The Jersey Act

Parole, American Thoroughbred gelding, who was the first horse to defeat the unbeatable Isonomy, Newmarket Stakes--3 decades before the betting ban in New York caused some stables to relocate to the contintent . From a drawing by Henry Stull

The industry narrative on the Jersey Act evidently has become in our era, that the Americans were dumping their horses on the English markets because there was a betting shut down in the States, and the Americans were bringing their inferior racers to England, and England was being overrun with our less than stellar horses. The current recounting makes it sound like the English had no choice but to impose the Jersey Act, to prevent the continual dumping of our stock on them, and the ruining of their breed.

Is that what was happening? Except for there being a temporary track betting crisis with tracks being shut down as the century was drawing to a close (1910-1912), no it was not even close to the real situation, which actually began in 1856. The important take-away from this industry history correction is not that the American horses beat the pants off the was why they were able to that. And its probably not why you think. Here is a short outline:

Before we even had a American Thoroughbred breed (1868), in 1856 a few American Running Horses were brought over to England to race. They did ok, and the English press reported they were surprising good but of course could not challenge the English bloodstock in quality. The reason they did just ok, was that the best of Richard Ten Boerck's string shortly became ill and then died in England. Surely they were weakened by the long ocean crossing, but they would have recovered after 6 months. Unfortunately, the great champion 4-mile heat racers: Lecomte RH and Pryor RH, suffered from trainer neglect and filthy stable conditions, and perished. But one of the sickened horses did recover after almost a year: Prioress, and her performance set the English back on their heels. Racing in the Caesarwitch Stakes she triple dead heated for 1st. In the run off she won. The next year, 1858 she won the  Great Yorkshire Handicap, and in 1859 Her Majesty's Plate in both Newmarket and Epsom. Ten Boerck brought over a few more racers to replace those that perished, certainly not his top string, but good nonetheless: Starke RH who won the Goodwood Cup and was later exported to Germany in 1861, and then in 1864 to Hungary. Also there was Umpire RH, who won the Queens Stand Stakes and was used in breeding there, before he was exported to Russia.

Milton Stanford in 1875 brought a small string of his racers to England also. Included was the aged Preakness RH, who was sold to the Duke of Hamilton and bred many good runners including the champ Fiddler who won the Alexandra Plate, Kings Plate and Great Metropolitan Stakes. He also brought the youngsters Big Final and Brown Prince who both won races. Brown Prince stood in Ireland. These modest inroads into the English contests were noted and a cautious respect settled in.

Things really started heating up however several years later in 1879 when Pierre Lorillard brought some of his horses over to race. One of the horses was the older gelding Parole, a good racer, but at 6 years was then being used by Lorillard as a exercise companion for his younger stock, such as his star Duke of Magenta. The English press enjoyed themselves by ridiculing Parole, calling him the Yankee Mule. Unfortunately Duke of Magenta became ill, and Parole was drafted to replace him in the Newmarket Stakes (1879), racing against the undefeated Isonomy, the pride of England. Parole won and that sent some shock waves through the aristocracy. But then a week later Parole won the City and Suburban Handicap against their top horses, and then the very next day he won the Great Metropolitan...the English industry was stunned, this was the exercise horse and he creamed them. There was not a English horse at that time that possessed that kind of stamina after 100 years of testing by the easier classic race. Back in the day of Herod and Eclipse, 4-mile heat racers, they certainly would have performed at that level, but that era was over.

Contrary to the modern narrative being pushed, the American stock was far better than the English, indeed, after a while at many races if a American horse was entered the English horses pulled out because they knew they couldn't win. And the English were buying the American strain and both racing them under their own colors and winning, and then using them in breeding.

After Parole's success the American horses kept winning, taking virtually every important race in England and France, for example in 1881 Iroquois won the English Derby and Foxhall won a series of top races in both France and England. The dam of Tesio's foundation mare Catnip, Sibola, was one of those American racers, she won the 1000 Guineas. More American stables came over then because of the sport and the market for their stock. But then in 1910 the betting crisis occurred, and many tracks in America went under, and so more stables relocated to England and France, resulting in several attempts to stop our stock from completely eclipsing the English industry. So they imposed progressively more severe pedigree demands in order to be entered into the General Stud Book.

In this period, great American breeders like Whitney and Duryea brought their stock to England and France, and produced such greats as Sweeper who won the 2000 Guineas, Durbar who won the English Derby as the Jersey Act was imposed. And the great racer and broodmare, Lady Hamburg, who  won the Fitzwilliam Stakes, Wilbraham Plate, Mersey Stakes and Nursery Stakes in 1910 and then went on to produce the great stallions Chicle and Dis Donc, before being shipped home.

During this period the English Jockey Club increased the required generations of General Stud Book registered stock to be entered from 5 generations to 8 hoping to eliminate the Americans from being eligible. When that didn't work the Jersey Act was legislated in 1913...demanding all generations be General Stud Book registered stock...which no American horse could meet as they all had American Running Horse lines. 

But the American hybrids were winning also, so they also enlarged the ban to include all stock that carried American bloodlines, which meant that breeders in any other country that bought our breeding stock or bred from a horse that carried American bloodlines, could no longer register their stock...the edict effectively banished the American Thoroughbred from the international market. 

Now, the current excuse I was given for this punitive act was that the English had to do it...really had no choice, to protect the integrity of their breed, by preventing the American's dumping inferior stock into the English market. But that narrative has no substance when you investigate, no, the reason was the English were losing control of their industry because they American stock was better than theirs, beating them at their own game and they were not going to tolerate it. And they meant to destroy the American Thoroughbred industry, the only population that could challenge their supremacy. 

This edict was in place for 36 years, from 1913 to 1949, and only ended when the English industry was so hurting that they had no choice but to allow the banned lines in. Further, the betting shut lasted only two years and by 1912 the Americans were shipping their horses home, for example the winning racer Whisk Broom, went home and resumed racing in America in 1912. By 1920 there were virtually no American horses in England. Made me wonder why they bothered to ban our horses if they had already gone home. It had everything to do with the quality of racers, and their ability to beat the English Thoroughbred on a regular basis. But don't just take my word, instead review these 3 pieces from when the act was in place, written by the people who were living it. 

Let me just say this, the English created the Thoroughbred racehorse, and by selective breeding produced a wonderful breed. The American Thoroughbred was able to best them not because we are better breeders, but because we had more of the speed, stamina, sturdiness that came from the original Hobby-Running Horse, breeds that were eradicated by the English. Both the English and the American Thoroughbred arose from the same mare base, as the modern DNA studies are discovering. The difference is we in the colonies and then States did not wipe out the source, indeed, we made most of our native horse breeds from the stellar traits that base stock provided, including our 3 racehorse horse breeds: American Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse and Standardbred. Another factor, is the American industry kept the 4-mile heat racing performance test in place for 200 hundred years, and only changed it when it adopted the English Classic test in 1868, therefore the English were facing horses that could run 4-mile heats day in and day out and their offspring, a level of performance that has not been equaled since that day. 

Read the full story of the development of the unique American Thoroughbred and its best bloodlines, including its experience overseas, the Jersey Act, and the unexpected outcome, resulting in our stock once again winning the world's races when the Irish began raiding our sales in the 1960s-1980s, in Legacy of Lexington.

A more detailed account of events that led up to the Jersey Act and a deeper dive into the reasons for it is found in  Timeline of Events Leading to the Jersey Act