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:
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