Our Rich History

Here we celebrate Flat racing’s rich history, dating back to the 17th century. Over 400 years in the making, hundreds of thousands of equine and human participants have contributed to the sport we see on racecourses across the globe today.

Over the course of 2021, and prior to QIPCO British Champions Day, this section will be updated with a series of features and stories looking back through British Flat racing’s rich history, starting in the 1600s. Crafted by the likes of Racing Journalist, Mary Pitt and Racing Historian, Chris Pitt, here you will learn about some of the most seminal moments and influential figures from the 17th century onwards.

A Step Back In Time…

Choose your century
9th August 2021

Horseracing in Britain can be traced back to Roman times. When Julius Caesar invaded in 55 BC, he brought charioteers who had honed their skills in competition. However, the 17th century was when the sport developed on a more organised basis, thanks largely to the Stuart dynasty, in particular the enthusiasm and support of King Charles II, the Merry Monarch.


Long before Charles became king, James VI, the last king of Scotland, ascended to the English throne as James I in 1603, succeeding his mother’s first cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. His greatest contribution to the sport of horse racing – although it happened almost by accident – was to establish Newmarket as its headquarters.

Devoted to all forms of field sports, he first visited the area in 1605, two years after inheriting the throne, to hunt with his hounds and falcons, sometimes staying for weeks at a time. He developed a liking for the grassy plains of Newmarket Heath, lodging at a small inn called The Griffin in Newmarket itself. Eventually, finding The Griffin’s facilities a touch too primitive for his tastes, he built a palace on its site.


By then, horseracing was a growing sport around the country. Several courses that we know today were already staging meetings. Chester’s Roodee, overlooked by its Roman city wall, has legitimate claims to be the oldest. For many years it had held race meetings on Shrove Tuesday but in 1609 they were moved to St George’s Day, April 23, when the main event was for a prize of three bells, or cups … “being for the Kynge’s crowne and dignyte, and the homage of the Kynge and Prynce with that noble victor, St George, to be continued for ever”.

Bells were a common form of prize in those days. Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, donated a golden bell worth £50 (equivalent to £12,770 today) for a three-mile race at Salisbury. Of those that survive today, the Lanark Silver Bell (run now at Hamilton since Lanark’s closure in 1977) is said to have been instituted by King William the Lion of Scotland. The Carlisle Bell bears the inscription ‘The Sweftes Horse Thes Bel To Tak For Mi Lade Daker Sake’. It is mentioned in the city records in 1619 when Carlisle’s race meetings were revived.


Elsewhere, a map of Doncaster shows a racecourse at ‘Wheatley Moor’ upon which a grandstand had been erected by the dawn of the 17th century. By 1614 it had appointed a groundsman, who was paid one shilling and sixpence for “making the waye at the horse race”. However, his employment did not last long, for the following year the Corporation banned racing there “for the preventinge of sutes, quarrels, murders and bloodsheds”. It eventually resumed, albeit intermittently and was of only minor importance for the remainder of the century.

References to race meetings at Leicester appear in the Chamberlain’s Accounts throughout the 17th century, the earliest including a bill for “5s 8d (about 28 pence) to pay for one gallon of sack (wine) and one pound of sugar to the gentlemen at the horse-running”. Another records nine shillings and fourpence (about 47 pence) being disbursed “for a gallon of sack and two gallons of claret given to Sir Thomas Griffin, Sir Wm Faunt and other gentlemen, at the Angel, at the horse running”.


During King James’s many visits to the races at Newmarket and elsewhere, he was often accompanied by his son Charles, Prince of Wales. When Charles inherited the throne on the death of his father in 1625, he too travelled far and wide to enjoy racing.

Charles I was a much better horseman than his father but arguably not quite as obsessed with horseracing, being far keener on hunting, but he regularly attended Newmarket’s Spring and Autumn meetings and maintained the royal studs. In 1634 he presented Newmarket with its first Gold Cup.

Following Charles I’s demise at the hands of Cromwell’s New Model Army in 1649, the republican government put a stop to horse racing, not least due to the sport’s Royalist image. The previous year, during the English Civil War, a group of Royalists met on Epsom Downs “under the pretence of a horse race … intending to cause a diversion on the King’s behalf”. Thus, racecourses were seen as potential venues for organising plots against the Great Rebellion.


Even the Lord Protector himself, Oliver Cromwell, did not completely kill off the sport. Although his parliamentary soldiers destroyed the royal studs at Eltham and Tutbury, the Council of State acquired the Tutbury horses, declaring that they were the best in England and should not be dispensed. The hypocrisy was that Cromwell himself appreciated good horses, enough to import them from Italy and the Middle East.

Probably the most influential broodmare of that time was Old Bald Peg, foaled around 1655. Little is known of her origins except that she was by an Arabian stallion. She bred the Old Morocco mare, dam of Spanker, said to have been the best horse in Newmarket during the reign of Charles II. Spanker, in turn, sired (fathered) the great-granddam (great-grandmother) of Flying Childers, widely regarded as the first great racehorse. Later descendants of Old Bald Peg include the first Derby winner Diomed plus 20th century Derby winner and six-time champion sire Hyperion.


With the restoration of the monarchy under King Charles II in 1660, new racecourses soon appeared. Banstead Downs, near Epsom, was the first, established in 1661 (or re-established, as records suggest there may have been racing there prior to the Civil War). Diarist Samuel Pepys came to drink Epsom’s mineral spring waters in 1663 and commented “there was a great thronging to Banstead Downs, upon a great horse-race and foot-race. I am sorry I could not go thither”.

Ripon was another new venue. Races were first held on Bondgate Green in 1664, subsequently relocating to Monckton Moor.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh’s racecourse was moved from Leith to Musselburgh Links, where they raced on the sands. It was not a popular move. The ‘Sporting Magazine’ reported: “the sands at Leith where the races are held at present are in every respect so severe and ruinous to the horses and so uncomfortable for the Company that they are now almost entirely neglected even by the Scots gentry themselves.” Furthermore, as far as the country’s leading publication ‘The Scotsman’ was concerned, the course was “a reproach to the metropolis of Scotland”.


King Charles II 17th Century Notable Hero in the QIPCO British Champions Series Hall of Fame

Although horse racing had taken place on Newmarket Heath before the restoration, it wasn’t until afterwards that it truly came into its own. And credit for that – and horse racing in general – is due largely to King Charles II.

In 1665 (some accounts say 1664) Charles drew up conditions for a “Twelve-Stone Plate” to be run over the “New Round Course” at Newmarket on the second Thursday in October “for ever”. The Town Plate, as it was called, still takes place today, now a race for amateur riders, starting on the ‘round course’ adjacent to the National Stud and finishing up the straight of the July Course.

Nor was the Merry Monarch content with being merely a spectator. In addition to laying down the first rudimentary form of rules, occasionally acting as judge and adjudicating on disputes, he even rode in races. He also inaugurated King’s Plates, worth 100 guineas, to test and improve the resilience of the racehorse. Run over four miles with all horses carrying twelve stone, they became the most prestigious contests in the racing calendar.

Such was his enthusiasm, he was nicknamed ‘Old Rowley’ after his favourite hack, a name which has been maintained to this day with Newmarket’s Rowley Mile course.

King Charles II 17th Century Notable Hero in the QIPCO British Champions Series Hall of Fame


Tregonwell Frampton 17th Century Notable Hero

The brief, three-year tenure of Charles II’s younger brother King James II left no mark on the Turf one way or the other. However, during his reign professional jockeys were allowed to compete in races for the first time, having previously only been permitted to ride in training gallops. Prior to this, the horses had been ridden either by their owners or by the owners’ servants.

James II’s daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William III came to the throne in 1689. The pressures of defeating James II’s Jacobite troops in an attempt to recover his kingdoms at the Battle of the Boyne prevented William from devoting much time to racing during the early years of his reign, but one of his first acts – and arguably his greatest contribution to racing – was to appoint Tregonwell Frampton to the position of Keeper of the Running Horses at Newmarket, a role for which he was paid £1,000 a year.

William owned several racehorses and often bet heavily on them. On one occasion, in a £500 match, his best horse, Stiff Dick – a name unlikely to be deemed acceptable nowadays – defeated the Marquess of Wharton’s horse Careless.

Tregonwell Frampton 17th Century Notable Hero


Throughout the 17th century, Galloways had been the main breed of British racehorse. The Galloway was a light but tough breed emanating from that region of south-west Scotland, usually standing between 14 and 15 hands. But the arrival of three stallions from the Middle East – the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian – was to change all that and create the breed from which all of the world’s racehorses can be traced: The Thoroughbred.

The first to arrive was the Byerley Turk in the 1690s. Reputedly seized by Captain Byerley as a spoil of war from the Turkish army, his owner rode him in the Battle of the Boyne before standing him as a stallion at his stud in Yorkshire. Though his lineage is no longer as dominant as the two who would follow him in the early years of the 18th century, his ancestry has endured and still survives today.

The arrival of the 18th century coincided with the arrival of the Darley Arabian, whose male ancestry line is today the most prominent of the trio of foundation stallions from which all thoroughbreds are descended.

Another major development occurred on 11th August 1711 when racing began at Ascot with the running of a 100-guinea race called Her Majesty’s Plate. It may have been Queen Anne herself or her Master of the Horse, the Duke of Somerset, who identified an area of land at Ascot Common as an ideal location for a racecourse. In so doing, they laid the foundations for one of the world’s most famous horseracing venues. Queen Anne is remembered by the traditional opening race of Royal Ascot, the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes.

That same year, ‘Give and Take’ races were introduced, the first one at Coleshill Heath, in Warwickshire. Weights and allowances were determined on a sliding scale of weight-forinches according to the height of the horse, requiring the bigger horse to carry more weight than a smaller one. Typically, the weight range was 7lb to an inch, meaning a 14-hand horse (a hand = 4 inches) would be allotted 9st (126lb) with a 15.2-hand horse having to carry 12st (168lb).


Bred by Leonard Childers at Carr House, near Doncaster, and sold to the Duke of Devonshire, Flying Childers is often referred to as being the first great racehorse. However, that status is based on limited evidence, for he ran only twice, both in matches at Newmarket. In April 1721 he beat the Duke of Bolton’s Speedwell over four miles for a prize of 500 guineas. In October 1722 he beat the Earl of Drogheda’s Chanter over six miles for 1,000 guineas.

Nothing is known about the form of Speedwell or Chanter, so they cannot be used to gauge Flying Childers’ ability. His reputation stems from a four-mile trial in May 1722 – the only one ever to feature in the General Stud Book – against a horse called Fox, a winner of three King’s Plates, the Ladies Plate at York and several matches. Flying Childers gave Fox a stone (14lb) in weight and beat him by a distance estimated at 360 yards over the ‘Long Course’ at Newmarket.

He retired to stud at the Duke of Devonshire’s Chatsworth home but, unlike his year younger full-brother Bartlet’s Childers, did not found an enduring male line.


The first recorded race for four-year-olds took place at Hambleton, Yorkshire, in 1727. That same year saw the first publication of John Cheney’s ‘An Historical List of all Horse Matches and of all Plates and Prizes run for in England and Wales (of the value of £10 and upwards)’.

The Godolphin Arabian, the third of the trio of the thoroughbred’s foundation stallions, arrived in England around 1730. His most notable sons included the brothers Lath and Cade, both out of the mare Roxana. Lath was the better racehorse but Cade proved the better stallion and was the sire of Matchem, one of the greatest stallions of the 18th century.

Foaled in 1748, Matchem was bred by John Holme in Carlisle and sold to William Fenwick of Bywell, Northumberland. He was a decent though not outstanding racehorse, winning eight races between 1753 and 1758, including the Ladies Plate at York and two races at Newmarket. But he surpassed those achievements after being retired from racing and sent to Fenwick’s Bywell stud. He was leading sire three years running from 1772 to 1774. He lived to the great age of 33 and it is through Matchem that the Godolphin Arabian’s line survives today.


A racing milestone occurred in 1752 with the foundation of the Jockey Club. Its influence was initially confined to Newmarket but it gradually became the adjudicator and governance of racing throughout the country. By the end of the century the Jockey Club had attained such authority that it felt powerful enough to tell the Prince of Wales to dismiss his jockey.

Regarding its title, several owners in that period still rode their horses in matches and the word ‘jockey’ denoted an owner as much as a rider. The word ‘club’ also had a wider sense and applied to any particular group of friends that met at regular intervals to discuss matters of common interest.

George II’s third son, William, Duke of Cumberland, was an early member of the Jockey Club. His greatest contribution to racing, though, would be as the breeder of both Herod and Eclipse. Herod, foaled in 1758, was among the best racehorses of his time. At stud his most important son was the unbeaten Highflyer (1774-1794), bred by Sir Charles Bunbury. Highflyer sired three Derby winners and helped perpetuate the Byerley Turk line. Bunbury was also the Jockey Club’s most eminent figure and its first ‘public face’.


Racing colours were first registered at Newmarket in 1762. The next famous horse to carry them was Gimcrack. Foaled in 1760, he was no bigger than a pony, measuring just over 14 hands. His size proved a big advantage in ‘Give and Take’ races, in which weights were allotted according to a horse’s size, winning five such contests. He made his debut at Epsom on 31st May 1764, when beating five opponents for a £50 prize. Between then and 1771 he won 26 of his 36 starts. Gimcrack had six different owners during his racing career including Sir Charles Bunbury.

Gimcrack was retired to stud at Oxcroft Farm, near Newmarket, in 1772 at a fee of 25 guineas. He did not cover many mares, his lack of popularity probably being explained by his diminutive size. He is commemorated today by the Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes at York, founded in 1846. Ironically, Gimcrack only ran twice at York and was beaten both times.

George Stubbs (1724-1806), widely acclaimed as Britain’s greatest equine artist, painted Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath. The painting hangs in the Jockey Club rooms at Newmarket. Stubbs also famously painted Eclipse, born in 1764, the second truly great racehorse in the history of the Turf.


In 1773, James Weatherby, whose official title was Keeper of the Match Book at Newmarket, published the first volume of the Racing Calendar. This was duly followed by the first Stud Book, containing pedigrees of all horses that had run in races for the previous 50 years.

Three-year-old races had become ever more popular by the 1770s. In 1776 a group of sporting gentlemen, including the Marquis of Rockingham and Colonel Anthony St Leger of Park Hill, drew up conditions for a race for three-year-olds, over two miles, to be run at Doncaster’s racecourse at Cantley Common. It was won by an unnamed filly of Lord Rockingham’s, later called Alabaculia. It was not until the race’s third running in 1778 – the first year it was run on Doncaster’s new Town Moor course – that it was named, at Rockingham’s suggestion, after the popular Colonel St Leger.

Doncaster’s Group 2 Park Hill Stakes, named after Colonel St Leger’s estate, is popularly known as the fillies’ St Leger. Meanwhile, Richard Tattersall had founded an auction company and was holding regular horse sales at London’s Hyde Park Corner. Today, Tattersalls, now based at Newmarket, is Europe’s leading bloodstock auctioneer, selling 10,000 horses a year.


Painting of Diomed in Jockey Club Rooms

The 12th Earl of Derby, a keen racing man, had bought a converted inn near to Epsom’s racecourse called The Oaks from his uncle General Burgoyne. During a party at The Oaks in 1778, Lord Derby and his friends planned a three-year-old race, for fillies only, to be run the following summer and to be called the Oaks after Lord Derby’s estate. Appropriately, Derby won the inaugural running himself with a filly named Bridget.

At a subsequent gathering at The Oaks, spurred on by the success their race, a second threeyear- old contest was agreed for the following year, this one for colts and fillies, over a mile (the race’s distance was increased to a mile and a half in 1784). Sir Charles Bunbury was among those present. According to legend – probably apocryphal – a coin was tossed to decide whether the race should be named in honour of Bunbury or Derby. Sir Charles supposedly lost the toss but won the first running of the Derby in 1780 with his horse Diomed, the 6-4 favourite, ridden by Sam Arnull. The race was deemed of no great importance and there is no record of how far Diomed beat the runner-up, 4-1 second favourite Budrow.

Painting of Diomed in Jockey Club Rooms


Two-year-old races began in the south of England in the 1770s and were well established by the mid-1780s. The July Stakes, run today at Newmarket’s July Meeting, is the oldest such race still in existence, dating from 1786.

The race’s original conditions stipulated that horses sired by Eclipse or Highflyer must carry 5lb extra. Some of its early winners bore unappealing names such as Ostrich, Duckling, Joke and even Loo. Nowadays it tends to be dominated by precocious types but its list of winners reveals some famous names including Derby winners The Flying Dutchman and Donovan and the great quadruple classic-winning filly Sceptre.

The first important handicap race, the Oatlands Handicap, took place in June 1791 at Ascot. The weights were allocated according to horses’ form to give them a theoretical equal chance. The weights ranged from 5st 11lb to 9st 10lb (73lb to 136lb). A field of 19 – enormous for the time – went to post in front of a crowd of 40,000. The Prince of Wales, son of King George III, was determined to win it and entered four horses, one of whom, Baronet, carrying 8st 4lb and ridden by the leading jockey Sam Chifney, duly obliged at 20-1.


That was also the year of the notorious ‘Escape affair’. On Thursday, 20 October 1791 the Prince of Wales ran his six-year-old Escape, ridden by Sam Chifney, in a four-horse race over two miles at Newmarket. Escape started at 2-1 on and finished last. He was brought out again the next day for a race over four miles on Newmarket’s Beacon Course, again ridden by Chifney. Due to his poor showing the day before, his starting price was 5-1. This time he won easily, beating two of the horses from the previous day’s race. He was backed by the Prince and also by Chifney (jockeys were permitted to bet in those days).

The Stewards of the Jockey Club, who included Sir Charles Bunbury, interviewed Chifney, who told them that, in his opinion, the horse had not been fully fit for his first race and needed the run. The Stewards took a different view and duly informed the Prince that if Chifney rode his horses again at Newmarket, “no gentleman would start against him.”

The upshot was that the Prince stood by Chifney, severed his connection with Newmarket and vowed never to set foot there again.


Chifney was one of several jockeys to make their mark during the last two decades of the 18th century. Among them was Sam Arnull (1760-1800) who won the first running of the Derby on Sir Charles Bunbury’s Diomed. He also rode for Lord Derby, for whom he won the 1787 Derby on Sir Peter Teazle and the 1794 Oaks on Hermoine. He also won the Derby for two other owners, in 1782 on Assassin and in 1798 on Sir Harry.

Another famous jockey was John Singleton (1776-1802) who, though born in France, hailed from a Yorkshire racing family. He was only 17 when winning the 1791 Oaks on the Duke of Bedford’s Portia. He won the Oaks again two years later on another of the Duke’s fillies. Caelia, and also won the 1797 Derby for him on the unnamed colt by Fidget. But arguably the best of them all, Chifney included, was Frank Buckle (1766-1832), whose total of 27 classic winners – the first of them in 1792 – has been surpassed only by Lester Piggott. Moreover, in an age noted for corruption, Frank Buckle’s unquestioned honesty brought respectability to race-riding.

The 19th century dawned with King George III in his 41st year as reigning monarch, and his son, the Prince of Wales, having effectively severed connections with Newmarket following the notorious ‘Escape affair’ of 1791. It heralded a period that would see the number of British racecourses double during the first half of the century, while the number of horses in training would treble.

Racing began at Goodwood in 1801 on a course laid out by the 3rd Duke of Richmond. It was initially a low-key, single-day affair comprising races for hunters, a far cry from today’s five day ‘Glorious’ extravaganza on the Sussex Downs. The Ascot Gold Cup was first run in 1807 and won by a three-year-old named Master Jockey, beating three opponents. The race was worth 100 guineas and took place in the presence of King George III, Queen Charlotte and their children. Master Jockey was trained by Richard Prince who, four years later, would be in the headlines for a very different reason, being the innocent victim of a notorious case of horse doping.

In 1811, four of Prince’s horses died after drinking from a horse trough on Newmarket Heath that had been poisoned with arsenic. A local tout named Daniel Dawson was accused of poisoning the trough after a medical dispenser at Guy’s Hospital named Cecil Bishop had turned king’s evidence and implicated him. Dawson was tried at Cambridge Assizes and found guilty. He was hanged on 8th August 1812. Meanwhile, the bookmakers who were widely believed to have been behind the doping escaped without censure.


The trend of running younger horses over shorter distances continued. The inaugural running of the 2,000 Guineas had taken had taken place in 1809 and the first 1,000 Guineas followed in 1814.

Nonetheless, there was still an ample supply of reliable veterans who turned up year after year, none more so than Dr Syntax, who, in 1821 won the Preston Gold Cup for a record seventh consecutive year. Born in 1810 and standing less than 15 hands, Dr Syntax was the most popular horse trained in the North. In addition to his seven Preston Gold Cups, he won 29 other races including the Richmond Gold Cup and the Lancaster Gold Cup five times each. He retired to stud at the age of 12 and sired (fathered) Ralph, winner of the 1841 2,000 Guineas, the 1842 Cambridgeshire and the 1843 Ascot Gold Cup.

In 1825 King George IV instituted the Royal Procession at Ascot. On the Tuesday of the meeting, the King arrived in a dark green coach pulled by four horses, giving birth to a tradition that has been maintained to this day.

The greatest trainer of the first quarter of the 19th century was Robert Robson, who trained 33 Classic winners, including seven of the Derby. Between 1819 and 1827 he won the 1,000 Guineas eight times and the 2,000 Guineas five times for his main owner, the Duke of Grafton.


The first dead-heat in the history of the Derby occurred in 1828. There was a re-run between the two dead-heaters, with Cadland prevailing by a neck from The Colonel, giving jockey Jem Robinson his fifth Derby winner. He won his sixth and last Derby on Bay Middleton in 1836, a record which stood until Lester Piggott equalled (and later surpassed) it in 1972. Bay Middleton had not been entered for the St Leger. In his absence, Elis, owned by Lord George Bentinck, was installed ante-post favourite. Bentinck considered Elis’s odds far too short, so he hatched a plan to obtain a bigger price.

In those days, the only option was to walk horses to the course at which they were to race. A week before the St Leger, Elis was still in his box at Goodwood. The bookmakers knew that he wouldn’t have time to walk to Doncaster, so they pushed out his price. What they didn’t know was that Bentinck had built the world’s first horsebox to convey Elis to Doncaster. Elis was loaded onto the vehicle and covered the 250-mile journey in just three days, the wagon being drawn by a relay of horses. He won the St Leger with ease and Bentick landed his bets.


Nat Flatman and Orlando

The 1844 Derby produced a scandal which, due to the determination of Lord George Bentinck, was eventually exposed. The name of the first horse past the post was Running Rein. In fact, it was a four-year-old called Maccabaeus.

The real Running Rein was sold as a foal to a disreputable gambler named Abraham Goodman. Maccabaeus had been bought by Goodman as a yearling. The changeover took place in 1842. The following year the new Running Rein was sold to the unsuspecting Alexander Wood, an Epsom corn merchant. When Running Rein (really Maccabaeus) made a winning debut in a two-year-old race at Newmarket, he looked what he was, a well-grown three-year-old. Throughout the winter Goodman backed him for the Derby while a suspicious Bentinck amassed evidence as to the horse’s real identity.

Bentinck warned the Epsom stewards that he believed Running Rein to be a four-year-old. However, they decided to allow him to start and to hold an inquiry if he won, which he did by three-quarters of a length from Colonel Jonathan Peel’s colt Orlando.

Various legal actions followed, the upshot being that Running Rein was found to be four and disqualified, the race being awarded to Orlando. Goodman had fled the country, leaving Wood to carry the can. Summing up, the Judge remarked that “if gentlemen condescended to race with blackguards, they must condescend to expect to be cheated”. Orlando provided multiple champion jockey Nat Flatman with his sole Derby victory.

Nat Flatman and Orlando


The 1850 Derby was won by Voltigeur, scoring by a ‘comfortable length’. He should have won the St Leger just as easily but dead-heated after being badly hampered. He duly won the runoff. Two days later, ridden by Nat Flatman, Voltigeur reappeared and beat the previous year’s Derby and St Leger winner The Flying Dutchman in the Doncaster Cup. The Flying Dutchman carried 8st 12lb and was conceding 19lb to Voltigeur. They met again the following May in a match race over two miles at York with The Flying Dutchman giving 8½lb to Voltigeur, their respective weights having been determined by Admiral Henry Rous, Steward of the Jockey Club. This time The Flying Dutchman got his revenge, winning by a ‘short length’. Ironically, although The Flying Dutchman won that match, it is Voltigeur whose name is commemorated at York each August by the Group 2 race at the Ebor meeting.

In 1855, Admiral Rous was given the post of horseracing’s official handicapper. His prestige grew throughout the 1850s, emerging in the 1860s as the third great ‘Dictator of the Turf’.


Malton-based John Scott was the dominant northern trainer during the mid-19th century. He trained for 46 seasons and saddled a total of 40 Classic winners between 1827 and 1863 (14 of them ridden by his brother William), a record that stood alone for more than 150 years until equalled by Aidan O’Brien in 2021.

Scott won the Derby five times, the Oaks eight times and a remarkable 16 St Legers. He trained the first Triple Crown winner, West Australian, in 1853, ridden by Frank Butler, who had succeeded William Scott as stable jockey. Butler had also won the previous year’s Derby for Scott on Daniel O’Rourke. However, by that time he was struggling to keep his weight down and was forced to retire at the end of 1853, having ridden a total of 14 Classic winners.

Scott’s main rival at Malton was William I’Anson. He bred, owned and trained Blink Bonny, the second of just five fillies to have won both the Derby and the Oaks at Epsom. She was a 20-1 shot when winning the 1857 Derby, adding the Oaks two days later. At stud she produced three foals, the second of which, Blair Athol, won the Derby and St Leger for I’Anson.


Numerically, the stars of the mid-19th century were the fillies Alice Hawthorn, who won 52 of her 79 starts including the Chester, Goodwood and Doncaster Cups; and Catherina, winner of 79 of her 176 races. Catherina’s record is all the more impressive in that many of those contests were run in heats. She actually faced the starter 208 times and came home first on 136 occasions.

Another top-class filly was Virago. During her three-year-old season, she won the Great Metropolitan and City and Suburban handicaps on the same afternoon, then won the 1,000 Guineas, two races at York, the Nassau Stakes, Goodwood Cup, Warwick Cup and Doncaster Cup. Of the colts, Fisherman won 70 of his 121 starts including two Ascot Gold Cups, while Rataplan ran 71 times and scored 42 victories, 19 of them in one season.

As of 1858, the date from which all British racehorses changed their age was moved from 1st May to 1st January. This had been the case for horses trained at Newmarket since 1834 but, at long last, the rest of the country followed suit.


George Fordham

In 1864, the politician Count Frédéric de Lagrange became the first French owner to win an English classic when his filly Fille de l’Air won the Oaks. He also owned Gladiateur, who became the second Triple Crown winner in 1865. Both horses were trained by Tom Jennings at Newmarket.

Known as the ‘Avenger of Waterloo’, Gladiateur was the first French-bred horse to win the Derby. Following his Newmarket and Epsom triumphs, Gladiateur annexed the Grand Prix de Paris and two races at Goodwood before winning the St Leger. He remains the only horse to have won the British Triple Crown and the Grand Prix de Paris.

The outstanding filly of the 1860s was Formosa, who won four Classics. Having dead-heated for the 1868 2,000 Guineas, she then won the 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and St Leger. In the first three of those she was ridden by George Fordham. Among the most famous jockeys of the 19th century, Fordham was by then on the way to winning the 12th of his 14 champion jockey titles.

George Fordham


During the 1870s, the number of racecourses declined but the decade saw the opening of the new ‘park’ courses at Sandown (in 1875) and Kempton (1878). These were the first ‘enclosed’ courses whereby the public had to pay to get in. This generated significant revenue from the turnstiles, enabling the racecourse owners to offer enhanced prize money, improved facilities and a higher quality of racing. Sandown also invented the ‘club’ system, with a members’ enclosure, creating an environment suitable for female racegoers. The policy proved so successful that, just 11 years after its opening, Sandown was able to introduce the Eclipse Stakes, Britain’s first £10,000 race, its inaugural running being won by Bendigo, the mount of Tom Cannon.

The standard of these new courses proved so high that most of the bad and disreputable ones were soon forced out of business. Another reason for their demise was a rule that came into effect in 1877 stating that each course must add a minimum of £300 to each day’s prize money. The following year the Jockey Club went a step further by decreeing that no race should be worth less than £100 to the winner. In 1875 the Jockey Club issued a new set of rules for jockeys. They were no longer allowed to own racehorses or to bet. Other innovations introduced by the Jockey Club included, in 1877, rules for determining the draw for starting positions. In 1879 it became compulsory for all jockeys to be licensed.


Fred Archer

John Osborne was the most popular and successful northern-based jockey during the second half of the 19th century. He rode for 46 years, winning 12 Classics – he was 55 when landing his last Classic victory. Nicknamed ‘The Bank of England Jockey’ in tribute to his honesty, he later trained and continued to ride work on Middleham Moor until within a year of his death, aged 89.

But by far the most famous jockey of the Victorian era was Fred Archer. Champion 13 years in succession from 1874 to 1886, he rode 2,748 winners and partnered the two greatest horses of the 19th century, St Simon and Ormonde. He won 21 Classics including the Derby five times, the third of which, Iroquois in 1881, was the first American-bred horse to win it.

Although he never ran in a Classic, St Simon was arguably the greatest horse Archer rode. He was never beaten or even extended in nine races. However, Ormonde also holds a legitimate claim for the title of the 19th century’s greatest racehorse. Archer rode both of them and marginally preferred St Simon, but there were many who thought otherwise. Ormonde’s trainer, John Porter, had reason to be biased but commented: “I do not think we ever saw his equal as a racehorse.”

Fred Archer


La Fleche

In 1894 the Earl of Rosebery owned the 2,000 Guineas and Derby winner Ladas, trained by Mat Dawson, thus becoming the first – and so far, only – British Prime Minister to win a Derby while in office. He won it again the following year with Sir Visto. There was a royal Derby winner in 1896, Persimmon, bred and owned by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).

The 1890s was a vintage era for Triple Crown winners. Common (1891), Isinglass (1893), Galtee More (1897), and Flying Fox (1899) all won the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger, while La Fleche (1892) captured the fillies’ version of the 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and St Leger.

Three of those – Common, La Fleche and Flying Fox – were trained by John Porter, the greatest trainer of the last quarter of the century. His other top-class horses included Isonomy, sire of both Isinglass and Common. Isonomy did not run in any of the classics but was at his peak as a four-year-old, winning the Ascot Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup, Brighton Cup, Ebor Handicap and the Doncaster Cup. The following season he won the Manchester Cup and the Ascot Gold Cup for the second time.

La Fleche

Of all the 1890s Triple Crown winners, Isinglass was the finest. He confirmed his greatness as a four-year-old when outclassing his opponents in the Eclipse Stakes, beating that year’s Derby winner Ladas in a canter. He won the following year’s Ascot Gold Cup on his sole start at five, retiring the winner of 11 of his 12 starts, worth a total of £57,455, an amount that remained a British record until surpassed by Tulyar in 1952.

Isinglass was ridden to his Triple Crown, Eclipse and Gold Cup victories by Tommy Loates, while Flying Fox was the mount of Mornington Cannon. Loates rode 1,426 winners and was champion jockey three times, while Cannon won six jockeys’ titles during the 1890s along with seven Classics. Loates and Cannon both rode in the traditional British style with long stirrups and sat upright in the saddle. However, that would soon change, due primarily to the arrival in the closing years of the century of American jockey James Foreman ‘Tod’ Sloan, whose crouching ‘monkey up a stick’ style was initially derided by the racing community. But when Sloan rode 108 winners from 345 rides on 1899 – a 31% strike rate – they were forced to take notice.