HC Deb 28 June 1864 vol 176 cc437-48

said, that the attention of the country had lately been called to the alleged fact that the breed of our horses had greatly deteriorated in stoutness, soundness, and structural formation. On that point he begged to read to the House a portion of the letter addressed to the Speaker, and subsequently published in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society by Mr. Dickenson, a successful breeder of horses, and a high authority on the matter. Mr. Dickenson said— Great advances have been made in the breeding of cattle, sheep, and pigs, in every part of the United Kingdom during the last forty years. What is the case with regard to horses? Have they not retrograded in the same degree? Can the present race of horses be compared with those bred forty years since? The cart-horse, perhaps, is the only class that can bear the comparison. There is a cause for this which I shall mention hereafter. Formerly, Royal Plates of £100 each were given for competition all over England, for four-year olds, 10st. 41b.; five years, 11st. 61b.; six, and aged, 12st.; decided in four mile heats. Our horses were then the envy of the whole of Europe. These Royal Plates, for high weights and long distances, brought up our horses to this point of excellence; so long as they were so given so long we kept our supremacy; but, by some unfortunate influence the conditions were altered, and lighter weights and shorter distances allowed. From this point I date, under my own observation, the commencement of the deterioration of our thorough-bred horses, and consequently those in everyday use. Mr. Dickenson's experience extended back for a period of forty years, but Lord Redesdale, in introducing a Bill on that subject in the other House, said he had come across complaints as long ago as seventy, eighty, and ninety years, of the decreasing stoutness and soundness of our horses. The noble Lord the President of the Council thought he had reduced the argument of those who were constantly lamenting the deterioration of our breed of horses to an absurdity, when he quoted the opinion of a livery-stable keeper, who had told him that as long back as he could remember anything, he could remember these periodical complaints about the deterioration of our horses. How were they to account for that deterioration? He thought Mr. Dickenson hit only a part of the reason for it. The real reason, he believed, lay in the undoubted fact that the object of those who had the command of the turf always had been, and always must be, to entice as many persons as possible to come upon the turf—an object inconsistent with such a system as would maintain for us the breed of stout horses. He was aware there were many who ut- terly denied the statement that a deterioration had taken place; but there was evidence enough left to show that in former times horses ran six mile distances and four mile heats, carrying even twelve and sometimes thirteen stone, and remained five and six years on the turf, performing tasks which if they were to try to impose on a racehorse of the present day would kill the animal, and bring the owner within the penalties of Martin's Act. It was the fashion with some to say that our horses were never finer than they were at present, and that the accounts of the racing in olden times were not to be relied on. But he found it easier to believe that there had been a deterioration in the stoutness, soundness, and structural power of our horses, than to believe that all the feats as recorded as done by horses in the last century were a sham, and that pretending to run four-mile heats the jockeys had cantered the greater part of the way. The stamp of our horses had undergone a change. The modern racer stood over more ground than his predecessors, and had a longer stride; but that elongation was purchased by flatness of side, weakness of loin, and less capacity of chest. What was the remark that would at once be made by any one who looked at the pictures of our racehorses by a great artist fifty years ago? Why, that they looked more like hunters than racers, combining higher stuctural power, soundness, and stoutness, with the same amount of breeding. In a very interesting correspondence which had recently taken place between the Chief Secretary for Ireland and Admiral Rous, the gallant Admiral said— A racehorse which can run three miles is worth £3,000—a half-mile horse's value is £100, which is a sufficient bribe to exercise our ingenuity to produce stout runners. And he also observes that— It is not to be supposed that a sane person will risk a horse worth £3,000 to run four miles under heavy weight, for a miserable prize of £100. He was aware that Admiral Rous said he did not object to the modern system of handicap. He (Mr. Percy Wyndham) thought, however, that that system was regretted by almost all who were connected with the turf; and he had reason to believe that the opinion of Admiral Rous had undergone a change, for in a letter written after the debate in the House of Lords in 1860, he had said that "no man was a greater enemy to handicaps than himself," and that "the system encouraged trickery of every description." In the same letter the gallant Admiral used one of his very terse and expressive phrases—namely, that racing was "a game of weights." One thing to be deprecated was the running of horses at a too early age. The Earl of Derby, speaking in the House of Lords against the Bill of Lord Redesdale, said, that in 1829 the proportion of two-year-olds to three-year-olds on the turf was as two to eight, and that in 1859 it had increased to eight to seven. The proportion was still increasing, and that spring it had reached rather more than eight and a half to seven. It was beginning to be discovered that they could not with impunity play such tricks with nature as they had been doing for the last half century, and he maintained that a greater change had taken place during the last fifty years than during any other period. The system of Queen's Plates was most unsatisfactory. They occupied a sort of intermediate position. The weights were not heavy enough or the distances long enough to please those whose eyes were fixed on having good horses for practical purposes, and not for mere racing. Whilst, on the other hand, their rules had not been modified in such a way as to meet the requirements of modern times. One of the most recent alterations introduced was the allowing three-year-olds to run for Queen's Plates, and he regretted to say that the majority of our racehorses disappeared altogether from the turf at the end of their third year, when they were still in a state of infancy. He should not be at all sorry to see the old weights gone back to, though he admitted the difficulty there would be in having such an arrangement with the present system of running horses. When they found that of thirty-eight Queen's Plates run for in England, seventeen had been won by one mare, which had six or seven walks over, and that of seventeen Queen's Plates run for in Ireland, eight had been won by one animal, which had the appropriate name of Tourist, he thought they might arrive at the conclusion that some change was required. He rather agreed in Admiral Rous's opinion that we should have free trade in the matter; but if free trade meant an absence of State interference with the rules and regulations of the Turf, it also meant an absence of State subsidies. If the Queen's Plates were given not for a great public object, but for the mere purpose of encouraging sport, the Government ought to give some of the public money as prizes for cricket matches, or as subscriptions towards some of the fox hunts, which were much in want of funds. With regard to prizes, Mr. Dickenson makes these observations— When a prize of £100 was given by the Royal Agricultural Society at Battersea, the best six stallions were brought from all parts of the country, even a Derby winner, to whom was awarded the prize. Nevertheless, the object of the society was not obtained. It is not the winner of the Derby or St. Leger, a horse that will never be taken from his own stable door, that should come to an Agricultural Show, exhibit himself there, and walk off with the prize; but it is a good strong thoroughbred country stallion, that is available for the use of the ordinary mares of the country. The fact was, we did not possess horses which were so useful for general purposes as those possessed by our forefathers. He had brought forward views which might be new to some and opposed to the preconceived ideas of others; but he felt certain that they would bear investigation, and find an echo in the opinion of many country gentlemen, farmers, and yeomen in this country. He thought that the present system ought not to receive any subsidy, however trifling, from the public funds. And he, therefore, begged to move that, as the annual grant of sums of money voted by that House for Queen's Plates no longer encouraged the breed of good horses, the object for which it was originally given, it should for the future be discontinued.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, as the annual grant of sums of money voted by this House for Queen's Plates no longer encourages the breed of good horses, the object for which it was originally given, it should, for the future, be discontinued."—(Mr. Percy Wyndham.)


said, he thought that the hon. Member (Mr. Wyndham) who had just sat down, and who was entitled both by descent and from personal knowledge to offer an opinion on the matter, had done good service in bringing the subject under the notice of the House. He (Mr. Newdegate) had taken a great interest in the breeding of horses for the last twenty-five or twenty-six years, and he thought there was a great change in the character of our horses; but he did not believe that that change was entirely attributable to the character of our racing or our racehorses. The fact was that some few years ago, before railways were introduced, few hon. Members thought it a surprising feat if they had ridden twenty miles upon the road. Hon. Gentlemen would, however, bear him out that very few gentlemen now took a ride of twenty miles, and the truth was that unless a man was upon his horse for a considerable time and over a considerable space of ground he never found out what the animal was made of. To that circumstance was to be attributed the want of substance and power of endurance which was observable in many horses, and the fact that the ordinary horse or hack was not as useful as formerly because so much less used. Then railways had superseded the demand for second and third class horses. The roadster was not in demand as formerly, except for exportation. It would be a very sad thing if the breed of our horses were to deteriorate seriously; and he thought if public money was to be given in Queen's Plates for the purposes of improving the breed, it was well worthy the consideration of the Government whether such a change might not be adopted in the conditions as should give encouragement to the retention in this country of horses of substance and stoutness, such as really would improve the breed. He felt convinced that a mere change in the conditions of the Queen's Plates would not effect that; but he thought the advice of Admiral Rous, that the distance for Queen's Plates should never be less than three miles, was well worthy of consideration; and he was further of opinion that £100 for a Queen's Plate should not be given unless the private subscriptions were added to double or treble the amount of the public contribution. He believed the effect of such a regulation would be the retention in this country of an enduring, stout, weight-carrying class of racers for breeding purposes on terms available for the farmers. By this system of economy, the not giving the Plate unless a subscription was added, the Government might obtain a fund from which the value of the Plate, where given, might be gradually increased, without increasing the aggregate Vote for this purpose, and thus also secure the distribution of the prizes among horses of the character which was requisite for ordinary breeders. There was no doubt that the £100 was often won by inferior animals; and that in other cases a first-rate animal monopolized a number of plates for want of competition. Admiral Rous was right in saying that we should have larger prizes in order to secure the services of a requisite number of horses of the class which he had described.


said, there was no doubt the amount of money given in Queen's Plates did not afford the same inducements to gentlemen to run their horses as it did when Queen's Plates were first established. That was the practical object for which those plates had been established; but he believed that since they were established the breed of horses in this country had in no way deteriorated. In Ireland there was a universal complaint of a want of good stallions; and Admiral Rous fairly put it, that if gentlemen would club together in Ireland and this country to keep good stallions there would be no reason to fear a deterioration of our stock of horses. But he differed from the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) in one particular. That hon. Gentleman said that no one would think of riding twenty or thirty miles now. Why he himself, only so late as the previous Saturday, rode thirty miles, and his horse displayed both ability and endurance. After the ride he probably felt much better than the horse, but yesterday the horse came out of the stable perfectly fresh. He believed that his noble Friend at the head of the Government was frequently in the habit of taking long rides, and there were other gentlemen also who preferred that sort of exercise to the railways. A sum of about;£3,500, divided into thirty-six or thirty-eight prizes, was at present given in Queen's Plates; and though it was true that one horse in Ireland and another in England had won a great number of these prizes, and that in some cases there had been a walk over, that was not a reason for making a great alteration, which would entirely do away with that enjoyment, to maintain which he thought public encouragement should be given to race meetings. His noble Friend at the head of the Government authorized him to say the Government would consider the matter with the Master of the Horse, who, he believed, regulated the weights. His noble Friend did not* authorize him to say that the weights would be increased, but that the Government, with the Master of the Horse, would consider whether an alteration might not be made as regarded the weights and distances in races for Queen's Plates, with a view of testing to a greater extent the capabilities of the horses. For himself, he did not share the opinion that those heavy weights and great distances were as desirable as some Gentlemen appeared to imagine. However, that was to be considered. He hoped his right hon. and gallant relative (General Peel), who was very conversant with the subject, would inform the House whether, in his opinion, the breed of horses in this country had deteriorated. He knew that the Government of France and other Governments had purchased some first-rate sires in this country. The Baron and other stallions had been purchased here by the French Government; but in this country we did by private enter prize what in France was done by the direct action of the Government and by other means. In his opinion the English breed of horses was able to compete with any that could be brought against them; but his noble Friend at the head of the Government was ready to assure the hon. Gentleman that with respect to distance and weight the question would be considered, in order to see whether any improvement could be made in conducing to the objects for which these plates were originally established.


Sir, I disagree with the opinion that the breed of horses in this country has deteriorated. I have been for at least forty years a breeder of this class of horses, and if my authority is worth anything it is certainly opposed to that of Mr. Dickenson, for I believe that we have never before bred such horses for endurance and speed as now. The hon. Member's proposal is that the grant for Queen's Plates should be put an end to, "as it no longer encourages the breed of good horses." Now, I requested the hon. Gentleman to postpone his Motion, and I did so because on the 1st of next month there is a show of horses in this town, and I believe there will be 300 hunters, forty-two thoroughbred horses, with hacks and horses of every description. I wanted the House to judge for itself whether the breed of horses had fallen off or not. In the Easter vacation I went to see two studs of horses — one belonging to a noble Lord who unfortunately did not run first but ran second for the Derby. He had thirty-six horses in training and I think eighteen of them would have carried me. I do not think I can give bettor proof of the quality of the present breeds of horses. My other visit was paid to the hon. Member for Hythe (Baron Rothschild), who possesses as fine a stud of horses as can be seen anywhere. So far from the breed of horses having fallen off, I believe there never was a time when thoroughbred steeds were more surely going back to that size and power which formerly distinguished them. Objection is taken to the racing of two-year-olds. And what is proposed? Why, to do away with all the races for old horses, all the weight-for-age races, and to abolish the Queen's Plates. I say it is impossible to tell to what degree those Queen's Plates encourage 'the breed of horses. You cannot judge of this at all by the number of horses which run for them. After horses have passed their third year, a man is inclined to ask, "What can I do with them?" "Oh!" he thinks, "I can run them for Queen's Plates;" and this attaches a value to these horses which otherwise they would not possess, and without which they might go out of the country. But then it is said, "These horses ought to run longer distances and with heavier weights." Well, I say in reply that Admiral Rous is quite right, and that if you do so you will have none but common hacks running for Queen's Plates. No man would run good horses in four-mile heats with heavy weights for £100. At the same time, horses now-a-days are as capable of running four-mile heats with ten stone on their backs as they ever were. Forty years ago I recollect it was thought a miracle when a two-year-old won the Feather Plate at Newmarket—three miles. Now, nothing else wins. I had much rather that the two-year-olds did not run in these races, but the fact I mention shows how the breed has improved. If the breed of horses has fallen off, buyers must certainly be extraordinary people, because they now give higher prices for thoroughbred horses than they ever gave before. Look at the prices fetched for yearlings at sales during the present year, including that of the Royal studs at Hampton Court. Depend upon it, the public do not give these higher prices for brutes. Among the starters for the last Derby there were four or five of the finest horses that have run for many a year—certainly as fine as have run during my recollection. In my opinion there is nothing in the world like a thoroughbred English horse; and if you tried to produce large coach-horses you certainly would not improve the breed. I recollect the famous match of 200 miles in ten hours that Mr. Osbaldeston won at Newmarket. Did he choose great hunters or strong half-bred horses? Not at all. Every horse he rode was thorough-bred, and he did not care what they were; he took any horse which was in training, and never varied in this choice. He rode each horse four miles, his riding weight being ten stone. One horse carried him four times. It went sixteen miles in thirty-two minutes, and no half-bred horse would ever have done that. Well, then, hon. Members say, "Why should the public give this money for Queen's Plates?" Now I am prepared to make this proposal to the Government:—They give £3,300 a year in Queen's Plates, But they take £7,000 a year in an extra tax levied on racehorses. Why put an additional tax on racehorses? Why not pay the exact tax that other horses pay? If this is done, owners of racehorses do not want the Queen's Plates. There is no class of people who enter more into the free trade spirit than racing men. We have not sought to shut out foreign horses. We have always upheld free trade for the turf; we have challenged foreign horses to come over here and compete with ours; and we have even given them weight because it was thought that they hardly stood upon equal terms with English horses. It is true that in Prance at present they have better horses than they used to have, but these horses are every one of them of English blood. There is not a single country abroad where country bred horses run-all of them are English bred, and buyers come to England for them. I can only say again that I think the hon. Member is quite wrong in holding that our breed of horses has deteriorated, and is still more at fault in the manner in which he seeks to rectify this supposed deterioration—that is to say, by doing away with Queen's Plates, the only races left for old horses to run in. If the Government have determined to reconsider the question of weights and distances, I only hope that they will consult those who are the best judges of what is likely to promote the interests of racing. I should not have ventured to express these opinions if I had any interest in the question; but, as I no longer own a racehorse, I have no personal interest in the matter whatever, except what arises from my great desire to assist in any measures that may improve the breed of English horses.


said, he was also of opinion that the breed of horses had not deteriorated, and that it would be unwise to adopt the recommendation of the hon. Member. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman who had last spoken had comprehended the whole question in the observations he had made. He (Mr. Gregory) maintained, however, that the Queen's Plates might be better arranged in Ireland. At present, of the fifteen Queen's Plates run for in Ireland, eleven were run for at the Curragh, and the result was that one horse came over for one week to the Curragh and swept away all the prizes. He proposed that about three more Queen's Plates should be run for in the provinces in Ireland, and over any proper racecourse, whenever a sufficient sum of money was forthcoming. He thought that such additional prizes would have the effect of keeping the old horses in the country.


believed that the exportation of the finest young mares, which was now carried on to a great extent, had something to do with the deterioration of the breed of horses. Fifty mares had been taken from one district alone. That was indeed killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. It would be very desirable if some means could be devised for putting a stop to this export, consistently with justice to the breeders and with the principles of free trade.


I entirely agree with my hon. and gallant Friend opposite, and utterly differ from those who contend that the breed of English horses has deteriorated, I believe, on the contrary, that the horses bred in this country are better as to size, substance, and endurance than they ever were. Any man going into a racing stable, and seeing their size, their bone and substance, must ask himself what he could wish to have better in the shape of a four-legged animal. The fact is that greater pains are taken now than used to be taken formerly to force on the young horse, and bring him to a greater size at two years old than used to be the case. There is one very good test. If the breed were deteriorated, foreigners would not come to England to buy English horses. But the complaint is that more and more persons come every year from different parts of the Continent to buy English horses; and I say that is a proof that the English horse is a good one. The other day I had a deputation from gentlemen connected with the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland, complain ing of deterioration in the breed of horses there. But in the course of conversation, it was stated that from one port in Ireland—namely, Dublin—5,000 horses were shipped in the course of last year. That, at least, is a proof that the Irish horse is worth buying, and worth carrying elsewhere. There can be no doubt that the laws of supply and demand exercise the same influence over the breed of horses as over the manufacture of any other article. If there be a demand, depend upon it that somehow or other there will be an adequate supply. With regard to the particular Motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite, I have no objection to say that the question shall be considered by the Master of the Horse in connection with those who are the best judges of the turf, to see whether a return to greater weights and greater distances would be advisable, with a view of improving the breed of horses. But I think there is great force in what fell from the hon. and gallant Officer, that to abolish prizes applying to horses of greater age than the usual sweepstakes, so far from doing any good, would, on the contrary, do harm. The hon. Gentleman will probably not think it necessary to take the sense of the House on this Motion.


said, he had to thank the noble Lord for the promise which he had given, and he would withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.