How I Won my Handicap, Told by the Winner

It was a foot-racing handicap, run just after Christmas at Sheffield, and how I came to win happened in this wise. At eighteen I found myself still living, say, at Stockton-on-Tees, on the borders of Yorkshire, the town of my birth. My trade was that of a wood-turner, and with but half my time served. "Old Tubby" found me an unwilling apprentice, who had not the least inclination for work. Stockton, though only a little place, is noted for sporting and games of all sorts—but particularly for cricket. I played, of course, but they didn't "reckon" much of me, except for fielding. "Sikey," who was a moulder, and I, kept ferrets and dogs, too, and on Sundays we used to go up the "Teeside" after rabbits, or rats, or anything we could get. Sometimes we stripped and had a "duck," and then we ran on the bank barefoot. I could give him half a score yards start in a field's length, and win easily; but often I didn't try to get up till close upon the hedge we had agreed should be the winning-post. My father had been coachman to a sporting gent who kept race-horses, and the old man used to talk for everlasting about the "Chifney rush." When first Sikey and I ran I tried to beat him, so he made me give a start. Then I thought of the 'cute old jockey, and I used to try and get up and win in the last yard or so.

One day Locker, who had formerly kept a running ground at Staleybridge, met me, and asked if I'd go out with him next Saturday and have a spin. I told him I "didn't mind;" so we went up the turnpike till a straight level bit was found, and he stepped 100 yards, leaving me at the start, saying, "Come away as hard as thou can, whenever thou art ready." He had his hands in his topcoat pocket all the while, and when I finished, we walked on a bit, neither speaking for a quarter of a mile further, when he looked at his watch and said it was "getting dinner-time." Soon after he looked again, and then "took stock o' me from head to foot," and as we passed the ground I had run over, he asked, "Canst run another hundred?" I told him I could; but this time he pulled off his own coat, and said, "We'll go together." He was quickest off, but I could have passed him any time, just as I used to pass Sikey. When we got nearly to the finish I "put it on" and just got home first. He seemed pleased and told me not to say a word to anybody, but come down and meet him again. I didn't know what he was about at all, but I said "All right," and next Saturday went to the same place. Locker was there, and two other coves with him, as I hadn't seen before. One was a tall thin un he called "Lanky," and the other was little and wiry, and rather pock-pitted. He said, "Let's all four run for a 'bob' a-piece, and you three give me two yards start?" But they wouldn't; so he said, I should run the "long un" for a crown. That was soon settled, and just before we started, Locker whispered to me, "Beat him, lad, if thou canst; I want him licked, he is such a bragger. We'll share t' crown if thou wins." The little un set us off, and Locker was judge. Well, we got away together, and I headed him in by five yards easy. Locker fairly danced, he was so pleased; and though Lanky grumbled a bit at first to part with his "crown," he was soon all right. We went to Locker's to dinner, and talked about "sprinting," as they called it, all the afternoon. I told 'em I'd never run at all before except for fun, and they seemed "fairly staggered." They asked if I would run a match for £5 next week, and I told 'em I didn't mind. Locker said I was a "good un," and I might "win £100 if I'd nobbut stick tu him." Well, we agreed that I was to do just as he directed, and receive a sovereign for myself if I won by just a foot, and two pound if I ran a dead heat, letting the "novice" who was to be my opponent catch me at the finish. I never "split" to anybody except Sikey, and he went to see the race. Over a hundred people were there, and off we started. Everybody thought I was winning, but I "shammed tired," and he beat me about three inches, the judge said. Locker swore it was a dead heat, and as he had laid 2 to 1 on me I thought he'd lost a lot of money. As we went home, he said, "There's £2 for thee, lad; thou did it wonderful well; I shall match thee again next Saturday for £20: we might as well have it as anybody else." Well, during the week I was out with him every night, and he said, "Stick to me, and we'll mak these coves sit up. Thou'rt a thunderin' good un, and we'll gan to Sheffield together in less nor six months if thou can keep thysel to thysel." Of course I was pleased, and I bought a new pair of running-shoes with spikes in. He showed me The Sporting Life next week, with a challenge in that "'Locker's lad,' not satisfied with his late defeat, will take a yard in a 100 from the 'Stockton Novice,' for £25 or £50 a-side. A deposit to the editor and articles sent to Mr Locker's running-grounds, Stockton, will meet with immediate attention." I was quite struck, and said I wondered what "Old Tubby" would think if he knew. Locker said, "Go ask him for thy indentures, and if he won't give 'em up, ask him what he'll tak for 'em." So I did, and if I hadn't been in such a hurry, he'd have thrown 'em at me, and said he was glad to get rid of an idle rascal. As it was, I told him I'd something else to do, and he demanded £3 for my release. Locker gave me the money next day, and I soon put the indentures in the fire; thanking my stars for the escape. After this I lived at Locker's altogether, and in two or three days an answer came from the "Novice," to say he'd give 2 yards start in 150. Well, that didn't seem to suit Locker, so he replied, through the paper again, that "Sooner than not run again, his lad should run the 'Novice' 100 yards level at Kenham grounds for £25 a side. To run in three weeks." Articles came and were signed on these terms. Then he said, "Thou needn't train at all, though I want thee to win this time by nearly a yard; just stay a bit longer than before, and don't let him quite catch thee. Make a good race of it, but be sure and win." We often went to the old spot on the turnpike, and once he took a tape and measured the ground. He had stepped it within a yard and a half. At last he showed me his watch that he had won in a handicap. There was a long hand which jumped four times in a second, and he could start it or stop it by pressing a spring whenever he liked. Then I held it while he ran, and found he was just 11 sec. doing his 100 yards. I tried, and was "ten and a beat," which he told me was reckoned first-rate time. While I stopped with him I found out all about "sprints" and "quarters," and how long a man ought to be running different distances. I asked, too, about the last race; why he could afford to give me £2 when I lost? He said the two "fivers" he had bet were with "pals," and he lost nothing but my stake. Then he told me about the little man and Lanky, whom I had met with him and run against. The "long 'un," he said, was a very good "trial horse," who could keep his tongue in his head, and would "stand in" if I won anything. The little un had been on business in the north, and came round to see him (Locker). It was all chance his being there, but I should see him again, farther south, where he kept a running ground. Well, the day for our race came at last, and we went to Kenham. I was wrapped in a blanket after we stripped, and a stout man, called Woldham, who stood referee, whispered something to Locker, who replied that I was fit and sure to win. They laid 5 to 4 against me at first, but presently I heard evens offered, and then £22 to £20 on me, and that was as far as Locker's friends would go. We had a lot of "fiddling," as they call it, at the mark, but presently we jumped away, I with an advantage of about a yard. I had made the gap quite four yards at half the distance, and then "died away" till near the post, where, as the Chronicle next Monday said, I "struggled manfully, and took the tape first by half a yard; time, 10⅖ sec." Hadn't we a jaw as we went back! Locker said I was a "wonderful clever lad," and that Woldham had told him I should be "heard of again." We both laughed, and I got £5 for winning. With this I bought a new rig out, and everybody at Stockton that knew me said I was "ruined for life." They all wanted to know where the togs came from, however, but I kept that to myself.

It was now September, and Locker said, "I'll enter thee for a handicap." So he did, and shortly afterwards we went to Kenham again, where, by his directions, I was beat for my heat, with 5 yards start in 120. About a week later, we had a long talk, and then he said, "Dost know what I've been doing, lad?" I told him I thought he meant to get me a good start and try if I could win. "Thou'rt partly right," he said, "but I've been running thee 100 yards, and letting thee lose in t' last few strides. This makes 'em think thou can't stay. I know thou'rt as good at 150 as 100, so I shall train thee and run thee at Sheffield this Christmas. If thou can win there, we can earn £1000 between us, and if thou can only run into a place, we shall make £50 or £100 apiece; but mind, we shall let t' cat out o' t' bag: thou'll never get on a mark again after trying once." Presently, Merling and Stemmerson advertised a £40 handicap at Kenham, and I entered; then came the big Sheffielder of £80, and down went my name for that too. I lived very regular all this time, went to bed early, and practised the distance every day, till Locker said I was a "level time" man, and if I didn't win it would be a "fluke." At last the start appeared: I got in at 7 yards in the 130 at Newcastle, and my mark was 67 in 210 yards at Ryde Park. Locker was delighted: "Thou can win 'em both in a walk, lad," he said, again and again. Then the betting quotations were sent up week after week, and I was at 50 to 1 long enough at Sheffield. There wasn't much doing on the 130 yards race, so Locker said I might go there on the Saturday and lose my first heat. He didn't lay out a penny any way till we went into Alf Wilner's, the Punch Bowl, on Sunday night. Somebody presently asked my price, and, to my surprise, up got the little pock-marked man I had met, and said he was commissioned to take 60 to 1 to £5, just for a "fancy" bet. A big Sheffielder opened his book and said he might as well have the "fiver" as not, and there I was backed to win £300 already. Locker and I went away to bed about nine o'clock, and next morning in came the little 'un at six to tell us he'd ta'en five fifties more, then five forties, ten thirties, and ten twenties, and I was now in the market at 12 to 1 taken and offered. My heat was the sixth, and there were five starters marked. First came "old Scratch" of Pendleton at 59 yards, then Roundtree of Huddersfield at 62, and myself at 67; the other didn't turn up. The pistol was fired and away we went, and, as Locker had started me hundreds of times, so that I could "get off the mark" well, I don't think I lost any ground. At about half way I could hear somebody on my left, but I daren't look round. Afterwards I found "Scratch" had tried to "cut me down," but it was all no use, and I took away the tape by two yards good. Everybody cheered, for betting on the heat had been 7 to 4 on "Scratch" and 3 to 2 against me. At the close of the day there were ten runners left in for the final heat, and "my price" was 4 to 1, Roper of Staleybridge being the favourite at 6 to 4 against him. Locker said he had laid off £250 at 5 to 1 directly after the heat, so that our party stood to win £1000 exactly, of which I was to have £200 if I "landed." We were together till bedtime, and slept in a double room. At seven next morning we took a stroll, and just as we got to Alf's to breakfast somebody put a bit of paper into my hand and then shot away. I slipped it in my pocket, and said "nowt" till after breakfast, when I read on it, "£150 for thyself before the start if thou'll run fourth." I asked Locker what it meant, and he laughed, and said they wanted me to "rope." When we went out again the little fellow pulled out a roll of notes and showed 'em to me; but I meant to win if possible, so I shook my head. As the morning passed I "sort of funked" the race, but then I thought, "I were a made man if I copped." So I just said to mysel', "Bill, lad, haul in the slack," and off we went to the grounds. I never felt fitter either before or since; and after Roper got off badly and was beat a short foot, I was sure the final heat was my own. My second heat was an easy win, and "Lord, how the Sheffielders did shout" when I ran in three yards ahead without being fully extended! They laid 7 to 4 on me for the deciding race, which was the hardest of the lot. Hooper of Stanningly went from the same mark; we afterwards found out they'd played a similar game with him. They'd "pulled" him for two handicaps, and let him lose all his matches, and now he had been backed to win £600. He beat me at starting, and before we got half way they cried "Hooper wins." I was a good yard behind him, but with a hard strain I got level, and we ran shoulder and shoulder till just on the tape, where I threw myself forward, with the old "Chifney rush," and just won by a bare half-yard. Locker fairly hugged me, and, half blind though I was with the tough race, the "tykes" shoulder-heighted and carried me off to the house.

In presents, and with my share, I got £230, and thought I'd put it away in the bank. But that night we all had champagne, and I went to bed quite queer and dizzy-like. Next day was the same, and on Thursday we took train to Manchester, where I was invited to stop a week or two. Locker left me and went home, telling me to take care of myself. I wish I'd gone too, for what with meeting betting-men and playing cards and buying swell clothes, to say nothing of dresses for a fresh sweetheart, I soon got awful "fast." Then we used to sit up at nights playing "seven's the main," and I wasn't lucky or summut; but, however, in six weeks I'd got through half my money. One night we started cutting through the pack, and then played "Blind Hookey," and next morning the little pock-pitted man came up and called me a "flat," and said I'd fair thrown my winnings into the fire. He didn't know much about what had gone on, and when I told him "I knocked down close on £150," he said he daren't send me back to Stockton. Well, I stopped at Manchester altogether; and during the next two or three years I won heaps of races, learned the "rope trick," and found out whose "stable" every lad trained from. I won hundreds of pounds, which, having all come over the "devil's back," went the same way. I'm twenty-three now, but I can't do "level time" any longer without six weeks' training, although even yet, at 100 yards, very few lads can "pull off their shirt" every day in the week and lick me. I like the life very well—it's free and easy; but I wish Locker had ta'en me back and made my matches. He's clever, he is, and knows when to "let a fellow's head loose" without halloaing.