Who really invented race charts?

Aug 18th 2010 08:42 pm |

Updated August 20, 2010

In the recent DRF weekend — a must-read addition to Saturday’s Daily Racing Form — a story called “The Father of the Form” recalled the life of Frank Brunell, the mastermind and founder of the DRF. It is a well researched and written piece by Ryan Goldberg, who did a great job of bringing Brunell’s story to light.

While the article covered a lot of ground, I am going to focus here on the author’s claim that Brunell invented and was the first publisher of race charts — the tool that would morph into past performances and become the standard format for delivering race information.

Having done some research on the origin of the first racing charts, I know how difficult it is to find reliable information. Many sources repeat the idea that the first charts were invented by Brunell and published for the first time by the Daily Racing Form in 1894.

We know that race charts emerged in print during the middle of the 1890s and provided a text based summary and visual representation of individual horse’s performances in specific races. Race charts were revolutionary at the time and have changed little since — a testament to their near perfect design. Goldberg wrote this about the first DRF past performances published in 1905:

“Brunell displayed the information horizontally — track, distance, time, points of call with margins, and best company. The information was easy to digest and satisfied all the major contents of a race. Like the charts Brunell invented, nobody has ever come up with a better way to display this information.”

Well said, but the assertion that Brunell invented charts, and an earlier claim in the piece that he published the first race chart, doesn’t stand up against some of the evidence I have found. Much of it is anectodal, for instance, I have found at least three different individuals credited with the idea of the running line which makes up the heart of all charts. Pittsburg Phil, Pack McKenna, and Charles Botay all laid claim (or had someone else claim for them) to creating the first race chart.

More importantly, and not at all anecdotal, is the hard evidence I found in the San Francisco Morning Call published on November 1st 1893, a full year before the publication of the first issue of the Daily Racing Form:

From The Morning Call, November 1st 1893

See the full page at the Library of Congress

As you can see, this is a fully developed chart with most of the major components that would appear in the Racing Form a year later. In fact, the Morning Call charts are a bit more detailed than the “first” DRF charts. The above appeared without explanation leading one to question if this was the first time race charts were published. It is interesting that it appears under the name “Daily Racing Form.” Did Brunell use these charts and the name as an inspiration for his paper? We’ll never know for sure but, it is safe to say, that Frank Brunell wasn’t the “inventor” of race charts.

I have my own idea regarding the the “invention” of the race chart. My guess is, as racing became more popular, gamblers worked for an edge through rigorous documentation of what they saw at the track. The primary facets of charts and past performances came out of their effort. Like any good gambler, they kept their methods and tools under wraps so finding an “inventor” of race charts would be practically impossible.

The first race chart to appear in print is a more likely to be found. The one from San Francisco is the earliest I have come across but I wouldn’t be surprised if an earlier version exists. Finding this type of information in pre-digital days would have been like finding a needle in a field of needles. Today, with full-text searchable databases of historic newspapers, such an answer moves into the realm of the possible. Even so, millions of pages of newspapers remain to be digitized and made searchable. When the last newspaper page goes online then maybe we’ll find the first race chart to appear in print. Then again, even if this does occur in our lifetime, a good historian should always uses the words “first” and “inventor” with caution.

Whatever the case might be, it was Brunell who had the foresight to put race charts and later past performances into a daily publication dedicated to racing. While the above puts his role as “originator” in doubt, no one can deny that he popularized the tools that all horseplayers have been dependent on for more than a century.

SOURCES, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS

The above doesn’t in any way take away from Ryan Goldberg’s outstanding piece. This is not a criticism only a correction of a long standing claim. This is an article I have had in the works for awhile — seemed like a good time to finally post it. If you haven’t read “Father of the Form”, I highly recommend it.  Also, check out the author’s site at http://ryangoldberg.net/

If anyone has any input on charts published before 1893, i’d be thrilled to hear it…I find this topic fascinating and will likely do a follow up piece in the near future.

You can view a more typical print version of race results prior to the advent of race charts in Goodwin’s Annual Turf Guide

I appeared on the podcast YouBet On-Track with Claire Novak and Joe DePaulo on Sunday. You can listen to it here [it’s the 8/15 show in the list of archived episodes]. I talked about this site and a bit about my background. I also gave some terrible handicapping advice for that day’s late pick 4 at Saratoga.  It was great fun and thank Claire and Joe for having me.

I recently published a review of Steve Davidowitz’s Betting Thoroughbred for Hello Race Fans. Also, be sure to check the site late this week for 10 Things You Should Know about the Arlington Million.

This Saturday is shaping up to be a great day of racing with the Arlington Million and the Alabama (two of my favorite races of the year!). I’ll be hanging-out all day with my racing tweeps at Twitter, so come join the fun: http://twitter.com/colinsghost

THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!

Filed in thoroughbred racing history



7 Responses to “Who really invented race charts?”

  1. Jim says:

    Kevin,

    I enjoyed the article. For your readers…I’m the great-grandson of Pack McKenna. He’s one of the men mentioned above who has been credited with the “invention” of the first race chart. I agree with Kevin’s assertion that the idea of the charts was an evolution. It is true that Pack was credited by some with this, the most objective being a brief mention of his passing in the Blood-Horse (1939). I would like to think that I’ve done more digging (with the exception of Colins Ghost) on this very subject.

    I believe it would have been more accurate to title the article “Father of The Form” as opposed to “The Father of Form”.

    Statements I would question from the DRF article:

    “Horseplayers now had Past Performances”

    “Like the charts Brunell invented, nobody has come up with a better way to display the information.”

    “The past performances were revolutionary, they appeared from nowhere.”

    The charts, I believe, did not appear from “nowhere”. Numerous archives point to Botay employing men at the track to chart horses pre 1894.

    I agree it is a leap to call Mr. Brunell the inventor. He surely made alot of money providing charts to the masses, but he did not invent them.

    I may be long winded but I’ll provide the following from a family history….just to confuse the issue.

    “Before 1900 no Past Performance charts were ever published and solid inoformation on the entries was hard to come by….Pack overcame this by having men posted at the start and the finish as well as the quarter polls. From this information the running of the race was reconstructed and he was able to prepare his own charts which were most helpful and permitted him to be successful. The charts were substantially the same as those appearing in newspapers today”

    and from Pack’s daughter describing how he started his life at the track…

    “One day a man named Henny McKeen showed up with plans to beat the races, I imagine that my father or the family knew this fellow, at any rate he was a mathematical whiz as was my father, it was all done by figures using weight, distance, track conditions, breeding, etc….”

    To put the above in context….Pack was born in 1858 and started to attend (bet) the races at the Brooklyn Tracks ( Gravesend, Sheepshead, Brighton Beach) in the early 1880s…..

    Maybe Henny McKeen was the Father of Form??? or Cad Irish, or George Wheelock???

    Jim McKenna

  2. Kevin says:

    Hey Jim: Many thanks for the contribution. I failed in not thanking you in the post for all of the research you have shared with me over the last few years and I would bet that you have out-researched me on this topic. In fact, as I was thinking about it this morning, much of what I have on early race charts came from you. So thanks, Jim! You have been a friend to the site and I am grateful for your generosity. Kevin

  3. […] Colin’s Ghost asks, who really invented race charts? […]

  4. Jeanne W says:

    The library at the Museum of Racing contains “Chart Books” dating to before the 1893 date posted above. I believe the books (leather bound books) date back to the mid- 1880’s. Historian Allan Carter at the Museum could confirm.
    One interesting feature of the books is that each race run in a given year was numbered. This number was a reference for the PP’s.
    Rather than say, 29Jul10 10SAR the PP’s would reference the prior race by a 5 or 6 digit number.

  5. Kevin,

    This is another fascinating piece. From pieces of information I’ve seen over the years, you are surely correct to believe that the development of charts and running lines were an evolving product, and Brunell codified it, more or less.

    Even so, there were other publications and products that arranged the material a little differently, and if this weren’t “common property,” surely other publishers would not have been allowed to use a generally similar format.

    The Daily Racing News Form Chart in California and the JL Dempsey Form Chart in Kentucky were active in the early decades of the 20th century, providing not only daily service to newspapers and individuals, but also producing chart books for customers that were saved and referred to. (I have a few of them.)

    And the information provided by The Morning Telegraph and Daily Racing Form generally duplicated each other but still had enough individuality that both survived for decades.

    Thanks and good luck
    Frank

  6. Paul P. says:

    Re: the earliest know charts.

    This links to an 1892 newspaper version

    http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030193/1892-07-13/ed-4/seq-1/;words=Brighton

    PJP

  7. Paul P. says:

    Taking another step backward in time…

    While searching another topic, I came across a full chart for the Guttenberg races for December 2, 1890 in the New York Herald. Undoubtedly, there were earlier ones for the days just prior.

    My search was done through a genealogy service, and thus a link to the page is not possible.