What’s up with The Jockey’s Prayer?

Halt right there.

This may surprise a few folks. I’m all for prayer. I love the idea of jockeys praying. I’ve often prayed for jockeys – both those I know personally and those I do not. I’ve prayed for their horses too, particularly when they’ve run into tight spots.

But “The Jockey’s Prayer” has me snorting with righteous indignation. Maybe I’m just having a “bad mare day,” but I think it’s more than that.

Ready? I'm fixing to stir up some trouble here. Or maybe I'm just horsing around. You decide.

 See for yourself.

Antique horse racing prints are popular among equine enthusiasts, track wagerers, and other horse lovers. “The Jockey’s Prayer” is one such item. This 19th Century artwork appears on everything from framed images to tea trays and coffee mugs.

Racetrack chaplains customarily pray with jockeys before big races. Maybe we like the sound of that. Who would object to a group of the fittest athletes, pound for pound, dropping to their knees to plead for divine favor and protection before laying their lives out on snorting, sprinting steeds on the track?

Sure, the idea of jockeys praying may be most meritorious.

But have you ever examined the words of “The Jockey’s Prayer” closely?

This missive has been attributed to Rae Smith, who apparently produced the 1868 lithograph. Read closely, and you may find that “The Jockey’s Prayer” has little to do with actual racing.

“O! Mighty Nimrod, as it is not my nature to run the race set before me alone, to Thee I pray for a helpmate. Send me, I beseech Thee, a wife such as will suit a lover of the turf and chase; and as I am to be saddled to her for life, let her be gentle in her disposition.

“I desire her to have a clear, full eye, a finely put up head and neck, in every particular a good forehand, and go well upon her pasterns; not too long in the reach, neither may she have too much stride for her gather.

“In build and bottom may she prove herself a star, and when it comes to the homestretch may she ever be equal to any task. Although I should wish her handsome, and a filly well bred, yet I beseech Thee, let not her beauties prove as blinkers to my understanding, nor her extravagance gallop me to destruction.

“ I am not easily spurred to passion, but should she endeavor to get the whiphand of me, I probably might be led to jostle and cross, which might ultimately end in some terrible rearing, plunging, and kicking up.

“Let her not, I pray Thee, be tainted with the flinders of pride, not the farcy of self-will, causing her, when I attempt to curb her for lugging heavily on the rein, to toss her head and bridle at my instructions, lest I should be compelled to put on the martingale of restraint, and force her to chew the bit of sober reflection.

“May it please Thee, Great Leader, so to direct my judgment that I may select a wife without spot or blemish, and always proud of my bargain, as I journey on neck and neck with her in our matrimonial road.

“May she be competent to take the reins at times as we glide smoothly along together, and by that means better equalize our burden.

“Could I meet with such an article, that had never been broke – not too large in the girth, and who would come easily to collar – I should look upon her with that degree of satisfaction and admiration with which the Bedouin of the Desert feasts his eyes upon his favorite mare. Honest Harry Kemble would be more than pleased to hitch up and gaily prance with her to the Circle us Hymen, sign and seal the necessary nuptial bonds with many kisses and embraces, and cheerfully run with her the generous race of mutual affection, ever the uneven course of life.”

Whoa! Who’s the nimrod now?

Alright, ladies. What’s your response to “The Jockey’s Prayer”? Who’s bristling at these old-fashioned sentiments?

Yeah, I get that "The Jockey's Prayer" was intended as fun. It's clearly an "Old Boys' Network" joke of some sort. I've sat in the modern-day media rooms at big races and seen the network still in play.

Still, the pet prayer has been passed through generations. And it raises some serious questions that merit pondering, particularly for those who have not yet been reined in and taken a trip down the bridal path to be hitched.

How is marriage like a horse race? How is it not?

OK, besides the nearly inevitable turf wars and the occasional leave-‘em-in-the-dust breakups, does wedded bliss or bedlam have much to do with horses and jockeys on the track?

“The Jockey’s Prayer” begs a question of a different sort. Ladies: would you liken your ideal guy to a fast Thoroughbred, a flashy Arabian, a sturdy Quarter Horse, or another breed altogether?

Somebody stop me before I cast myself in my own office.
The Jockey’s Prayer
Horse Racing Litho
By Rae Smith
Library of Congress
Prints and Photographs Division
Washington, DC
Public Domain Photo

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