TURF FRAUDS AND TURF PRACTICES. WHO IS IT?
Observer, Rōrahi 7, Putanga 228, 24 Kohitātea 1885, Page 9
TURF FRAUDS AND TURF PRACTICES.
WHO IS IT?
A BARK HOUSE."
To the best of my belief, there never was but one man who kept racehorses, and from his first start on the turf made money by the business. Most cavalry officers who were in the service ten or twelve years ago must remembe — and will recognise under the name I give him — Captain Half, of the 9th Dragoon Guards. His colonel would have given anything to get rid of him, but never could catch him doing what was actually wrong enough to compromise him. To look at on pamde, he was slouching, shabby, ill set-up, wor.se dressed, and still worse mounted — " an eyesore to the 9th," as the commanding officer, both the majors, the. adjutant, and every officer Avho took pride in the corps, used to say. Half hated the service, and the service hated him. When with the regiment, he seldom dined at mess, for he preferred a steak and a clay pipe in the parlour of a public, with some brokendown trainer for a companion, to the society of his brother officers. On some pretext or other, he was ever away on leave. Ho Avas not a nice man in any sense of the word. In 1868, he would have been called "a cad" ; in 1850, he was called "a snob," and a snob he was of the very worst kind, but not a fool by
his friends, that they had to pay him over ten thousand rupees on his leaving India. This, added to about twenty thousand rupees he had made and saved, made Half a little purse of £8000 with which to begin his sporting life in England. He did not go in for the great races ; what he looked for was to win money at small third-class meetings, or at inferior races run at large meetings, lie was not only an excellent judge of a horse, but could doctor a lame leg, or make up a regular weed so that the nagwas safe to run, and perhaps to win one or two races. At the time I write of, his stud consisted of a fair second-rate steeplechase horse, two very inferior " platers," and a "dark horse 1 ' called Cormorant, which had never yet run, and of which lialf professed to have a very high opinion. Cormorant was a very dark brown, almost a black, three-year-old colt, whose name was in the stud-book, and which had been purchased by Half at a .sale of yearlings two years previously. The animal had been knocked down cheap, because he had an incipient splint, which was pretty certain to spoil his galloping. When this horse was a two-year-old, lialf tried to train him, but always failed, on account of the splint. The animal never went lame at starting, and would sometimes go through a fast spin of half a mile without showing any signs of what was his weak
The above engraving has been left at this office by some good-natured friend who, however, has omitted the trifling formality of supplying a key to the identity of the distinguished personage whose noble and intellectual lineaments it is intended to hand down to a grateful and an admiring posterity. But after much perturbation of soul, and desperate efforts at mind-n-iding, we fancy we detect in the portrait a striking resemblance to our next-door neighbour, Mr Moi'ifim-Morris, the projector and editor of the Evening Telephone. There is the same benevolent, self-siiti-fied expression of countenance, the same intellectual brow, the same "silver threads among the gold " in the manly beard, and the very identical spectacles. We are perfectly aware that some engravings, liko Artemus Ward's wax " figgers," may, by judicious management, be made to represent person -Tges of (.be most opposite type of characters, which, after all, onh goes to show that humanity, from the king to the peasant, is cast in one common mould, but, if the above is not a lfkeness of Mi- Morgtu- Harris, it must be one of his twin brother, or alter ego.
any means. He knew Avell enough as " Half, of the 9th, 1 ' he could gain admittance to many places, and do many things, which would be impossible for plain Mr Half, "a man on the turf," to accomplish. The first chief object Half had in life was to make money, his second to be thought a "sporting" man, and his third to command the approval and approbation of the hangers-on, Avho deemed it no small privilege to be known as acquaintances of an officer iv the army, who Avas the owner of racehorses.
Captain Ealf, beyond the value of his commission, which his father had purchased for him, had never been possessed of a shilling except what he had made. He had commenced soldiering in India, and when stationed there had bought a horse " on tick," which he trained, ran, and won enough in six months with to pay the two thousand rupees (£2OO in English money) he owed the dealer for the animal. Twelve months later he had won enough to purchase another horse, and a year after that he had a string of six first-rate Arabs in training. These were not all his own property, for he was at that time partner — or " confederate," as it is often called in India with two other officers, who were with him joint owners of the stud. But a partnership in which Half was concerned meant an undertaking in which, whoever lost, that worthy was certain to gain. In due time Ralfs corps was ordered Home, and he somehow so managed to make up the accounts of himself and
point. But after any longer distance he invariably pulled up dead lame, and was never able to be trained for more than two days together. As a rule, Half never kept his racehorses near where the regiment was stationed. They used to travel about from races to races all the summer months, in much the same way that showmen take their vans from fair to fair. The fact was that the Captain had the sense to know that certain of his turf transactions would hardly bear strict investigation, and that the less chance there was of his coming across his commanding officer, the more there would be of his not being obliged to leave the army, But on one occasion, when the !)th was stationed at Cottonstir, Cormorant was named to run in some of the most valuable races. The men of Cottonstir bet very freely and pay very readily — two qualifications which Half was not the man to forget nor to allow to slip. For some days before the Cottonstir races, " Half's string," as it was called, took its regular gallops on the training ground near the racecourse, and various were the rumours as to how Cormorant was likely to run. A brother officer of' Half's, who had the courage to get up early one morning to see the horses gallop (remaining of course at a respectful distance), came back to breakfast declaring that Cormorant went 'like a bird. The next day two of his companions, who had been induced by his example to leave their beds
early, came back declaring that the nag had pulled up dead lame after the first mile. When Half was questioned, he declared that sometimes the horse was fit to win the Derby, and at others he could hardly beat a costermonger's donkey. The betting men of Cottonstir were too busy all day to lose time in seeing the horses take their spin, and too wealthy to care much if they lost even large sums. The betting was chiefly carried on in the counting-houses and on 'Change. Half knew most of the leading turfites among* them, but he did his business chiefly by means of commissioners, and as he was known, to have bet both ways — backing sometimes his horse against the field, and vice versa — there was no small curiosity shown as to what would be the result of the race in which Cormorant was engaged. The chief event of the meeting was the Cottonstir Merchants' Cup, value £150, added to a sweepstakes of ten guineas, half forfeit if declared a week before the race. There were nearly twenty subscribers, and altogether the stakes would be worth £300. In the local betting lists Cormorant was quoted at twenty-five to one, at which rate it was well known that Half had backed him-to a large amount; and yet it seemed to be everybody's opinion that with the bad leg, of which mention has been made before, it was impossible the horse could win. Lord North ven was one of a class never seen out of England. In his early youth he had been in the Life Guards, and — to use the mildest possible language — had been the very reverse of steady. But at thirty-one or two he had settled down, married, and a better landlord, a kinder husband or father, a more popular master of hounds, or a. greater favourite with nil he came across, there was not throughout the kingdom. He had not kept a racehorse for yeai-s, nor did he ever win or lose more than £100 or so in the course of the year, but he knew everything going on in the turf, and had a wonderful memory respecting the points of a horse : he never forgot any horse he had once set his eyes on. On the eve of the Cup day at Cottonstir, the 9th Dragoon Guards gave a ball, and, as was to be expected, the coining event was the chief topic of conversation, both at the mess-table and — amongst men — in the ballroom. As an old turf man, and being still in the practice of betting, Lord Northven took a great deal of interest in all that he heard. Ealf Avas not present at the ball ; he had too much business to attend to, he said, to throw away his time on such nonsense. There was a good deal of betting that night at the principal hotel in the town, and the owner of Cormorant had both to make up his book and to compare bets with, turf men. who had come down from London for the meeting. The next day the Cup was to be run for at two o'clock, and very few minutes after that hour nine horses came forth from saddling, looking all more or less "fie." One of the last to aj)pear was Cormorant/ and not pleasantly surprised at his appearance were the many bookmakers who had laid out their money at twenty, twenty-one, twentyfive, and even thirty to one against the horse. He perhaps looked a trifle too fine ; but his coat and condition were perfect, and his long, swinging stride, as he took his preparatory gallop down the course, made him rise greatly in people's estimation. There was a perfect rush of betting men to get " the boot on the other leg," and back him at whatever odds were procurable, and events proved that they were not wrong. Cormorant showed no signs of laneness from first to last. He got well off, went in for a Availing race until near his distance, and then "romped home," winning easy by nearly a length. When the horses were being led back to the weighing stand, Lord Northven was observed to go up to Cormorant and scan him closely. After the animal was unsaddled, his lordship, with iDermission of the trainer, who stood by, passed his hand down the animal' rf fore-legs. Ten minutes afterwards he w;is seen talking to the Colonel of the 9th, who immediately returned to the barracks, and sent for the Adjutant of the regiment. Before the mess-hour the Colonel, the Adjutant, and Lord Northven were sitting together in the orderly room, and Captain Ealf was with him. The meeting did not last long, and by next morning it had got wind that Ealf had applied to sell out of the service. The fact was that Lord Northven had discovered in the so-called Cormorant a four-yearold which he at once know to be quite another horse, and a little inquiry elicited the fact fromEalfs head groom that the real Cormorant was in the stable, and had been galloped occasionally merely to make people think ho could not go. His lordship at once told the Colonel of the 9th what lie had discovered, and the latter, sending for Ealf, gave him an hour in which to send in his papers, on condition that ho did not claim a shilling of the bets he had won by his swindle. Ealf disappeared the same evening froni Cottonstir, and has never since been seen on an English, course.