Archive for 2017

George Wigg & Stanley Wootton – Saviours of Epsom Downs

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Stanley Wootton


In 1906, Richard Wootton, an Australian and South African racehorse trainer, came to Epsom with his sons, Frank, aged 13 and Stanley, aged nine. After opening a stable at Treadwell House, Epsom, his sons served their apprenticeships with him and although not as successful a jockey as his brother Frank, in 1910, Stanley won both the Chester Cup and the Northumberland Plate on Elizabetta.


Serving as an officer in the Royal Fusiliers, in the 1914-18 war, Stanley was awarded the Military Cross. The war over, he took the reins from his father at Treadwell House, training around 25 of his own horses with the sole purpose of landing betting coups. So successful was he, that in 1925, he bought Epsom’s Walton Downs for £35,000, simultaneously taking a lease on the Winter Gallops, within the racecourse.


In 1969, Stanley Wootton generously offered the Horserace Betting Levy Board the Six Mile Hill gallops on Walton Downs on a 999-year lease, so ensuring their preservation as training grounds.


George Wigg was born in Ramsdell in Hampshire in 1900, and from winning a scholarship to Queen Mary’s Grammar School in Basingstoke, he joined the Army, serving in the Royal Tank Corps from 1919 to 1937.

On the outbreak of World War II, he re-enlisted in the Royal Army Education Corps and in 1945, became Labour MP for Dudley under Clement Attlee. From serving under Harold Wilson he left Parliament as Baron Wigg of Dudley and thereafter, from the House of Lords and as Chairman of the Horserace Betting Levy Board (from 1967), he, together with Stanley Wootton set about protecting the future of Epsom Downs Racecourse.


Fast forward now to May 1982, the time when the Epsom and Walton Downs Conservators Act Bill came up for debate. Lord Wigg in proposing an amendment to control the use of the Downs by hack riders, shrewdly foresaw that if Epsom ceased as a training centre it would be the death knell for the Derby, and so objected to the proposal that hack riders “go where they liked, when they liked, and how they liked.”

Clearly, if his amendment was accepted “it would establish the rights of the trainers; under properly controlled conditions training and racing would continue, and money would be available for the development and conservation of the downs free of any charges on the public.”


Lord Wigg continued, “You cannot have all-weather gallops being used by valuable racehorses, running with a few inches or yards of people on hacks. To do that is to invite disaster.”

Memorably, Lord Wigg’s amendment was carried by 92 votes to 33.


Day’s after the completion of the transfer of the lease on Walton Downs, Lord Wigg said,

  “I stood up there and I looked over that marvellous hill and over the trees on Walton Downs and there was Headley Church standing up tiny against the sky, and I thought, ‘Why not for ever?’ and by God we’ve done it.”


Since then, a memorial viewing point has been erected on Epsom Downs in recognition of the work of Lord Wigg and Stanley Wootton, for the preservation of the Downs.


Enable’s Iconic Oaks & Update

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Enable’s Iconic Oaks & Update


On Epsom Downs, under a threatening sky, ten runners made their way to the start. Rhododendron, a Galileo filly, and second to Winter in the Qipco 1,000 Guineas, was now 8-11 favourite and one of three entries trained by Aidan O’Brien. Enable, trained by John Gosden, ridden by Frankie Dettori and winner of the Cheshire Oaks, was a popular alternative at 6-1, as was Godolphin’s Sobetsu, a recent winner of the Prix Saint-Alary at Deauville.


American trained, Daddys Lil Darlin, second in the Kentucky Oaks, had been flown over to take her chance. However, without her usual pony and faced with the expanse of the Downs, she bolted. Careering towards the start and looking set to crash into the stalls, Olivier Peslier, fearing for his safety, jumped ship. Fortunately, the filly was rescued with no harm done and withdrawn.


Meanwhile, a sudden and violent thunderstorm broke out over the Downs, with bolts of lightning and crashes of thunder bringing cries of alarm from the stands. Nevertheless, the nine runners courageously left the stalls, Pocketfullofdreams setting a strong pace for the O’Brien camp, followed by Enable and Sobetsu. The field, stretched out to the top of the hill, saw Pocketfulofdreams blazing a trail down to Tattenham Corner, five lengths clear of Sobetsu and Enable. Approaching the two-pole, Enable surged ahead until quickly joined by Ryan Moore on Rhododendron. The pair then battled it out head to head to the distance, where, Enable, proving superior, drew away through the heavy rain to win by five lengths. It was Frankie Dettori’s fourth Oaks. Meantime, O’Brien’s Alluringly, pluckily kept on for third, a further six lengths away.

Surprisingly, Enable clocked 2 min 34.13 sec – a new race record, more so, as an extra 26 yards had been added to the distance to protect the ground on the inner rail for Derby day.   



RUN on Friday, 2 June 2017, as the Investec Oaks, over the Derby Course of one mile and a half and 26 yards, for three-year-old fillies, 9st 0lb.

Value to winner £283,550.

1st  ENABLE                         Frankie Dettori       6-1

2nd  RHODODENDRON       Ryan Moore             8-11 Fav

3rd  ALLURINGLY                Seamie Heffernan  16-1

Distances: 5 lengths and 6 lengths.

Also ran: 4th Horseplay (O. Murphy) 14-1; Coronet (A. Atzeni) 12-1; Isabel De Urbina (F. M. Berry) 33-1; Pocketfullofdreams (D. O’Brien) 50-1; Sobetsu (W. Buick) 6-1; Natavia (P.Smullen) 12-1 (last, 30 lengths behind the winner).

9 ran. Time: 2 min. 34.13 sec. (New race record).

BRED by Juddmonte Farms Ltd.

OWNED by Khalid Abdullah.

TRAINED by John Gosden at Newmarket.



An Update on Enable


Enable has won 10 races (from 11 starts): Maiden Fillies Stakes, (AW) Newcastle, Arkle Finance Cheshire Oaks, Investec Oaks Stakes, Darley Irish Oaks, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Darley Yorkshire Oaks, Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (twice),118Bet September Stakes, (AW), Kempton, Longines Breeders’Cup Turf , Churchill Downs. Third in a EBF Stallions Conditions Stakes, Newbury, behind John Gosden’s SHUTTER SPEED.


The winner’s sire, NATHANIEL b.c. 2008 by GALILEO ex MAGNIFICENT STYLE, won 4 races (from 11 starts): St Helens Maiden Stakes, Haydock, King Edward VII Stakes, Ascot, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, beating WORKFORCE, (2011), Coral-Eclipse Stakes, Sandown. Second to DANEDREAM in King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2012).

ENABLE is his first Group 1 winner.


The winner’s dam, CONCENTRIC b.f. 2004 by SADLER’S WELLS ex APOGEE, won 3 races (from 7 starts): Prix de Chaillot and Prix de Cheffreville, Lonchamp, Prix Charles Laffitte, Chantilly. She has bred 3 winners from 5 foals (ENABLE was her 5th) incl. CONTRIBUTION b.f. 2012 by CHAMPS ELYSEES, won 1 race: Prix Kasteel, Maisons-Laffitte; TOURNAMENT b.g. 2011 by OASIS DREAM, won 3 races incl. Ladbrokes Handicap, (AW) Lingfield: Handicap (AW) Kempton.


Epsom Racecards & Betting

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Epsom Racecards & Betting

Following the first 50 years (1780-1829), 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.

From 1825, local printer William Dorling produced a racecard – “Dorling’s Genuine Card List”, also known as “Dorling’s Correct Card” – a seller of which can be seen in William Powell Frith’s painting of ‘The Derby Day’. The racecard, revolutionary at the time, not only gave the list of runners, but also their owners, pedigrees, jockeys, colours and, for the major races, the ‘state of the odds’.

The point of sale for these racecards was The Spread Eagle in Epsom’s main street. There in the courtyard of the last coaching stop before ascending the hill to the course, assembled owners, grooms, jockeys, together with some of the darkest element of the betting fraternity. Many of the racecard sellers who worked around The Spread Eagle had their own eccentric and sometimes dramatic identity.


The “King of the card-sellers”, was known as Jerry, who either as a Broadway dandy wearing a hugh straw hat, or a captain wearing a red coat and brandishing a spy-glass, would cling to the side of the carriages, mimicking the dandies and swells, while pocketing their sixpences. Sadly, one day in a moment of zeal he pulled a carriage over on top of him, causing havoc in the street and ending his life. Another card-seller was called ‘Donkey Jemmy’, his act was to wear a bright yellow wig and bray like a donkey. He would not bray for everyone though, as he would explain with pride – “I do the donkey to please the aristocracy, not the common people.”  Other sellers who frequented The Spread Eagle were ‘Sailor Jack’, who played up a disfiguring squint and lack of knowledge on nautical matters, and the eccentric ‘Lord Castlereagh’, who although eating dry bread himself, would cook beef steaks for his French poodle. Finally, let’s not forget Fair Helen, ” a handsome dame she was too with her fine black hair” and who’s charm, it was said, could sell more than 700 racecards in a week.


The coaches ascending the final mile from The Spread Eagle to the final toll-gate had to pay £1. This would admit any vehicle onto the Downs for a day. Later, in 1830, as part of the promotion of the new grandstand, coaches could be driven right up to its steps as part of “a finish in style.”


The following racecard – Oaks Day 1825, winner Wings – discovered by fellow historian, John Slusar, is thought to be the earliest existing copy, recently usurping the racecard of Derby Day 1827.



The Dorlings’ influence at Epsom lasted nearly a century. William’s son Henry became Clerk of the Course in 1839, until his son, the thoroughly unpopular Henry Mayson Dorling, took over and kept the position until his death in 1919.

Returning to the mid-19th century, the railway system would not only revolutionise horse travel, but sportsmen would be able to travel from course to course in comparative comfort. Against this background, however, grew increasingly unscrupulous elements, such as thugs paid to make the favourite ‘safe’, crooked jockeys in the pay of ‘legs’ (early bookmakers) and con-men in many guises, who would stop at nothing to part both the aristocracy and the tradesmen from their money.

On a higher level, Charles Greville, the Whig aristocrat, wrote in his diary:

   “I grow more and more disgusted with the atmosphere of villainy I am forced to breathe…it is not easy to keep oneself undefiled. It is monstrous to see high-bred and high born gentlemen of honoured names and families, themselves marching through the world with their heads in the air, all honourable men, living in the best, the greatest and most refined society, mixed up in schemes, which are neither more or less than a system of plunder.”

 Villainy on the Turf reached a new peak in the Derby of 1844, when the apparent winner Running Rein, owned by Mr A. Wood, a respectable Epsom corn-chandler, was in reality a four-year-old named Maccabeus. With Lord George Bentinck unravelling their plot and successfully pursuing the villains to the Court room.


The Running Rein Scandal has its own chapter later in the book.


Reformation & Revolution in Betting

Racing in its present form could not have survived without betting, therefore, the positive move that started an avalanche of reformation after the nadir of the 1844 Derby, given time, allowed owners and breeders to plan for the future and encouraged the general public to follow their sport with a degree of confidence. Prophetically, on the Monday of Derby week in 1844, a notice from the Police Superintendent of Scotland Yard was circulated amongst the proprietors of the gaming marquees and betting-houses being hastily erected on Epsom Downs. It stated:

   “All persons playing or betting in any booth or public place, at any table or instrument of gaming, or at any game or pretend game of chance, will be taken into custody by the police and may be committed to a House of Correction, and there kept to hard labour for three months.”

The Government then tried to enforce dual standards on who could or could not bet. They argued that “the upper classes had the money and leisure not to be corrupted by betting, but that for a working man gambling losses would lead to crime.”


But in spite of the Governments heavy-handed judgment, betting continued at all levels. Around this time there sprang up “list bookmakers”, who, defying the law, would pin up their lists of runners and prices and take bets in the pubs, bars and clubs, some even nailing them to trees in the popular London parks.

The father of modern bookmaking, William Crockford (left), owned and ran Crockford’s Club (see illustrated below) in the heart of Mayfair. He also ‘made a book’ at the club and specialised in laying green young bucks “a thousand pounds to ten” they couldn’t name the winners of the future Derby, Oaks and St Leger. Said quickly, it might sound attractive, but only if the odds were to average less than 4-1 a piece!






One of the most popular forms of betting at this time was the big-race sweepstake and the Derby Sweep was the most popular. Then, as now, people paid for a ticket in the hope of ‘drawing’ a horse and collecting a handsome cash prize if they won. These sweeps could be found in almost every town in Britain with pubs and clubs the most popular venues. Stakes would vary from thrupence or sixpence in the poorer places, rising to £100 in the smart London Clubs.

Due to the reforming elements of the new administration, from the mid-19th century to the opening of betting shops in 1961, the only lawful way to bet on horseracing was either to attend the track or to possess a credit account with a licensed bookmaker. However, since the latter required the punter to have a bank account, references and, a regular income, most people opted to bet with cash through an undercover network of bookmakers’ runners.


Course betting also had its disadvantages in the cheaper enclosures and on the open downs, where the less reliable or more speculative bookmakers would sometimes abscond (‘do a runner’), when unable to pay out. Beatings, and in later years slashed tyres, were often the punters ‘remedy’ in such circumstances!


Racecards were very basic, printed in black and white and showed only the early declarations, making it necessary to cross out, sometimes a third of the runners. Interestingly, the 1913 (Suffragette) Derby racecard still called itself Dorling’s List. Later, as a schoolboy racegoer from 1948, I would paint the jockey’s colours into a notebook in order to identify the horses in the Derby parade. It seemed essential, since the first full colour racecard did not appear until 1995!


The Tote first operated on Derby Day in 1930 and was not only welcomed for its win and place pools, but considered a safer alternative to some bookmakers on the hill. The game-changing introduction of betting shops in 1962 was inevitably followed by the progressive taxation on winning bets. In recent years, however, the wheel has come full circle. The Government’s abolition of betting tax in October, 2001, combined with the revision of gambling laws the following March, brought about a staggering increase in turnover.

Meanwhile, in 2000, with the idea of launching a betting exchange, Andrew Black and Edward Wray, had secured £1m of investment from friends and family to become the co-founders of Betfair would operate on the principal of a financial exchange, combining many small bets in order to lay a gambler a large bet, or vice versa.

Although other exchanges followed, within a few years Betfair had 90% of the betting exchange market in the UK. Then in 2010, successful and fully established, Betfair was floated on the London Stock Exchange, with a share price of £13. This rose to £44 before Betfair was delisted when merging with Paddy Power in 2016.

With Great Britain now the gambling capital of the world, what will be the next innovation?





Investec Derby History with Michael Church

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Michael interviewed by Francesca Cumani after Breakfast With The Stars

at Epsom and later shown on ITV on Derby Day


Wings Of Eagles – 2017 Investec Derby winner

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14 – c (b.c. 2014)

           Winner of the 2017 Investec Derby Stakes


Run on Saturday, 3 June, 2017 as the Investec Derby Stakes over the Derby Course of one mile and a half and 6 yards, Epsom Downs. For three-year-olds; entire colts 9st 0lb, fillies 8st 11lb. 428 entries. Value to winner £921,537.50


1st WINGS OF EAGLES           Padraig Beggy          40-1

2nd CLIFFS OF MOHER           Ryan Moore             5-1

3rd CRACKSMAN                     Frankie Dettori        7-2 Fav

Distances: 3/4 length and a neck.


Also ran: 4th Eminent (Jim Crowley) 5-1; Benbatl (Oisin Murphy) 20-1; Capri (Seamie Heffeman) 16-1; Douglas Macarthur (Colm O’Donoghue) 25-1: Best Solution (Pat Cosgrave) 12-1; Glencadam Glory (James Doyle) 33-1; Permian (William Buick) 8-1; Dubai Thunder (Adam Kirby) 9-1; Venice Beach (Donnacha O’Brien) 12-1; Salouen (F.M. Berry) 33-1; Khalidi (Pat Smullen) 20-1; Crowned Eagle (Andrea Atzeni) 33-1; Rekindling (Wayne Lordan) 25-1); The Anvil (Ana O’Brien) 66-1; Pealer (Silvestre de Sousa) 100-1 (tailed off, last).



 Commentary: A very open Derby this year, but late money for Cracksman (Investec Derby Trial) took him from 6-1 to 7-2 favourite. Aidan O’Brien ran six, from which Cliffs of Moher (Dee Stakes) was the choice of Ryan Moore, while Wings Of Eagles (second to Venice Beach in the Chester Vase) was almost friendless at 40-1 (55-1 Tote). Eminent, by Frankel and sixth in the Guineas was supported to 5-1, while Godolphin ran three, of which Dubai Thunder was the subject of a late gambol. On a sunny day with good ground, 18 went to post. On settling down, Douglas Macarthur led from the widest draw on the outside of The Anvil, Best Solution, Permian and Venice Beach. At the highest point of the course the O’Brien pacesetters, Douglas Macarthur and The Anvil, led by eight lengths from Venice Beach and Best Solution. There was no change through Tattenham Corner and into the straight, until two furlongs out, where Cracksman came to challenge Douglas Macarthur. Into the final furlong, as the long time leader fell away, Cliffs of Moher stormed past on the outside to take up the running from Cracksman and Eminent, with Wings Of Eagles closing fast. Thirty yards from the post Wings Of Eagles swooped past Cliffs of Moher to win by three parts of a length, with Cracksman a neck away third. The manner in which Wings Of Eagles won, was reminiscent of his sire’s Derby victory in 2011. This year recorded the seventh Derby victory for owners Michael Tabor and Mrs John (Sue) Magnier and a record winner’s prize-money (penalty value) of £921,537.50.

18 ran. Time: 2 min. 33.02 sec.  


BRED by Mme Aliette Forien & Mr Giles Forien in France.

OWNED by Mr D. Smith, Mrs J. Magnier & Mr M. Tabor.

TRAINED by Aidan O’Brien at Ballydoyle, Co. Tippeerary.



The winner, WINGS OF EAGLES, won 2 races (from 7 starts): Irish Stallion Farms EBF Median Auction Maiden, Killarney, Investec Derby Stakes. Second in MBNA Chester Vase. Third in Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, beaten a neck and a short-head by CAPRI and CRACKSMAN, when fracturing a near-fore sesamoid bone. He retires to stud at his birthplace – Haras de Montaigu where he stands at E12,000 for 2018.


The sire, POUR MOI b.c. 2008 by MONTJEU ex GWYNN, won 3 races (from 5 starts): Prix des Feuillants, Longchamp, Prix Greffulhe, Saint-Cloud, Investec Derby Stakes. Sire of ONLY MINE b.f. 2013 ex TRULY MINE by ROCK OF GIBRALTAR, won Irish Stallion Farms “Bosra Sham” EBF Fillies’ Stakes, Newmarket, Bar One Racing Lacken Stakes, Naas. Second in Weatherbys Ireland Greenland Stakes; SACRED ELIXIR b.g. 2013 ex BALTIKA by STRAVINSKY, won BMW J.J. Atkins (Gp 1 2-y-o Turf), Eagle Farm. Ladbrokes Caulfield Guineas Prelude (Gp3), Caulfield, LUCRF Super Vase (Gp2), Moonee Valley, second in AAMI Victoria Derby (Gp 1), Flemington.


The dam, YSOLDINA gr.f. 2002 by KENDOR ex ROTINA, won 1 race: Prix Sauge Pourpee, Maisons-Laffitte.Third in Gainsborough Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, Longchamp. She has bred 2 winners from 6 live foals incl. SWEET ELECTRA gr.f. 2013 by SEA THE STARS, won Prix de la Maniguette, Chantilly.


The Derby Stakes 1780-2016 – Weekender review

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The Weekender’s review of The Derby Stakes 1780-2016

This is a Limited Edition of 650 copies, numbered & signed

Available while stock lasts from RACEFORM on 01933 304 858

The Derby Stakes 1780-2016 – Daily Telegraph

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A signed Limited Edition of 650

luxury binding, all edges gilded, 256 pages

Published by RACEFORM & fully illustrated


Order while stock lasts on

01933 304 858

Michael at the 1953 Coronation Derby

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The 1953 Coronation Derby

An extract from “The Queen In 3D”

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.


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!