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New Barns, if we did not meet Captain Pigott in the madding
crowe family nam Pigott, v.P. for KinroGraham
3rd Dragoocaptain Pipas originally
The family name was originally Graham; but the grandfather of Captain Pigott, Colonel Graham, formerly in the 3rd Dragoon Guards, and M.P. for Kinross, assumed the name of Foster Pigott in conjunction with Graham on inheriting some property. Born in 1840, the subject of our present sketch was educated at Eton, and at the age of eighteen was gazetted to an ensigncy in the 60th Rifles, with which regiment he served until 1863, when on attaining his lieutenancy he exchanged into the Scots Greys, and was quartered with that gallant and sporting corps in Ireland for some few years. There Captain Pigott had ample opportunities for indulging his love of sport of all kinds, of which cross-country contests were certainly not the least to his liking. He soon got together a small stud of chasers, and with Punchestown, then perhaps at its zenith, with good cattle and good men to ride them—the days. when “ Jock” Ainslie commanded the Royals; when Harford, Hutton, Pritchard-Rayner, Candy, Smith, and Tom Pickernell were going strong ; the halcyon days of steeplechasing, in fact — Captain Pigott, had, we think, a very fair time. We well remember on the occasion of the Prince and Princess of Wales' visit to Ireland in 1868, when Punchestown saw the biggest crowd of gentle and simple on its hillside that ever gathered there before or since, Captain Pigott had induced Colonel Harford to come over and ride Excelsior for him in the Prince of Wales' Plate, which he was. fortunate enough to win from a field of twenty horses. Among his other successes, Captain Pritchard-Rayner, on The Scrub, won the Light Weight Military at Liverpool for him; and by the way Scrub ran a capital second to that good horse Juryman at the same Punchestown just mentioned. “Lord Marcus," on more than one occasion, sported Captain Pigott's colours, and landed Roundhead and The Owl first past the chair.
In 1871 Captain Pigott quitted the service, and, taking up his residence at Cheriton House, Hants-once the headquarters of the H. H., when Major Barrett was their master-showed his zeal for fox-hunting by taking the not always agreeable post of honorary secretary to the hunt. That he discharges the sometimes invidious duties of that position with energy tempered by affability, those who know him well can readily believe. It is always ungracious to ask for money, but Captain Pigott tides over the difficulty, and considers that a well-timed letter is better than a personal application. He has a cheery word for everyone, is popular with all classes, and the sporting yeomen and farmers of the H. H. look upon him as a friend.
Though a good all-round sportsman, racing both on the flat and between the flags we should say was his favourite occupation. We have above remarked on his keenness, and an
instance of this occurs to us which we may give here. It was at a Lewes November about a year ago—and a howling storm of wind and rain was sweeping over the downs, not, pace Mr. George Verrall, a spot we should by choice select for a November meeting—the writer of this brief biography having, in a very cowardly way, turned it up early in the afternoon, and meeting a friend a few days afterwards who had been there, we remarked that probably he had done the same, as the weather had got worse with the close of the day. "Well," said our friend, “it was bad, and no mistake; I should like to have got away, but, you see, Pigott was in our party, and— ” We stopped him; there was no occasion to say anything more. Let the elements rage as they like -wind, rain, and cold combine to do their very worst-we knew that nothing would have induced our gallant friend to stir until the last event on the card was decided. More power to him! Long may he live to back winners and look after the finances of the H. H.! May we continue to meet him on many a hard fought field; sometimes, perchance, to be put in the right path by his superior judgment, at all events to share in his pleasant greeting and his kindly smile !
to meet be put share
One of the greatest difficulties of racing is, and always has been, the art of handicapping. Without it, we are all agreed that racing would lose its most exciting charm, and, from a betting point of view, would not be worth pursuing. Without it, the sterling merit of good horses could not be adequately tested. Without it, bad horses would be useless on the turf. Without it, in short, racing could not live. Nothing short of the necromancer's wand, you will say, can suffice to give all a chance to win, especially when every device that highly trained human nature can conceive and contrive is banded together to circumvent and outwit the handicapper. It is indeed this almost supernatural difficulty as pertaining to his office that makes him a character standing out by himself in bold relief in the racing world; in front even of the Jockey Club, his masters.
With nunquam dormio as his motto, he must be everywhere, with ears and eyes open, listening and watching, often hearing, often deaf, discerning, weighing, choosing, a judge withal of condition, pace, and jockeyship; a diviner of men and horses alike, a man of temper and of the keenest judgment; one who can command friendship broadcast, and use it with discre
tion; in fine, a man who claims universal respect from the even balance of his mind and actions.
Yes, and a Prime Minister could not be much more, I fancy I hear your readers say; and yet he is only the official handicapper after all! He must have shortcomings. My answer to this is the trite old saying: “It is in the nature of man to err." Admiral Rous for years was a splendid specimen of an ideal handicapper, and yet he had his failings ; at least, his failures were many, and so are those of his successors; not that I wish to disparage the Nestors of the present-far from it, as I consider we have in Major Egerton, Mr. Ford, and two or three other eminent handicappers, men worthy of the highest esteem, and who labour worthily to uphold the honour of their position.
It is with their difficulties and partial failures, however, that, as a critic, I have to deal. Let us see wherein and why they sometimes fail. If we go back twenty or thirty years and look at the big handicaps then brought off, we shall, at first sight, be inclined to say, what a falling off in results present themselves now, as compared with then! Take the Chester Cup of 1859. There were thirty-three runners; Fisherman carried the top weight, 9 st., and Olympias the lowest, 4 st. 4 lb., while the winner was Leamington, six-year-old, carrying 8 st. 2 lb., and starting favourite at 5 to 1 against him. Herne, four years with 6 st. 4 lb., was second, and Botany, four years 5 st. 6 lb., third ; and Prioress, six years 7 st. 4 lb., fourth. Here was a triumph of handicapping. Taking a range of nearly 5 st. in adjusting the weights, and over two and a quarter miles of ground, succeeding in drawing together such a big field, wherein a moderately good but staying six-year-old had to give 26 lb. to one four-year-old and 38 lb. to another, and succeeded in accomplishing what he was backed for a big fortune to do. Numerous other instances can be found in this notable year 1859 of similar great handicaps. In the Cesarewitch thirty-six started, and it ended in a dead heat between Artless and Gaspard, both three-year-olds, carrying 5 st. 2 lb. and 6 st. 9 lb. respectively—the lighter weight winning the final heat. In that year the Cambridgeshire was won by a horse carrying 5 st. 3 lb.; the Lincoln Handicap by a five-year-old, 6 st. 12 lb. ; the Liverpool Spring Cup was a dead heat between two three-year-olds carrying 5 st. 7 lb. and 4 st. 10 lb. respectively; the City and Suburban by a three-year-old, 4 st. 10 lb.; and the Metropolitan by a four-year-old 7 st. 9 lb., and the Hunt Cup at Ascot by a three-year-old, 7 st. 2 lb. In the handicaps in that year large fields predominated.
Are we to deduce from this that by comparison the handicapping of the present day is a failure, and that the scale of weights is not wide enough nowadays? I think in answer to this that we certainly cannot boast of such results nowadays,
and that we ought to have a wide scale of weights for our big handicaps. Circumstances have much altered since 1859. The class of handicap horse has improved as a whole, and trainers at home get at the relative form of their own and other stables easier than then. Touting has totally upset the silent system of training a dark horse. Consequently owners and trainers do not care to swell the fields in handicaps, where they know they have no chance, and throwing dust in the eyes of a handicapper nowadays is no easy matter. With Major Egerton, it is said (how truly, I know not), that to win a race is the surest way to his heart. Of one thing I am convinced, and that is that we want a new departure in handicaps and handicapping. We ought to open the scale a bit more, if it be possible, and we ought to have a little more variety in the matter of distances. An excellent suggestion has been thrown out of late, as to having assistant handicappers. Two heads are proverbially better than one. Why should not there be, in the case of important handicaps, three distinct compilations, and then let the compilers meet together and digest their divergent ideas in open and fair discussion: the third man acting as umpire. In this way, I venture to think, some fine handicaps of a wide scope could be framed, which would recall the deeds of old days, bring many training stables into the field, open all the betting-books instanter, and increase the public excitement in racing.
Money is not wanting nowadays, nor brains either, if paid for. It was a capital idea of the Sporting Times the other day (at least it so struck me) to have a big, long-distance handicap at Ascot on the last day, giving up the Alexandra Plate, which is a mere reflex of the Gold Cup of the day before, and has proved a failure, from a racing point of view, over and over again. What a magnificent chance there would be of drawing together all classes of horses in a three-mile race, on such a give-take course as Ascot, with weights ranging between 10st. and 5st. 71b.! Such a race for £2,000 would be & splendid test of handicapping, and add enormously to the attractions of the week. Money here is no object; why not follow Corlett, for once, backed up by Baily, and try it, oh, ye patricians of Ascot! “ The Long Walk” International Handicap of 2,000 sovs., three miles—what in Europe would beat it ? And let every recognised handicapper have a hand in its framing; the more the merrier. Are owners likely to object to such a course? And would not the British public at once sing out “encore ” ? If Ascot would not jump to the occasion, I would venture to suggest to the Duke of Richmond seizing on the idea, in the place of the worn-out old Goodwood Stakes; but then the Goodwood time of year is so much against training long-distance horses, that we think nowhere would such an experiment succeed so well as at Ascot, where there is something even beyond the racing element pure and simple to make it go. There should be at least one great long-distance handicap in each month of the racing season. Instead of this, what do we see? Only one in the whole season, which can be called a big handicap, and that is the Cesarewitch, facile princeps, and worthy of much duplication, if our character for breeding staying horses is to be maintained.
The fact is that the handicappers, Major Egerton especially, are overworked, not so much with the greater handicaps, as with a multiplicity of short cut affairs, wherein the same class of horses come up over and over again, and run as in and out as horses possibly can do; in fact, a length at the start does more to upset the handicapper's calculations than aught else, and it must be very sickening to their feelings to see a horse come romping home ten lengths in front one day, and with 7 lb. more on his back walk in with the crowd. Nothing tends to make the framer of weights suspicious about dropping weights on certain horses so much as the bad habit now in vogue of stopping horses the moment they find there is another horse in the race that can probably beat them. Handicappers rely little on placings nowadays, except in our very biggest handicaps, where large place books are made.
It is, however, consoling to think that we do not now see overnight handicaps worked between the lessee and certain owners, as was occasionally the case many years back. I will give you a case in point for the truth of which I can vouch, and it is only a type of what was then a system. A friend of mine, then rather a large owner of horses, had had a bad autumn. The then lessee of a certain racecourse, etc., accosting my friend, in his blandest tones bid him patronise his meeting, and he would ensure that he should meet with “a retriever. In fact, he should make his own handicap. All that was asked in return was that no demand was to be made upon the lessee for the value of the stake, and, perhaps, a trifle put on the horse for him. Terms were accepted; a very useful, although rather overgalloped, racehorse was chosen for the job. The clerk of the course, in his usual plausible way, put off my friend until the last day, when a 40 sov. handicap plate was duly announced to close the night before, and, according to promise, the names of about fourteen horses were sent late on the evening to him to be handicapped. Of course, it required very little ingenuity to put these as he desired them to finish in the race. The handicap was returned in good time, telegrams written out to be despatched at the opening of the offices in the morning, and my friend's stake was duly arranged to be put on. Judge of his horror on picking up the race-card on the next morning (not very early) to find two other horses in his pet race that were not in his list last night; more horrible still, they were both as low in the handicap as my friend's horse, and