Advent blog: The first Noel

8th December 2013

This advent blog comes from Museum friend, Nick Pemberton.

Newmarket has been the home of many brilliant trainers over the last three hundred years, from Robert Robson and Mat Dawson in the nineteenth century, to the likes of Richard Marsh, George Lambton and Frank Butters in the twentieth century, and more recent greats such as Sir Michael Stoute and of course Sir Henry Cecil. No such list though would be complete without another knight of the Turf - Sir Noel Murless.

Murless was considered the leading British trainer of his generation and was champion trainer nine times. Between 1948 and 1973 he trained a total of 19 classic winners.


Noel Murless began his training career at Hambleton Lodge in Yorkshire in 1935 and soon established himself as the leading northern trainer. At the end of 1947 he relocated to the famous Beckhampton stable on the retirement of the legendary Fred Darling. In his first season there Murless trained his first classic winner, Queenpot, in the 1000 Guineas and he would be champion trainer for the first time that season as well. In fact 1948 would be a truly memorable year for the talented young trainer, as amongst the crop of high-class two-year-olds at Beckhampton there was one particular grey colt that would turn out to be a genuine equine superstar. His name was Abernant, the champion juvenile that year, and over the next two seasons he would go on to become the greatest sprinter of all-time.


In 1952 Noel Murless moved to Warren Place in Newmarket from where he would enjoy the most successful period of his career and train numerous great champions. Many of these early successes were shared with Lester Piggott, who became stable jockey in 1954 on the retirement of Sir Gordon Richards. With Piggott onboard Murless won his first Derby with the outstanding Crepello in 1957.


Crepello also won the 2000 Guineas and a win for Carrozza, owned by HM the Queen, in the Oaks made for an unforgettable season that year. In 1967 another Warren Place champion, Royal Palace, would also win both the 2000 Guineas and Derby, followed by the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Eclipse the year after.


Murless will also be remembered as the trainer of the unfortunate Pinturischio, ante-post favourite for the 1961 Derby before being nobbled by a notorious gang of dopers.


But perhaps Petite Etoile was the most extraordinary horse of the Murless-Piggott years. The electrifying grey filly won a whole host of big races over four seasons, including two classics in 1959. Petite Etoile was exceptionally quirky and had a will all of her own. Noel Murless handled her brilliantly and said of her “She was a grey and she loved to have a grey in front of her in the string, and more particularly, a grey behind her when she went out to exercise. In my experience this was unique, but then Petite Etoile was unique in every way.”


Murless trained many other top-class horses and had considerable success with fillies in particular, winning the 1000 Guineas six times and the Oaks five times. He has also been influential on the Newmarket training ranks. Clive Brittain started out as an apprentice with Murless at Beckhampton and went on to be head lad to the stable for 23 years before starting his own trainer career. Another champion trainer, John Gosden, began his career as assistant trainer at Warren Place.


Noel Murless retired in 1976 and was knighted the following year. He handed over the Warren Place stable to his son-in-law, a certain rising star by the name of Henry Cecil.


With such an outstanding record as a trainer over more than a quarter of a century it would seem altogether fitting and proper to consider Noel Murless ‘The First Noel’ of the Turf.