My newest book, KIDNAPPED BY THE COWBOY, is in stores now. Yee-haw!!
While writing KIDNAPPED BY THE COWBOY, I envisioned my hero, TJ Grier, having a thoroughbred horse as fine and swift as any capable of running—and winning—in today’s Kentucky Derby. In the story, TJ risks all he has to buy this horse, down to his last dime. He believes his horse, Blue Whistler, will be his salvation.
So, to justify TJ’s goal, I had to build up to a race that was the race of all races. But I had no idea if a competition as prestigious as the Kentucky Derby even existed in my time period of 1896, Texas.
I delved into the research and learned there wasn’t.
But here’s a bit of what I found–trivia about the Kentucky Derby.
**Its predecessor, the Derby, was organized in England and held its first run in 1780. Legend goes that in their desire to name the race, the 12th Earl of Derby tossed a coin with Sir Charles Bunbury. Derby won, of course, but Bunbury goes down in the history books as being the owner of the very first Derby winner, Diomed.
** The American version of the Derby, the most prominent horse race in our country, was held at Churchill Downs on May 17, 1875. The Kentucky Derby has never missed a race and each race has always been run at the same track.
**A jockey club is not a club of jockeys, but instead a governing board of horsemen who regulate racing.
Organized horse racing grew in popularity in Texas in the nineteenth century—in fact as early as 1838, the Houston Jockey Club formed; in 1869, so did the Dallas Jockey Club. Fort Worth and Amarillo clubs eventually came, too.
Races were held at state fairs and expositions, as I depicted in KIDNAPPED BY THE COWBOY. Folks loved to come from miles around, not only for the entertainment, but for their gambling pleasures, too. Race tracks were populated by bookies and harlots, military men, miners, Indians and Mexicans, as well as caravans of entire families crowding the roads with rigs of all shapes and sizes. In addition to currency, wagers ranged from cattle, gold dust, gold mines, articles of clothing (baby slippers or serapes, to name a couple!) even the occasional piano.
Folks took their betting seriously. One large-boned wife of a small-boned jockey—so the story goes—put so much faith in her husband’s ability to win a certain race that she plunked her entire savings of $800 on the match. Alas, his horse lost, and in her fury, she stuffed the little man into a sack and threw him into the river. Luckily, a few of his quick-thinking neighbors dragged him out.
Because of their ability to run fast for short distances up to a quarter mile, the quarter-horse was a favorite race-horse in the West. They were compactly-built, strong, and able to make abrupt, sharp moves. Cowboys were used to riding them during roundups and while working with cattle, so it’s little wonder spontaneous contests were cheered on in town streets, so many that laws had to be passed banning them.
Here’s a few of the more unusual games that cowboys around the world loved to master:
**Roping grizzly bears. Oh, my. This one was especially popular in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Several cowboys would lasso the bear around his feet and neck, choking off his air to subdue him. They’d then trail him back to town, taunting him along the way, baiting him to charge. Once in town, they’d find a wild bull and pit them against each other. Spectators cheered to see the bear kill the bulls until he eventually succumbed himself from being gored so many times.
**Chicken pulling. Now I wrote about this game in my book, THE MERCENARY’S KISS. Using a rooster, duck or chicken, cowboys would either tie the bird to a tree or–more commonly–bury the chicken in the ground up to its neck. Horsemen would race up to the bird, and whoever plucked it out of the ground was chased by the other riders. The first rider to cross the finish line with the bird in hand was the winner–and got to keep the chicken as his prize. (In Mexico, the vaqueros took the winnings a step further–by grandly presenting the fowl to the woman he most wanted to impress.)
So how about you? Do you love horse races? Or another kind of race? What really gets the adrenaline going for you? What have been some really bizarre races you’ve seen? Or participated in?
Share your story, and you’ll be eligible to win a copy of KIDNAPPED BY THE COWBOY, the sequel to UNTAMED COWBOY!