The Great Post Stakes Race, Lecomte’s Revenge, Part Four

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After Lexington won the Great Post Stakes his owner, Richard Ten Broeck and Lecomte’s owner, Thomas Jefferson Wells, had a rematch. Instead of racing each other, however, they agreed that their horses would race against the clock for four miles.

Riding Lecomte: Abe Hawkins, whom Wells obtained from Abe’s owner, Duncan Kenner.

Riding Lexington: a famous white jockey named Gilbert Kilpatrick

Race Date: April, 1855

Place: Metairie Race Course, New Orleans, Louisiana

Course conditions: dry

 Grandstands: about 10,000 spectators

When the timekeepers nodded “ready,” the starter lowered his flag, and Lecomte and Lexington galloped down the track, their hoofs thundering amidst cheers.  

Lecomte, sweating hard and breathing hard, surged ahead as Abe, fierce competitor that he was, urged him on. Wider and wider the distance between the horses stretched, Lecomte constantly in the lead till he defeated Lexington by six lengths and set a world record: seven minutes and twenty-five seconds.

Upon hearing this time announced, clapping and hurrahs rocked the grandstands. Everyone, it seemed, had gone wild.

All wasn’t lost for Lexington yet. He had one more heat. But Abe galloped Lecomte into racing history when he won it as well. Though jockeys who were slaves were seldom referred to by name, such wasn’t the case with Abe. Everyone involved in racing in this era now knew him. As for Lecomte, every January at the Fair Grounds Race Track in New Orleans a race is held in his memory—the Lecomte Stakes.

Lecomte and Lexington, half-brothers who shared the same sire, became the greatest Thoroughbreds of their era.

Sources

Mooney, Katherine. Race Horse Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made at the Racetrack, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA and London, England, 2014.

Weldon, Nick. “From slavery to sports stardom: Abe Hawkins’ rise from a Louisiana plantation to horse-racing fame,” The Historic New Orleans Collection, January 11, 2019, https://www.hnoc.org/publications/first-draft/slavery-sports-stardom-abe-hawkins%E2%80%99s-rise-louisiana-plantation-horse-racing.

The Great Post Stakes Race, Part Three, The First Races

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April, 1854—a delightful spring day. Metairie Race Course conditions—dry. New Orleans’s St. Charles Hotel—thronging with guests. Some 20,000 people had arrived, eager to watch a special horse race, among them former U.S. president Millard Filmore. And why not? America’s two greatest Thoroughbreds, half-brothers, were scheduled to race each other in the Great Post Stakes.

Richard Ten Broeck, the course’s primary shareholder, conceived the idea. For an entry fee of $5,000, a state could send a Thoroughbred to represent it in the competition.

By race day, only four horses participated:  Arrow (Louisiana), Highlander (Alabama), Lexington (Kentucky), and Lecomte (Mississippi). Because Louisiana had Arrow, Lecomte’s Louisiana owner, Thomas Wells, entered him to represent Mississippi. Ten Broeck’s horse Lexington, Lecomte’s half-brother, represented the state where he was foaled.

Because the standard Thoroughbred racing track is one mile, these horses would run four laps in two heats with a break for a rub down in between. Lexington won the first heat, clocking just over eight minutes, but Lecomte gave Lexington a run for his money in Heat Two. For three miles, Lecomte galloped ahead of Lexington. Kentuckians attending the race fretted. Their champion, losing! It couldn’t be!

And then, Lexington got “a new set of legs,” gained on Lecomte, passed him, and defeated him by four lengths. The grandstand’s spectators went wild! Roars of approval hit the clouds.

In 1855, LeComte and Lexington would again compete to determine which horse was the fastest.

Sources

Mooney, Katherine. Race Horse Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made at the Racetrack, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA and London, England, 2014

Perrault, Matthew Saul. “Jockeying for Position: Horse Racing in New Orleans,1865-1920,” LSU Digital Commons,Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, 2016. https://digitalcommons.lsu.edu/gradschool_theses/3455/

The Great Post Stakes Race, Part One: The Half-Brothers

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.

Lexington, painted by famous equine artist Edward Troye.

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.

Bibliography

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