A snapshot from “Behind the Ditch”

14th July 2015

Tony Lake looks at the Newmarket meeting of 100 years ago

A snapshot from “Behind the Ditch”

With the War not going well in May 1915 the Jockey Club suspended all race meetings.  After taking into consideration Newmarket's exceptional circumstances racing was permitted there and following intense lobbying more fixtures were granted.  The programme arranged for Newmarket Second Extra Meeting July 27, 28, 29 took place in the week originally fixed for Goodwood and included substitutes for some of the races at the abandoned Ascot and Goodwood meetings.

The racing took place “Behind the Ditch” i.e. the July Course and two winning posts were used. The main one was at the end of the Bunbury Mile, the other a furlong short, in the bottom of the Dip, catering for races with downhill finishes. (For details see footnote).

On the first day the Newmarket Gold Cup replaced the Gold Cup, whilst the Cambridge Hunt Plate was regarded as the Royal Hunt Cup substitute.

With the favourites, Prospero (Albert Whalley) and Cerval (Steve Donoghue), winning the opening two races on the card punters had reason to be confident going into the Gold Cup. The race, with the Ascot executive adding £1000 to the prizemoney, was run over the two miles and 24 yards of the Summer Course rather than the usual two and a half miles. Only eight runners faced the starter and the race looked a match between Black Jester and Snow Marten, the respective winners of the substitutes for the Coronation Cup and the Oaks. However, it was the 33/1 rank outsider, Apothecary, who prevailed a length from Carancho. Snow Marten, after wandering and throwing away several lengths turning into the straight, was a fast finishing third. Solly Joel's Black Jester was never a factor.

The winner was ridden by Edward Lancaster who had tasted success over the jumps before the War, notably with Hopper in the 1912 Grand Steeplechase de Paris and Noah in the 1914 Becher Chase. The trainer was Fred Pratt who trained privately for James de Rothschild for over 40 years. de Rothschild was twice seriously wounded in the War: once he was blown out of his vehicle by an explosion and later, after recovering and becoming a war courier in the Royal Fusiliers, his horse was shot from beneath him.  A winner of the DCM, he went on to enjoy more turf success. He died in 1957, aged 79.

The Swavesey Plate, over the last six furlongs of the Bunbury Mile, followed and another favourite, San Stefano, failed to make the frame. Leading going into the Dip, he offered no response to the challenges of Oversight, Menlo and Weyhill who finished in that order. Oversight was initiating a double for Frank Bullock who went on to win the Auction Stakes on Pericles. That race was run over the New Two-Year-Old Course finishing in the Dip.

A field of 18 turned out for the Cambridge Hunt Plate, over the last seven furlongs of the Bunbury Mile. There were high hopes that the King's Sunny Lake would provide His Majesty with his first winner of the season, but he failed by a head. Run in a storm, Manxman led to half-way before Young Pegasus and Dan Russell took over. The latter threw away his chance by swerving close home whilst Young Pegasus was all out to hold off Sunny Lake.

Trained by Hon George Lambton, the “gift horse” to Lord Stanley from his father (Lord Derby) was the first horse to carry the "black and white belt and cap" colours, which had only been registered the week before. The jockey was 20 year-old Fred Rickaby who was to join the Veterinary Corps in 1916 before serving with the Royal Flying Corps and then the Tank Corps. Already with five Classic victories to his name, he died from his wounds incurred at the Battle of Cambrai a month before the armistice.

On the second day the Goodwood Stewards' Cup was ran as the Stewards' Handicap and the Windsor Stakes was for three-year-olds entered at the Ascot Meeting.

Backers continued to find it difficult. In the opening race, the Welney Selling Plate, run over the last mile and a quarter of the Suffolk Course, “dodgepot” Boots was well supported in the betting ring again. After looking all over a winner the gelding buckled when challenged by Denison (Steve Donoghue), and flattered to deceive once more. Then there was another turn up in the next race when 25/1 chance Wilhia Stop romped home under Dave Dick.

The Stewards' Handicap, was next on the card, with 14 declared to run on the Exeter Course. The King's Friar Marcus was fancied to give him consolation for Sunny Lake's defeat whilst good money came for Diadumenos, the Jubilee winner. Armant and Radiant also had their supporters in what looked an open race. Clap Gate, given an enterprising ride by apprentice Percy Allden, made every yard to hold off Diadumenos a head, with Radiant a neck away in third. The winner was trained by Frank Barling, then based at Isley.

With limited opportunities for two-year-olds the Wednesday Stakes, run over the Chesterfield Course, attracted a field of 26. Ali Bey was well-backed at 6/4, and the Duke of Westminster's colt was always going well for Frank Bullock and beat Queen of the Seas a head.

The Windsor Stakes, for three-year-olds entered at the cancelled Ascot meeting, only attracted nine runners. Run over the Suffolk Stakes course (over which the “Derby” was run), the Ascot executive added £1000 to the sweepstake. The race provided another winner for Frank Bullock, with Lord Wolverton's handsome Passport. In receipt of 10 lb, the colt made short work of The Vizier and Sunfire.

Eighteen runners went to the post for the Saxham Plate on the Exeter Course and the Koster Girl filly, who was sold for 1,000 guineas privately last year to Mr Mortimer Singer, was a warm favourite. This time, however, the favourite backers' wretched luck returned. Victory went to the Bill Huxley partnered Double Ditch, with Foxton second and the Marca colt third. The 8/1 winner was compensating De Mestre's stable after disappointing at the last meeting.


On the third day there was a race for all two-year-olds entered at Ascot entitled the New Coventry Stakes.

A huge field of 32 contested the opener, a selling handicap, and in a finish of heads 20/1 shot Royal Ambition (Fred Templeman up) won from The Ruard and Schamyl. Upsets continued in the next,  the Long Course Handicap over two miles. Although former Cesarewitch winners Warlingham and Fiz-Yama made the line-up Desperate headed the market whilst Lelio V, Radway, and White Prophet had their supporters. The two outsiders, however, Ruff's Guide (V Smyth) and Chelsho (W Colling), filled first and second places, with the 100/8 chance Fiz-Yama third.

The next race on the card was the New Coventry Stakes, with £1000 added by “Ascot”, and 18 runners were declared. The race, over the Chesterfield Course, was the best two-year-old contest run so far as it included: - Eos, from the powerful George Lambton stable; Figaro winner of the July Stakes; Mr J Barrow's highly regarded Marcus.  Mr Fairie's Kwang Su, the eagerly awaited half-brother to Bayardo and Lemberg, also made his début in the race but looked backward in the paddock. Figaro was made a hot favourite but never got to the Herbert Jones ridden Marcus, who made all to win by a head.

Of the many two-year-olds who contested the Ixworth Plate, only two were seriously backed, and the 2/1 joint favourites finished six lengths ahead of the others. NVE, winning cleverly in the hands of Ernest Huxley by half a length from Thetis, was subsequently bought by Mr W Manson for 410 guineas.

The Chesterfield Course Stakes too looked a match; between Torloisk and Flying Orb. They blazed off at such a gallop, however, they “cut each others' throats”, with Vanitie, patiently ridden by “Snowy” Whalley, challenging late to win in a canter by five lengths.

The meeting concluded with the ten runner Higham Plate for three-year-olds over the Bunbury Mile.  Haki headed the market in front of Frank Bullock partnered Thunder and the pair finished in that order. However, after an objection, Haki, was disqualified for “badly boring” and the race was awarded to Fred Darling's inmate.

The next meeting, the Third Extra Meeting, was scheduled for the beginning of August. That programme though was largely made up of handicaps and did not attract the best horses; allowing plenty of time to discuss the 1916 Classics. Opinions were divided after the New Coventry with many considering Figaro unlucky. In the Free Handicap at the end of the season, however, he was rated 5 lb inferior to the chesnut filly Fifinella.

Come May, with Marcus injured, Figaro started as a warm 15/8 favourite for the 2000 Guineas, but he was well beaten by Clarissimus and Kwang Su. When The New Derby was run it was the late-developing Kwang Su who started favourite but Figaro still had plenty of loyal supporters. At the winning post though it was Fifinella who took the honours (and two days later The New Oaks), finishing a neck in front of Kwang Su.



The individual courses finishing at the main winning post:

  • The Summer Course (2 miles 24 yards);
  • The Suffolk Stakes Course (a mile and a half);
  • The Bunbury Mile and the races over the last seven, six, five furlongs;
  • The Chesterfield Course is the last five furlongs of the Bunbury Mile

The courses finishing in the Dip:

  • The Ellesmere Stakes Course (1mile 3 furlongs, from the Suffolk Stakes start), and the last 1 mile 1 furlong of it (starting from the mile and a quarter post);
  • The Beaufort Course (seven furlongs, from the Bunbury Mile start);
  • The Exeter Course (six furlongs from the seven furlong start);
  • The New Two-Year-Old Course (5 furlongs 136 yards from a post used for no other races).