“Out on Parole ($500,000)”

May 10, 1879

Frank Bellew

“Out on Parole ($500,000)”

Anglo-American Relations; Sports and Recreation; Symbols, John Bull;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

Great Britain;

No caption

This cartoon pictures a glum John Bull who has just lost money betting on the outcome of the Newmarket Handicap.  A six-year-old American gelding named Parole easily won the race by six lengths after odds were set at 100-15 against him because of rumors that he was lame.  Harper's Weekly published an illustrated article and four cartoons, including this one, on Parole's victory.

Horse racing appeared at the Olympic games in Ancient Greece and is one of the world's oldest sports, undergoing little change in its essential elements over the centuries.  The first known purse for a race was offered in twelfth-century England, and British kings in the 17th century, notably Charles II, bred racehorses and sponsored "meetings" (competitions).  In the eighteenth century, racecourses were constructed throughout England, and in 1750 the Jockey Club was established at Newmarket, a governing authority that continues to control British horseracing.

In 1665, Governor Richard Niccols of New York introduced horse racing to the English colonies in America.  It became particularly popular in Virginia and other areas of South.  It was a sport of the gentry, but enjoyed by spectators from all classes.  After interruptions during the French and Indian War and the American War for Independence, the sport revived in the 1790s.  In the early-nineteenth century, horse racing spread to the Western states and territories between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River, with horse breeding becoming a major enterprise in Kentucky.  Perhaps the nation’s first sports magazine, American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine (1829), was devoted to horseracing.  

The sport first generated a mass following during the 1830s, and reached the height of its popularity over the next decade.  In 1842, over 50,000 watched the Fashion-Peytona race at Union Course on Long Island, which eight reporters from the New York Herald covered.  In the 1850s, increased sectional tensions diminished the occurrence of the formerly popular North-South challenges, and interest in horse racing suffered with the rise of other spectator sports and types of public entertainment.  

In 1864, John Morrissey, New York politician and former prizefighter, opened a racetrack at Saratoga, New York, which was an immediate success.  Following the Civil War, several wealthy Americans invested their money in breeding and racing horses.  In 1865 Leonard Jerome, August Belmont, and William Travers founded the American Jockey Club in order to bring respectability to a sport that had become associated with gamblers (like Morrissey) and other lowlifes.  The next year, Jerome built Jerome Park in Fordham, New York, which in 1867 featured the first Belmont Stakes.  In 1873, the Preakness Stakes commenced at Pimlico (established in 1870), and in 1875 Churchill Downs in Louisville inaugurated the Kentucky Derby.  The three races later became known collectively as the Triple Crown.

Newmarket in Suffolk, England, was the center of English horse racing, and the Newmarket Handicap was one of the sport's premier events.  In a handicap race, the horses carry weights according to their age and gender, with the younger horses or fillies carrying less than mature or male horses.  In the nineteenth century, handicaps were often the most lucrative races.  

Parole, the victor in 1879, had been fouled at Chestnut Hill, outside Philadelphia, in 1873, and purchased by Pierre Lorillard the next year.  Parole won six races as a two year old, including twice each at Saratoga and Long Branch (New Jersey), lost the Kentucky Derby as a three year old, captured the Saratoga Cup and several other races as a four year old, and won eight of ten races as a five year old.  Parole was the leading money winner in England and the United States during this time, and was later inducted into the National Thoroughbred Hall of Fame.

In the late-nineteenth century, the centers of American horse racing were in the major metropolitan areas, such as New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco.  The sport remains very popular today, attracting millions of spectators and betters who wager billions of dollars.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Out on Parole ($500,000)”
December 6, 2023

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