Wednesday, January 6, 2010

History In The Making: Northern Dancer, Joe Hirsch and an Upset

Last October, Colin's Ghost - one of my favourite online spots - posted regarding the Daily Racing Form Online Historical Archive.

As so eloquently detailed by Colin's Ghost:

"The 3,000 volume archive of the Daily Racing Form – the largest known collection of the Form – was donated to the Keeneland Library in 2000. In 2007, the preservation and digitization of the collection began in partnership with the University of Kentucky. The first phase of the online archive was launched this summer and is being hosted by the Kentuckiana Digital Library.

The digital archive has approximately 78,000 pages and 305,000 articles. The online collection is not complete but does include selected issues of the Racing Form from 1897 to 1991. The first phase of the project focused on specific events primarily the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown season but does include selected issues from other events."

If you're not mesmerized by the scope of this project and find yourself asking, "Yeah...and?"

Well, by taking advantage of the advanced search feature I was able to locate headlines specifically related to Northern Dancer and dug up the race report for the 1964 Queen's Plate as written by the brilliant Joe Hirsch.

"Once clear on the outside, the issue was quickly decided. The Dancer now had racing room and accelerated like a jet, passing horses with abandon. He was picking up his field briskly through a half in :47 and 6 furlongs in 1:12.

Langcrest and Grand Garcon entered the far turn abreast on the lead, and now The Dancer ranged up on the outside of them, suffering their presence for several strides. Finally, the favorite raced to the lead, midway of the turn, and quickly drew out.

The Dancer was widening after a mile,in l:364/5, and continued to widen on horses tired from heat and fatigue to a final clocking of 2:021/5, fastest Plate since Victoria Park's 2:02 in 1960..."

View the screen shot below or click on this link to read the full article.

Northern Dancer Coasts Home in Queen's Plate

There's much to discover at this incredible archive. The advanced search feature allows users to search specific terms based on headlines, bylines, articles, past performances, race charts, comics, advertisements, etc.

Craving to coax a cache of Canadiana, I tried a simple headline search for "Hawley". The results had me perusing inches of ink on Canada's greatest jockey Sandy Hawley from the early 1970s for more than an hour.

The archive has incredible depth. Not everything is available just yet, but many important racing moments are chronicled. For instance, the August 14, 1919 edition of the Daily Racing Form ("Ten Cents Everywhere!") reported on the the upset of Man O' War by...Upset. Read the full story by clicking here.

Upset for the ages...

As an aspiring writer, I find endless inspiration searching the bylines for articles written by Hirsch. This May 4, 1978 piece entitled, Rain Woody's 'Kicker', finds Hirsch at the barn of trainer Woody Stephens as the conditioner looks to find an edge for Wood Memorial winner Believe It against the formidable pair of Affirmed and Alydar in the Run for the Roses.

"A chilling rain slanting in from the slate-gray skies, pelted the Derby barns at daybreak when Woody Stephens arrived at his place of business. The Hall of Fame trainer was dressed for the occasion in battered fedora and somber trench coat. The brightest thing about him on a morning fit for neither man nor most beasts was a smile, and every time his gaze traveled the surrounding lawn, noting many pools of water, the smile expanded."

Now that's how you open a story! Not a careless word in the mix. Some thirty years removed, Hirsch has transported a reader he could never have expected into a wonderful watery moment.

Therein lies the beauty of this archival project. There's something on the site for everyone and I urge the curious among you to click on the links and do some searching of your own.

The video below details the scope of the digitization process.

Keeneland Library: Preserving Racing's Rich History

It seems to me this is a project well worth supporting. If you wish to support the project, you can write a check payable to "University of Kentucky" with a note about the DRF Preservation Project. Send checks to:

Daily Racing Form Preservation Project
attn: Becky Ryder
110 M.I. King Building
University of Kentucky
Lexington, KY 40506-0039

For more information about giving, please contact Becky Ryder at or 859-257-5713.


Ernie said...

Fantastic finds!

Keith - TripleDeadHeat said...

Thanks Ernie...the archive site has been a welcome distraction from my busy workplace!

Ben Aitken said...

Fascinating discovery! Northern Dancer has had such an impact on UK racing that it will be great to dig about and search out some of the race reports on him.