This advent blog comes from Museum staff member and friend, Stephen Wallis
Horse racing has traditionally been labelled the Sport of Kings and three Kings of the 20th century all enjoyed classic success. While Edward VII proved the most partisan and enthusiastic supporter, both George V and George VI maintained the royal link so passionately followed by our present Queen.
Edward VII (1841-1910) began his connection with the turf during his spell as the Prince of Wales when he visited Epsom Downs for his first Derby in 1863, a race that became synonymous with him thanks to his three victories.
The following year he became a member of the Jockey Club, registered the royal colours in 1875 and had his first runner on the flat in 1877 and his first winner in Counterpane at Sandown in June 1886.
John Porter became his first trainer at Kingsclere but failed to have great success with his horses, although he did help purchase, Perdita II (for £900), the foundation mare for the then Prince of Wales’s Sandringham Stud, which had been formed in 1889. Under the management of Marcus Beresford the stud transformed the royal fortunes as the mare bred Persimmon, Diamond Jubilee and Florizel II.
In 1892 Edward moved his horses to Newmarket at Egerton House stables under the tutelage of Richard Marsh, who trained the Royal horses to many great successes. Among these were Triple Crown winner Diamond Jubilee, Derby and St Leger winner Persimmon, and Grand National winner Ambush II.
By this time Edward was now established in racing circles and his patronage to the sport after the 19th century scandals was a great asset. His stout well dressed presence with bearded face, long cigar and twinkle in his eye were a feature at the various racecourses and paddocks around the country. The cheer “Good old Teddie” was a popular term, which rang out around the racecourses he attended, especially after famous victories.
Edward’s racing fortunes declined after the highs of 1900, but he had one last hurrah in 1907 with Minoru, a colt leased to him by William Hall Walker. To the delight of racing crowds, Minoru won both the 2000 Guineas and the Derby, defeating the legendary Bayardo in both races. His triumph was greeted with wild celebrations from the crowd as Edward VII led the horse into the unsaddling enclosure to become the only reigning sovereign to win the Derby. With Queen Alexandra and the Prince and Princess of Wales in the Royal Box looking down, the King represented a living symbol of Edwardian Britain as he strode through the hordes of well wishers.
Even on his death bed on Friday 6 May 1910 the King is said to have been informed and delighted by the news that his two year old horse Witch of the Air had won at Kempton Park.
George V 1865-1936 was a very different personality to his ebullient father and was unattracted by the smart racing set, although he was a better judge of a horse and had a fair knowledge of the stud book. He liked visiting Newmarket, staying informally at the Jockey Club rooms, visiting the stables and riding over the heath in the early mornings to look at his string and other horses. He also showed a great interest in the mares and foals at the Sandringham stud.
George’s only Classic success came from Scuttle, winner of the 1928 1000 Guineas, but he also owned the outstanding juvenile Friar Marcus, Royal Hunt Cup winner Weathervane, and Jersey and Hardwicke Stakes winner Limelight.
In the Derby his best finish came from Pintadeau, who came 4th in 1912, while in 1913 his colt Anmer was brought down in tragic circumstances by suffragette, Emily Davison.
George VI (1895 -1952) was elected to the Jockey Club in 1921 as the Duke of York but showed little interest in the turf until his accession in 1936.
His most famous horses were Fillies Triple Crown winner Sun Chariot and Big Game, who were both leased from the National Stud and trained by Fred Darling at Beckhampton. Between them they won four of the five English classics in 1942 all ridden by the masterful Gordon Richards, ensuring the King was leading owner that year.
Beyond that season of dominance, the King’s only other Classic winner was Hypericum who won the 1000 Guineas in 1946. This filly represented the outstanding quality of George’s broodmare, Feola, who also produced Oaks-placed Angelola, Cesarewitch winner Above Board, and the dam of the outstanding Royal champion, Aureole. Feola was also dam of our Queen’s own Highclere, who won the 1974 1000 Guineas and Prix de Diane.
Fittingly the King’s last success came via Reprimand another son of Feola in the Seaboard Stakes at Liverpool on 8 November 1951.
Whilst the monarchy and our own Queen continue the quest to win another Epson Derby like her Great Grandfather, Edward VII, her own passion for the turf still burns as shown by her filly Estimate’s victory in this year’s Ascot Gold Cup.