Racing “Toolspeak” according to Audax Minor and Joe Palmer, 1960

Feb 29th 2012 09:00 pm |

Some of the racing people I follow on Twitter occasionally get into conversations about racing “toolspeak.” Phrases or words that qualify as “toolspeak” (according to the racing “Twitterati”) include anything that is overused, cliched, and/or nonsensical. A few examples: the notion of a “wide open Derby field” has been deemed “toolspeak.” The idea of a horse “jumping in at the eighth pole” has also been tagged as “toolspeak.” Yes, its all subjective — one person’s clever turn of phrase, is someone else’s “toolspeak.”

I couldn’t help but think about this idea when I came across a piece in the New Yorker from 1960 by race writer Audax Minor where he quoted the great Joe Palmer. Both men qualify as literary powerhouses from the racing world. George Ryall, who published under the pen name Audax Minor, wrote about racing for the high-brow New Yorker for 52 years. Joe Palmer gave up a life as an academic to make his living writing about the sport he loved. Considering their credentials, any particular aversion they may have shared about the language of racing should be taken seriously.

Fifty years ago in March, just as we are today, the racing world was gearing up for the Kentucky Derby. In a piece reviewing the exploits of a few promising 3-year-olds, Minor quoted his late colleague while expressing disdain for the use of the term “sophomore” when referring to racing colts.

Here is what Minor wrote in the pages of the New Yorker  in an issue published on 12 March 1960:

“While we’re on the subject of three-year-olds, I wish sportswriters would stop calling them sophomores. I believe the practice began in the Morning Telegraph, but wherever it began, the best comment on it came from the late Joe Palmer, who, in his last piece for the Blood Horse, wrote, “Every now and then I read about ‘sophomores’ and have to glance back at the front of the paper to see that I haven’t picked up an alumni magazine by mistake. ‘Sophomores,’ it seems, are three-year-olds, which are, to be sure, in their second season of competition. The presumption, then, is that four-year-olds are juniors, and five-year-olds are seniors. Now you see where this is leading us….The suggestion here is that we leave it to the colleges. When the papers report that a sophomore wasn’t trying, I’d like to have it plain that it was a college athlete, and not a race horse.”

Update on “The Great American Race Track Project

I have received lots of feedback on the race track project that I launched last week. A big thank you to Seth Merrow whose link at Equildaily brought lots of traffic to the project.  Also, many thanks to those who have taken the time to contribute. It’s an ongoing project that I will be working on throughout the year — any piece of information (big or small) your can share is appreciated!

In other news, I have been writing a new feature for Hello Race Fans called the “The Month Ahead.”  Be sure to check out it out!.

Thanks for Reading and Good Luck!

Filed in thoroughbred racing history

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