“The plate is worth going to see without the race.”–New Orleans Picayune, 22 March 1837
After a week of contests dominated by fillies and colts, Wednesday, Day Six, closing day of the New Orleans Jockey Club’s inaugural spring races over the new Eclipse Course at Carrollton, brought two older horses, six-year-olds, to the starting line for the two mile.
“These are two of the most celebrated horses that have ever come together in a two mile race,” the New Orleans Picayune announced about the entries: the bay horse Monmouth, by John Richards, dam by Nettletop, entered by Eclipse Course Proprietor Captain Yelverton N. Oliver; and the sorrel mare from Mississippi, Colonel Osmun Claiborne’s Antelope, by Stockholder, dam by Timoleon.
“Both have been distinguished in running, one in the north, the other in the south,” The Picayune continued. “The contest will be the most doubtful we have yet had.”
Instead of purse winnings, the connections of the two-mile champion would receive a “splendid” tea service of silver, valued at $1,000–“the plate is worth going to see without the race,” The Picayune declared–and the awarding of such a prize maintained a time-honored tradition that harkened back to the earliest days of the sport:
“The gentlemen of the Turf, like the ancient nobles Hiero and others, never ran their horses for the pecuniary value of the prize to be won, but solely for the honor that a horse of their own breed and training should distinguish himself. …The prize used to be, not a purse of gold or silver, but a piece of plate.”–from The South Carolina Jockey Club, describing this Club’s eighteenth-century tradition
The Picayune mentioned that Colonel Adam L. Bingaman of Natchez, Mississippi, who’d won four out of four races during this spring meeting, had entered Antelope for the two mile on behalf of her owner, Ferdinand Leigh (F.L., or Leigh) Claiborne of Natchez, nephew of the late William C.C. Claiborne, the first Governor of Louisiana. Antelope was owned, however, by Leigh’s brother Osmun, who was not on hand at the Eclipse Course for this race; “it was much regretted that illness should have prevented the attendance of her spirited owner,” wrote the Spirit of the Times.
Entering horses on behalf of other turfmen was common–yet just days prior to the Louisiana races, Osmun Claiborne had reportedly challenged Col. Bingaman to a duel! William Johnson, himself a horse racing enthusiast and whose diary documented the daily happenings of Natchez, had recorded the following in his journal:
6 March 1837
Col A L. Bingaman Received a challenge from Col Osburn Claibourne To fight. The Col. Came in very Early this morning and got shaved He seemed to be wraped up in thought, he had nothing to say–The Roumer Says that they are to fight with Riffles–I am very Sorry to heare that they are agoing to fight–I only wish that they may be preventd from fighting for I like them Both
[The shave references the Colonel’s [Bingaman, presumably] visit to Johnson’s barbershop; it is understood that “Osburn” is really Osmun, as there was no Osburn Claiborne–ATTimes Ed.]
9 March 1837
There are Strong talk about the Duell that they Expecd
[Later in this same entry on the 9th, Johnson makes reference to honor, which may very well have been related to the duel in question]:
The Difficulty that was to have taken place to Day was very Hansomely arranged, the matter was Left to a Committee of Honor–
[Two days later, Johnson recorded the following]:
11 March 1837
To day Col Bingaman and a Large party of gentlemen Left this place for New Orleans to see the Races Mr Lee Claibourne takes down Antilope & two other nags
It’s unclear what transpired, although Osmun Claiborne apparently fell ill at some point; we must speculate that peace was ultimately restored between himself and Colonel Bingaman and the duel was prevented from happening, as Johnson had wished.
The Race: Details of the first heat between Antelope and Monmouth conflict in the race reports. “Odds were offered and taken before the race, that Monmouth would win the splendid prize, but the knowing ones generally were taken in,” stated The Picayune; the Spirit of the Times, meanwhile, remarked that the mare was the favorite 2 to 1.
After the tap of the drum signaled the start, Monmouth, with rider in red jacket and cap, set the early pace and led by some twenty-five yards. It was not until the final quarter when Antelope, also with jockey in red dress, eventually came to life, but her rival held her off to win the heat–just barely. “Had they run fifty yards further, the horse would have been beaten,” recounted The Picayune. “Monmouth was a little under the weather, or at least looked so–bets still, however, in favor of the horse.”
Yet the Spirit of the Times reported that the mare presented no threat to Monmouth in this heat, “though he was hardly himself, having encountered ‘moving accidents by flood and field’ since he left Captain Stockton’s stable in New Jersey, last fall.” Time of first heat, 4:05.
Following the break, Antelope returned to meet her foe, looking fresh as ever. In this second heat, the noble mare snatched the lead. Despite Monmouth’s tenacious attempts to pass her, he finally “shut up,” keeping up only enough to save his distance, Antelope winning the heat without a struggle. Time, 4:09.
The horse and mare were now tied, but all was not equal for the third heat, for Monmouth was “looking rather used up–done over,” while Antelope was full of vim and vigor. Bets were in favor of the mare. She ran a replay of the second heat, dominating all the way and never being extended by Monmouth, who was so “manifestly amiss.” Time, 4:27.
Observed The Picayune, “The race, as usual, was won under the auspices of the lucky Col. B., Antelope winning the two last heats with ease.”
The Spirit of the Times emphasized the apparent disregard for Monmouth’s well being, but in a rather contradictory fashion. “It is to be regretted that Capt. Oliver should have entered Monmouth when so palpably out of condition. Monmouth loses little reputation by the defeat, however, for he has run his two miles repeatedly, under heavier weights, in time that would have double distanced that made in his race on this occasion. Had he been in tip top condition, it would have been no disgrace to have been beaten by so fine a mare as Antelope; but the ‘Jersey Blues’ will regret that the reputation of one of their crack nags has been jeopardized merely to make sport.”
This race for the New Orleans Plate marked the conclusion of the 1837 inaugural spring meeting of the city’s Jockey Club over the new track at Carrollton. “From this time a new era may be dated in the annals of the Southern Turf, which is mainly attributable to the zeal and enterprise of Capt. Oliver,” remarked the Spirit of the Times. “Seconded as he is by the citizens of New Orleans, the wealthy planters of Louisiana and Mississippi, and the spirited Turfmen of the neighboring States, the races over the Eclipse Course may always be looked at with confidence as affording such brilliant sport as fine horses, large purses, and a crowded attendance will always insure.”
“The track is excellent,” continued the Spirit, “and, like wine, will improve with age.”
The following Saturday, The Picayune printed its final homage to the spring races, and the New Orleans Plate of closing day:
TO THE SILVER TEA SERVICE OF THE LOUISIANA JOCKEY CLUB
Success unto the Antelope
Who won the Plate to-day,
Altho’ she beat a better horse
As many people say.
Success unto her owner too
Who is pleased to win the race–
And should he always run such nags
He’ll never fear disgrace.
Long may this Plate which he hath won,
Bright and polished be–
And may it prove as good as bright
And suit him to a–T.
The races now are ov’r and past,
The track is left alone
And people now are hurrying fast
Toward their quiet home.
A pleasant journey then to all
We drink with all our heart,
And may the races in the fall
Bring those from whom we part.