Oct 26th 2011 10:00 pm |
This week, for the first time in this site’s three year history, we have a guest post. T.J. Connick who has dazzled Colin’s Ghost readers with many insightful comments has written a brilliant piece on the long forgotten Jack Atkin. The iron horse Jack Atkin was beloved in his time but has been lost in the space between the present and his running days over a century ago. I hope the story of Jack Atkin by T.J. Connick will revive the lost memory of a worthy racer. — KM
Poking around in the attic of horse racing history will turn up some surprises, a seldom-visited section of the past can introduce a fresh face: once famous, long forgotten, and worthy of a restored place in the sun. Such is Jack Atkin.
A weight-carrying sprinter with many starts and many wins, Jack Atkin ran in the years leading up to racing’s banishment in many quarters. Learning of his racing exploits requires a good deal of digging, so it is hoped that this profile kindles new interest in a wonderful performer who is worth being remembered.
The son of Sain, out of El Salado, he was foaled at Barney Schreiber’s expansive Woodlands Farm in St. Louis County, Missouri in 1904. Nearly eight years later, Jack Atkin retired from racing to join his sire at Woodlands. The intervening years were an odyssey, fighting the heartless headwinds of anti-gambling fever that infected state governments from coast to coast.
Possessed of brilliant and overwhelming speed, he drew crowds of devoted fans, and inspired high praise from turf writers, trainers, jockeys, and even the laconic authors of racing charts. His appearance at a race meeting assured a good turnout, including a serious set of plungers who consistently bet him down to a short price. He broke records at distances from six to ten furlongs; he campaigned in all seasons; he ran many of the era’s best horses off their feet; and he performed with uncanny consistency for years on end.
Jack Atkin’s effect upon contemporaries was profound. From fans and supporters came adoration, from handicappers came punishing weight assignment, and from outclassed competition came capitulation. In six years of hard campaigning, Jack Atkin established himself a great star, but his fame did not endure. In life he emerged from obscurity with a career of great achievement; in the century since he has returned to the shadows.
Jack Atkin beat only one of his four opponents in his first race at Oakland, California on Saturday, February 3, 1906, an unrestricted four-furlong event for two-year-olds. The chart didn’t mince words, “Jack Atkin green.” At 60-1 and beaten 10 1/2 lengths, those in the crowd that day would never have imagined that they saw the debut of a racehorse who would face the starter 130 times more, compiling a record of 56 wins, 31 seconds, and 18 thirds. By the time he ran his 131st race, a handicap at Woodbine on September 23, 1911, he was no longer green.
Named for a bookmaker, Jack Atkin carried owner Barney Schreiber’s purple, orange sleeves, and red cap to victory at 23 race tracks in three countries. Feared in sprint races, he was believed invincible without heavy weight assignments from the handicapper. He also ran 38 races at distances from a mile to a mile-and-a-quarter, in which he recorded 9 wins, 12 seconds, and 8 thirds.
Regarded as a serious contender for the prestigious New York Futurity and the Kentucky Derby before injury kept him from both events, he was the nation’s top purse winner among five-year-olds and up in 1909 and 1910. He ran 112 races from the May 9 commencement of a belated 3-year-old campaign to his final victory in the Tampico Handicap in Juarez on December 10, 1910. In the three-and-a-half busy years he was never fully out of training, with only two short absences dictated more by the logistics of his stable’s far-flung, international operations than by any need for rest.
His record fails to communicate the effect that Jack Atkin had upon observers, and speed alone does not explain it. The answer seems to lie in the beautiful action and response of Jack Atkin on the track. The big colt moving over a piece of ground evidently made an electric impression on his audience.
A rangy, powerful-looking creature, he regularly made sudden, nimble moves that were well remembered, win or lose. In victory, such moves were followed by a machine-like shift to a frictionless glide, cruising under the wire without effort. News accounts, sports columns, running lines, and chart comments, all seemingly declared in unison throughout his long career: “Boy, you should have seen Jack Atkin.”
SOURCES, NEWS, AND NOTES
Author T.J. Connick provided this insightful commentary regarding his research:
As a subject of study, Jack Atkin is obscure because secondary sources have little to tell us. Fortunately, bound copies of the Morning Telegraph and Daily Racing Form chart books yield the horse’s compelling story in the familiar shorthand of the race chart. Jack Atkin’s career was extraordinary in many ways: winning at 23 different tracks, scoring 56 victories, toting heavy weight, racing four seasons, producing startling form reversals by winning “beyond his distance”, etc. Nothing can match a comprehensive database of charts to paint the big picture without missing any of the details.
To complement the charts, contemporary news accounts and racing columns by the likes of Bert Collyer (Chicago American) and W.C. Vreeland (Brooklyn Eagle) revealed the horse’s “star appeal”, portraying a remarkably popular racing personality. The amount of racing coverage in the era’s newspapers never fails to amaze, and we’re fortunate indeed to have electronic access to the treasure by the good graces of individuals and organizations like Kentuckiana Digital Library (Daily Racing Form collection), Tom Tryniski (FultonHistory.com), Library of Congress (Chronicling America), and University of California Riverside (California Digital Newspaper Collection).
Be sure to check back tomorrow for part two of the Jack Atkin story….thanks for reading and good luck!
Written by T.J. Connick, Copyright 2011 by Strategic Arts, Inc.