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The Ethics Of The Turf
by [?]

When Lord Beaconsfield called the Turf a vast engine of national demoralization, he uttered a broad general truth; but, unfortunately, he did not go into particulars, and his vague grandiloquence has inspired a large number of ferocious imitators, who know as little about the essentials of the matter as Lord Beaconsfield did. These imitators abuse the wrong things and the wrong people; they mix up causes and effects; they are acrid where they should be tolerant; they know nothing about the real evils; and they do no good, for the simple reason that racing blackguards never read anything, while cultured gentlemen who happen to go racing smile quietly at the blundering of amateur moralists. Sir Wilfrid Lawson is a good man and a clever man; but to see the kind of display he makes when he gets up to talk about the Turf is very saddening. He can give you an accurate statement concerning the evils of drink, but as soon as he touches racing his innocence becomes woefully apparent, and the biggest scoundrel that ever entered the Ring can afford to make game of the harmless, well-meaning critic. The subject is an intricate one, and you cannot settle it right off by talking of “pampered nobles who pander to the worst vices of the multitude;” and you go equally wrong if you begin to shriek whenever that inevitable larcenous shopboy whimpers in the dock about the temptations of betting. We are poisoned by generalities; our reformers, who use press and platform to enlighten us, resemble a doctor who should stop by a patient’s bedside and deliver an oration on bad health in the abstract when he ought to be finding out his man’s particular ailment. Let us clear the ground a little bit, until we can see something definite. I am going to talk plainly about things that I know, and I want to put all sentimental rubbish out of the road.

In the first place, then, horse-racing, in itself, is neither degrading nor anything else that is bad; a race is a beautiful and exhilarating spectacle, and quiet men, who never bet, are taken out of themselves in a delightful fashion when the exquisite thoroughbreds thunder past. No sensible man supposes for a moment that owners and trainers have any deliberate intention of improving the breed of horses, but, nevertheless, these splendid tests of speed and endurance undoubtedly tend indirectly to produce a fine breed, and that is worth taking into account. The Survival of the Fittest is the law that governs racing studs; the thought and observation of clever men are constantly exercised with a view to preserving excellence and eliminating defects, so that, little by little, we have contrived, in the course of a century, to approach equine perfection. If a twelve-stone man were put up on Bendigo, that magnificent animal could give half a mile start to any Arab steed that ever was foaled, and run away from the Arab at the finish of a four-mile course. Weight need not be considered, for if the Eastern-bred horse only carried a postage-stamp the result would be much about the same. Minting could carry fourteen stone across a country, while, if we come to mere speed, there is really no knowing what horses like Ormonde, Energy, Prince Charlie, and others might have done had they been pressed. If the Emir of Hail were to bring over fifty of his best mares, the Newmarket trainers could pick out fifty fillies from among their second-rate animals, and the worst of the fillies could distance the best of the Arabs on any terms; while, if fifty heats were run off, over any courses from half a mile to four miles, the English horses would not lose one. The champion Arab of the world was matched against one of the worst thoroughbreds in training; the English “plater” carried about five stone more than the pride of the East, and won by a quarter of a mile.