth. That gentleman positively declared that he had not a cent at stake on any of the events, and there is little doubt that he was speaking the truth. The backers of Frank F. then asked that all pools should be declared off, but the judges refused to take this course. “1
While the early competitions involved horses, drivers and wagons from many parts of the province, the final trot involved only local participants.
The “Local Trot” as it was called was not without controversy as well, particularly the matter of trotting versus running :
“The horses for this event were then rung up, and eleven instead of thirteen who were in the trot at the beginning put in an appearance.
Second Heat – With so many horses and a track narrowed down to the smallest limit by a wall of stubborn humanity, it is little wonder that the drivers had difficulty in getting away in any kind of decent shape. From the shape of the track, it was also difficult for the one on the stand to follow the several competitors closely with the naked eye, and determine just what horses were behaving rightly at the father end.
Third Heat – After three attempts the horses were allowed to go, and in the annals of the turf such a trotting match was never before seen, and for the credit of trotting in Canada, it is hoped that there will never be a repetition of it.
“ ‘Why,’ said Mr. Hinds, ‘that is a running race!’ ‘That’s just what it is,’ sighed Mr. Dickenson, while Mr. Whitely said nothing, but was a-thinking deeply all the while.
“Meanwhile every horse galloped round the course for all he was worth, amidst the hurrahs of the multitude. The drivers called up in front of the stand and Mr. Hinds reminded them that it was trotting – not running – the people had come to see, and warned them not to repeat the exhibition, or every mother’s son of them would be ‘sent to the barn.’ The blackboard when it was next shown bore the legend ‘No heat.’
“Fourth Heat – The drivers acted better this time, leaving very little room for complaint on the score of running.
“Fifth Heat – “Several false starts made the judges assert themselves, and certain of the drivers were warned if they did not quit their ‘monkeying’ fines would be imposed under association rules. The warning seemed to have the desired effect, and at the next attempt, they were sent away.”1
Considerable money changed hands and unlike the incident involving Butcher Boy, there was no questioning of the judging.
The Times reporter ended his account of the Hamilton Trotting Association’s 1884 meeting with several miscellaneous observations he made while out on the ice:

Notes and Incidents

Mr. Thomas Armstrong performed the duties of starter, and Mr. Abraham Swayze, those of patrol judge, very efficiently.

“The judges say there never before was such a large turnout at a race meeting on Hamilton.

“Scores of skaters, amongst them some females, enjoyed themselves on the bay during the afternoon. Some of them, time and again, boldly crossed the track almost beneath the horses’ feet.

“A man named Bridgwood showed his lack of sense and humanity by galloping his span of small horses, with a large crowd in a band sleigh, up and down the ice throughout the afternoon. As he was varying the diversion  by driving the poor jaded beasts up the hill near the G.T.R., the double-tree broke and the sleigh slid back. More than one who witnessed the mishap said they would have had no sympathy with Bridgwood had his neck been cracked.

“At about 3:30 a horse belonging to Mr. Cooper, grocer, took fright, threw out his driver, and galloped on the ice easterly along the Great Western wharves. Ayoung man caught hold of the sleigh and was about to secure the reins and attempt to stop the animal, when he thought of the sewer and abandoned his efforts. In another instant, the horse had plunged into the opening on the ice. An immense crowd rushed to the scene, and it is very well that the ice in the vicinity of the sewer did not give way to the pressure. If it had, a thousand people would have been drowned.

“An old man, named Stephen Sealey, who lives on Picton street, was standing on the course with his back to the horses as they were scoring in the 2:30 trot. He was struck by one of the runners on the leg and thrown violently on the ice. The shaft also hit him in the back. In the fall, his head was very severely hurt. Drs. Stark and Anderson attended to him, and when he returned to consciousness, Constable McMahon conveyed him home. Sealey is pretty badly but not seriously hurt. He is well up in years and in poor circumstances.”




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