I spent the past weekend in the D.C. area for my real job and was able to spend an afternoon at the Library of Congress where I blitzed through three years of The National Turf Digest, a publication that I have quoted from in the past and one of my favorite (albeit hard to find) racing sources.
The National Turf Digest was founded by Walter Montague in 1924. “Montee,” as he was known in the pages of the NTD, was a successful horseplayer and a more successful tout. It was from money earned from playing the horses and selling his “miracle system” that he started his popular publication with the motto: “Makes it better for the bettor”.
In the words of Raleigh Burroughs – editor of the magazine starting in the mid-1950s – the early editions of the NTD included “everything from clockers’ reports to stories of people in racing, and pictures — many, many pictures.” The NTD reviewed handicapping methods and frequently exposed fraudulent systems for beating the races.
In 1931, Montee died in a car crash in California. That same year, The National Turf Digest changed its name to Turf and Sport Digest and survived well into the 20th century.
I’ve spent this week sorting through the few hundred digital images that I snapped during my whirlwind research trip to the Library of Congress, so I didn’t have time to put together anything too elaborate, but did want to share something interesting I found in the July 1927 issue of the National Turf Digest.
A running theme on this site is: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Let me know if this sounds familiar – from the pages of the NTD over 80 years ago:
“It is high time the big whigs of the turf were getting their heads together for mutual protection. For the last two years I have been sounding a note of warning…
“…There should be no delay in these matters, for there is danger lurking for the sport in unexpected quarters. I have suggested that a national body be formed somewhat on the lines of professional baseball, with a head to it having the powers of Judge Landis in baseball affairs [Kennesaw Mountain Landis was the first commissioner of baseball, appointed in 1921]….Organized baseball under the regime of Judge Landis has gone farther towards permanency than it could have obtained in years under the rule of commissioners representing the various interests of that sport. Racing needs some level-headed fellow who has the wisdom and knowledge of racing sufficient to make his rulings without prejudice and without equivocation.
“With a strong national body having jurisdiction over all the member tracks there would be many of the evils of the turf, as it is today, corrected. Disputes among racetrack managers in certain States and districts could be carried in this body for final adjudication. All the tracks would be amenable to the final decision of this higher body. There would be permissible none of the cut-throat methods now employed by racetrack owners and no chance for fly-by-night promoters to break into the sport.
“Racing interests must organize if they propose to exist. Not much longer will the public stand to be ‘limb-skinned and jayhawked’ by money-hunters that care little what brand of sport is furnished just so they get there slimy paws into the pool boxes before it is distributed to the winners…
“…Some uniform ‘take’ must be given the tracks and the ruling turf body should see that no more of the pools are deducted than the percentage which has been granted by that body.”
Maybe not the most eloquent piece of writing but clear enough to convey the idea. I am pretty certain, with a little digging, we could find a near replica of this article written in the last few years (of course, the ‘slimy-pawed’ ‘money-hunters’ would be played by politicians in the modern version). This doesn’t mean that a racing commissioner is a bad idea — this just means that its an old idea.
SOURCES, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS
“The ‘Jedge’s Whiz Bangs'”, The National Turf Digest, July 1927
“Remember Alford: Turf’s Good Old Days Revisted,” Turf and Sport Digest, July-August 1974
I tried to find out what became of the Turf and Sport Digest. The Keeneland Library has issues up to 1989 but I couldn’t figure out if it was purchased by another publication or simply went out of business. Please leave a comment or send me an email if you know the reason why it ceased publication.
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THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!