The legendary Frans August Larson, Duke of Mongolia, who acquired BENGAL from the far western side of Outer Mongolia.
Appreciating that when people in Tientsin saw his speed there would be no lack of ‘experts’ to come forward to declare he was crossbred,
thus debarring him from racing there.
Duke Larson prudently took him to Peking instead. Peking did not have the fanciful restrictions and classifications of the Treaty Ports.
In Peking a pony was a pony, the faster the better. In Peking one was dealing with people very different from those in the ports.
The crossbreed was at the root of this, one need hardly explain.
The amount of trouble caused by the British treaty-port reaction to the crossbreed is almost unbelievable.
Prominent owner-rider Harry Morriss considered it fatuous.
The foreign aristocrats of Peking found it incomprehensible.
They had the advantage, moreover, of phrases such as ‘rather silly’, which on the lips of the lady of a diplomatic residence are apt to issue with the effect of a cannon.
Roy Davis rode the wonder-pony BENGAL to 41 wins out of 42 entries, almost certainly a world record by that time.
In the summer, Duke Larson made a very long journey indeed, to the far west of Outer Mongolia, well beyond Urga.
In a breeding ground in that remote region he found and acquired a nice-looking grey of 13 hands 1 inch
There could be no doubt, provided he made the vast journey across the two Mongolias and down into China safely.
This was BENGAL, the wonder-pony of a century of racing,
greater than HERO, greater than BLACK SATIN,
and of whose career there is a particularly full record because he was so obviously sensational.
As it was, Larson brought him down to Peking either before or just after the winter, and sold him to David Fraser.
BENGAL was clipped for the first time. His long tail looped up with bright braid, his mane unshorn, as had been the custom for more than seventy years.
He would be entered as a griffin for the Peking Spring Meeting of the next year.
The Tientsin meetings were held in advance of those of Peking.
Among the owners was Roy Davis, who by chance that year did not have a griffin to enter for the Maiden Stakes, as a rider.
Thus began the most remarkable association between man and mount in the history of the China races.
Roy Davis rode BENGAL throughout the pony’s racing career. Not even M.C. Nickels on BLACK SATIN had quite such a tale to tell.
In the autumn, at the Nanyuan Club near Peking, he was entered for the St. Leger, and won at the same speed as David Sassoon’s EUREKA.
Such was a time only once excelled, by Eric Moller on VANCOUVER in 1903. He won the Champions as well.
On the latter occasion he won the Champions in 2 minutes and a fraction over 33 seconds, an all-China record and a stunning one,
knocking nearly four seconds off the existing record, that of LOYALTY in 1899.
This in his career was not unusual. He was totally outstanding.
Everyone was convinced that he was a crossbreed. Mysterious stories were circulated on good authority, or worse still, by those ‘who knew’.
He came from Chinese Turkestan (he wouldn’t have won a single race if he had), and there, as was known . . . Since nothing was known, this was convenient.
This was the meeting at which J.M. Dickinson introduced the two fine crossbreeds which the Race Club, turning a blind eye, had deemed acceptable.
With the idea that really the old boy should have a chance of winning the Champions. Their names were LYRIC and RAMBLER.
They qualified, however, for the Champions, whereupon BENGAL beat them both again.
The sad fact is that the Tientsin Race Club’s two tacit and graceful exceptions to their own rules happened to coincide with a marvel.
Mid-career, BENGAL was sold to one of the most colourful characters of the warlord period, One-Arm Sutton.
It has to be admitted that, from Duke Larson onwards, BENGAL was a member of an all-star cast.
Major Frank Sutton had signed himself out of the British Army and had joined Marshal Chang tso-lin.
He made Sutton a Brigadier-General, with headquarters in Mukden and a residence in Tientsin, where he raced.
He had a ghastly pony called BAROON, who savaged any animal who threatened to pass him.
Sutton was to be found in various parts of China, usually connected with the extraordinary.
On one occasion he won £30,000 in a Shanghai sweepstake.
On another occasion, in Chungking in 1921, he held the Mint at odds of 10 to 1, and slew General Ma Jui in single combat.
In short, a man to be reckoned with. He was also an extremely able soldier, capable of raising and training armies.
The announcement that he had bought BENGAL was accompanied by an adumbration that General Sutton would shortly issue a challenge to Harry Morriss.
This would be the race of a century. These two were unquestionably the best in China.
These doubts were dispelled by the excitement.
It was explained that General Sutton might have had doubts about bringing BENGAL down by train —
trains which, as everyone knew, were not working most of the time because of warlords.
But in the Champions of the autumn meeting, in the same race of last year, BENGAL repeated this time.
This was the fastest Champions ever run by a pony in China.
1926-11-06 the North-China Herald carried a heading: ‘TIENTSIN’S WONDER PONY’. The article began:
“So much has been heard during the last two years of BENGAL,
the invincible pony of North China, that racing men in Shanghai would dearly love to see this amazing animal on one of our local courses, matched against half a dozen of our best. He was to have come down for the National Championship at Kiangwan last June, but owing to the uncertainty of transportation General Sutton, his owner, decided not to send him.”
Thus this sewer mind of envy, with access to China’s leading newspaper, pursued his inexorable projection of a defamation and a lie.
At the Autumn Meeting of 1926, however, Dickinson had another griffin, GOBI EVE, unquestionably another ‘blind-eye’ crossbreed, and this time pretty well a certainty for the Champions.
However . . .
Early in the year, when Kiangwan announced the first National Championship race, the name BENGAL headed the list of entrants,
though doubts were expressed whether the pony would come down.
General Sutton had issued a challenge the previous year, however, and since WARRENFIELD was entered, surely this time BENGAL would be there.
He was not. An announcement was made that due to the uncertainty of rail transport General Sutton had decided against it.
Now, a moment’s pause.
Yet somehow the Shanghai racing world accepted this dubious apology by One-Arm Sutton without seeing how odd it was.
Shift sights to Mukden and Tientsin. There it is to be found that no one knew about General Sutton’s challenge — not even General Sutton —
still less about the excitement it was causing in Shanghai.
One is obliged, furthermore, reluctantly to assume that this was a myth introduced with malice. It was cleverly done, maintained to the end; and it achieved its purpose.
This, clearly, was someone’s intention. It has to be remembered that many Britons regarded One-Arm Sutton as a renegade, which he was not.
He was simply an unusual character and a tough nut, and he had luck. In consequence, he was envied.
That is the story of the famous BENGAL-WARRENFIELD challenge, which damaged One-Arm Sutton’s reputation for a considerable time.
There was no such challenge. It is doubtful if Sutton knew much about WARRENFIELD anyway, faraway down there in the South in Shanghai.
With BENGAL and that ghastly BAROON, why should he?
Yet on it remorselessly went.
Here it is from the correspondent of the Peking and Tientsin Times.
BENGAL made no mistake about the Champions.
He beat GOBI EVE in the rush for the rails at the start, allowing the griffin to accompany him a little way past the mile post, and then opened the throttle, so to speak.
He left the rest of the field standing, did the second quarter in 26.3, completed the three-quarters in 1.27, and the mile in 2.00.2.
At that point he was the better part of a furlong from the leader of the bulk of the field, and obviously could never be caught.
He came down the straight in the teeth of the gale at a comfortable pace, doing the entire distance in 2.35.4, and had plenty of reserve left.
He looked, indeed, as if he were quite capable of doing another half-mile.
Had it been a still day, or had the wind been in another direction, the last quarter could have been rattled off in 30 seconds or so, and the China record could have gone.
A more extraordinary race has not been seen for a long time.
BENGAL simply streaked away from the field after turning out of the back straight, and as he widened the margin at every stride to the half-mile post.
Spectators on the Stand began to jump and cheer.
Mr Davis on this occasion completely altered his usual strategy when riding BENGAL.
Instead of permitting another to make the running, and trusting to the superior speed of his mount to get into the lead on the turn into the home straight, he decided to get away first and stay there.
The wisdom of the decision cannot be questioned, for there was such a gale blowing up the straight that anything might have happened if the race was left to be fought out in the last quarter
This was not the whole story, however. The rest of the race
— the race for second and third place — was tremendously exciting.
They were in effect watching two races simultaneously, requiring two pairs of eyes, one pair fixed on BENGA;
the other on the rest, which included the Dickinson beauties and the whole top echelon of the Tientsin races.
At the end of that season, by which time BENGAL had won 41 races out of 42 starts.
Frank Sutton unaccountably sold him to a Hongkong owner.
Roy Davis saw him safely boxed for the steamer journey from Tientsin to Hongkong.
There is not much room for sentiment in racing, yet saying goodbye to one’s animal partner in a world record achievement is upsetting enough.
‘I never had a single letter from the Hongkong owner,’ Roy Davis reflected later, ‘which seemed quite strange.’
Some months afterwards he heard indirectly that BENGAL had reached Hongkong with hoof trouble.
‘I don’t know whether he even started in Hongkong,’ he wrote many years later. ‘Poor, poor BENGAL‘
He would have felt differently if he had known the truth.
The price was already undoubtedly high — one cannot envision One-Arm Sutton selling if it had not been.
It would have been double or triple if he had known who the real buyer was.
Nor would Sir Victor Sassoon have wished to see his name in any way connected with that of One-Arm Sutton.
Thus the silence.
BENGAL at last ran true to form.
Perhaps it was hoof trouble, as in the obscure rumour reaching Tientsin.
This, an unprecedented series of wins with the same rider, is almost certainly a world record.
China, of course, was in some ways so remote from the rest of the world that matters of this kind passed unobserved.
In sports, a winning streak refers to a consecutive number of games or race won.
A winning streak can be held by a team, as in horse racing, baseball, football, basketball, hockey, or by an individual, as in tennis.
A winning streak that extends through a single season is known as a perfect season.
Acknowledgement to HKJC Racing Registry for offering record data.