Archive for 2019

The 1919 Victory Derby

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THE 1919 VICTORY DERBY

This year celebrates the one hundredth anniversary of the Victory Derby won by the appropriately named Grand Parade.

The Great War (1914-1918) now over, the Derby returned to Epsom and an enormous crowd gathered in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary; the Royal party receiving the biggest cheer of the day, when the King’s colt, Viceroy, won the Stewards Handicap.

Notably, this year, the course around Tattenham Corner was made more gradual, with the outer rail supported with a wire fence to prevent a reoccurrence of the previous suffragette incident.

Thirteen went to post for the Derby, with the 2,000 Guineas winner, The Panther, a heavily backed 6-5 favourite. The second and third in the Guineas, Lord Astor’s Buchan and Lord Glanely’s first string, Dominion, started at 7-1 and 100-9 respectively. Grand Parade, winner of the National Produce Stakes at The Curragh, had little support at 33-1.

Nevertheless, Lord Glanely’s Grand Parade  and Lord Astor’s Buchan,  fought out the finish, Fred Templeman driving Grand Parade to a half-length victory, with Paper Money third and Sir Douglas fourth.

The Panther, strangely upset, had charged the tapes on his arrival, refused to line up, then lost vital lengths at the start and half the country their money!

Grand Parade was only the second black horse to win the Derby, Smolensko being the first in 1813. Bred by the infamous American politician Richard ‘Boss’ Croker, Grand Parade was by the 1907 Derby winner Orby out of Grand Geraldine, an unraced filly who was reputed to have pulled a cart early in her career.

 

Grand Parade’s owner, The 1st Baron Glanely (1868-1942), a big man with a walrus moustache, was popularly known on the racecourse as ‘Old Guts and Gaiters’. Notably, he made the transition from shipping clerk to owning the company through hard work and a flair for business. Fervently patriotic, his colours were ‘black jacket, red, white and blue belt (diagonal) and cap’. He owned six Classic winners, including Rose of England (1930 Oaks). Baron Glanely was killed in an air-raid in 1942.

 

 

The First Derby Photo-finish

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THE FIRST DERBY PHOTO-FINISH

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the first Derby decided by the new photo-finish camera. The print, which took many minutes to develop, was called for by the judge, Mr Malcolm Hancock, to decide a three-horse finish, fought out between Nimbus, winner of the 2,000 Guineas, ridden by Charlie Elliott, Amour Drake, forth in the Guineas and winner of the French equivalent, with Rae Johnstone up and Lord Derby’s Swallow Tail, winner of the Chester Vase, with Doug Smith aboard – bookmakers taking advantage of the delay by laying prices on all three.

These were days before racecourse commentaries and crackly Tannoys, and so, after what seemed an interminably long wait and with around 400,000 pairs of eyes trained on the number board, the numbers 13, Nimbus; 26 Amour Drake and 9, Swallow Tail, were hoisted aloft. The distances were a head and the same.

A post-mortem on the last 60 yards of the race occupied the press for days. However, without the use of Camera Patrol, no inquiry was held by the stewards and the result stood.

The first Derby photo-finish print, showing NIMBUS beating Amour Drake by a head, with Swallow Tail a head away third

Sadly, there was a sub-plot to this year’s Derby.

At the Second July Sales at Newmarket, trainer George Colling paid 5,000 guineas (£200,000 today), for the William Hill bred, handsome bay yearling, Nimbus, on behalf of Henry Glenister, who gave the colt to his wife Marion.

Interestingly, Glenister liked to declare his occupation as a farmer, which in fact he was, farming 700 acres at Sible Hedingham in Essex. What he rarely disclosed, was that he was employed as the Assistant Manager of the London Branch of the Midland Bank Executor and Trustee Company in the City of London.

Tragically, Henry Glenister committed suicide in his car in Sussex, on August 16, 1952. Later, the inquest revealed that Glenister had defaulted on a ‘considerable sum’ entrusted to his department, although the extent of the fraud was never made public.

A more poignant end had taken place the day after the Derby, when Suzy Volterra returned to her dying husband in Paris.  Leon, owner of Amour Drake, whose health had suffered during wartime internment by the Germans, had been too ill to listen to the broadcast, and so, before his death, his wife allowed him to think his colt had won the Derby.

 

 

SEA-BIRD – The highest rated Derby winner of the 20th century

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SEA-BIRD

THE HIGHEST RATED (145) DERBY WINNER

OF THE 20th CENTURY

 

A bright chestnut colt with a white blaze and two hind stockings, Sea-Bird stood 16 hands. By Dan Cupid out of Sicalade by Sicambre, he was bred by his owner, Jean Ternynck, a French textile manufacturer, and trained by Etienne Pollet at Chantilly. Ternynck had previously won the 1,000 Guineas with Cameree in 1950, while Etienne Pollet, with never more than 50 horses in his stable, had already notched up three Classic winners:  Thunderhead (2,000 Guineas 1952), Never Too Late (1,000 Guineas and Oaks 1960) and Hula Dancer (1,000 Guineas 1963).

Sea-Bird ran three times as a juvenile, winning the Prix de Blaison at Chantilly and the Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte, both by a short neck. He then suffered his only defeat, when second to his preferred stablemate, Grey Dawn, in the Grand Criterium at Longchamp.

The following year, Sea-Bird won the Prix Greffulhe by three lengths and the Prix Lupin by six. When Pollet announced that Epsom was the plan, an avalanche of money followed and Sea-Bird became the overwhelming favourite for the Derby, shortening to 7-4 on the day. The remote market opposition was led by the Paddy Prendergast trained, Meadow Court at 10-1, previously second in the Dante Stakes, now ridden by Lester Piggott, and part-owned by Bing Crosby. Others supported were Niksar, winner of the Two Thousand Guineas, and Gulf Pearl, successful in the Chester Vase. 

On Wednesday, 2 June, 1965, a bright and sunny Derby Day, 22 runners lined up on good ground.  Suddenly, as the tapes went up Sea-Bird, already in the second row, was caught sideways on. Jockey, Pat Glennon, however, stayed calm and although last after the first 50 yards, threaded his way through to the top of the hill, where Sunacelli led Bam Royal, Niksar and Meadow Court. Rounding Tattenham Corner, Sunacelli continued to lead from Niksar and Gulf Pearl, followed by Meadow Court and I Say. However, once in the straight and passing the three-pole, I Say came out of the pack to take a three-lengths lead. But not for long, as Sea-Bird cruised up from sixth to challenge and then go on before the distance, easing down to win by two lengths in a canter. In the closing stages, Meadow Court ran on well to take second, ahead of I Say and Niksar. Seldom had a Derby been won with such complete, almost contemptuous, authority. 

Of the beaten runners, Meadow Court went on to win the Irish Sweeps Derby and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, I Say, won the Coronation Cup and Silly Season, the St James’s Palace Stakes and Champion Stakes.

After winning the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, Sea-Bird’s finale came in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It was to be his finest performance, annihilating a top class field, to win by six lengths from Reliance (Prix du Jockey-Club and Grand Prix de Paris), with Diatome (future winner of the Washington D.C. International) a further five lengths away third. Further back in the 20-runner field, were the Russian champion Anilin, Tom Rolfe (Preakness Stakes), Blabla (Prix de Diane), and Meadow Court.

Assessed by Timeform as the highest rated Derby winner of the 20th century, Sea-Bird’s pedigree warrants examination. Interestingly, there is continued success from the sire-line’s first crops, for example: his sire, Dan Cupid, came from the first crop of Native Dancer; Sea-Bird came from the first crop of Dan Cupid and Gyr, from the first crop of Sea-Bird. Strangely, none of his first five dams won a race on the Flat.

Before the Arc, an American syndicate agreed to lease Sea-Bird at £95,000 a year for five years. So in 1966 he stood at John Galbreath’s Darby Dan Stud in Kentucky, where the contract was extended until late 1972, when Sea-Bird returned to France. Sadly, however, before his first European season started, he contracted colitis and died on 15 March, 1973.

His notable progeny included Gyr, winner of the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and second to Nijinsky in the Derby; the outstanding filly, Allez France, winner of the 1974 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Little Current, successful in the 1974 Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

Never has a Champion been so sorely missed.

 

The History of the Investec Derby Trial

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The History of the Investec Derby Trial

Cape Of Good Hope and Ryan Moore come in after winning the 2019 Investec Derby Trial, in the fastest time (2 m 6.28 sec), since the distance was extended in 1997.

 

Throughout the history of the race, however, Cracksman in 2017 (below), has proved to be the best winner of the trial since Blue Peter in 1939. Thereafter, finishing third in the Derby, second in the Irish Derby and winning a further six races including, the Prix Ganay, the Coronation Cup and Ascot’s Champion Stakes twice.

 

The Investec Derby Trial, started life in 1937, as the Blue Riband Trial Stakes and was first run at Epsom on Thursday, 22 April. The race superseded the Nonsuch Plate, named after Nonsuch Palace built for Henry VIII on the local village of Cuddington.

With the prizemoney doubled, the Blue Riband Trial Stakes, remained for three-year-olds, run over 1 mile and 110 yards. However, even with 8 runners it was far from competitive. Ali Pasha, a Tetratema colt, third in the Dewhurst Stakes and trained by Frank Butters at Newmarket, was the only horse for money and backed at all rates from 6-4 to 1-2.

In what amounted to a major upset, Printer, the 10-1 second favourite, ridden by Tommy Lowrey (of future Airborne fame), set off in front and stayed there. Ali Pasha did make a challenge but, meeting the rising ground was bumped and lost momentum.

Owned and bred by Mr J. P. Hornung, founder of the West Grinstead Stud and trained by Basil Jarvis at Newmarket, Printer had won the International Plate at Kempton, as a two-year-old. The appropriate gem regarding the Derby Trial, however, was that Printer was sired by Papyrus (1923 Derby) out of Appleby by Pommern (1915 Derby) – both Derby winners being ridden by Steve Donoghue. At the end of 1937, Printer was sold and sent to India.

Two years later, came the only winner of the Derby Trial, as yet, to win the Derby – Blue Peter.  Bred and owned by the 6th Earl of Rosebery, he took both the Two Thousand Guineas and Derby. Sadly, he was denied the Triple Crown when, due to the outbreak of War, the St Leger was cancelled. But once again, pedigree played its part. Sired by the St Leger winner and four-time Champion Sire, Fairway, he was out of Fancy Free, a mare who bred eight winners from nine foals.

Other good horses who have won the Derby Trial are Combat (1947 Sussex Stakes), Zucchero (1953 Coronation Cup), Premonition (1953 St Leger), Pitcairn (Champion Sire 1980), Roland Gardens (1978 2000 Guineas), Daliapour (2000 Coronation Cup), Debussy (2010 Arlington Million) and Cracksman (2017 Champion Stakes, Ascot, twice).

Finally, in 2012, the race was given a boost. Sponsored by Investec, it became the Investec Derby Trial, with currently £50,000 in prizemoney and a wildcard entry into the Investec Derby Stakes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyman’s Derby Day Holiday

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EVERYMAN’S DERBY DAY HOLIDAY

 

Towards the end of the 18th century, Derby Day had established itself as not only a major sporting event, but also “The Everyman’s Derby Day Holiday”, with or without their employers’ consent. The Times summed it up in 1793,  when cynically reporting:

   “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 published Derby Day warnings, 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, whereupon, 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.”

At the fall of the flag, all 17 runners got off to a good start, with The Pocket Hercules the first to show ahead of Caravan, Phosphorus, Wisdom, Benedict and Rat-trap. At the mile post Caravan and Phosphorus took over and at Tattenham Corner drew clear. The duel continued up the straight, where Phosphorus went ahead two strides from the post to win by a head, leaving Lord Egremont a poorer, but wiser man.

1837 Phosphorus
40-1 Derby winner 

 In 1838, a year after Phosphorus’s victory, the newly opened London and Southampton Railway ran its first ‘Derby Special’, from its London terminus at Nine Elms Station to Kingston, leaving the passengers to walk the remaining seven miles to Epsom!

Although the service had been well advertised no-one could have envisaged the thousands of people who waited to board the trains. The station master, guard and porters diligently packed the trains to suffocation, but when their last train left before mid-day and they closed the gates, the remaining crowd, some said as many as 5,000, took their revenge by breaking down the gates and smashing the windows, until a troop of mounted police arrived to restore some order.

The following year, the railway, courageously advertised its ‘Derby Specials’, to depart every 20 minutes. Once again thousands arrived, but those who did reach Kingston were met by cabmen who had doubled their fares to get to the racecourse.

The Derby Day rail chaos continued until, after the merger of the Croydon and Epsom Railway with the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, a terminal was opened at London Bridge in 1847, followed by a loop line from Waterloo to Epsom.

Even then, stories abounded of passengers bundled into the rear carriages and then stranded, when due to the heavy load, the train pulled away with the front portion only.

But despite the chaos and disappointments, the Epsom attendance grew year on year, as did the excuses given to employers for their absence. Grandmother’s funeral being a favourite, until some ran out of grandmothers! Nevertheless, the popularity of Derby Day became unstoppable, as the Londoner’s day out.

 

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,  “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 Gwynne 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 (see left), 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.

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.

12th Earl of Derby

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

 

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 the last mile of the Orbicular Course. 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 notably, 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.