Advent blog: Piper

6th December 2013

This advent blog comes from Museum friend, Tony Lake.

He was a jockey capable of pulling off shocks. In 1908, he landed the prestigious Jubilee Handicap on unconsidered Hayden, and in 1911, sprang a 20/1 surprise on Maaz in the Chester Vase. Those two turn-ups were nothing though compared to his astonishing 100/1 Derby winner.

In an era of great jockeys like Maher, Wootton and Donoghue, not to mention the illustrious ones based in France like the Reiffs and Stern.  Edwin Piper was not the “go to jockey” by any means and in 1912 had finished tenth in the jockeys’ list with 53 wins.

For the 1913 Derby he had been booked to ride “Boss” Croker’s Knight's Key, but when that horse was scratched he assumed that he would watch the race from the stands like the other spectators. Then, the men known as “The Druids’ Lodge Confederacy” decided to run their 200/1 outsider Aboyeur. As Piper had ridden the “queer tempered customer” into fourth place in the Easter Stakes the 24 year old got “the call”.

Alan Percy (“AP”) Cunliffe, the founder of the Druid's Lodge stable in Wiltshire, gave his orders to the young man from the tiny Devon village of Lewtrenchard, “to make every yard”. And he did. Almost. But it was not quite that simple. The race better known as “The Suffragette Derby” was the roughest and most controversial ever.

Notwithstanding the tragedy unfolding behind, Piper was in front, on the rails, rounding Tattenham Corner. Just in behind, Johnny Reiff, on the favourite, Craganour, was making his move. As Craganour drew alongside, Piper, with his whip in his left hand, drove Aboyeur for all he was worth. The colt responded gamely, but drifted to the right and bumped Craganour. Rolling back towards the rails, Aboyeur then impeded Shogun who was being driven through the shrinking gap by Frank Wootton. With his whip still in his left hand, Piper continued to urge his mount. Still giving his all Aboyeur veered to the right again, closing off Great Sport’s challenge before giving Craganour another bump. Then, in one last desperate effort, Reiff thrust Craganour forward one more time, to put his head in front at the winning post.

Not only disappointed at being “done on the line”, Piper feared that he would be “carpeted” by the stewards, and given a ban for “reckless and careless” riding.

The scenario did not unfold like that though. Eustace Loder, on behalf of the stewards, objected to the winner, and in the ensuing enquiry disqualified Charles Bower Ismay’s horse and promoted Aboyeur.

The Derby success, hot on the heels of glory in the Victoria Cup on Aldegond, should have kick-started Piper’s career, but it did not. Finishing the season with 48 wins in tenth place in the table his career instead was then interrupted by the Great War.  After the armistice he found rides increasingly difficult to come by and he faded from the racing scene.  He retired to Epsom, where he died in 1951, the town of his greatest triumphant.