Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Brief History of the Derby

Legend has is that the Derby was so-called as the result of a coin toss between its co-founders, Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby, and Sir Charles Bunbury, Chairman of the Jockey Club. The veracity of that claim is debatable but, either way, the Derby Stakes was run for the first time on May 4, 1780.

Derby had already founded the Oaks Stakes, open to three-year-old thoroughbred fillies, and run over a mile-and-a-half on Epsom Downs, the previous year. By contrast, the Derby Stakes was open to three-year-old thoroughbred colts and fillies but, for the first three years of its existence, was run not over a mile-and-a-half, but over a straight mile. It was not until 1784 that the distance was extended by four furlongs and the sweeping, downhill turn into Tattenham Corner was incorporated into the Derby course. Apart from the years 1915-1918 and 1940-1945, when Epsom Downs was commandeered by the Army and a substitute race, known as the ‘New Derby, was run on the July Course at Newmarket, the Derby has continued, uninterrupted, ever since.

That said, the Derby was ‘interrupted’ on June 4, 1913, when suffragette Emily Davison ran out onto the course at Tattenham Corner. Her purpose for doing so is debated to this day, but she was struck by Anmer, owned by King George V, suffered a fractured skull and died from her injuries four days later, without regaining consciousness.

On a lighter note, the Derby is, and probably always will be, synonymous with the legendary Lester Piggott who, with nine winners, is far and away the most successful jockey in the history of the Epsom Classic. Piggott became the youngest jockey ever to win the Derby when, at the age of eighteen, he rode 33/1 chance Never Say Die to victory in 1954 and subsequently added Crepello (1957), St. Paddy (1960), Sir Ivor (1968), Nijinksy (1970), Roberto (1972), Empery (1976), The Minstrel (1977) and Teenoso (1983) to his impressive winning tally.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Was the Cheltenham Gold Cup once run on the Flat?

The simple answer is yes, it was. More than a century before the Cheltenham Gold Cup was inaugurated in its more familiar guise, as a steeplechase run at Prestbury Park, in 1924, a race of the same name was run for the first time on Cleeve Hill, or Cleeve Cloud, which dominates the skyline to the north-east of the current racecourse, in 1819.

According to Baily’s Racing Register, in its original incarnation, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, or Piece of Plate, was contested over three miles, on the Flat, with a value of 100 guineas, added to a sweepstakes of 20 guineas each. The race was won by the four-year-old bay colt, Spectre, owned by a certain Mr. Bodenham, who carried 6st 7lb to victory, after finishing second in the Gloucestershire Stakes, over two miles, at the same venue two days earlier. Interestingly, the second horse home, Zenith, was owned by John Rous, a.k.a. Lord Rous, whose second son, Henry John Rous, was later appointed Jockey Club Steward.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Famous Grand National Owners

There's certainly no shortage of famous faces showing up at prestigious race days, but perhaps what's not quite as well known is the number of famous owners in racing too. Sandymount Duke, bred and owned by Ronnie Wood, and Give Me A Copper, jointly-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson and former chat shoe host Jeremy Kyle, both held entries in the Grand National in 2019. In fact, over the years, various celebrities, including royalty, have all owned horses that have contested, and occasionally won, the Grand National. I wonder if any of them have free betting tips for Grand National 2020?

In addition to Sir Alex Ferguson, ex footballer Michael Owen is also an owner at his 160 acre Manor House Stables training yard. It currently accommodates 90 horses. Owen isn't shy of stating his love for racing and more precisely horse ownership.

The joy of owning a racehorse is indescribable, from buying them as youngsters, watching them develop and seeing their first visit to a racecourse. I have owned horses for many years and whenever I have time off, you‘ll find me down at the stables!" said Owen.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Edward, Prince of Wales – who succeeded to the throne, as King Edward VII, two years later – owned Ambush II, who divided public loyalty by beating previous dual winner Manifesto, who was conceding 24lb, in the 1900 renewal. Over five decades later, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother witnessed the inexplicable collapse of her horse, Devon Loch, when in an unassailable five-length lead, just yards from the winning post in 1956. Through successes and failures alike, all of these royals had a top table seat in racing and royal connections (most from our own monarchy and others) are present in the aptly named sport of kings to this day.

Hollywood actor Gregory Peck fared little better when his horse, Different Class, was brought down, when in a prominent position, in the infamous melee at the twenty-third fence in 1967. His jockey, David Mould, later explained, “I was literally buried in the fence. I climbed out and couldn’t find the horse anywhere.” Desperately unlucky on that occasion, Different Class was sent off 17/2 favourite for the 1968 Grand National but, despite completely the course, could only finish third, beaten 20 lengths and a neck, behind the winner, Red Alligator.

Other celebrity owners to have won the National, though, include hairdressing icon Raymond Bessone, a.k.a. ‘Mr. Teasy-Weasy’, and the late Liverpool comedian Freddie Starr. In fact, Bessone was lucky enough to have owned a share in two National winners, Ayala, a narrow, three-quarters of a length winner at 66/1 in 1963, and Rag Trade, a two-length winner, from none other than Red Rum, at 14/1 in 1976. Starr, born and bred in Huyton, on Mersey, was the sole owner of Miinnehoma, who won the 1994 Grand National, under reigning champion jockey Richard Dunwoody, at 14/1. It's not hard to see the appeal of being involved in horse ownership. Most of us get excited enough if we have a winning wager on a horse, let alone an actual direct hand in its success.