“[Col. Bingaman] has won, we believe, when not only his friends but himself thought he must inevitably lose.” – New Orleans Picayune, 23 March 1837
We know that it rained on Monday, Day Four of the New Orleans Jockey Club’s 1837 Spring Races, but fortunately the wet weather didn’t pass through until the evening, after the masses had witnessed the triumph of Fanny Wright over her two filly rivals in the four-mile, $2,000 Jockey Club Purse.
And we know that as a result of the rain, the track at the Eclipse Course was heavy for Tuesday’s contest of one-mile heats, best three in five, between Colonel Adam L. Bingaman’s four-year-old filly Angora, by Leviathan, Captain Oliver’s colt Richard of York, by Star and P.B. Starke’s four-year-old American Citizen, by Marion.
What we don’t know are most of the details of Tuesday’s race among these three plucky nags, all of whom were revisiting the track for a second time during the week-long race meeting. Angora, the victor of Friday’s three-mile, $500 Jockey Club Purse, and Richard of York, the race’s second place finisher, were returning to the course after a three-day layoff.
American Citizen, meanwhile, had lost Saturday’s two-mile, $700 purse against Leviathan filly Linnet, over a wet track that was significantly out of order. “American Citizen rather required the attention of a veterinary surgeon than that of his rider and rubbers on the track,” remarked the Spirit of the Times; “it is regretted that the health or reputation of either [racer] should have been jeopardized.”
While the particulars of Tuesday’s race are lacking, including the amount of its purse, which was comprised of the preceding days’ entrance monies, the redoubtable Angora was again unyielding in this contest, winning the first three mile heats “with all ease” against her competitors, the New Orleans Picayune recounted in its abbreviated report; the placement of Richard of York and American Citizen in each heat, however, remains unknown.
The Picayune’s “Gentleman in Black” added some perspective on the day, noting that he had been “mistaken about the rain of last night injuring the course; it was better than ever–the heavy rain beating down the track and making it more compact and firm.”
Such is the nature of chronicling the races of the period, when turf journals relied on painstaking reports from turf writers, local newspapers and jockey club secretaries. “The letter of our correspondent, and also the ‘Slips’ from the offices of the New Orleans daily papers, informing us of the result of this [Tuesday’s] race, have miscarried, though we have letters and slips two days later,” the Spirit of the Times lamented in its issue of 8 April 1837, which otherwise included an exhaustive account of the entire six-day race meeting over the Eclipse Course. The time of each heat was reported three weeks later by the Spirit: Time, 2:05–2:09–2:06.
One year later, the American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine would lead off its March 1838 issue with its “Reports of Races” article, stating that “A singular apathy seems to pervade the minds of nearly all the proprietors of race courses, in relation to the publication and recording of races. It would seem that they consider such publication and record of no consequence, and that all interest in a race terminates with its performance.”
“To us, however,” the Register continued, “there appears to be as much necessity for recording a race as there is for running it.” Arguing that the appreciation or depreciation in a horse’s value was dependent upon the publication and permanent record of racing wins and losses, it was the duty of track proprietors and secretaries, as well as the owners and breeders themselves, to ensure prompt publication of race reports.
With two wins by Angora in the New Orleans Jockey Club’s spring meeting, Colonel Bingaman of Natchez, Mississippi, was having great success with the Tennessee-bred, whom he’d purchased in 1836 following her defeat in the Great Match Race against Kentucky’s Rodolph in Louisville.
“It is a source of regret that they had not a nag of more bottom and speed to support the pretensions of Tennessee,” the Spirit of the Times had written about Angora’s loss. Another writer sounded off in the Louisville Journal: “The brief but brilliant career of Angora is gone, like the fleeting glory of a sunbeam; the sun of her fame has sunk in darkness.”
Yet the tenacious filly discredited the naysayers, rebounding under Bingaman’s tutelage by winning three races in Mississippi in the month prior to the Eclipse Course meeting. Angora beat Thomas J. Wells’ Leviathan filly Extio in two races, first on 23 February 1837, in two-mile heats for $2,000 each side, winning by “about 18 feet” in a time of 4m. 2s.
Providing a welcome resource of Natchez race accounts–including this record of Angora’s February win–is the diary of William Johnson, a free African American, business owner and barber of Natchez, who kept detailed records of the local races in his journal [neither the Spirit of the Times nor the American Turf Register had documented this match race–Turf Times Ed.].
Angora’s second win came just one week later on the first of March in a two-mile race for $450, in a time of 4m.–3m. 48s., beating Colonel Osborne Claiborne’s four-year-old filly Volin by Havoc, as well as the Wells’ filly “Ecshew,” as spelled by the American Turf Register. That same week, the indomitable Angora was to return for a $700 one-mile race, three best in five, but no other horses were entered against her; “She Loaped [sic] around Once and took the money,” read Johnson’s diary entry for this race of 4 March 1837.
Colonel Bingaman’s Natchez stable could not be beaten during the spring meeting over the Eclipse Course. “This gentleman has won, we believe, when not only his friends but himself thought he must inevitably lose,” wrote the Picayune. William Johnson likewise recorded in his journal an accurate account of Bingaman’s winning streak at New Orleans:
24 March 1837
Col Bingaman Returns from New Orleans to day, Came up on the Jone He won Every day that he Entered a horse in New Orleans Angorah won the 2 mile day, Naked Truth the 3 mile day, and Fanny Wright the 4 mile day, then Angorah won the 3 best in five
At the close of the New Orleans Jockey Club’s spring meeting, The Picayune printed the following homage to the Colonel:
ON COL. BINGAMAN’S STABLE
With all respect to other nags
That grace the course this time,
We’d mention those who’ve prov’d themselves
As racers, very fine–
Angora against the field we place,
A nag that’s hard to beat–
Winning easy every race,
As well as every heat.
Like lightning from the stand she flies,
The goal is kept in view,
From all around she quickly hies
And wins without ado.
Then next, the Naked Truth will put,
(Tho’ truth ‘tis said, comes slow,)
And overtakes, along the route,
The far fain’d nag Extio.
That is to say, the truth will stand,
Where lighter things may fall,
And tho’ she’s beat, at the first heat,
At last she beats them all.
Then next to Fanny Wright we come,
Tho’ last, not least, I’m sure,
Who for a nag that runs so fast,
Is modest and demure.
She’s proved herself a bottom nag,
Likewise first rate for speed,
And has convinced the sporting world,
She’s faster, if there’s need.
Success to Col. Bingaman,
His noble horses too,
And trust that at our next race term
We’ll have them all in view.
Success unto the Jockey Club,
A jolly, liberal set,
Who, for the time, do mighty well
And will do better yet.
Success to Col. Oliver,
The head and front of all,
And may the sums that he’s received
Be doubled in the fall.
 “Ecshew” was undoubtedly the Extio filly named previously, as spelling errors with regard to horses’ names pervaded the race reports. William Johnson’s diary had also referred to the filly as “Exito, pronounced Exsho.” Moreover, Johnson had recorded the time for the two heats in the two-mile race as 4m. 2 s.–3m. 52s.
The “Jone” mentioned in Johnson’ entry of 24 March 1837 was most likely the name of the steamboat that carried Bingaman and his stable up the Mississippi to Natchez from New Orleans.
Read Part V. of the series here: Song to the Silver Tea Service of the Louisiana Jockey Club