The American Seat

Today’s subject is Tod Sloan – not Professor (Emeritus) Tod Sloan, who, incidentally, acted from 2001-5 as the national coordinator for Psychologists for Social Responsibility, in Washington, DC – rather, we turn to Tod Sloan (1874-1933), the American thoroughbred horse racing jockey.

Robyn Asleson, Assistant Curator of Prints at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery, also in Washington, describes him as “the country’s first international sports superstar”. Such were Sloan’s abilities that in 1896 he won nearly 30% of all his races, increasing to 37% in 1897 and 46% in 1898.

(The Los Angeles Herald of 18th September, 1899, carried an article headlined “TOD SLOAN’S WILFUL SISTER He Has Asked Her to Leave the Stage but She Won’t Do It”. His sister Molly commented: “…I prefer independence. He doesn’t think much of the vaudeville life, but for that matter I don’t think much of the turf, either.”.)

Sloan popularised the forward seat, short stirrup style of riding when he first rode in England in 1897. Initially laughed at, his style revolutionised the sport worldwide. It should be noted that Willie Simms, the African American jockey, had ridden in this style two years earlier, when he won the Crawfurd Plate at Newmarket, racing against England’s finest bolt upright riders.

This was the preferred riding style of Native Americans. The “American Seat” of crouching over the horse’s neck and withers, reducing the drag on the horse, was used in the colonies as far back as the Quarter Horse dashes along tracks cut in the wilderness.

Sloan’s first name was adopted into Cockney rhyming slang – hence, someone “on his Tod” is alone.

Sloan’s life story inspired George M Cohan’s musical “Little Johnny Jones” (1904), featuring the patriotic song “(I’m a) Yankee Doodle Dandy”:

“A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam

Born on the Fourth of July”.

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