Beat the Races? Impossible, Says Colonel Bradley

Westbrook Pegler

Chicago Tribune/August 9, 1929


Only Aim Is to Improve Breed for Remounts


Saratoga, N. Y., Aug. 8. Thirty-six years ago, a doctor in Chicago told Edward R. Bradley that in view of the state of his heath at that time he probably would not live more than one year. He advised Mr. Bradley to retire to some quiet place and associate himself with horses. This sentence to the company of horses came agreeably to the patient because he had always been fond of them and he could remember when, as a boy of ten in Johnstown, Pa., he had served as driver of a neighbor’s work team all day in return for the privilege of riding the horses two blocks to water at Stony creek at noon.

Colonel Proves Shy

At the age’of 69 years, Col. Edward R. Bradley, the great Bradley of Kentucky, is very reticent regarding himself, but voluble about horses. But the careers of his horses are set down in charts and tables, to be looked up as easily as you might find a telephone number in the book and the colonel himself remains a vague, almost mysterious personality.

Today, as the most romantic personality in American sport came out of the dining room at the hotel, your correspondent said: “Colonel, they tell me you have a standing offer of $500 even money that any yearling sold at the August sales here won’t win a race between April 1 and Nov. 1 the first season out.”

“Let’s sit down over here,” he said, leading the way to two old-fashioned desk sergeant chairs on the veranda.

“That is right,” he began, “and I have had many subscribers. but year by year they are dropping off, because the percentage is against them. But wagering is no help to the horse business on the sport of racing. Playing the races will break any man in time because the bettor is engaged in a constant combat against the percentage and the percentage can’t lose. I think if people could come to understand that they would learn to enjoy racing as a sport.

That Remount Story Again

“If they would learn to approach the races in the same way that they approach the opera they would get a lot of amusement. They hear of 40-to-1 shots winning. but they don’t stop to figure that this means that for every chance of winning this horse has forty chances to lose.”

“Horses are an asset only to the breeder. They are no asset to the racing man. This game was made for boobs and the definition of a boob is a man with an income. Racing associations are incorporated for the purpose of improving the breed of horses. We can’t win a war without horses and none but the pure bred will breed on. Racing is a survival of the fittest. Our government has realized this fact and has established the army remount service, which is a branch of the cavalry.

“The remount service has been reaching out to friendly horse breeders for donations of stallions. All the racing men have been liberal. August Belmont gave five, I have given sixteen so far and the government is now the largest breeder of halfbreeds and thoroughbreds. Last year the government had 4,500 colts and it now has more horses and mules than ever before, more than 23,000.

The Breed Improves

“Thoroughbreds run in wonderful families. Whatever you breed them to they will produce good foals, but if you mate them right you may produce superhorses. We started with Arabians of 13 hands. Now we get horses of 16 hands.

“In my opinion, in horses as well as in humankind, eighty per cent of the responsibility for the offspring rests on the mother.

“The young generally follow type on the mother’s side. When you find a man of great ability in all probability if you look up his home you will find that his mother was a little, nervous, blue eyed woman of no great physical power and of strictly feminine type. A big, strong, athletic type of girl is likely to have children of the athletic rather than the intellectual type. They may be intellectual as well as athletic, but the athletic tendency will be more pronounced.

“I know a family of three generations of girls. The grandmother was quite bowlegged. Her daughter was bowlegged, but not to the same degree. The granddaughter is the least bowlegged of all, but somewhat bowlegged nevertheless. The trait is diminishing, but there may come a throwback child eventually as bowlegged as the grandmother.”

I got in the suggestion that $3.000 was no money at all on a horse track, where shabby men have $30.000 one day but can’t raise a dollar the next. He said those men were racketeers and a nuisance to the horse business, insisting again that general betting was not only unnecessary but a constant drain on the bettors.

Colonel Grows Confidential

“The percentage favors the bookmaker and the mutuels and the percentage is simply infallible,” he said. “No man can whip it consistently. It is hard enough for the best horse to win. The fastest horse in the race may be crowded back and shut off so he can’t run his best. Try running down a crowded sidewalk and you’ll see what I mean.”

I took that to mean that even the favorite has less chance to win than the short odds would indicate.

“No man can run more than 30 yards at top speed,” he said, and no horse can maintain top speed more than three-eighths of a mile. I believe things run in cycles of threes.”

He paused as if he had made an intimate confession. The dealer in axiomatic certainties had a weakness after all, a system of superstition regarding cycles of threes.

His light blue eyes under gray brows, still faintly pink as the original red fades out, were looking beyond me. I know that look in the eyes of an interviewee. When they look far off, stand by for philosophy. He had warmed up slowly.

“We can’t make friends telling people about our successors,” he said. “Tell them how successful you have been and you have their envy. Tell them about your misfortune and you have their sympathy. But whenever you introduce a friend, say ‘This is my friend—of today,’ for no man at the age of three score and ten ever made three friends.”

By Way of Contrast

The character of old Tex Rickard kept suggesting itself by way of contrast. Tex pioneered in Dawson. Ed Bradley was in Arizona territory in the days when the Earp boys, Billy the Kid and other high spirited young men were creating all-time records of various styles of misbehavior. Tex believed in the law of percentage, too, but he deviated from his convictions and plunged his money against the infallible mathematics. So he died with half a million, if that, of widely scattered and miscellaneous assets, after handling fifty million.

Tex was garrulous, tricky, he enjoyed raw pleasures and rowdy companions and publicity was food to his soul. Ed Bradley is print-shy, sensitive, gentle, sentimental, domestic and severely dignified.

They were two men alike in only one respect. Tex never had the wit to say it but “This is my friend—of today,” undoubtedly summed up his experience of friendships—after a million handclasps, too.



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