Gideon followed Elvira and her mother through the rambunctious racing crowd, the ladies’ bell-shaped, poplin skirts parting a path through spectators and gamblers mobbing booths selling liquors. At other booths, proprietors hawked snacks and sandwiches, candies and cookies. Shouts and low conversation surrounded them, men making wagers with other men, black people and white people of all social classes in attendance. Horse racing broke down the city’s social divide, if only for a few hours.
The above paragraph is taken from my work-in-progress, tentatively titled Thoroughbreds and the Prodigal. It shows what Thoroughbred racing in the antebellum South was about. For a brief moment in time, it broke down social barriers. Horse racing was the “football” of the antebellum South— its most popular sport.
In 1854, the era’s most famous horse race took place at New Orleans’ Metairie Race Course. Known as The Great Post Stakes, it pitted the era’s two greatest Thoroughbreds, Lexington and Lecomte, against each other. These horses were half-brothers who shared a famous sire named Boston.
Richard Ten Broeck, a majority shareholder in the course, owned Lexington. Three other prominent shareholders in the Metairie Course were Thomas J. Wells, William J. Minor, and Duncan Kenner.
Lexington’s original name was Darley, owned by Elisha Warfield and trained by Harry Lewis, a black man who some think may have been free when he trained the famous horse. Darley had already won races before Ten Broeck and three other turfmen pooled their resources and purchased him for $2,500. Ten Broeck renamed him Lexington, the place of Darley’s birth.
Although two other horses competed in the famous race, Lecomte was Lexington’s biggest rival. His dam, Reel, won seven races before Thomas J. Wells purchased her.
Like his mother, Lecomte enjoyed a stellar career. He’d won every race up until his showdown on the track against his half-brother. For those race fans who witnessed their competition, it would be a race for the ages, and one they’d never forget.
Hervey, John. Racing in America:P 1665-1865, vol. II, Private Print. The Jockey Club 1944. Auburn University Special Collections. Call #: folio SF 347.14
Mooney, Katherine. Race Horse Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made at the Racetrack, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA and London, England, 2014
Reilly, Kellie. “Lecomte: The Short Life But Long Legacy of a Racing Hero,” Brisnet.com The Handicappers Edge, September 10, 2020 http://www.brisnet.com/content/2019/01/lecomte-short-life-long-legacy-louisiana-racing-hero/.
Wikipedia; Wikipedia’s “Lexington (horse)” entry
Wikipedia; Wikipedia’s “Reel (horse)” entry