A Major Racing History Score

Oct 29th 2012 02:00 pm |

A few weeks ago I received an email from a guy in Baltimore who was selling a major piece of racing history. He had on E-Bay a bound set of the Turf and Sport Digest that covered a stretch from 1933 to 1977, forty-four years of racing during the peak of its popularity. I have written about my affection for Turf and Sport in this space before and have used it as a source on a few occasions. In doing a little research, I found only about ten libraries in the country that held all or a portion of the popular racing magazine that folded in the late 1980s.

When I asked the seller what price he hoped to get at auction, the number he quoted was far out of my price range. Even so, I reached out to writer extraordinaire and fellow racing historian Teresa Genaro and told her the story, asking her if she knew anyone who might be interested. We eventually started talking about going 50/50 and making a bid ourselves. After deciding on our maximum bid, we waited it out. I figured we had little shot of winning and I tried to put out of my head the idea of a dealer buying the set, cutting up the bound volumes into single issues, and scattering them to many different buyers. You can’t blame dealers for making a buck but it’s always hard to stomach valuable research collections being broken up and sold.

When Teresa sent me a text on Friday afternoon, I had actually forgotten about it. The auction ended that night and the bid at the time stood far below our price. Teresa starting bidding as I made my way home from work. By the time I made it home, the bids had doubled and approached our maximum bid. We decided to wait it out and, if still in our price range, we would make one more bid at the zero hour and hope to get lucky, Teresa texted me with about a half hour to go in the auction and told me the price stood slightly above our maximum. We both decided to kick in a few more dollars for a final surge in deep stretch.

I watched E-bay as the auction came to an end. When I refreshed the page as the clock neared zero, our final bid, described by Teresa as a Personal Ensign-like surge for the wire, came out on top. Both of us were in shock. I think we both committed a somewhat irrational amount of money for a cause that seemed lost from the start. After getting over the sticker price, I started to realize what we now owned and elation set in.

I drove down to Baltimore to pick up our loot from the seller in Baltimore last week. It turned out,  the seller saved the bound magazines from the trash. A few years back he worked for a certain horse racing TV station in California that purchased the magazine with the hopes of creating a library for staff. When the library didn’t pan out, they were going to throw them away…as in toss them in a dumpster!  The seller, who asked to remain anonymous, stepped in and said he would take them. He piled them into his car and held them for a nearly a decade. He no longer works in the racing industry but still loves the game. He is giving 20% of the proceeds from the sale to Thoroughbred Charities of America — a wonderful gesture on his part. I was unabashed about my excitement when I went down there to pick them up. He seemed genuinely happy that the racing history he saved from oblivion was going to someone who would put it to good use.

Teresa and I are going to split the loot in five or ten year blocks and make an annual exchange. We haven’t conducted the “draft” yet but Teresa (a big fan of Busher and Twilight Tear) has already staked a claim to the mid-1940s.

Since I have had them home, I have had a hard time not looking at them (much to the chagrin of my new finance — I got engaged the day after the big purchase). I usually take a break from the site after the Breeders’ Cup but am feeling really inspired by what I have found so far. Looks like things will be busy here at Colin’s Ghost during the winter.

Here are a few pages from Turf and Sport that I snapped with my phone…this is just the tip of the iceberg:

Photograph of a packed house at Bowie Racetrack in Maryland on Thanksgiving day in 1933

Cover of the May 1935 issue with a sticker and markings from the Los Angeles Public Library’s periodicals room

The May 1948 issue had this article about Citation

A comic portrays the end of New York’s Jamaica Racetrack in 1959

In addition to all of the great articles and photographs, the advertising in Turf and Sport also provides interesting perspectives on the past. This is an ad for the American Totalisator Company, the builders of technology used for pari-mutuel wagering in most U.S. racetracks at the time.

I will be back with another post this week with links to a few race previews I am writing about the 2012 Breeders’ Cup. Also, be sure to check out the latest auction at Derby Auctions — the next sale starts on November 2nd.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in horse racing,horse racing history,thoroughbred racing history,Turf and Sport Digest

11 Responses to “A Major Racing History Score”

  1. What great slices of history–kudos to that seller for saving these magazines from the garbage dump. Incidentally, I spent some hours yesterday cleaning old magazines out of my office, but kept any pertaining to horse racing.

    Let me know if you come across any photos of Watch Your Step (Citation–Stepwisely, by Wise Counsellor). I am in search of photos of several horses, and he’s one of the top at the list.

  2. And, congrats on the engagement!!!

  3. Joseph Martin says:

    I always loved the Turf & Sport Digest. The Winners Guiid was another one of my favorites. Boy, do these two puplications bring back memorys. As a young boy, I saw Kelso win at Del.. Read many Turf & Sport Digest since then.
    Congratulations on your engagement!

  4. Jim Melia says:

    I was surprised that there was any market for these. I have hundreds of them, most in very-good to fine condition, including every issue from 1956 until the end as well as a number of the red binders from the 1950s.

  5. Patty Vance says:

    What a find and what great luck/bidding skill to become the successful bidder! I love reading everything you post and am so looking forward to the forthcoming articles from your purchase! Congratulations on your engagement! Hope your fiance is understanding about the time you devote to writing about Thoroughbred racing!

  6. Jim Davis says:

    Nice score. You paid way less in ‘real dollars’ than those mags cost at the newsstand! 35 cents was good money back then.

  7. Laura from RI says:

    Great find!!

    Can you find any articles on “Narragansett Park”, “Pascoag Park” or “Agawam Park”, ?
    The last one…Agawam Park is in my hometown of West Springfield, MA.

    PS…Watch Your Step…I remember reading the DRF and a picture of him saying…”will try to today in feature” @ AQE. I was 8-9yo & I found that name quite interesting : )

    I believe Hobeau Farms owned Watch Your Step.


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    Creator and Administrator for THOROUGHBRED HORSE RACING on Facebook, Flickr, YouTube
    “Horse racing in the right hands is not expensive, it’s priceless”

  9. Don Daniels says:

    Could you possibly confirm for me whether Agawam Park and Eastern States Exposition were the same location?

    Seabiscuit set a record at Agawam in 1937.

    I’ve multiple articles in my archives on Agawam and ESE, unfortunately (at least for you) the articles are all harness racing.

  10. Don Daniels says:

    “I was surprised that there was any market for these. ”

    Horse racing periodicals are sold regularly on eBay.
    I’ve seen individual issues go as high as $40-50, however that is rare.
    It all depends on the content.

    Bound editions for the early years (pre-1960) are rarely sold and may be quite pricey.

  11. ballyfager says:

    I remember Watch Your Step because he was anomalous to the fact that Citation was a flop at stud.

    This site is great for people who are really interested in horse racing as opposed to just horse betting.