1993 29¢ Sporting Horses
Block of Four
· Issued at the 119th running of the Kentucky Derby
· The second block of four stamps to honor horses
Stamp Category: Commemorative
Set: Sporting Horses
First Day of Issue: May 1, 1993
First Day City: Louisville, Kentucky
Quantity Issued: 160,000,000
Printed by: Stamp Venturers
Printing Method: Lithographed, engraved
Format: Panes of 40 from plates of 160
Perforations: 11.1 x 11.5
Color: Multicolor with black intaglio
Why the stamps were issued: As a follow-up to the 1985 Horses block (US #2155-58), the Sporting Horses were issued at the 119th annual Kentucky Derby.
About the stamp designs: The stamps picture four different types of sports that use horses: thoroughbred racing, steeplechase, harness racing, and polo. Engraved by Yves Baril, the stamps featured artwork from first-time US stamp designer Michael Dudash (who had previously worked on stamps for the UN). While the USPS chose not to specially feature famous horses on the stamps, the illustrations were based on photos from actual events.
For the thoroughbred stamp, Dudash based his artwork on photos from Sports Illustrated magazine. The lead horse was taken from a 1977 photo of For The Moment, winning the Bluegrass Stakes. The other two horses on that stamp were taken from a 1982 photo at the Preakness of Linkage and an unidentified horse.
The harness-racing stamp also took inspiration from Sports Illustrated. One of the horses on that stamp is the pacer Governor Skipper during the final lap of the 1977 Little Brown Jug. The other horse on the stamp came from a 1977 photo, but wasn’t named in the magazine.
Dudash didn’t identify any specific sources for his illustrations on the polo and steeplechase stamps, simply saying they were “conglomerations, created out of many, many sources.”
Special design details: There was a mistake in the selvage markings for this sheet. The phrase “Use Correct Zip Code,” is incorrect – ZIP should be in all capital letters as its an acronym for “Zoning Improvement Plan.” There was also at least one pane of 40 stamps found without the black intaglio printing for “29¢” and “USA.”
First Day City: Issued at Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Kentucky, during the 119th annual running of the Kentucky Derby.
About the Sports Horses Stamps: The USPS referred to this block of four as “Horses II,” considering them a follow-up to the 1985 Horses block. Those weren’t the first US stamps to picture horses. A post horse and rider was included in the 1869 Pictorial Series (US #113). However, only two other stamps prior to this had pictured equestrian sports – a 1974 10 stamp honoring the 100th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby (US #1528) and a 1979 15¢ stamp showing an Olympic horse race (US #1794).
History the stamps represent:
Steeplechase, a cross country race in which horses hurdle obstacles, originated as early as 3 B.C. However, its name comes from impromptu races by fox hunters in 18th century Ireland in which church steeples served as finishing landmarks. According to legend, two men decided to test their horses speed after a fox hunt. The steeple of the church was the only visible landmark so they agreed to “race to yon steeple.”
A favorite pastime among British cavalry officers, the sport flourished in England, and eventually gained popularity in France as well. The first steeplechase in the U.S. was held at Belmont Park, New York, in 1899. The average course, which is 2-4.5 miles and has obstacles such as fences, brooks, ditches and hedges, requires speed, agility, and endurance.
Hurdle racing, which is generally used in preparation for steeplechasing, differs in that its hurdles are lower and can easily be moved. With a less hazardous course, hurdle racing allows racers to maintain a faster pace. Like steeplechasing, it is popular throughout Europe and the U.S.
Although most race horses are Thoroughbreds – a horse originating from crossing an Arabian stallion with an English mare – most steeplechasers are “half-breds.” Mature horses are generally used for this type of race because of the stamina required.
Horse Racing – Based on the speed of horses and the skill of jockeys, horse racing has thrilled spectators since ancient times. With colorfully dressed jockeys on sleek horses thundering towards the finish line, it’s not surprising that horse racing attracts more fans than any other type of sports event in the U.S.
Most race horses are Thoroughbreds, and can trace their ancestry back to one of three stallions; Byerly Turk, Darley Arabian, or Godolphin Barb. Known for their speed, these three stallions were carefully bred with English mares, producing swift, strong horses.
In flat races – races around a flat, oval track – jockeys use their riding skill to control the horses. Each jockey wears a special jacket and cap called “silks.” Silks identify the owner of the horse by their colors and the arrangement of those colors.
The earliest records of horse racing date back to 1500 B.C. when chariot races were held in Europe and Africa. The Olympic Games in Greece first included chariot races in 680 B.C., and by 648 B.C. races featuring horses with riders had been added. Eventually the sport spread to other parts of the world, and during AD 40s the Romans brought it to England, where it became the “sport of kings.” The sport was brought to America in the 1600s by European immigrants. In 1665, New Market, a U.S. race track was established.
Harness racing – a race in which each horse pulls a driver in a light, two-wheeled vehicle called a “sulky” – had its beginnings as early as 1500 B.C. when Assyrian kings maintained elaborate stables and professional trainers for their chariot horses.
Eventually the sport spread to Rome where it gained increasing popularity. Stands were built that could hold up to 200,000 spectators and by the 4th century the sport had professional racing officials, accusations of drugging the horses, and widespread gambling. When Rome fell this popular pastime ended.
It wasn’t until the early 1800s that harness racing once again became fashionable. Although the Norfolk Trotter, a specific breed, emerged in England and was used for road racing there, the first harness racing tracks were established in the U.S. By the 1840s, harness racing had once again become an organized sport. Today it is a popular form of racing.
Horses used for harness racing are standardbreds – a breed that developed from Thoroughbreds. There are two types of standardbreds; trotters and pacers. Trotters run moving the front leg on one side and the hind leg on the opposite side at the same time, while pacers stride moving both legs on the same side simultaneously. Pacers and trotters are not generally run in the same races since pacers are faster.
Polo – Developed in Persia (present-day Iran) in 6 B.C., polo was originally a training game for the king’s elite cavalry units. As the game’s popularity increased, it became a Persian national sport played by both male and female members of the nobility.
From Persia, polo spread to Arabia, China, and Japan. Muslim conquerors brought the game to India during the 13th century. It was here that the sport was first played by Europeans. Seeing the game played by tribal horsemen, British cavalry officers tried it in 1862. Using eight payers to a team and almost no rules, the cavalry units held informal matches.
A popular pastime, polo was brought back to England. By 1875, matches at Richmond Park and Hurlingham were attracting more than 10,000 spectators. The following year, sportsman and journalist James Gordon Bennett introduced the game in the United States. Using a long-hitting, fast-moving style, U.S. players revolutionized the sport.
Today polo is played with two teams of four players. Using long-handled mallets to pass the ball, the players maneuver their way up the field and try to score by hitting their ball through opponents’ goal posts. Polo ponies (a traditional term since full-size horses are used) must have speed, endurance, and agility since they account for 60-75% of a player’s ability.