The Race Is Not Always to the Swift, Nor the Battle to the Strong; But That Is the Best Way to Bet

Damon Runyon? Franklin P. Adams? Hugh E. Keough? George D. Prentice? Luke McLuke? Grantland Rice? Burns Mantle? Anonymous?

hare09Dear Quote Investigator: A famous verse in the Bible instructs readers that the advantages enjoyed by an individual do not guarantee his or her success: 1

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

A humorous reaction to this proverbial wisdom has become popular. Here are two versions:

1) The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that is the way to bet.
2) It may be that the race is not always to the swift, but that is the best way to bet.

These words have been attributed to Damon Runyon, a newspaperman whose short stories inspired the Broadway musical “Guys and Dolls” and to Franklin P. Adams, an influential columnist who composed “The Conning Tower”. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match for the expression found by QI appeared in the widely circulated magazine “Collier’s” in February 1919. Franklin P. Adams wrote the saying, but he did not take credit for the remark; instead, he ascribed the quip to a prominent sportswriter named Hugh E. Keough. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

As Hugh Keough used to say: “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but that is the way to bet.”

Damon Runyon also employed the saying, but he credited Keough. In addition, other well-known columnists such as drama critic Burns Mantle and sportswriter Grantland Rice ascribed a similar joke to Keough.

Yet, the situation was complicated because the jest has been evolving for more than one hundred and eighty years, and multiple versions have achieved wide distribution during this long period. A precursor that presented betting odds appeared in 1833 in “Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine”: 3

Now we say that the race is—if not always—ninety-nine times in a hundred—to the swift, and the battle to the strong.

In July 1861 “The New York Ledger” printed a collection of sayings under the title “Wit and Wisdom”. The following instance used the phrase “ninety-nine times in a hundred”, and the quip structure was parallel to the modern version: 4

To be sure the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but it is ninety-nine times in a hundred.

The newspaper article was prepared by George D. Prentice, and it was described as a mixture of original and reprinted material. On the same day, a matching saying was printed in “The Springfield Daily Republican” of Springfield, Massachusetts. 5 The article was titled “Selected Miscellany”, and no author was listed. Perhaps Prentice reformulated a statement he had previously read or heard.

Special thanks to top researcher Barry Popik for his invaluable efforts on this topic that were recorded on his web page here.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

A few months later, in September 1861 the expression above appeared in “The Daily Times” of Reading, Pennsylvania as a filler item without attribution. 6 The remark continued to circulate for decades.

In 1888 “The Rome Daily Sentinel” of Rome, New York published an instance under the title “Mixed Proverbs” that alluded to a well-known fable from Aesop: 7

The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but it is not often that the turtle beats the hare.

In 1897 an instance appeared in a didactic passage of moral instruction in “The Philadelphia Times” of Pennsylvania: 8

It sounds a little hard and cynical, but it is none the less true—the one who wins in this life for the most part is the one who deserves to win. Correspondingly, the one who loses deserves to lose, for though the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle always to the strong, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it is so, and the palm is given to the most deserving.

In 1899 the successful Wanamaker’s department store in New York ran an advertisement with an instance that referred to “expert opinions”: 9

The shoe store here is a marked example of the good that comes out of bigness. The race may not always be to the swift,—all the expert opinions generally lean that way—but there is no question that in mercantile affairs the best is to the biggest.

In 1900 a novel titled “As Luck Would Have it” by William Westall included a character who pronounced a version that referred to odds: 10

I merely say that the most able generally get to the top, and that success, other things being equal, is the surest proof of ability. Though the race may not always be to the swift nor the battle to the strong, the odds are vastly in their favour.

In 1905 a comical version printed in a collection called “Wit and Humor of Well-Known Quotations” asserted that the organizers of betting pools were the actual winners; the entry included an acknowledgement to a Boston newspaper: 11

The race is not to the swift, but to the pool-seller.
—Boston Transcript

In 1907 a trade publication for farmers called “The Threshermen’s Review” published the following instance: 12

The race may not always be to the swift, but the times when it is not are few and far between, and in these days of keen competition he who keeps himself in closest touch with those whose work he is after is the one most likely to get it.

In 1912 “The Chicago Daily Tribune” printed the following as a banner across the top of a sports news page: 13

The Race Is Not Always with the Swift, But That’s Where to Look

The center column of the page featured an article with the byline H. E. K. which was the initialism used by Hugh E. Keough. Because the banner was not attached to a specific article there was some ambiguity. Nevertheless, QI believes that Keough who was a senior sports writer at the “The Chicago Daily Tribune” in 1912 should be credited with the saying containing the phrase “where to look”. Indeed, Franklin P. Adams and Damon Runyon both credited Keough with this version of the saying in 1916 and 1939, respectively.

Curiously, in 1919 Adams also ascribed to Keough a version that used the phrase “that is the way to bet”, In addition, in 1945 Runyon credited Keough with an instance using “betting is best that way”. Detailed citations are given further below.

Sadly, Keough died in June 1912 at the young age of 48. By December 1912 a friend named Hugh S. Fullerton had assembled a short volume titled “By HEK” that reprinted selected material from Keough. The work displayed a pithy quotation from the scribe at the top of each page. The twelfth page listed: 14

The race is not always to the swift, but that is where to look.

In 1915 “The Atlanta Constitution” printed an article without a byline that ended with the following line: 15

The race is not always to the swift, but that is where to look.

In 1916 Franklin P. Adams writing in his popular column “The Conning Tower” ascribed an instance with “where to look” to Keough. Adams employed the moniker “Hughey” instead of “Hugh E.”: 16

As Hughey Keough used to say, “The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that is where to look.”

In 1916 “The Editor and Publisher” facetiously ascribed an instance to a speedy horse named Luke McLuke: 17

“The race may not always be to the swift nor the battle to the strong—but that’s where to look.”—[Luke McLuke

In February 1919 Adams credited Keough with a variant that matched the statement under investigation. This citation was mentioned near the beginning of this article: 18

As Hugh Keough used to say: “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but that is the way to bet.”

In June 1919 the syndicated sportswriter Grantland Rice credited “Hek”, i.e., Hugh E. Keough, with the saying that contained “where to look”: 19

Hek answered this old maxim by remarking, ‘The race may not be to the swift—but that is where to look”

In October 1919 the “where to look” expression appeared in “The Plumbers Trade Journal” as a caption in an illustrated advertisement for Wiseco Products of Watertown, New York. No attribution was provided: 20

“The race is not always to the swift” but that’s the way to bet.

In 1921 the journalist and novelist Christopher Morley released a collection of his writings in which he incorrectly assigned the saying to Franklin P. Adams: 21

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but as Frank Adams once remarked, the betting is best that way.

In 1924 the influential theater critic Burns Mantle ascribed an instance to “Keogh”, a misspelling of Keough: 22

“The race is not always to the swift,” Hughie Keogh used to say, “but that’s the way to bet.”

In 1939 Damon Runyon dedicated one of his syndicated columns to extolling the quality of the writings of Hugh E. Keough. Runyon referred to a small well-thumbed book he owned that had been created for close friends and admirers of Keough. QI believes Runyon was referring to the 1912 “By HEK” mentioned previously. Runyon shared a set of adages from the volume that included these: 23

“The race is not always to the swift, but that is where to look.”
“Rubes can imagine more crooked things than crooks can invent.”
“A simple liar is he who says he can bet one way and root another.”

In 1943 a large compendium called “Thesaurus of Epigrams” edited by Edmund Fuller ascribed an instance to Runyon: 24

It may be that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong—but that’s the way to bet. —Damon Runyon

In 1945 Runyon wrote about a version of the saying again in his column. He noted that there was some confusion about the attribution, and he credited Keough with an instance containing the phrase “betting is best that way”: 25

Nor do I doubt that Franklin P. Adams said, as reported in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but the betting is best that way,” only I think Hughy Keough said it first.

I agree that it is no great thought, no sparkling gem of wisdom anyway you take it, but when Bartlett’s prints something, I want it accurate because Bartlett’s is one of my favorite sources of thievery and I like to know who I am stealing from.

In conclusion, expressions of this sentiment have been circulating and evolving for more than one hundred and eighty years. Two citations in 1912 support the attribution of “The race is not always to the swift, but that is where to look” to Hugh E. Keough.

In 1919 Franklin P. Adams also supported the attribution of the following to Keough: “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but that is the way to bet.” Adams, Damon Runyon, Grantland Rice, and Burns Mantle all employed versions of this quip and aided its popularization; however, every one of them credited Keough.

Image Notes: Hare and the Tortoise image from page 462 of “The Book of Knowledge”, “The Children’s Encyclopedia”, Edited by Arthur Mee and Holland Thompson, Vol II, 1912; available via Wikimedia Commons Aesop’s Fables webpage.

(Great thanks to Brian Zack whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Great thanks to Barry Popik for his important research on this topic. Thanks also to Nigel Rees who included a valuable 1864 citation in the July 2014 issue of “The Quote Unquote Newsletter” issue. In addition, thanks to Jonathan Lighter who broached this topic on the ADS mailing list.)

Notes:

  1. Website: Bible Hub, Bible Translation: King James Bible, Section: Ecclesiastes, Chapter 9, Verse 11, Website Description: “Bible hub is a production of the Online Parallel Bible Project.” (Accessed biblehub.com on June 4, 20015) link
  2. 1919 February 8, Collier’s: The National Weekly, Demobilizing, Washington by Franklin P. Adams, Start Page 9, Quote Page 9, Column 3, P. F. Collier & Son, Inc., New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1833 October, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 34, Morning Monologues By an Early Riser, No. 1, Start Page 429, Quote Page 432, Published by William Blackwood, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1861 July 20, New York Ledger, Wit and Wisdom: Original and Selected, Prepared expressly for the Ledger by Geo. D. Prentice, Quote Page 3, Column 5, New York, New York. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1861 July 20, Springfield Daily Republican, Selected Miscellany: Sense and Sentiment, Quote Page 6, Column 5, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  6. 1861 September 21, The Daily Times (Reading Times), (Filler item), Quote Page 1, Column 5, Reading, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1888 November 8, The Rome Daily Sentinel, Mixed Proverbs, Quote Page 2, Column 6, Rome, New York. (Old Fulton)
  8. 1897 February 6, The Philadelphia Times, (Untitled article), Quote Page 9, Column 4, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 1899 May 9, New York Tribune, (Advertisement for shoes available at The Wanamaker Store of John Wanamaker), Quote Page 6, Column 5, New York. (GenealogyBank)
  10. 1900, As Luck Would Have it by William Westall, Chapter 8, Quote Page 123, Chatto & Windus, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  11. 1905 (1904 Copyright), Wit and Humor of Well-Known Quotations, Edited by Marshall Brown, Quote Page 279, Published by Small, Maynard & Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  12. 1907 June, The Threshermen’s Review: A Monthly Magazine for Farm Power Users, Volume 16, Number 6, (Short untitled item), Quote Page 10, Column 2, St. Joseph, Michigan. (Google Books Full View) link
  13. 1912 March 2, Chicago Daily Tribune, The Race Is Not Always with the Swift, But That’s Where to Look, (Banner across the top of sports page from column 1 to 7), White Sox Party Quits Snow Belt by H. E. K. (Hugh E. Keough), Quote Page 9, Column 4, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
  14. 1912, “By Hek”: In the Wake of the News: A Collection of the Writings of the Late Hugh Edmund Keough, Compiled and edited by Hugh S. Fullerton, Published in Chicago, Illinois. (WorldCat indicated that “Regan Printing House” was the printer) (Accessed at Internet Archive archive.org on June 5. 2015; Pages scanned from a copy held by the Library of Congress) link link
  15. 1915 May 16, Atlanta Constitution, St. Louis Writer Pans Griff, For Long’s Banishment to The Siberia of Baseball, Quote Page 5B, Column 3, Atlanta, Georgia. (NewspaperArchive)
  16. 1916 September 18, The Pittsburgh Post, The Conning Tower by F. P. A. (Franklin P. Adams), Quote Page 6, Column 6, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  17. 1916 November 11, The Editor and Publisher, (Filer item), Quote Page 10, Column 3, The Editor & Publisher Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  18. 1919 February 8, Collier’s: The National Weekly, Demobilizing Washington by Franklin P. Adams, Start Page 9, Quote Page 9, Column 3, P. F. Collier & Son, Inc., New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  19. 1919 June 18, Fort Wayne News Sentinel, The Sportlight by Grantland Rice, Not Always, Quote Page 15, Column 2, Fort Wayne, Indiana. (GenealogyBank)
  20. 1919 October 1, The Plumbers Trade Journal: Steam and Hot Water Fitters Review, (Caption of illustration in advertisement for Wiseco Products by J. B. Wise, Inc., Watertown, New York), Quote Page 493, The Plumbers Trade Journal Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  21. 1921, Plum Pudding, of Divers Ingredients, Discreetly Blended & Seasoned by Christopher Morley, Dempsey vs Carpentier, Start Page 234, Quote Page 234, Published by Doubleday, Page & Company, Garden City, New York. (Internet Archive)
  22. 1924 May 11, The Buffalo Sunday Express, Section 8, Plays in New York by Burns Mantle, Quote Page 5, Column 7, Buffalo, New York. (Old Fulton)
  23. 1939 July 8, The Milwaukee Sentinel, The Brighter Side by Damon Runyon, Quote Page 6, Column 7, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Google News Archive)
  24. 1943, Thesaurus of Epigrams, Edited by Edmund Fuller, Section: Gambling, Quote Page 132, Crown Publishers, New York.(HathiTrust Full View)
  25. 1945 July 26, Idaho Daily Statesman, The Brighter Side by Damon Runyon, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Boise, Idaho. (GenealogyBank)