John Hervey on Racing Charts, 1939

Aug 26th 2010 07:17 pm |

The legendary race historian John Hervey wrote a column under his pen name, Salvador, for the Turf and Sport Digest in the 1930s and 1940s. I have a growing collection of these article that I have been copying and accumulating for a few years. Hervey’s writing can sometimes drift into a series of tangents but his pieces never fail to impress me with their detail and the author’s keen storytelling ability.

I had to kick myself early this week when I came across a copy of a 1939 Hervey article among my piles of papers (almost certain this article came courtesy of Jim McKenna). It would have been perfect for the post I did last week.

In the article Hervey provides a detailed story of the founding of the Daily Racing Form which might be the most authoritative source about the paper’s early years. According to Hervey, he “…was on terms of friendship with Mr. Brunell from a period antedating the foundation of the Daily Racing Form up to the time of his death and has been, so to speak, a ‘witness from the inside’ of it’s history and evolution…” If you are in search of an article to supplement the solid piece from the DRF Weekend about Brunell a few weeks back, tracking this one down is highly recommended (or shoot me an email and i’ll send you a copy).

But, I digress, I kicked myself when I found the article because it is an ideal source on the invention of race charts. Not that it provided a definitive answer but it would have provided further evidence to prove my point about the vagaries of finding an inventor of charts. John Hervey is the highest authority on racing history in the United States during his era so, it’s safe to say, his word on the subject carries more weight than any other.

This is what Hervey, aka Salvador, had to say on the topic of the first race charts:

“There are or have been many claimants to the distinction of being the actual inventor of the racing charts [but] the exact date when the first charts were published, and the newspaper in which they appeared, are matters of dispute…Had they been carefully covered by copyright, and had their creator possessed the ability to expand and develop them to the full extent of their scope, he would have reaped a fortune far surpassing that which any man has ever made out of racing, in any way, shape or manner. But as this was not done and they became, so to speak, common property, Brunell, or anybody else, was free to utilize their basic ideas as he saw fit.”

If racing charts had come about via a “eureka moment” from a single individual, they could have been the source of significant revenue. Further evidence, as I stated and Frank Mitchell reiterated in a comment, that charts came about through an evolutionary process and were pieced together over time from a series of ideas. The fact that no one (including Brunell) ever claimed copyright on charts tells us that their content was common knowledge by the time they made it to print in the 1890s. If anyone had a significant case that they owned the intellectual property of the charts, surely they would have come forward considering the money they could have made.

The remainder of Hervey’s piece covered Brunell and the emergence of racing publications and statistics starting in the late nineteenth century. He also stressed the superiority of available racing stats in the United States as opposed to what could be found in England at the time.

He closed the story with this:

“Our turf statistics, considering their tremendous extent and seemingly complex nature, are really worked out along main lines that are simple and easily followed by anybody who cares to pay attention. Until one has studied out the scheme of the modern racing chart, together with the elaborate tables of past performances, they at first seem almost unintelligible – but only a little study and they can be grasped almost at a glance. They are really extraordinary things, there is nothing else in the world like them, and we have, as turfmen, every reason to be proud of them and the statistical genius of the men that have created them.”

Right on, Mr. Hervey…whoever the unknown originator or, more likely, originators of the racing chart might be, they are owed a significant debt of gratitude from the horse playing public.


Salvador, “Racing’s Records,” Turf and Sport Digest, March 1939. Like I said, i’d be happy to send a digital copy to anyone who emails me.

They drew the card for Travers day and it looks like it will be a fun day of racing at Saratoga on Saturday. I thoroughly enjoyed last Saturday’s racing capped by the Alabama and Arlington Million. To top it off, I cashed tickets on both of the big races. I am still playing with house money earned a few weeks back at Saratoga. Hoping I can keep it rolling this weekend.

Be sure to check out the latest 10 Things at Hello Race Fans…this week it’s a double feature with the King’s Bishop and Personal Ensign.


Filed in handicapping,Hervey, John,Racing charts,thoroughbred racing history

4 Responses to “John Hervey on Racing Charts, 1939”

  1. Jim says:

    Great way to end the piece. I agree, he did an excellent job of summing it all up and putting it in perspective.

    I have to thank Cathy Schenck at Keeneland for digging up the article.

    In thinking about the “men that created the charts”, I believe there may have been the “brothers of form”. These “brothers” creating a triangle between New Orleans, Chicago and Brooklyn.


  2. Joyce Hervey says:

    I am the great niece of John L. Hervey. I have been doing some research on our family along with my brother David A. Hervey, and ran across all these papers about Uncle John’s connection to the racing form. I was wondering if you could hook me up with a biography of Uncle John and/or where I might get any of his books. Thanks

  3. Don Daniels says:

    Could you email “Salvador, “Racing’s Records,” Turf and Sport Digest, March 1939”

    Many thanks.

    Could you possibly have Joyce Hervey contact me or at least refer her to my website for contact (bottom of each page).

    I’ve more than 250 articles by John Hervey in my archives on harness racing.
    His obit:

    In addition, I’ve added to the FindAGrave Site:

  4. Kevin says:

    Hi Dom: Thanks! I am going to scan the article and upload it to this site soon. Please check back soon…should have it up in a few days. Thanks for the links. I will send your contact info to Ms. Hervey. Thanks