A Fortune Lost and Found

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!


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