On this day in New Orleans in January 1852, racing was cancelled on account of—snow?
Mild winters in New Orleans mean that few days, if any, fall below freezing in a given winter, thus snowfall is a rarity. While nineteenth-century race days were often rescheduled due to rainfall and the resultant heavy track, the unexpected two-to-four-inch snowfall that blanketed New Orleans on January 12, 1852, forced the Metairie Jockey Club to postpone its five-day winter meet.
”It snowed for several hours, so as to cover the streets with a white carpet—in some places three or four inches deep,” reported The Daily Delta under the headline, “Meteorological Phenomenon,” on January 13. “Snow-balls were in requisition. Juvenility was in high glee.”
The Jockey Club postponed the first day of the meet to January 15, commencing with a two-mile race for a $300 purse. The day’s race was won by William J. Minor’s 3-year-old filly La Vrai Reine (“The True Queen”), who captured both heats to beat two other fillies, Julia Dean and Tulip, over a track that was reported to be heavy despite the absence of snow. The 5-year-old mare, Tulip, rebounded on Day 5 to sweep both heats of the three-mile Handicap Purse of $500, defeating Berry, a 3-year-old gelding.
The unusual weather continued throughout the meet and also forced the rescheduling of Day 4 to January 19, on which the temperature dropped to a 21-degree low in the morning. “The intense cold caused the attendance to be much smaller than it would have been if the weather were more agreeable, and the same cause seemed to have a similar effect in diminishing the amount staked upon the issue of the race,” stated The Daily Picayune.
With few spectators at the course, Ambroise Lecomte’s 5-year-old horse Flying Dutchman won the day’s race of mile heats, best 3 in 5 for the Proprietor’s Purse of $250, beating two fillies, Janette and Jenny Owen. Yet this was not a victory without controversy, for the judges concluded that Dutchman’s jockey, under the direction of the trainer, had prevented his horse from winning the first two heats.
“The bitter coldness of the weather, the frozen track, the lateness of the hour, and the belief by the judges, members, and the visitors generally, that A.W. Small was unnecessarily delaying, and not running a bona fide race, induced the judges to allow Cols. [Thomas J.] Wells and [T.B.] Goldsby to withdraw their horses, in order to protect by-betters from being further injured by the singular manner in which Small was managing Dutchman,” an official Jockey Club report of the race stated in The Daily Picayune. “The race was therefore awarded to Dutchman, the judges not wishing to prejudice the interest of Mr. Lecomte during his absence, because of the conduct of his trainer, A.W. Small.”
The resulting mood amongst those in attendance was summarized best by The Daily Delta: “The race yesterday terminated abruptly….Considerable dissatisfaction seemed to prevail all around.”
Speaking of the name Lecomte, the month of January also brings the first of three Kentucky Derby prep races to be contested at the Fair Grounds Race Course. The upcoming G3 Lecomte Stakes on January 16 honors Louisiana’s own Lecomte, who in 1854 broke the four-mile record and was the only horse to ever beat the invincible Lexington. Lecomte was, incidentally, named by his owner Thomas J. Wells in honor of fellow turfman, Ambroise Lecomte, these two men being the same as those mentioned in the earlier story of the 1852 race meet. The Times previously wrote about the Lecomte and Lexington two-year rivalry of 1854–1855, an excerpt of which follows:
In early 1854, Duncan Kenner enhanced his racing arsenal with the addition of jockey Abe Hawkins, an enslaved rider from the Louisiana track circuit. During the 1854 Spring Meeting at New Orleans’ Metairie Race Course, Abe piloted back-to-back record-breaking victories over the second weekend of April. Aboard Kenner’s four-year-old colt Arrow, he conquered the competition in the $1,000 Jockey Club Purse at three miles, achieving the best time ever at the distance with finishing heat times of 5:36 ½ and 5:34.
But Abe’s most thrilling contest of the weekend was his ride for Northern Louisiana horseman Thomas J. Wells in a race that continued a rivalry between two 3-year-old sons of the Virginia sire Boston—Wells’ colt Lecomte, versus the undefeated Kentucky-bred, Lexington. Having lost to Lexington a week prior in Metairie’s Great State Post Stake, the valiant Lecomte returned to face him in the four mile for the $2,000 Jockey Club Purse. Lecomte’s trainer, an enslaved man hired by Wells named Hark West, insisted they enlist Kenner’s jockey, stating, “If you can get Abe to ride to Lecomte he will beat Lexington certain.”
With Abe aboard as the new rider—three pounds overweight at 89 pounds—for this demanding test of speed and stamina, Lecomte vanquished his foe while also achieving the fastest time at four miles, winning two heats in a time of 7:26 and 7:38 ¾. His record stood for nearly a year, until Lexington eclipsed his time by running a four-mile heat in the Great Match vs. Time in 7:19 ¾.
With one race triumph each at the hand of the other, Lecomte, again with Abe riding, met Lexington in one last battle over the track in April 1855 to determine the ruler of the turf. Thousands of Americans were captivated by the outcome of this race between the two half-brothers, who “commanded the earth to stand still, who hushed the winds and rebuked with waves” in this final duel of speed. Though he showed his usual mettle and vigorously fought to win the four-mile heat, Lecomte was no match for his opponent, and this final victory by Lexington was compared to a change in the reign of a dynasty.
Lecomte, however, still remains as Louisiana’s hero, and the $200,000 G3 Lecomte Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles will be held on Saturday, January 16, 2021, at Fair Grounds Race Course.