Walter Vosburgh’s Racing in America, 1866-1921

Jan 11th 2012 09:00 am |

Walter Vosburgh’s Racing in America, 1866-1921 is one of the most important texts on racing history. The book covers a period in American racing when it evolved into the sport that we know today.  The racing scene of 1866 would be foreign to the race fan of 2012.  By 1921, the year Vosburgh ends his story, racing had established the foundation upon which it still stands today.  The names, places, and big races of 1921 all ring a familiar tone to us living  in the twenty-first century. Obviously some things have changed since 1921, but the depth of changes in the sport  from 1866 to 1921 are unprecedented in its history.

Racing in America offers readers a detailed history of racing in New York and capsule histories of other states including now obscure locales like Missouri. But its real value, is the decade by decade review of the celebrated race horses from the era. Many of the often repeated tales about the “cracks” of the early years of modern racing, originated with Vosburgh’s book.

The author was one of the founding members of the Jockey Club and considered the “greatest handicapper” of his time.  When he died in 1938, after 60 years in racing, his obituary called Racing in America his most “ambitious writing effort.” In a lengthy New York Times review of the book in 1922, soon after its first and only printing, the reviewer wrote:

“[Vosburgh] is probably the best equipped man in America for such a work….throughout it runs the personality of a true lover of the thoroughbred whose youthful enthusiasm has never waned.”

The reviewer also noted:

“The book, which has been published privately by The Jockey Club, is intended for private distribution, but there seems no doubt that a work at once so unique and so fine will arouse a demand that will carry it to the public shelves.”

Unfortunately, the book never made it beyond the private printing. That being the case, not many copies exist, making it very hard to find today. If you do track down a copy, you’ll be lucky to find one for less than two hundred dollars and if you do find it in a library, access is usually limited. So, when I discovered a few weeks back, that this seminal work on racing history had been digitized by the Kentuckiana Digital Library project, I was pretty excited.

Here is the link to all 249 glorious pages: Walter Vosburgh’s Racing in America, 1866 to 1921

Unfortunately, there is no option to download a full PDF of the book. Even with this limitation, all racing fans owe a debt of gratitude to the folks behind the Kentuckiana Digital Library for putting it online!

Sources, News, and Notes

Here are the citations to the review in the New York Times and the obituary of Walter Vosburgh (both require a NYT susbscription…sorry):

“Fifty Years of Racing in America,” New York Times, 12 November 1922
“Walter Vosburgh, Turf Leader, Dies,” New York Times, 12 September 1938

Thanks for reading!




Filed in horse racing history,Racing in America 1866 to 1921,thoroughbred racing history,Walter Vosburgh

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