Passionate Love of Sport.
and never lost an opportunity of getting away to Newmarkeb at race times, and in those days the Cambridgeshire town was the great and only centre of racing. With such zest and zeal did he follow his favourite pursuit that in less than four years he was regarded as one of,the leading sportsmen of the" day, His first famous borse was
Bellario, a son of Mr Croft's Brilliant. Men are apt to get crazes about horses, andHihat was the case with Sir Charles and 'Bellario; he believed thera was nothing equal to him, and even had the temerity to match* him against the marvellous Eclipse, whose name was such a terror to owners that at last scarcely one could be found to oppose him ; and, what is more, Sir Charles backed his opinion to a large amount, and though the offspring of Brilliant was beaten again and again by the mighty son of Marske,'he never gave up his opinion that his own was the better horse. It was in 1777 that the baronet purchased of the Hon. Richard Vernon a chestnut foal, a grandson of the Duke of Cumberland's celebrated horse Herod, with a direct descent on the dam's side from Flying Childers, and christened it Diomed. The foal was born in a lucky hour, just in time to be entered for a new race which the Earl of Derby had started for three-year-olds to be first run on May 4, 1780, just one year after his lordship' had instituted the Oaks Stakes for three-year-old fillies. Epsom, however, had had its racing many a score of years before the SmithStanley's name was connected with it. A passage in a play of Heywood's, called " The English Traveller," written in 1633, mentions the old Surrey town as a place where, on market days, the country gentlemen met " to match their horses " ; and Clarendon, in his " History of the Great Rebellion," tells us that in 1848 a meeting of the Royalists was held on Banstcad Downs, under pretence of a horserace, and that 600 horses were collected and sent to Reigate. When the Roundheads became masters we may be sure that such carnal sports were put down with a rigorous hand ; but as soon as the king got his own again, racing was revived and has never since experienced a check. As every one knows, Charles ll's favourite resort was Newmarket ; but the great length of the journey over bad roads suggested the idea that he might find a field for his favourite pastime nearer London, and no better place could be found than the Surrey Downs, which had been popular both in his father's and grandfather's days. It was this royal patronage that first deprived Newj market of its monoply as a racing centre ; Epsom became a place of fashionable resorfc, the court went thither to drink the waters and enjoy the pastime, and in a few years the town had become a second racing capital. For the next hundred years, however, it could boast no such races as those which were run over the famous heath or over Knavesmire, or even the Roodee, until Lord Derby — who had a hunting box on the downs, which he called The Oaks — in gratitude it is said, for the excsllent sport his neighbours had afforded him — instituted in 1779 " the ladies' race," and in the following year the stakes which bear his name. There were 36 subscribers for
The First Derli
y, out of \Vhich no fewer than 27 paid forfeit. Dioraed had already, at \he Second Newmarket Spring meeting of 1780, won a sweepstake of 500gs, carrying 8.0, when on thab memorable May morning Sam Arnull rode him to the starting place. The weight for colts was then 8.0, and for fillies 7.11, and the distance to be run one mile. A few years afterwards the standard was raised respectively to 8.7 and 8.2, the distance to a mile and a-half, and the stakes to £1125. There were no special correspondents in those days to bequeath to posterity a description of that red letter day in the racing calendar, and the only record we have of the result is the following brief notice that appeared in the London Evening Post of May 6, 1780: — " Thursday.— The Derby Stakes of SOgs each ; h. ft. colts and fillies. The last mile of the course. Sir C. 1 Bunbury's eh c, 1 ; Mr O'Kelly's be, 2; Mr Walker's f , 3 ; Sir Evelyn's br c, 4.'' The writer who penned that laconic report little thought that he was making history, and that centuries hence those few meagre lines Avould be quoted as marking the commencement of the greatest of all eras in racing reports. A picture of the first Derby would be a curiosity indeed, did one exist, and in no particular more than in the strange costume of the jockeys ; a black velvet 'cap with a long French peak, and a bow of black satin riband behind ; long hair falling to the shoulders, a white cambric handkerchief, in ample folds, tied at the back; a long body coat with flaps, wide skirts opening at the sides as well as before and behind ; knee-breeches strapped just below the knee ; white cotton stockings, Oxford shoes and silver buckles that was the dress worn by Sam Arnull and his competitors. Soon afterwards, however, a jockey feeling great inconvenience from a h-gh wind, tucked the long skirts of his coat inside his breeches, and the notion was thought so good that the tails were afterwards cut off altogether. The 'spectators w*rs comparatively few, for it was no little troublo to get from London to Epsom in those days. It took 12 or 14 hours to cover the wretched roads that lay between the two points; and a coachman had much to be thankful for if he arrived on the downs with his wheels and his horses' legs safe and sound. Once there, however, the grandees took their pleasure easy. Eacing began at ,11 o'clock, and after two or three heats had been run the company would stroll down into the town, dine very leisurely, and then return to see tlio finish of the day's sport. How different is ail this to the Derby of today, with it? —
Friends aft ludcli in f heir dusty drags, And jcay satin jockeys on sleek, swift nags j And moving acrpa of human faces. Watching their fate in the feverish race*. But to resume. Diomed's , most formidable rival in the race, was Colonel O'Kelly's Boudrow, who carqe in second, and revenged his . defeat during tho noxb year by beating his victor at' Nowmarket. . Indeed,. - Diomed's ■ Derby success was his only brilliant one, for' a little previous to the defeat just mentioned " he was defeated at Nottingham by a Very 1 far inferior horse, not without suspicion,' however, of treacheiy; at all events Sam Arnull lost his place over the race and his master a large sum ; and this circumstance, , Veing followed up by his crack's defeat on • <he heath, so disgusted him with the horse . ihat he would not Jet him run in the following year. In 1783 Diomed was entered for seven races, and was successful • only once ; •' after that he was put out of training and sent to the stud. But though his active career was so. brief, the winner of the first .Derby, ' was destined to leave a name behind bim on
more counts than one. As a stallion his fee was only sgs, but he begot many illustrious sons and daughters. At 22 years of age he was
Sold to an American for sOgs.
How absurdly indequate this was to his value was proved by the fact that he had not been long landed on the other side of the Atlantic when be was resold for lOOOgs. He now bspran a new lease of life, and lived to the patriarchal equine age of 40 years, during which he begat another numerous progeny. Among his descendants was Lexington, a crack American hor.se, a descendant of whom, Foxhall, won the Grand Prix, the Cesarewitch, and Cambridgeshire of 1881. From a daughter of Diomed's, called Young Giantess, by the famous horse Whisky, sprang another celebrated horse of Sir Charles' — Eleanor, who in 1801 won for her owner the Derby and Oaks, being the first time the double event was taken by the same horse; it took 56 years before this success was emulated by Blink Bonny, and the third is yet in the bosom of the future. In 1813 Sir Charles had the marvellous good fortune to achieve his third Derby with Smolensko, who, in the same year, took the Two Thousand Guineas. A yet more remarkable coincidence, however, has to be mentioned. It was a son of Sir Charles Sorcerer that won the first race for the Two Thousand Guineas (1809) ; in 1811 another son of Sorcerer came in first, and a third son, Smolensko, as already mentioned, captured the prize two years afterwards. Such fame did Smolensko acquire that a travelling showman offered his owner £2000 to allow him to show the horse through the country, an offer that, we need hardly say, was promptly refused. Although almost up to the time of his death he continued to run horses, Sir Charles gained no more conspicuous successes. But it is not merely as a successful owner that the baronet claims our attention, for he has left an enduring mark on the history of the turf as a lawmaker and developer of that institution. It was he who first introduced the system of short distances and light weights. Previous to his regime, four miles was the ordinary course, and it was never less than two; while 12.0 was the common weight, and 9.12 the minimum. He was also
The First to Run Two-year-olds, a system which, it was prophesied at the time, would be the destruction of the breed of English racehorses — an opinion that has not been quite banished even at the present day. Whether, however, we are to regard him as a benefactor or otherwise on account of these innovations, it is not our province to discuss. He was very careful over the training of his horses, having it done in private, and almost entirely under his own eyes ; to prevent them being nervous in public he frequently made the lads, who were never allowed to use spurs or anything but a small stick to them, wear his colours — pink and white stripes with a black cap — even when they cleaned them. He also had. some curious superstitions ; as an instance, he would never have his horses sweated or tried on a Good Friday, as during a trial on one of those anniversaries two fell and broke their backs, while the jockey got a fractured thigh.
The private life of our veteran sportsman, at least in its early years, was far from a happy one. Fourteen years after his roai'riage he sued for and obtained a divorce from his first wife on the ground of adultery with the Hon. George Napier, who five years afterwards married the lady. Whether it was that her first lord was an uncongenial mate we don't know, but Lady Bunbury proved a most estimable partner to her second husband, to whom she bore several distinguished sons, one o£ whom was the famous historian of the Peninsula war. In a second wife Sir Charles ound a more faithful partner, and one equal n beauty. The second Lady Bunbury survived him. For many years his town house was in Whitehall ; after that he removed to Pall Mall, and it was there, on March 31, 1821, in his 81st year, that the winner of the first Derby Stakes departed this life.
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Passionate Love of Sport., Otago Witness, Issue 1914, 27 July 1888
Passionate Love of Sport. Otago Witness, Issue 1914, 27 July 1888
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