08/29/2013 12:29PM

History challenge: Racing's most bizarre episodes

Keeneland Library
This horse’s win in the 1924 Derby was clear, but the rest of the finish was disputed, thanks to photos and newsreels.

Since formal racing was introduced in America on Long Island, N.Y., nearly 350 years ago, the colorful sport has produced more than its share of unusual and fascinating tales.

One occurred 100 years ago at Timonium Race Track in Maryland, a venue that opened for racing in 1887 and continues to this day (the current meet, part of the Maryland State Fair, closes Sunday).

On Sept. 5, 1913, in the fifth race at Timonium, Racing Bell, a 7-year-old mare, finished second to favored Royal Onyx in a six-furlong selling race (predecessor to today’s claiming race).

A half-hour later, the same Racing Bell went wire to wire to capture the sixth and final race on the card, a 4 1/2-furlong allowance, by six lengths.

Jockey Tommy Wright refused to ride Racing Bell when he learned the horse had been walked four miles on a hot afternoon to the track from where she was stabled and had been entered in two races that day. Jack Upton substituted.

Adding to the unusual event, the fourth and featured race on the card, a two-mile steeplechase, was won by the 6-year-old Racebrook, a full sister to Racing Bell – both were sired by Racine, out of the broodmare Miss Wandelohr.

Test your knowledge of these other unusual episodes in racing history.

1. Before the advent of the first photo-finish cameras in the early 1930s, the order of finish was determined by the placing judges, three men stationed on a platform above the finish line.

How many thousands of finishes were called wrong is anyone’s guess. Did Spokane really win the 1889 Kentucky Derby? The only Derby winner bred in Montana, Spokane was given the nose victory after a long deliberation by the three judges. But Spokane finished on the rail, and the heavily favored Proctor Knott drifted out badly to finish on the outside fence, making it impossible for the human eye to determine who really crossed the line first. Even the official chart caller noted that opinion was evenly divided.

Thirty-five years later, the judges got it wrong in the Kentucky Derby, and this time newsreels and photos developed hours later proved it. What happened?

2. Calling finishes without a camera was problematic, but the other end of the race – the start without a starting gate – was also challenging and often controversial.

Starting stalls were not introduced until the 1920s, and magnetically held spring gates on the stalls did not make their debut until 1939.

Races often required multiple restarts, and delays of 10 to 20 minutes were not unusual in the pre-stall days.

Probably the most famous delay came in the rich 1893 American Derby at old Washington Park near Chicago. By varying accounts, there were 25 to 40 restarts, with some horses running a furlong before being brought back. The start was delayed one hour and 30 minutes.

For the rest of his long life, the starter was never able to live down that infamous incident in what was then one of the country’s two most important races for 3-year-olds (along with the Travers).

In his twilight years with the sport, this same starter was once again involved in a notorious incident – this time with a racing immortal. Name the starter and the incident.

3. Modern-day starters are an almost invisible part of the sport. Fans ire today is usually aimed at what they see as incompetent jockeys or stewards.

One starter did enrage a jockey, so much so that the rider asked the stewards to reprimand him. In the 1970 Arlington Classic, jockey Bill Hartack (winner of five Kentucky Derbys) was aboard George Lewis, who reared badly at the start. Hartack filed a formal protest against starter James Thompson. It was dismissed by the stewards.

Fans today complain that no one seems to be policing the stewards when they make bad decisions.

In 1985, however, a decision by three stewards disqualifying the winning horse in a $265,000 prep race that had produced 13 winners of the Kentucky Derby was overruled. What happened?

4. In 1940, New York grudgingly became the last major racing state to ban bookmakers and adopt parimutuel wagering.
By the end of that year, the amount of money wagered surpassed everyone’s wildest expectations. The state and tracks now understood why the bookies had been driving fancy cars and living in luxurious homes.

In 1939, New York was collecting $25 a day from the tracks in license fees and a 15 percent tax on admission fees – netting less than $400,000 that year. In 1940, the state collected nearly $6 million from the mutuel take, license fees, and taxes – a 15-fold increase.

Two years later, management of the New York tracks took a look at parimutuel wagering and did something that would be astonishing today. What did they do?

5. The film patrol was first introduced at Hollywood Park in 1941. Small motion picture cameras were mounted on the side of the binoculars used by the eight patrol judges stationed around the track.

The film was developed, spliced, and made available the next day to the stewards who reviewed the replays and made decisions regarding reprimanding or suspending jockeys.

After the war, Hollywood Park built film towers around the track and races were filmed by professional camera crews.

Lou Smith, the flamboyant owner of Rockingham Park in Salem, N.H., came up with his own novel way of getting film of races to the stewards in 1946. Unfortunately, it lasted just one day. What was it?

Get the answers HERE.