His life and books
WON IN A SNOWSTORM
A LINCOLN REMINISCENCE.
It was a bitterly cold day in March. The wind was howling and whistling in the streets, meeting passengers with a chill greeting as they turned corners and searching them through and through. March was not “going out like lamb" on this particular occasion.
Many readers of Racing Illustrated will remember Buchanan's Lincolnshire Handicap, and it is about the grey's win that I am writing few reminiscences that I hope will not prove uninteresting. Newark-on-Trent is on old-fashioned town. Its streets are narrow and its houses ancient. There are one or two famous hostelries there, such as the Clinton Arms, the Saracen's Head, and the Ram. The fine old market-place, and the magnificent church, are objects of interest, not to mention the Castle, where battered walk show plainly the havoc Cromwell's troops wrought when Newark struck a blow for the king. A walk up Beacon Hill on a fine clear day will give the stroller a view of Lincoln Minster in the distance, and this sight will conjure up many a good race run on the Carholme almost within shadow of its walls. As we stand on Beacon Hill we can fancy how hot headed Prince Rupert charged down with his cavalry and made even the firm Ironsides shake and tremble. Newark abounds with historical associations. and when I happened to reside in that district its inhabitants were a decidedly sporting community.
The Clinton Arms is famous place, and from its windows Mr. Gladstone delivered one the first speeches after he was returned to Parliament as Conservative member, and as the nominee of the Duke of Newcastle for that borough. Those must have been stirring times, and some thoughts of them passed through my head as I entered the yard on the morning of Buchanan's Lincoln Handicap. The March wind howled up the yard, and was accompanied by the pleasant roar of a large fire in the smoke room where the townsmen most do congregate. There was only one topic of on this particular morning. "What will win the Handicap?” was the question asked. Now it so happened that on this very morning when I came out of my bedroom I saw fluttering along the passage a piece of paper, evidently a portion a torn letter. What made me stoop to pick up this bit of paper in preference to the other portion I do not know. Luck I suppose it would be called. Anyway I did pick a piece of paper up, and the word I saw on it was in plain letters, “Buchanan."
This struck me as a coincidence, for I had the night before I waged a furious argument against the chances of Mr. W. S. S. Crawfurd's grey in the Lincoln Handicap. A well-known racing man I knew had been heard to remark that he fancied Buchanan. He had occupied a room this particular corridor, and the chances were that the scrap of paper I held in my hand referred to Buchanan's prospects in this race. I could not help thinking I had received a particularly straight tip to back Buchanan, but for some reason or other I was prejudiced against him. Racing men I have generally found are somewhat superstitious in such affairs as the one I am relating, and I felt it would not be wise throw away the hint I had received. I put the bit of paper in my pocket and resolved to show it to a friend whom I had to meet at McGeorge’s Hotel later on. This I did, and he at once said “Why. that's Mr. S’s, writing, and I believe he’s doing the commission. He was at Newark last night and stayed at the Clinton.”
I went to Lincoln by the train, and arrived there in ample time. The old Saracen's Head in the High-street was then kept by Mr. Thornton, and was a recognised house for the best sporting men. In the bar I met several persons I knew, and one of them had backed Buchanan. I replied that I should back the horse and related what had occurred. He at once said, “I shall have another tenner on him."
Lincoln course on a keen March day is not the pleasantest place on earth. How the wind tore down that long stretch and across the open in front of the Stand. I watched the horses being saddled for the big race and saw the jockeys shivering with cold, and looking pinched and blue in their faces. It was a bitterly cold day for a man coated and muffled up, so it can easily be imagined how the jockeys felt. It was bad day to back losers on. The depression of the punters who failed to hit the mark must have been terrible. I found Buchanan, a dullish grey fellow, and looked smart enough and fit enough for anything. He was to be ridden by Gallon, who had on the famous "all scarlet’’ jacket of Mr. Crawfurd. It was big field - I forget the exact number - but I believe one the largest that has gone out for this race. Tom McGeorge had gone down to the post muffled up to the ears and walking to keep himself warm. I managed to get decent place on the stand. and then the trouble commenced. It had been drizzling the greater part of the morning, and now to add our misery commenced sleet and snow, and small frozen particles kept stinging me on the face for all world like a lighted match head applied to the cheek. There was no moving from the stand; the full force of the storm had to br faced.
It was a wretched time we spent on that bleak moor. I looked up the course and saw a white cloud driving down it, obscuring everything from view. Glasses were no good. Sleet glued itself to the lenses and made seeing through them impossible. Where are the horses? Lost in the sleet and mist. Not the faintest outline of a horse could be seen. They were somewhere "down there,” but lost in a dense mass of driving sleet.
And so we waited. “Were they off?" No one could tell. There was no chance of blowing a blast on the bugle to let us know the white flag had gone down. We listened for a sound of galloping hoofs. Surely this large field thundering along would be heard. Not a sound. The only feeling I had was a dull buzzing in the ears, and the rest of my body seemed numbed.
"What a deuce of a time they are!” said some one near me.
“Hark, what's that!"
It was a low rumble, a most peculiar sound.
A distant murmur was heard, and we hoped they were really off. All eyes looked up the course, but the blinding sleet made seeing impossible. Even at the distance it was almost impossible see. Then I remember vividly a remarkable sight. The vast dense mist seemed clear off as though brushed aside by an opposing force. A slight steam could be discerned rising, and then in another moment a field of phantom horses came galloping along. Out the mist they came, their shadowy forms looking weird and spectral. As they came onwards they grew more and more distinct, and I looked, but looked vain, for Buchanan.
It appeared to be a close race, all the field well together! Suddenly I saw a flash of red, something went bobbing about the misty drizzle but it was alone, and such a distance in front of the field that I could not make out what it was. I looked again. Then the truth dawned upon me. It was the scarlet cap on Gallon's bead, and therefore must be Buchanan. Whether it was because Buchanan was the exact colour of the grey sleet driving down the course in such a dense mass I cannot tell, but for few brief moments could not distinguish the form of a horse under the spot of red. It looked like a fireball thrown through the sleet.
But I saw Buchanan at last, and gave a shout, for here was the grey sailing in alone, lengths ahead of bis field. It was an easy win, and a good win for more than one of us, and although it was bitterly cold, and sleeting and freezing, we did not at all mind it, for Buchanan won in a snowstorm, and we reaped some material benefit.
Won in a Snowstorm was published in the Nottingham Journal on 27 December 1895, from its appearance in the current issue of Racing Illustrated "by Mr. Nat Gould, the well-known sporting writer".