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O.K. Horse for Sleepy Hollow
Eric Whitehead
May 14, 1973
Reaper didn't sound like much in the first place, and the more one learned, the less there seemed to be to him
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May 14, 1973

O.k. Horse For Sleepy Hollow

Reaper didn't sound like much in the first place, and the more one learned, the less there seemed to be to him

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One of the more popular British tribal rites is the celebration of the annual Bank Holiday on the first Monday in August. The day has long featured a gay mass exodus to the seaside, the countryside and the nation's playing fields, sporting arenas and amusement parks, not to mention the neighborhood pubs. This preoccupation with revelry provides an ideal background for a shady enterprise, and thus it was that the Trodmore Hoax came into full larcenous bloom in London on the Bank Holiday morning of Monday, Aug. 1, 1898.

As usual, the diversions included special race meetings throughout Great Britain, many of them held at small tracks scattered across the countryside. None of these events was so obscure as to be beneath the dignity of London's off-track bookmakers, particularly if a potentially profitable wager appeared. London's bookies were, and are, famed as an obliging breed in this regard. Also shrewd. On this festive morning they were up bright and early working the streets, corner shops and pubs, on the usual lookout for a good thing. Along with the routine heavy play on the established tracks, they observed some interest in an obscure meeting in the southwestern county of Cornwall called Trodmore. The full Trodmore program was carried on the racing pages of that morning's edition of the widely read London journal Sportsman. The adventurous were making bets on a 3-year-old named Reaper, scheduled to run in the fourth race of a six-race card and quoted at approximate starting odds of 6 to 1.

The bookies were not unduly curious about this flurry of interest in a little-known horse since most of the wagers were placed in the pubs that opened at 10 a.m., where clients were notoriously inclined to spells of poor judgment after a pint or two. Also, operating individually, as they did throughout the sprawling precincts of London and its suburbs, the bookies were not aware of the full extent of the support for the horse. So when the report came that Reaper had won, the bookies were in trouble.

It wasn't that Reaper was really a good horse. Or even a bad horse. The fact was that he was no horse at all. Not only that, there was no fourth race at Trodmore, there was no race meeting at Trodmore, there was, indeed, no such place as Trodmore. These were the basic ingredients of the holiday caper spawned by an organization subsequently vaguely known, and in some quarters greatly admired, as the Trodmore Syndicate. The curious course of this affair is traced in the files of Sportsman and the rival Sporting Life, two London journals at the time engaged in a fierce battle for street sales. It was the reports exclusively in Sportsman that had provided initial information on the phantom meeting.

Although it had been several weeks in the making, the gambit emerged as a full-fledged swindle on the August Bank Holiday morning when the final details of the Trodmore meeting appeared in the Sportsman. The report listed the entries, jockeys, owners, post times, distances, purses, approximate odds and all other pertinent information. In a modest way this was a clear scoop over Sporting Life, which carried not a word of information on the event.

Now a highly reputable and widely read newspaper such as the Sportsman does not treat the publication of such information lightly, and certainly not without having first been satisfied as to its authenticity. In the judgment of the editors, sufficient assurance had been provided by an impressive and highly official-looking mass of correspondence that had begun arriving several weeks before. The first advice concerning the Trodmore meeting had been received in the mails in late July in a letter from the Fox and Hounds Hotel, Trodmore. Preliminary details appeared under the tastefully engraved letterhead of the "Trodmore Hunt Club."

Enclosed in this first missive were all the data required for the official posting of the event: rules, purses, the names of patrons, stewards, sponsors and officials. It was respectfully noted that the Fox and Hounds was Race Headquarters, and that further information would be forthcoming from the Clerk of the Course at that address.

Further information was subsequently received as promised, with letters noting the progress of preparations and listing early entries. The Clerk of the Course also advised the Sportsman that the patrons would be most grateful if word of their modest charitable project could be passed along to the readers.

Pleased to receive this information on an event in the west counties, the editors were happy to oblige through the paper's regular race-news columns, but the editors said that unfortunately they would not be able to staff the meeting itself: their west counties correspondent would be busy at a larger event at Newton Abbot. However, if the patrons or the stewards could recommend a reliable person to wire in the results....

Enter Mr. Martin, the gentleman from St. Ives. A few days later a letter bearing his signature appeared in the Sportsman offices in an envelope with a Trodmore postmark. Mr. Martin wrote that he had been informed by the Race Committee of the problem regarding coverage of the Trodmore meeting and said that he would be pleased to offer his services. Later, over the phone, an agreement was reached whereby Mr. Martin would cover the event for the Sportsman at the standard fee of one guinea, full results to be wired at the conclusion of the meeting. At his suggestion, applauded by the Sportsman editors, it was further agreed that the Trodmore results should be exclusive to that paper.

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