Peter Manning – The greatest gelding prior to Greyhound

by Lisa Harkema

William Monroe Wright, chairman of the Calumet Baking Powder, initially raised trotters more as a diversion, occasionally racing one or two. From his friends FE Marsh, owner of the Grattan Farm near Chicago, he purchased a young mare called Glendora in 1908. She was a very fast mare, able to trot in 2:15 but had soundness issues and ended up taking a record of 2:25 3/4. Wright then bred her to juvenile champion Azoff, owned by another Chicago friend. The first Azoff-Glendora mating was a filly, supposedly of wonderful speed but injured early. Repeating the breeding, the second product was Peter Manning. Glendora was then put up for sale at a Chicago auction.

In 1918, Peter Manning had been advertised for sale at the small price of $100 but nobody fancied the two year old enough to buy him. According to an article in the Pittsburgh Daily Post on Oct 5, 1919, Peter Manning was broken to harness in April that year by his trainer Harry Putnam and trotted his first 2:30 mile in training in July. Making his first start in Libertyville in August as a 3 year old, he won in 2:17 1/4 and at the Wisconsin State Fair at Milwaukee a month later he ran a time trial in 2:10. He was initially entered into the Kentucky Futurity but they decided to pull him out since they felt he was insufficiently prepared to handle three demanding heats. Instead he ran against the clock on Oct 4th where he equalled the world record for 3-year-old geldings when he trotted 2:06 1/2 / 1:18.6, the record set by Easton the year previous. What was particularly impressive was that Peter Manning did the last half in 1:00 1/2 and the last quarter in 29 1/4.

Later that Lexington meeting, trainer Thomas W Murphy, acting on behalf of Irving Gleason, paid a reported $21 000 for Peter Manning. At that point the trotter had not actually won anything of interest, only ran a fast time trial. Murphy decided to work Peter Manning in a mile himself, too, wanting to get a feel for his newly acquired trotter. Without pushing him Peter trotted in 2:12 1/2 with the last half in 1:01 1/2 and the final quarter in 30 seconds flat. Murphy remarked that he had never driven a quarter in that time that had been negotiated with such evident ease. As observers noted, no trotter had ever shown so much speed with so little work.

Next spring Murphy reported that Peter Manning had trained well throughout the winter and that he was expecting him to have a great season. His expectations would be fulfilled. At North Randall (Cleveland) on Aug 12 1920, the 4-year-old Peter Manning set his first world record, this one for three heats for 4-year-old geldings, trotting the heats in 2:04 3/4, 2:03 1/2 and 2:08. In Lexington on Oct 7 that year he lowered that record to 2:03, 2:02 3/4 and 2:02 1/2. He failed to finish in the money in the Minoga Stock Farm Purse in Philadelphia six days later, a race won by E Colorado, but it was really a case of equiment failure as his check rein broke in the second heat. The opponent’s joy proved shortlived, however, as Peter was back to his winning ways the next week. He won all other races, too, but did not immediately win over all doubters. An article written by WM Burgett in the Pittsburgh Daily Post on Oct 17, 1920 summed it up: «To my mind Peter Manning won the big classic so easy that he overshadowed his field, and how any of the followers of the other horses ever got it into their heads that Nedda could beat him is a question, and I frankly confess that I was one of the great number that thought Nedda had a chance to trim the Reading gelding.» It bears mentioning that Nedda in her career won 23 of 43 races, was a 1:58 1/4 trotter and one of the best, if not the best, mares of her time. (Her daughter Nedda Guy produced the double Prix d’Amerique-winner Mighty Ned.) Despite her class, Peter Manning had her number and more. When 1920 came to an end it showed that Peter Manning had won 10 of his 11 starts and earned $26 550 that year.

As Peter Manning kept breaking records – and making it abundantly clear that he was capable of breaking Uhlan’s 1:58 world record – breeders and horse people were also wondering where his speed came from. In November 1921, a professor published a study of pedigrees that concluded that Peter Mannings ability from speed comes from Axworthy. Published in many newspapers on November 15, 1921, the first part of the the article read «A study of pedigrees made by Prof WS Anderson, an authority on horse breeding and a member of the animal husbandry department of the Kentucky College of Agriculture, shows that the two animals derived their ability for speed from Axworthy, a sire who was not exceptionally fast himself, but one who is noted for the speed of his get and that of his sons. He has a record of 2:15 1/2. Studies made by Professor Anderson show that Peter Manning (…) could not have obtained his speed from his mother Glengora G, who had a track record of 3, 2:25 3/4, nor from her sire Emmett Gratton, who had a record of 2:28.»

Not that much is known about Peter’s dam Glendora G. Yet the professoral conclusion above that Peter Manning’s speed could not have come from her, though appearing sensible when looking only at her record, seems to be a conclusion made without looking at all the facts. His dam Glendora was reportedly a fast mare and her own lifetime mark of 2:25 3/4 was not representative of her ability. She never bred anybody else of note. Her granddam Wallie More, was the full sister to Gambrel, a 2:10 1/2 trotter born 1887 and top trotter at the time. There is, however, one known story about Glendora G which makes one think that Peter got a lot of his abilities from her. According to the story, retold in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on Nov 5, 1922: «Mr Wright told his young nephew to lead the mare over to John R Thompson’s farm where Azoff stood stud. The boy knew quite some about automobiles but much less about horses and he tied Glendora to the tail of his machine and started out to tow her on the four-mile trip. The boy had heard his uncle say that Glendora G could trot a 2:00 clip and the idea that the machine might help her along came in the youngster’s mind. Marsh, who had owned Glendora, happened to be on the lawn of his place as they passed midway between the Wright and Thompson farms. The boy had opened up the machine and the mare, fastened on in the rear, was trotting for her life with the halter pulled to the limit. Mr Marsh realized in a second what was happening and went to the telephone and called someone up to intercept the driver but he had already gone by the farm. Then he got in touch with the Thompson farm two miles further on expecting to learn that Glendora G had died in her tracks but found that she had arrived there but completely overcome in her four-mile race paced by the motorcar. Glendora was bred to Azoff and Peter Manning was foaled the next spring.»

To conclude it was all from Axworthy doesn’t seem right in my eyes!

Regardless of the origins of Peter Manning’s abilities, he set his sights on upcoming races. So did his trainer Thomas Murphy who rejected offers of $45 000 in the beginning of 1921. But would he be allowed? In March came the message that Peter Manning had been barred from the North Randall Purse of $15000, one of the largest ever offered at a Grand Circuit meeting. Peter was barred because he «is believed to outclass every trotter in training»

In Cleveland on August 9th 1921, Peter had to settle for running against the time, setting a new world record for 5-year-old geldings after trotting in 2:00 1/4. This was 2 seconds faster than Uhlan had done at the same time. With Peter Manning banned from regular races and unable to make money, the idea of a match race with pacer Single G was aired on August 14. 5 days later WH Gocher, secretary of the National Trotting Association, announced he had arranged a 2-heat race against time between Peter Manning and Single G at the Hartford Grand Circuit meeting on Sept 6, with a $5000 purse put up. While most newspapers ran headlines like «Peter Manning to meet Single G», the Evening Public Ledger went a step further and titled their artile «Race of the Century.» A few days later it was also reported that Peter’s owner IW Gleason and Single G’s owner WB Barefoot had placed a side bet of $10000…

Peter warmed up to the affair by time trialling at 2:00 at Reedville. The «race of the century» proved a massive disappointment, though. Peter Manning took both heats in 2:02 1/2 and 2:06. In fact, the association was so unhappy with the performances of Single G that they hired a Hartford lawyer to investigate.

In Syracuse on Sept 15, Peter time trialled again, now going for Uhlan’s world record. He managed to equal Uhlan’s 1:58 record and around this time Thomas Murphy issued a challenge to race Single G again for a side stake of any amount from $10000 to $100000, winner take all, at the Grand Circuit in Lexington. On Sept 23 he lowered the Columbus track record from 2:01, set by The Harvester, to 1:59 1/4. Six days later he lowered his own record to 1:59 flat. At the end of September WM Wright offered $50000 for Peter, wanting to buy back the horse he sold for $21000 two years earlier, but the offer was refused.

But Murphy just focused on Uhlan’s 1:58 world record and knew the fast track at Lexington would be the perfect place to lower it. Having a go at it on Oct 6, 1921, driven by Murphy himself, Peter Manning opened the first quarter in 30 and came to the half in 59 1/2. Even though this was too late spectators knew that Peter had the ability to finish strong so when he went by the three-quarter pole in 1:29 there was still some hope. Yet, it required a 28 3/4 or faster last quarter – a big ask at the time. Still, when Peter flashed under the wire he managed just that, going a 28 3/4 last quarter to lower the world record to 1:57 3/4. Uhlan’s record from 1912 was finally broken.

In Atlanta, GA Peter again tried to lower his world record. However, he «only» managed to trot in 1:59 3/4 at the Lakewood racetrack. It was not for lack of trying though, The Atlanta Constitution describing it as «Peter Manning makes glorious effort to lower trot record». Delving into the facts, Peter got away terribly and the first half was done in 1:02 3/4 while the last half was completed in a fantastic 57 seconds. Quite spectacularly, the last quarter was completed in 27 1/2 seconds – a 1:50 mile equivalent.

The next year Peter Manning would lower his record to 1:57 on Oct 6th at Columbus but only two days he would lower it again to 1:56 3/4. This record would stand for 15 years when it was first equalled, then lowered, by Greyhound in 1937. Not welcome in regular purse races, Peter ran time trials, breaking the track records almost everywhere he appeared.

As Peter Manning’s fame and reputation grew, so did WM Wright’s desire to devote more time to his passion for trotting. Having made fortune on his Calumet Baking Powder Company, Wright transferred his business to his son Warren and in 1924 purchased Fairland Farm from Captain HJ Schlesinger, Milwaukee and renamed it Calumet Farm. The also purchased the stallion Belwin from the same person for $50000 and Schlesinger’s 13 broodmares for another $50000. Next came the acquisitions of stallions Peter the Brewer and Justice Brooke. It was also reported that in 1924 he spent another $275000 on other broodmares. Wright also bought back Peter’s dam Glendora G and gave her a home at Calumet until she died in 1930. In 1927 it was estimated that the total investment made by Wright on horses, equipment and buildings at Calumet Farm exceeded 2 million.

In 1926 Peter Manning was sold to Hanover Shoe Farms and trotted many exhibition miles, primarily in Pennsylvania. Even though he was past his prime and, being a gelding, useless for breeding purposes, owning a horse of Peter Manning’s name gave prestige to Hanover itself.

He was then retired and died at Hanover Shoe Farms on February 28, 1943 at age twenty-seven.

Picture 1: Peter Manning with Gleason

Picture 2: Peter Manning, Palin up.