Sunday, January 13, 2008

Mollie McCarty And Ten Broeck

From The New York Times, April 3, 1878:

"Louisville, April 2.—Col. M. Lewis Clark, Jr., President of the Louisville Jockey Club, has perfected arrangement by which Ten Broeck and Mollie McCarthy are to run four mile heats at Louisville July 4 next, for the sum of $10,000. Two or three other races will be given at the same time. The owner of Mollie McCarthy thinks she can beat any horse in the country. The mare will be brought from California to Louisville in Budd Doble’s car, which has been chartered for the round trip, and will probably arrive here about the last of May to prepare for the contest. Ten Broeck was never in better condition than at present..." [download pdf].

If you know the famous bluegrass song inspired by this race, then you know that Mollie could not, in fact, beat any horse in the country, at least not in Louisville on July 4, 1878.

Here's a description of the race, according to Thoroughbred Heritage:

"They started evenly, and Mollie led for the first mile, 'with such a beautiful and apparently easy stroke, and the horse seemingly at labor, but really annoyed at restraint, that a shout went up that she had already beaten him.' Mollie led for the second mile, but after the quarter pole Ten Broeck drew ahead, and by the time they had reached 2-1/2 miles he was leading by a length, and at the third mile he was ahead by twenty yards. At 3-1/2 miles Mollie gave up the chase, and Ten Broeck cantered home easily in the slow time of 8:19-3/4. 'Such a shout as went up over the triumph of Ten Broeck, and such a scene of wild and extravagant excitement, I never saw before, and never expect to again, outside the impulsive state of Kentucky.' It was Mollie's first defeat, in fact, her first defeat in any heat at any distance. This race was Ten Broeck's last."

The impulsive excitement did not stop at the track, but instead inspired a famous musical tribute.

And now check out a couple versions of "Molly and Tenbrooks" from proud Kentuckians Tom T. Hall and Bill Monroe:

The first comes from Tom T. Hall, with special guest Bill Monroe on the mandolin. Hall downplays Tenbrooks' homefield advantage, saying that the horses "met half way." Actually, Ten Broeck only had to travel from Lexington to Louisville, while poor old Mollie had to ride the rails all the way across the Rocky Mountains, but I'm not going to hold that against Tom: Tom T. Hall – Molly And Tenbrooks (buy album!).

And here's a nice live version by Bill Monroe taken from a Grand Ole Opry broadcast: Bill Monroe – Molly And Tenbrooks (buy album).

For another cool version of the song, check out "Legend Of Ol' Tenbrooks" by Hearts And Flowers over at The Rising Storm.


Anonymous said...


Ed said...

Excellent post, Paul! I never knew the full story of “Molly and Tenbrooks”, great story.
This song has been recorded by dozens of performers, but your choice of two these two different versions by native Kentuckians was brilliant.

Paul said...

Thanks guys!