Racing Maxims and Methods of Pittsburg Phil, 1908

May 27th 2010 09:38 pm |

Title page from the first edition of Racing Maxims and Methods of Pittsburg Phil, published in 1908

It’s about that time of year when I do a post about Pittsburg Phil. One of my favorite eras of racing history is the era of the public horseplayer — men whose exploits in the betting ring were reported right alongside reports of the actual racing.

If you look at race reporting from approximately 1895 to 1905, it usually included the activities of the well-known gamblers, with accounts of how they fared against the bookmakers.  These were the guys who gambled enormous sums of money without the benefit of easily accessible data and past performances. However, they held a significant edge against the betting public because they were dedicated full-time players.

Men like Pittsburg Phil, and other big-time players during the era, brought an air of intellectualism into the betting ring. They created some of the handicapping tools — like race charts, running lines, and speed figures — that we take for granted today.

This year I am posting the book that made the legend — in its entirety (well almost, see below).

In 1908, Racing Maxims and Methods of Pittsburg Phil was published, three years after the death of the famed horseplayer. Many of the theories laid out in the book might not seem ground-breaking to the modern reader but, keep in mind, most of the angles it contained had never been distributed to the public before and were unknown to most race goers at the time. The first edition of Maxims was self-published by the editor, Edward Cole, in conjunction with the estate of George E. Smith (aka Pittsburg Phil).

How did Maxims and Methods make it to print? The most context that can be discerned about its publication is found in the first few pages of the 1908 edition. Those pages provide the background and explain how Edward Cole, a New York newspaper writer, came to be its editor and publisher.

The text of the dedication page is as follows:

Dedicated to Mr. Walter Keys, a loyal and valued friend of Mr. George E. Smith (‘Pittsburg Phil’) during many years of active business association and comradeship

Following that was a reprint of a letter (pictured) from Walter Keys to the Edward Cole. Here is a transcription:

Dear Sir.

To my certain knowledge you were the only writer to whom George E. Smith (Pittsburg Phil) confided the story of his methods at the tracks. It was Mr. Smith’s intention that Mr. Cole should publish in book form the matter, that is contained in this volume. Unfortunately, the well known turfman died before the book could be ready. However, he had contributed to Mr. Cole the information which is contained within and I emphasize the statement that there is no other writer in the world to whom Mr. Smith gave this knowledge. The idea that Pittsburg Phil was a lucky plunger will be abandoned after a perusal of this work. It is a complete and accurate record of the methods of one of the country’s shrewdest business men who speculated in races not as a matter of sentiment but because racing was as much a field of investment to him as a Wall Street to the broker.

Truly Yours, Walter Keys

Without further ado, for your reading pleasure, here is the preface and eleven of the thirteen chapters from Racing Maxims and Methods of Pittsburg Phil:

From the Illustrated Sporting News, October 1903

Chapter 1 — What One Must Know to Play the Horses
Chapter 2 — One Days Work at the Track
Chapter 3 — The Reason for Speculation
Chapter 4 — Handicapping
Chapter 5 — Handicapping by Time
Chapter 6 — Class and Weight
Chapter 7 — Treatment of Horses
Chapter 8 — William Cowan on ‘Pittsburg Phil’
Chapter 9 — ‘Pittsburg Phil’ gave ‘Tod’ Sloan the start by which the Jockey Afterward Became Famous in the Turf World
Chapter 10 — Anecdotes of interest Concerning Some Men of Fame who Wagered Huge Sums on the English Turf (not posted)
Chapter 11 — Drugs and Their Effect Upon Horses
Chapter 12 — Explanation of the Time and Weight Percentage Table (not posted)
Chapter 13 — Maxims of ‘Pittsburg Phil’

You will notice that chapters ten and twelve are not included — they had nothing to do with Pittsburg Phil.  The second to the last chapter on drugs does not appear to be from interviews with Phil either but it was interesting enough to include here.

Racing Maxims was published in 1908, putting it in the public domain, and free of copyright restrictions.


The page images were taken from the 1908 edition that resides in the Keeneland Library. The photograph of Pittsburg Phil is from the Illustrated Sporting News — it is one of the few images showing the gambler (where he appears to be) at the track.

I am doing a series called “Ten Things you Should Know…” for Hello Race Fans that will feature some of the big races on the racing calendar. This week’s edition is about the Met Mile.

Past articles from Colin’s Ghost about Pittsburg Phil include:  The Obituary of…, His Final Resting Place…, and What Killed Him…


Filed in Pittsburg Phil,Pittsburgh Phil,thoroughbred racing history

6 Responses to “Racing Maxims and Methods of Pittsburg Phil, 1908”

  1. malcer says:

    Excellent post.

    Judging from the final chapter (the actual maxims), this will be a great read of a lot of outstanding thought, some of it not applicable anymore for today’s racing, but a good amount of it that is as true today as it was then.

    And then there are those which make great maxims for today if slightly altered:
    “Time enters into the argument under certain conditions, but if depended entirely for a deduction it will be found wanting.” – replace time with speed figure and I find this a maxim every bettor of the early 21st century should live by.

  2. to be able to sit at home and read the thoughts and notes of PP is quite remarkable….stripped down and basic enough to ring true over a century later….i cheered as he made his case for “horses for courses”…..just wanted to say thank you to whoever..or whomever….i agree with your conclusion on figs because once the info is common currency,it is baked into(most of) the prices,exactly like stock prices

  3. Jim says:

    Great presentation of the classic book and the legend.

  4. Derek Simon says:

    Truly one of the best, yet most underrated handicapping books available — if only because it demonstrates the consistency of the Sport of Kings. In “Racing Maxims and Methods of Pittsburg Phil,” Phil discusses larcenous jocks (most interestingly, perhaps, Hall of Famer Tod Sloan), the importance of watching races, finding good value, etc.

    Provided one considers when the book was written — Phil’s emphasis on a horse’s weight impost largely doesn’t apply in modern times — horseplayers will get a lot out of this timeless classic. Thanks for sharing this Kevin!

  5. Chris says:

    Rubbish Derek Simon weight handicapping is the entire basis of your hobby mate without it you watch the same horses win week after week. WEIGHT is all not to be discounted in modern racing. A very typical lazy handicappers hope that you don’t have to actually do all those calculations. You do mate.

  6. […] that Pittsburg Phil gave one interview to sportswriter Edward Cole, and the first edition of Racing Maxims and Methods of Pittsburg Phil was self-published by that editor, in conjunction with the estate of George E. Smith (aka Pittsburg […]