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The Derby Day Holiday

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The Derby Day Holiday


Towards the end of the 18th century, Derby Day had established itself as not only a major sporting event, but also as “The Derby Day Holiday”, with or without their employers’ consent. In 1793, The Times cynically reported:


   “The road to Epsom was crowded with all descriptions of people hurrying to the races; some to plunder and some to be plundered. Horses, gigs, curricles, coaches, chaises, carts and pedestrians covered with dust crowded the Downs, the people running down and jostling each other as they met in contact. Hazard, cockfighting, E.O. and faro assisted in plucking the pigeons, and the rooks feathered their nests with the plunder.”



The fascination of Derby Day attracted the aristocracy and the workman equally, shoulder to shoulder for the day, and the flow of ready money proved a magnet to both while in pursuit of a good time. Various gambling games were played inside the sprawl of tents across the Downs. Hazard was the most popular dice game and the forerunner of the American Craps game; E.O.  (Even and Odd), was a simplistic, but often rigged form of roulette, while Faro was a card game where players would bet against the dealer on what cards he would turn up. The latter, popular in the wild west of America and in the early casinos, was later withdrawn due to the slim margin in favour of the House. Through all this, drunkenness was rife from morning until night.


Although the illegal bare-knuckle boxing matches were difficult to track down, they were extremely popular. The exact venue on the Downs, however, would be a closely guarded secret until just before the fight. One account from Bell’s Life in 1822 reported:  

“To gratify the plebeians and commoners, a subscription purse of £25 was collected for a fight between Dick Curtis and Cooper the Gypsy. It took place in the railed hollow where the plate horses saddle, and in the hurry to encircle the field of blood, hundreds of elegant females had a peep if they chose, as they were snugly wedged in…”


Research confirms that Curtis won the fight in about 30 minutes with much skill and science displayed by both boxers. For good measure another interesting fight took place that afternoon, although it was not reported until 1876, when Thomas Coleman’s “Recollections” were published in Baily’s Magazine.


   “After the races, there was a prize-fight between a Jew named Moses and another, both regular fighting men. They fought in the bottom, near the old two-mile post, and the Duke of York was there on a splendid brown cob – such a beauty! About 15 hands high, clean shaped, and such power, with a beautiful head. The Duke (owner of Derby winner, also called Moses), was not so tall as his brother, George IV., but more corpulent – ran more to middle – appeared to enjoy the fight much, and as, round after round, those by the ring kept calling out,‘Well done, Moses! – go it again, Moses!’ seemed to be pleased and enlivened at the sound of the word, cast up his head and gave a sort of puff with his mouth.”


Incredibly, the attending masses at the time knew very little about the horses, the times of the races, or the results. The serious betting on the races was conducted between around two or three hundred nobleman, layers or legs and ‘gentlemen of fortune’, who, on horseback or from carriages, formed a ring around the betting post high on the Downs.



After the 1795, Derby The Times correspondent reported with a lack of merriment:


   “The Duke of Queensberry was the principal loser at Epsom races; the noble Duke had his vis-à-vis and six horses, driving about the course with two very pretty émigrés in it. Several carriages were broken to pieces, and one Lady had her arm broken.There was much private business done in the swindling way. One black-legged fellow cleared near a thousand pounds by the old trick of an E.O. table. Another had a faro table, and was on the eve of doing business, when he was detected with a palmed card; almost the whole of what may be justly styled the ‘vagabond gamblers’ of London were present. Mr Bowes, half-brother of the Earl of Strathmore, was robbed of a gold watch and a purse containing 30 guineas at Epsom races, on Thursday last (Derby Day). Many other persons shared a similar fate, both on the same evening and on Friday. Upwards of 30 coaches were robbed coming from the races.”


However, in spite of the warnings printed about Derby Day, it rapidly grew in popularity. Attendance  swelled from around 8,000 in 1795 to ten times that number in 1823, when Bell’s Life (a forerunner of The Sporting Life and first published in 1822), reported:


   “By one o’clock there must have been eighty thousand persons assembled on the Downs – what they all went thither for is best known to themselves, but certainly not one twentieth of them saw the race, and the only other amusements were broiling on an arid heath beneath a mid-day sun, or sitting in booths crowded to suffocation amidst the fumes of tobacco and all sorts of hideous uproar…”.


Then in  1829, the first major grandstand was built at a cost of £20,000.


This was raised by 1,000 shares at £20 each, the Epsom Grand Stand Association Committee announced:

“The new grandstand at Epsom accommodates 5,000 spectators. It is 156ft wide and 60ft in depth. The columns of the portico are Doric, supporting a covered gallery erected on ornamental iron pillars…the roof contains about 2,000 spectators standing…everyone can see the whole Derby course.”


The Morning Chronicle advised:

“The advantages of which, when compared to the confinement of a carriage, are obvious. Prices of admission; Tuesday and Wednesday, 3s each; Thursday and Friday, 5s each. Tickets for the week 12s. The magistrates for the County of Surrey are respectfully informed that they will be admitted free.”




Benjamin Disraeli in his novel Sybil described the scene at the 1837 Derby


   “Will anyone do anything about Hybiscus?” sang out a gentleman in the ring at Epsom. It was full of eager groups; round the betting post a swarming cluster, while the magic circle itself was surrounded by a host of horsemen shouting from their saddles the odds they were ready to receive or give, and the names of the horses they were prepared to back or oppose…

“Five and thirty ponies to one against Phosphorus.” shouted a little man vociferously and repeatedly. “I will give you forty.” said Lord Milford. No answer – nothing done.

“Forty to one!” murmured Egremont who stood against Phosphorus. A little nervous, he said to the peer in the white great coat,“Don’t you think that Phosphorus may after all have some chance?” “I should be cursed sorry to be deep against him,” said the peer. Egremont with a quivering lip walked away.


Then, after Egremont decides not to hedge his position, “the ring breaks up, all galloping off to the Warren where the horses are being saddled.” Disraeli then expresses the intense passion of those waiting, as true today for some as then:


  “A few minutes, only a few minutes, and the event that for twelve months has been the pivot of so much calculation, of such subtle combinations, of such deep conspiracies, round which the thought and passion of the sporting world have hung like eagles, will be recorded in the fleeting tablets of the past. But what minutes! Count them by sensation and not by calendars, and each moment is a day and the race a life.”

1837 Phosphorus
40-1 Derby winner 


By now the Derby had become firmly established as the premier event in the racing year. The old format of two and four-mile heats was being replaced with single races over a variety of distances and two-year-old races were becoming popular. Race meetings, such as Epsom, Newmarket, Ascot, Chester and Doncaster, were no longer run entirely by and for the aristocracy, but attracted an interest from a wider public. Fuelled by Bell’s Life, the general public would slowly, but increasingly, have knowledge of the more important race meetings and the results.


The Origins and Foundation of Racing at Epsom

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The Origins and Foundation of Racing at Epsom



Strangely, the events that led up to the foundation of the Derby started in the dry summer of 1618, when a humble herdsman, Henry Wicker, stumbled across a small hole full of water on the common, to the north-west of the turnpike road, between Epsom and Ashtead.

To Wicker’s amazement, after enlarging the hole in order to water his cattle, they refused to drink. And when he sampled it, neither would he. Some months later, samples of the water were examined by local physicians, who deemed it aluminous and recommended it for external use on cuts and sores. It was not until about 1830 that the highly purgative qualities of the water were discovered; this quite by chance, when a group of labourers drank deeply from the spring.


Epsom’s old wells


While at first knowledge of the waters remained local, word soon travelled to wealthy Londoners, whose appreciation of the remedy eventually brought patronage from the nobility of England, with Epsom then rivalling Tunbridge Wells for its famed cures.

John Toland, the famous religious writer noted, “Since it hath been inwardly taken, diseases have met with their cure, though they proceed from contrary causes.” He also observed that citizens of London arriving “from the worst of smokes to the best of airs”, quickly found themselves restored to perfect health. Very soon, the waters were amongst the most analysed substances in England (one gallon of water containing 480 grains of calcareous nitre), with entrepreneurs extracting and selling what became known as Epsom Salts at extravagant prices – five shillings an ounce being recorded in 1640.


Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary of 1667, “We got to Epsom by 8 a-clock to the Well, where much company; and there we light and I drank the water; they did not, but do go about and walk a little among the women, but I did drink four pints and had some very good stools by it.”

Later he visited the King’s Head, the nearest inn to the Downs, “where our coachman carried us; and there had an ill room for us to go into, but the best in the house that was not taken up; here we called for drink and a bespoke dinner. And hear that my Lord Buckhurst and Nelly (Nell Gwynne, the King’s mistress), is lodged at the next house, and keeps a merry house.”


Lord Buckhurst was described by Beauclerk as a  “Cultured, witty, satirical, dissolute, and utterly charming”. Pepys reports the news on 13 July: “[Mr. Pierce tells us] Lord Buckhurst hath got Nell away from the King’s house, lies with her, and gives her £100 a year, so she hath sent her parts to the house, and will act no more.” However, Beauclerk later informs us “Nell Gwyn was acting once more in late August, and her brief affair with Buckhurst had ended.”



Pepys, himself was enamoured with Nell Gwynne and kept this Richard Thomson engraving of her as Cupid c.1672, above his desk at the Admiralty.


By the year 1690, after the many improvements made by Mr Parkhurst, Lord of the Manor, the village of Epsom had grown into a thriving town, and the humble shed originally erected for the convenience of invalids had now been replaced by a sumptuous ballroom.


Henry Pownall, in his History of Epsom, published in 1825, said, “It became the centre of fashion; several houses were erected for lodgings, and yet the place would not contain all the visitors, many of whom were obliged to seek for accommodation in the neighbouring villages. Taverns, at that time reputed to be the largest in England, were opened; sedan chairs and numbered coaches attended.  There was a public breakfast with dancing and music, every morning at the wells. There was also a (betting) ring as in Hyde Park; and on the downs, races were held daily at noon; with cudgelling and wrestling matches, foot races etc., in the afternoon. The evenings were usually spent in private parties, assemblies or cards; and may we add, that neither Bath nor Tunbridge ever boasted of more noble visitors than Epsom, or exceeded it in its splendour, at the time we are describing.”


The earliest indications of horseracing on Banstead (Epsom) Downs are in the 1640’s. In mid-May 1648, during the throes of the Civil War, the Earl of Clarendon in his History of the Rebellion relates,  “a meeting of the royalists was held on Banstead Downs, under the pretence of a horse race, and six hundred horses were collected and marched to Reigate.”

This suggests that for such an undercover rendezvous to take place, racing at Epsom must have been a regular and well attended occasion.Under the Commonwealth (1649-60), horseracing was banned, but upon its demise, the first recorded race meeting in the country took place at Epsom on 7 March, 1661, in the presence of Charles II.


Two years later, on 27 May, Pepys wrote in his diary, “This day there was a great thronging to Banstead Downes, upon a great horse race and a foot race; I am sorry I could not go thither.”

However, an early 18th century account of an Epsom race meeting was recorded by Conrad von Uffenbach:

“At three o’clock in the afternoon we rode out to the place where the races are usually held, called Banstead Downes near Epsom.We found there vast crowds on horseback, both men and females; many of the latter wore men’s clothes and feathered hats, which is quite usual in England…We were amazed that the racecourse was so uneven and hilly. All around, almost as far as the eye could see, were placed coloured sticks or posts, round which the horses had to run twice in one race… The five horses that were to run were first covered with blankets and led by hand round the paddock so that everyone might see them and the betting on the winner begin.”

   A servant of Uffenbach then timed one of the four-mile heats at nine minutes, which greatly impressed their party.


In 1706, John Livingstone, having previously established himself as an apothecary in Epsom, purchased a plot of land in the town to build a pleasure-palace for dancing and gaming, adding a jewellers shop and a bowling green. Livingstone’s ambition went further. A distance from his amenities he sank a well, installed a pump and, with a great deal of publicity, laid underground pipes directly into his establishment. Furthermore, to ensure his success, he bought up the lease on the original well and then locked up the site.

Although tasting similarly foul, the new spring water had no medicinal properties. This however, did not stop Livingstone, who sent faked samples to reputable chemists to enhance the water’s reputation and, since the old wells were shut-up, no lawful comparison could be made.


In 1716, after two genuine mineral springs were discovered at Cheltenham, Epsom’s fortune went into decline, although in 1720, the time of the South Sea Bubble, Pownell relates, “There was, however, a temporary renewal of its former gaiety and dissipation….when the alchemists, Dutch, German and Jews, again filled the village; its balls and amusements were revived, and gaming with every other description of profligacy and vice, prevailed to an enormous extent.”


When the bubble burst, Epsom was again deserted, but in 1736, its fortunes took a turn at the arrival of a celebrated female bonesetter – Sarah Wallin – known to all as ‘Crazy Sally’. Apparently, she could put a man’s shoulder back without assistance and her success with fractures and dislocations caused the inhabitants of Epsom to raise an annual subscription of £300 a year to induce her to stay. She did for while but then, at the height of her fame, she fell in love with a Mr Hill Mapp, from Ludgate Hill – a footman and by all accounts a rogue.The marriage, strongly opposed by the Epsom residents, was a disaster, Mapp taking all her money and then abandoning her to die in a pauper’s grave in the London slum of St Giles.


A final effort to restore Epsom as a spa came around 1760, when a surgeon from London, Mr Dale Ingram, offered public breakfasts, washed down with a concoction of magnesia and Epsom salts. His success, however, was limited and many years later, in 1804, the buildings of the Old Wells were demolished and replaced by a private house.
Throughout the fluctuating fortunes in the town, race meetings on the Downs had become a regular feature in May and October from 1730, with prizes of cups and plates provided by the local nobility.


On Wednesday, 3 May 1769, the third day of Epsom’s six-day meeting, Eclipse (the founding father of more than 95% of all Thoroughbreds today), ran his first race in the Nobleman and Gentleman’s Plate. This, a typical competition for the time, was open to five and six-year-olds and run in four-mile heats. Between heats, 30 minutes would be allowed for the ‘rubbing down’ of horses and the Plate would be awarded to the winner of two heats. If the race needed three heats to decide and had three different winners, a further heat would be run. Any horse that was a distance (240 yards) behind a heat winner would be eliminated, the rules also stipulating, that any jockey who “shall or do, whip or lay hold of any rider, his horse, saddle or bridle”, would be regarded as being distanced.

On this occasion, five runners took part in both heats, Eclipse winning each time, but in the second heat by a distance (240 yards or more), so landing Dennis O’Kelly’s famous forecast wager “Eclipse first, the rest nowhere.”


In 1775, a year after his marriage to Lady Elizabeth Hamilton, Edward Stanley leased The Oaks, a country house with 180 acres at Woodmansterne, near Epsom, from his uncle by marriage, General John Burgoyne. Burgoyne, a ‘father confessor’ to Stanley, ran the gamut of being a gambler, soldier, playwright and M.P. for Preston. However, he is remembered for surrendering Saratoga to the rebels in the American War of Independence, after which he became a prisoner of war.
In February, 1776, the 11th Earl of Derby died and Edward Stanley succeeded to become the 12th Earl. At the Epsom May Meeting in 1778, Lord Derby, who often acted as a steward at the meeting, invited a party of friends to his house, including Burgoyne, Richard Sheridan the playwright and Charles Fox, the prominent Whig politician. Burgoyne, impressed with Anthony St Leger’s previous one-off sweepstakes at Cantley Common (forerunners of the St Leger), suggested to Lord Derby, that since the four-day race programme consisted solely of heats of either two or four miles, that the following year, a single race over one and a half miles for three-year-old fillies, would add some spice to the meeting.


The race, named after Lord Derby’s house, was first run on Friday, 14 May, 1779.


The first running of the Oaks was considered a great success, members of Lord Derby’s party all won money and that evening, another new race for both colts and fillies was planned for the following year. While there are no details in the archives at Knowsley concerning the foundation of the Derby, history has passed on the tale that the 12th Earl of Derby and Sir Charles Bunbury (the leading figure in the Jockey Club, who was staying at the Oaks) spun a coin as to whether the race should be called the Derby Stakes or the Bunbury Stakes.



12th Earl of Derby


The first running of the Derby Stakes was on Thursday, 4 May 1780. Open to three-year-old colts (8st 0lb) and fillies (7st 11lb), at 50 guineas each (half forfeit) and run over a mile. There were 36 subscribers and nine runners, and although Lord Derby won the toss of the coin, it was Sir Charles Bunbury who owned the first winner – Diomed

In addition that day, a race for the Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Purse of £50 (for five and six- year-olds, run in three heats over four miles), was won by King Fergus, a future Champion Sire and son of Eclipse, who incidentally, sired three of the six winners at this four-day meeting.

The day’s entertainment also featured a main of cockfighting between the birds of the Gentlemen of Middlesex and Surrey, and those of the Gentlemen of Wiltshire. Enthusiastically supported by Lord Derby and his guests, cockfighting was at this time regarded the country’s principal sport, with results carried in the National press.

At the end of that day, no-one could have predicted that Diomed would provide the first link in a chain of winners extending over more than two and a quarter centuries, one that has made the Derby, together with the Oaks, the two oldest sporting events, continually run, in the world.


A Fortune Lost and Found

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A Fortune Lost and Found


To prove even the most meticulous trainer can forget something,

particularly, when returning home after winning the Derby.


Tom Dawson, who trained Ellington to win the Derby in 1856, from his Middleham stables in North Yorkshire, was the first trainer to prepare horses without sweating them. The general practise until then had been to gallop horses in rugs and hoods in order for them to sweat off any surplus flesh and so run fitter. Dawson, however, found that this method would often sour temperamental horses and preferred to exercise them naturally.

Dawson’s new method of training paid off, and the Monday after Ellington’s Derby victory at 20-1, he went into Tattersalls to receive settlement of £25,000 in bets (nearly £2 million today). This was paid to him in bank notes and, to keep it safe, he carried it away in an old leather hat-box tied up with string.

That night he took the train home to Yorkshire, but was asleep on reaching Northallerton where he had to change trains. The guard, recognising him, woke him in time and was much thanked. The hat-box, however, stayed on the train. It was some time later before Dawson realised his loss, whereupon he coolly informed the stationmaster and a series of telegrams were sent down the line. The hat-box, meanwhile, had travelled north to Aberdeen and back again before being returned to Middleham a week later, unopened.


Tom Dawson, born in 1809, was the eldest son of George Dawson of Stamford Hall, Gullane, in East Lothian. After moving to Yorkshire and reaching the age of 21, he began training at Middleham. His major breakthrough came in 1842, when winning both the Oaks with his father’s filly, Our Nell and the St Leger with the 13th Earl of Eglinton’s filly, The Blue Bonnet. Strangely, neither filly had run before, nor ran again.

Returning to Ellington’s Derby victory in 1856, there is no doubt his conformation was suited to the conditions, for he had powerful hind quarters with large knees and feet, but even so the exertions of the day took their toll, for he never won again. In the St Leger he started at odds of 8-13, but finished unplaced behind Warlock, and at the same meeting he was beaten in both the Don Stakes and Doncaster Stakes.


In 1869, and by now his methods of training were standard practice, he struck again, winning the Two Thousand Guineas and Derby with Pretender, for the Master of the Dumfriesshire Hounds, John Johnstone.

At the age of 70, following an internal operation, he interrupted his convalescence to watch a trial on Middleham’s High Moor in mid-winter. As a result, delirium set in which led to his death on 18 February, 1880


Tom Aldcroft (c. 1835-1883), who rode Ellington to victory, lived in Manchester, where his father was proprietor of an omnibus company. Apprenticed to Tom Dawson, he later became the stable jockey. He rode five other Classic winners, the last being Lord Glasgow’s 1864 Two Thousand Guineas winner, General Peel.

A man of elegant appearance, Aldcroft was a dandy dresser and credited with introducing peg-top trousers into Middleham!


The Prince & the Pauper – aka Bend Or & Robert the Devil

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The Prince & the Pauper

Bend Or & Robert the Devil

This is the tale of two great horses who vied for supremacy in the seasons 1880-81.

The Prince – Bend Or, was bred by Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, 1st Duke of Westminster, at his Eaton Stud in Chester, with a Classic pedigree. His sire, Doncaster, won the Derby in 1873 and his dam, Rouge Rose, was a daughter of the 1860 Derby winner, Thormanby.


The pauper – Robert the Devil, bred by Charles Brewer, was by the sprinter, Bertram (1872 King Stand Stakes), out of the apply named, Cast Off, by The Promised Land (1862 2,000 Guineas). Cast Off had been barren for many years before mated with Bertram and was left on the Cambridgeshire Fens at Wickham to fend for herself, until Robert the Devil was foaled.


Bend Or, a chestnut with a white blaze on his face, later stood 16.1 hands with a girth of 74 inches.

As a two-year-old he was unbeaten in five races, including the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood and the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at York.



A postcard of Bend Or at stud



Meantime, Robert the Devil, a “slashing” bay horse of 16.2 h.h. had won both his starts as a juvenile, including the valuable Rous Memorial Stakes at Goodwood.

The following year, Robert the Devil, starting at odds-on, was beaten a head in the Biennial Stakes at Newmarket, while Bend Or, not entered in the Guineas, waited for Epsom.





Robert the Devil – the slashing adversary


Bend Or’s Derby in 1880, was regarded as the race of the century, albeit in the run-up to the race, the favourite’s connections suffered great anxiety. First, Bend Or developed sore shins, which had to be treated day and night. Secondly, Fred Archer, booked to ride the colt, was badly savaged by the four-year-old Muley Edris and put on weight whilst under treatment for badly torn arm muscles, scaling 14lb overweight four days before the Derby. However, all the problems were resolved in the nick of time. Archer had a saddle made weighing only a pound and on the day with the help of a purgative known as “Archer’s mixture,” weighed in at the required 8st 10lb.


In a field of 19, Bend Or went off the 2-1 favourite, his chief opponents being Von der Tann, winner of the Bibury Club Champagne Stakes, on 100-15 and Robert the Devil on 7-1. The latter, ridden by Edward Rossiter took up the running at the top of the hill from Teviotdale and Mask. Around Tattenham Corner,

Archer, in a drive to gain the rails position, had to raise his left foot level with Bend Or’s head to prevent crushing it against the rails. His determination saw him through and he made up ground on Robert the Devil to the distance. At this point, although well clear, Rossiter looked back to see Archer bearing down on him with every stride, and immediately appeared to lose his nerve, until the two colts passed the post together. After an agonising wait, the number 7 was displayed on the Stewards Stand, indicating Bend Or was the winner. Twelve lengths behind, Mask finished a bad third.


On July 15, Charles Brewer, the popular bookmaker, who owned Robert the Devil in partnership with his trainer Charles Blanton, wrote to the Epsom stewards objecting to Bend Or on the grounds he “was not the horse which he was represented to be, either in the entry or at the time of the race”. Their information was that Bend Or and Tadcaster (by Doncaster out of Clemence, by Newminster) had been mixed up in their journey from Eaton to Newmarket and from Newmarket to Robert Peck’s stables in Russley, Wiltshire.

As expected the popular press got involved and described it as “The biggest racing scandal since the Running Rein affair in 1844.”





On July 24, after lengthy deliberation, as recorded above, the stewards announced:

“We, as Stewards of Epsom, unanimously decide that the chestnut colt, Bend Or, which came in first in the Derby of 1880, is by Doncaster out of Rouge Rose, and, therefore, the objection lodged by Messrs. Brewer and Blanton is overruled.”

In later years, however, one of the stewards, James Lowther, revealed that addition facts had come to his knowledge that had led him to doubt their decision.

Then in 1914, after a series of articles in Horse & Hound and the Bloodstock Breeders Review, several pieces of evidence came to light that supported the stewards’ decision, as Tony Morris later reported in the Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder.


“Bend Or had very round hoofs, a characteristic common in the family from which Rouge Rose descended. A lot of Bend Or’s stock were crib-biters, a vice for which Rouge Rose was herself notorious. And the Russley blacksmith reported that Bend Or and the other produce of Rouge Rose were always easy to shoe; Tadcaster would not allow him near his hind feet and others out of Clemence were the same. Besides, although both colts were chestnut, Bend Or was of the golden type with black spots, Tadcaster of the red variety and with lop-ears. There could be no mistaking them.”

Morris continued, “An interesting fact that drew no comment in the 1914 debate was that in 1882 Clemence was covered by Bend Or. It is hard to imagine that the Duke of Westminster would have sanctioned that mating, if he believed Clemence was Bend Or’s dam.”

The Bloodstock Breeders Review finally concluded, “There is little likelihood of any further light being thrown on the dispute.”


Eleven days after the Derby, Robert the Devil travelled to France to win the Grand Prix de Paris. He then followed up with victories in the St Leger, connections winning £80,000 in bets, the Cesarewitch and Champion Stakes, adding the Ascot Gold Cup and the Alexandra Plate as a four-year-old.


Bend Or went to Ascot to win the St James’s Palace Stakes, then ran unplaced in the St Leger behind Robert the Devil. He was then beaten a head by Robert the Devil in Newmarket’s Great Foal Stakes and slaughtered by him in the Champion Stakes, when going down by 10 lengths.


The following year, a revitalised Bend Or, returned to Epsom to win the City and Suburban Handicap, carrying the top weight of 9st. 0lb, from 23 rivals.

The final encounter of Bend Or and Robert the Devil took place in the Epsom Gold Cup (forerunner of the Coronation Cup), where the pair having deterred all opposition, ran a match. And although odds of 4-6 were laid on Robert, after a thrilling dual, Bend Or beat his arch-rival by a neck.

Bend Or ran twice more, winning the Champion Stakes from Scobell and Iroquois, then finally, in the Cambridgeshire, under Fred Archer and 9st 8lb, he gave way after a brave run.

After dominating the racing scene for two years the Pauper beat the Prince by three races to two. However, in Bend Or’s defence, his victory’s in the Derby and Epsom Gold Cup were each heralded as the race of the year.


Bend Or retired to stud at Eaton at a fee of 50 guineas and in his first crop got Ormonde (b.c. 1883), winner of the Triple Crown and Kendal (ch.c. 1883), the Champion Sire of 1897, through the efforts of his Triple Crown winner Galtee More. Unbelievably, the victory’s of Ormonde were not enough to make Bend Or the Champion Sire of 1886. His total stakes won of £22,803, were just £14 short of Hermit’s, who became Champion Sire for the seventh time. Bend Or died on 10 January 1903, aged 26.


By contrast, Robert the Devil failed to produce a notable offspring and died of an abdominal malady in 1889. After his death, he was prepared by a taxidermist and remains on show at Gibson’s Saddlery in Newmarket.


As a surprise postscript to this story, a recent DNA comparison of Bend Or to the Tadcaster family, continued the investigation, as Tony Morris reported in the Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder.

“A team led by Mim Bower at Cambridge University got to work on the skeleton of Bend Or, long preserved in the Natural History Museum, to discover whether he came from the No. 1 family to which Rouge Rose belonged or the No. 2 family of Clemence. It’s time to re-write a million pedigrees! The skeleton’s mitochondrial DNA proved characteristic of the No. 2 family, the assumption being he was the son of Clemence. He could not have been out of Rouge Rose, despite all that circumstantial evidence.”


And so, we are to believe that if the Epsom Stewards of 1880 had miraculously been in possession of the DNA samples, Bend Or would have been disqualified as a fraudulent entry and Robert the Devil would have been awarded the Derby.

And so ends a turf Tale of the Unexpected.




The Derby Stakes 1780-2016 – The London Racing Club Review

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London Racing Club’s Review of Michael’s latest book




The Derby Stakes 1780-2016 is available from

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The Derby Stakes 1780-2016 – Racing Post

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Derby Stakes trial cover

 See below Jim Beavis’s Racing Post review of the The Derby Stakes

The book published by Raceform at £65 is a signed limited edition of 650

available from

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Harzand, 2016 Investec Derby winner

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Harzand 2016 Investec Derby winnerHarzand 2016 Investec Derby winner

The Oaks Stakes 1779-2015 – Weekender Review

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Alistair Whitehouse-Jones’s Weekender

review of Michael’s new book

The Oaks Stakes 1779-2015


Oaks book Weekender review (2)

The Oaks Stakes 1779-2015 – Racing Post

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The Racing Post’s Lee Mottershead’s review of

The Oaks Stakes 1779-2015


Oaks Stakes book review - Lee Mottershead

To order, go to or phone 01933 304858

To see more of Michael’s books visit Books for Sale


The Oaks Stakes 1779-2015 – The Irish Field

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The Irish Field   24 October 2015 Leo Powell

A classic in every sense

IT might be unusual to see a book review in a breeding column, but this is no ordinary book. In a few pages more than the number of years that the race has been run, the noted Michael Church has produced one of the most valuable tomes to hit the bookshelves this year.

Limited to just 650 copies, the publication is the history of the Oaks at Epsom, a race that pre-dates the Derby by a year and was influential in having the Epsom centrepiece upped in Oaks book cover 1trip from a mile to its now classic trip of a mile and half.

Up to the minute and including details of the 2015 winner Qualify, The Oaks Stakes recounts the history, the details and the breeding of the 238 winners (the result was a dead-heat on one occasion) since the first race was run in 1779.

There are extended essays on the major influences to have triumphed in the classic, such as Pretty Polly, together with wonderful pen pictures of the major people associated with the winners of the race. There is an eclectic listing of records, many suitable for the most ardent anoraks, and a most valuable index.

Michael Church is not one of the most revered racing historians for nothing, and attention to such detail can be assumed. From Bridget in 1779 to Qualify this year, we have seen some exceptional racemares land the Oaks, and many have then gone on to establish their own histories as the progenitors of some of the best racehorses in the intervening almost two and half centuries.

Priced at £70, this is not a cheap book, but then how do you put a value on a book that is priceless? This will solve your Christmas, birthday or any special occasion shopping in one fell swoop.

With just 650 copies available it will sell out, so best to get your order in now. Every serious breeder or student of breeding should have a copy.


To order, go to or phone 01933 304858



To see more of Michael’s books visit Books for Sale