Royal patronage of racing made breeding and racing horses a prestige occupation. During the 18th Century it began to rival hunting as a pastime of the gentry. It was one of the few occupations a true gentleman might undertake. It took deep pockets to engage in "The Sport of Kings" but the sport had great returns in social standing and could have large financial returns as well. Racing was a gentlemanly pastime that the princes of sport could aspire to, also. Boxing champion John Gully used his winnings in the ring to own and race a horse.
The breeding programs of the most active racing stud owners actually developed the Thoroughbred breed and changed the sport of horse racing. The champion racehorse of 1750 had stamina and power to endure repeated grueling four mile match races. Breeders soon realized that a four or more year wait for a horse to mature before they saw any return on their investment was too long. By training horses to race at two and three years old in a shorter dash race measured in eighths of a mile, or furlongs, that allowed for more races in a day and adding other horses to the race cards to keep the public excited, stables could see a profit earlier. The end result of this change in the focus of race horse breeding was a horse that was not only fast, but also matured early.
The precocious Thoroughbred rocketed into the nineteenth century with a longer stride and more height (approximately six inches) than its eighteenth century Arabian and English ancestors.
Francis Russell (1765-1802), the 5th Duke of Bedford, was a wealthy magnate who loved horse racing. He was a follower of Charles James Fox and a friend of George the Prince of Wales. The Duke of Bedford won three Derbys with horses bred at his Woburn Stud: Skyscraper (1789), Eager (1791), and a colt by Fidget (1797).
Sir Charles Bunbury (1740-1821), 6th Baronet, bred and trained race horses at his operation at Barton Hall, Great Barton near Newmarket. His horses won the Derby Stakes at Epsom three times. He was the Senior Steward of the Jockey Club in 1791 making him the 3rd "Dictator of the Turf." It was he who banned the Prince of Wales from racing at Newmarket after the fradulent running of a horse named Escape. His wealth came from large family holdings is Suffolk.
William Henry Fortescue (1722-1806) became 1st Earl of Claremont in 1777. The large Claremont estates at Reynoldstown and Ravensdale, County Louth and Grangegeeth, County Meath were very prosperous. When he wed Frances Murray heiress to vast Co. Monaghan estates in 1752, he not only added to his income but also to his political clout by adding two more Irish parliamentary seats to the one he already controlled in Co. Louth on the basis of his father’s estates. One of the Prince of Wales aging cronies, he is described as "the hoary profligate". Lord Claremont owned an important stud. One of the founding members of the Jockey Club, he built a hunting box Claremont Lodge in Norfolk only 25 miles from his beloved Newmarket. His Aimwell, a descendant of the Alcock Arabian, won the Derby in 1785. His Trifle won the Oaks in 1785. His horses Volante and Trumpetta took first and second in the Oaks of 1792.
The Duke kept some of his racehorses in stables at Cranbourne. The great racehorse Eclipse was born there in 1764. On May 3, 1769 he out distanced his competition in his first race at Epsom. When Eclipse retired to stud, he sired three of the first five Derby winners including the noted Pot-8-O's. Eclipse's many distinguished descendants alone make the Duke of Cumberland's stud important. The Duke of Cumberland, William Augustus (1721-1765) was the third son of George II.
William Henry Vane (1766-1842) became the 3rd Earl of Darlington upon his father's death in 1792. He later became the Duke of Cleveland. His seat Raby Castle is near the Yorkshire-Durham border. He owned an important stud. His racehorses included Chorister, Muley Moloch, and Haphazard. He was also an avid huntsman who built the Raby pack which was famous in Northern England.
The avid sportsman Edward Smith Stanley (1752-1834), the Twelfth Earl of Derby, was particularly devoted to horse-racing and cockfighting. The Epsom Derby is named for him. He and his friends stayed at his house the Oaks, formerly a tavern near Epsom, during the races. The house gave its name to the Oaks race. Derby won the first Oaks in 1779 with his filly Bridget. He named two of his horses in honor of the part of heroine played by his actress 2nd wife, Elizabeth (Eliza) Farren, in Sheridan's play "A School for Scandal", Lady Teazle 2nd at the 1784 Oaks, and Sir Peter Teazle winner of the Derby. Sir Peter Teazle was retired to stud at Knowsley.
George O'Brien Wyndham (1751-1837) the kindly 3rd Earl of Egremont's interests ranged from the arts to horse racing and he had the income to pursue both expensive hobbies. Lord Egremont's stud at Petworth was the largest in England. He purchased Whalebone. Though small the horse became an important stud. Horses from Egremont's Petworth Stud won five Derbys: Assassin (1782), Hannibal (1804), Cardinal Beaufort (1805), Election (1807), and Lap-Dog (1826). Won the Oaks five times, in 1788 with Nightshade, and subsequently with Tag, Platina, Ephemera, and Caroline. His Claret won the Jockey Club Plate in 1787. His horses won the Goodwood Cup in 1825 and 1826.
Rev. Henry Goodricke Vicar of Hunsingore bred four St. Leger winners: Imperatrix (1782), Lounger (1797), Quiz (1801), and one other horse. The sporting parson from York sometimes used his friend Mr. G. Crompton's name to hide his identity.
The 3rd Duke of Grafton, Augustus Henry Fitzroy (1735-1811), kept his racing stud at Euston Hall in Suffolk near Newmarket. The stables that Grafton set up in the eighteenth century came to dominate racing during the first quarter of the 19th century. The horses bred by the 3rd Duke and his son, George Henry Fitzroy (1760-1844), the 4th Duke, won the Derby or Oaks at Epsom 25 times between 1800 and 1837; the 4th Duke's horses won the 2,000 Guineas five times, and the 1,000 Guineas every year between 1819 and 1827, except 1824. Between them, the two Dukes won approximately £250,000 in public stakes.
John Wastell, himself a member of the Jockey Club, managed the Duke's horses. Wastell's own horse, Scotia, won the 1802 running of the Oaks. When Wastell died, the 4th Duke's half-brother, Rev. Lord Henry Fitzroy took over as stable manager. The Graftons employed Robert Robson, a successful and respected trainer at Newmarket. He trained the Grafton's four Derby winners --Tyrant, Pope, Whalebone, and Whisker plus Azor (1817) and Emilius (1823) for other owners. He also trained thirteen 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas winners for the 4th Duke between 1819 and 1827. Robson's successes and influence earned him the sobriquet "The Emperor of Trainers."
Richard Grosvenor, 1st Earl Grosvenor [1731-1802] established a large and successful stud. The Earl spent lavishly on his Eaton Stud. His first major purchase was Pot-8-0s, a son of Eclipse whom he bought from Lord Abingdon for 1,500 guineas. Pot-8-os went on to sire 165 winners. Lord Grosvenor's horses won the Derby 3 times and the Oaks 6 times. Richard Grosvenor's devotion to racing is illustrated by his behavior commented on by Horace Walpole in 1761 who wrote of him: "Sir Richard Grosvenor is made a Lord Viscount, or baron - I do not know which, nor does he, for yesterday when he should have kissed hands he was gone to Newmarket to see the trial of a racehorse." He won the Oaks in 1781 with Faith. Placed 2nd in the Derby in 1782 with Sweet Robin and won the Oaks with Ceresin the same year. Won the Oaks in 1783 with Maid of Oaks. Placed 2nd in the Derby of 1784 with Carlo Khan. Placed 2nd with Grantham in the 1785 Derby with his horse Vulcan also a runner. He had two horses in the Derby of 1786, his Meteor took 2nd place. He ran two horses in the Derby of 1787 and owned three of 8 runners in 1787 Oaks. Aurelius placed 2nd in the Derby of 1788; he also ran 1 horse in the Oaks in the same year. One of his horses placed 3rd in 1789 Derby. In 1790 his horses Rhadamanthus and Asparagus placed 1st and 2nd in the Derby. The Earl won the Derby with John Bull in 1792. Richard Grosvenor was created Baron Grosvenor of Eaton in 1761. In 1764, he married Henrietta Vernon, of Hilton Park, Staffordshire, they had one surviving son, born 22 March 1767. In 1784, he was created Viscount Belgrade and Earl Grosvenor. Richard Grosvenor reputedly gambled away in excess of £250,000 during his lifetime.
Lord Archibald Hamilton (1740-1819) later the 9th Duke of Hamilton was the most important Northern breeder at his estate, Hamilton Palace. The sumptuous Hamilton Palace had a 260-ft classical facade and the interior housed one of the finest art collections in Britain. He owned 7 St. Leger winners from 1786 through 1814. He also owned 2 Doncaster Cup winners. Lord Hamilton had a winning collaboration with the Jockey and Trainer John Mangle.
Mr. Petre working with trainer John Scott had four St. Leger winners, three of them in a row (1827-9). Mr. Petre went bankrupt and John Scott bought him out. Scott practiced the horses on an area know as Langton Wold. Scott trained the winners of 16 St. Legers, 9 Oaks, and 6 Derbys. John Scott trained for Lords Derby and Falmouth.
Charles Watson Wentworth, second Marquis of Rockingham (1730-82) owner of Alabaculia, first winner of the St. Leger in 1776, produced a number of fine horses at his Wentworth Stud. The Marquis of Rockingham was well know in all sporting circles, and followed the example of his ancestors in his devotion to the breeding of race-horses and in his love of fox-hunting.
The Honorable Richard Vernon of Newmarket was an important early member of the Jockey Club. Vernon was notorious for supporting "great expense" with horse racing. The avid turfite was M.P. for Bedford. Francis Buckle, the great jockey, began his career as an apprentice in the stable of the Hon. Richard Vernon at Newmarket.
Richard Vernon bred Diomed; sold to Sir Charles Bunbury the horse was winner of the very first Epsom Derby in 1780. Vernon owned the great racehorse Woodpecker and other racehorses. His nephew, Henry Vernon, also a prominent turfite, owned such horses as Minister, a winner at Newmarket in 1774.
Easby Abbey owned by Mr. Robert Jacques was one of the leading studs of the 19th Century. Mr. Jacques was also largely responsible for formalizing racing at York.
A member of the Prince of Wales 10th Hussars, he began his career on the Turf in 1801 when his horse Welshman ridden by Peirse won a match for 50 Guineas at Durham. He set up a racing stable that had as many as 40 horses in training. He also kept carriage horses and hunters in a number of locations including Brighton, London, Leicestershire, and Newmarket. Colonel Mellish kept a splendid equipage for his arrival at race meets. He arrived "four white horses in hand" pulling his "exquisitely painted" barouche, "with outriders on steeds to match." All followed by his grooms in crimson livery. Colonel Mellish was nearly as well know for his attire as Brummel. He won the St. leger in 1804 with Sancho and in 1805 with Staveley. In 1806 he bet more than he could afford on his horse Luck's All , but Mr. Clifton's Fyldener won. His heavy betting seems to have inspired others an unparalleled one million guineas was staked on the St. Leger in 1806. Colonel Mellish fled to the Peninsula where his bravery was mentioned in war dispatches. He kept gambling. His property was auctioned. He returned to England to find a farmstead called Hodsock Priory near Blythe was all that remained. He lived there quietly on his wife's income till the end of his life.
Mr. Henry Peirse, had at least one very successful year. In 1818 he won the St. Leger with Reveller. He had also bred the horses that placed 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.
Richard Watt (1786-1855), the grand-nephew of a sailor turned West-Indies plantation owner, bred four winners of the St. Leger. Altisidora won in 1813, Barefoot in 1823, Memnon in 1825, and Rockingham in 1833. He was know for paying his jockeys enough to discourage the temptation to take a bribe.
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