In the race between (Molly) and (Ten Broeck), Molly at first takes the lead. Ten Broeck tells his jockey to let him run free, and proceeds to overtake the mare.
The "short description" above mirrors the plot as given by Laws. In my experience, however, almost all versions of this song credit Molly, not Ten Broek, as the winner. Of course, many of these texts may have been influenced by the popularized Bill Monroe version, "Molly and Tenbrooks."
Every version of this piece that Laws was aware of came from two articles by Wilgus (both in _Kentucky Folklore Record_, Vol II, #3 and Vol. II, #4). Wilgus reports that "A match race in Kentucky was arranged at $5,000 a side for a three-heat race, all heats to be four miles each. If either horse was distanced in a heat, the other horse was to be declared automatically the winner."
"The July 4, 1878 match race in which the Kentucky thoroughbred Ten Broeck defeated the mare Miss Mollie McCarthy went into the record books as the last four-mile heat race in American turf history."
As it turned out, Mollie led for much of the first race, then staggered and was distanced, ending the contest. Both sides started trading charges: That Ten Broeck had been poisoned, that the state of the track affected the outcome, etc.
Wilgus sees a relationship with "Skewball" [Laws Q22], and the possibility of a relationship cannot be denied. Laws, however, does not note the connection. As Laws makes the observation that the ballad shows "extreme verbal variation," he may have thought that similarities to "Skewball" either coincidence or later grafts. - RBW