In 1830 Lord Veralum's bay colt Albert (b.1827) and jockey Patrick Conolly (1807-1842) were genuine Newmarket heroes and their place in Newmarket folklore should be respected and maintained. Albert was unbeaten in 5 races at Newmarket ridden by Conolly, who that year had also won the 2000 Guineas on Augustus and the St Leger on Birmingham.
This engraving of Albert, with Patrick Conolly up, is from a painting by Lambert Marshall (Ben's son) that featured in the Sporting Magazine in September 1831. Horse and jockey are attended by a handler who is thought to be the trainer Henry Neale who trained for Lord Verulam.
The Sporting Magazine reported that 'Albert ran only five times, but won all in brilliant style. Conolly rode him on every occasion, which he could have done successfully without whip or spur...This very fine animal made his debut at the Newmarket Craven Meeting 1830 where he beat very easily Lord Cleveland's colt by Morisco out of Waltz.' Albert did not appear again until the October Meeting which does suggest that he was not a particularly sound horse. He did however win twice in October and was clearly primed and ready for a demanding day at the Houghton Meeting.
On November 5th 1830 Albert gave 5lbs and a beating to Mr Roberts's Cloudesley and later that same day lined up in the Audley End Stakes over one mile and three quarters against the Duke of Rutland's 5-y-olds Cadland (1828 Derby winner) and Oppidan. Albert, with his weight for age allowance, was too strong for his elders and beat Oppidan with Cadland third.
Expectations for Albert's four year old career must have been high but tragically hopes were dashed before he could get to the racecourse in 1831. On the morning of Monday March 7th Albert took part in a trial gallop on Newmarket Heath with Patrick Conolly aboard and Lord Verulam in attendance. The Sporting Magazine correspondent describes what followed: 'A very remarkable accident happened as the horses engaged in the trial were running down the fall of the New Ground, Across the Flat; Conolly told me that life became so instantaneously extinct, that Albert was dead while yet he was in stride.' It appears Albert had suffered a catastrophic and fatal burst blood vessel.
Lord Verulam was so moved by this tragedy that he had a plaque erected as a lasting memorial to Albert that also seems evocative of all thoroughbreds that strive to give their all. A most appropiate Newmarket memorial.
This plaque is to be found today in the east wall of the gardens behind the Edward VII Memorial Hall in Newmarket. Sadly it has been neglected and bears the ravages of time, vandalism and grafitti. It is no longer legible except for the odd word. Newmarket based writer and journalist Tony Morris raised the sad fate of this memorial in the Racing Post newspaper in early April this year and for a couple of years I have included a visit to it when I have done the historical tours of Newmarket run by the Museum. Here is the sad sight of Albert's memorial plaque today.
But Albert is only half of my story of heroism and subsequent neglect.
In 1821 Patrick Conolly was brought to England from Ireland by Mr Prendergast and through his mediation and influence Conolly obtained the patronage of Lord Exeter, Lord Chesterfield, Lord Verulam and 'many other prominent men of the Turf, to each and all of whom he proved himself to be a most faithful servant’. Prendergast’s horses were trained by Mr Henry Neale ‘under whose direction young Conolly came as a matter of course.' During his time with Neale a particular incident had a significant impact on his destiny. The Sporting Magazine correspondent reported that 'Conolly, just at this period, had been riding a trial, at the conclusion of which he was asked by Neale if he had ever ridden in a race, to which he replied in the affirmative. "By G-d, I thought so!’" said Neale, in his usual blunt good-natured manner: "you shall go to Chelmsford, and ride Vaurien for the Gold Cup", which he did, and fortunately won’. This was in 1823 and significantly Lord Verulam owned the horse. The foundation of an association between Neale, Verulam and Conolly was formed.
This portrait of Patrick Conolly is an engraving from a painting by Robert Crane of Newmarket and shows Conolly in Lord Verulam’s colours: white satin, trimmed with yellow, edged with black, and black cap and gold tassel.
A contemporary profile of Conolly appeared in the Sporting Magazine in 1835:
‘As a jockey Conolly now ranks high, and his popularity is not unmerited; for it would be difficult to name any great Stakes which he has not at some time or other won. His firm seat, quickness in difficulties, united with a readiness to take advantage of the momentary changes which occur in a race, leave him almost without a superior. Conolly’s character for integrity (the keystone in the arch of life) has, by his upright conduct, become firmly fixed in the minds of all who know him.'
In 1834 Conolly was selected by Mr Baston to ride Plenipotentiary (popularly known as 'Plenipo' at the time) in the Derby. Against Plenipo was the Earl of Jersey's 2000 Guineas winner Glencoe ridden by Sam Chifney junior and the Duke of Cleveland's Shilelagh ridden by Jem Robinson. In the race Plenipo and Glencoe were very fast away but after a couple of furlongs Conolly eased Plenipo right back and left Glencoe and Shilelagh up with the leaders. Conolly now had to decide whether he would go round horses or wait for a gap. He decided to wait. The tactic worked as the gap came after Tattenham Corner and Plenipo surged forward and drew up to a tiring Glencoe at the distance and 'bounded to the front to win in a canter by two lengths'. This was probably the high point of Conolly's riding career and the polar opposite of that fateful Albert gallop.
In all Conolly won six English Classics in between 1830 and 1841:
In 1830: The 2000 Guineas on Augustus. Trained by C Marson and owned by Lord Exeter. The St Leger on Birmingham. Trained by T Flintoff and owned by J Beardsworth.
1831: The 1000 Guineas on Galatine. Trained by H Scott and owned by Sir M Wood.
1832: The Oaks on Galata. Trained by C Marson and owned by Lord Exeter.
1834: The Derby on Plenipotentiary. Trained by G Payne and owned by S Batson.
1841: The Derby on Coronation. Trained by Painter and owned by A T Rawlinson.
Success as a jockey was to be cut short. In late 1841 and early 1842 Conolly suffered from 'a long and painfull illness' and in the Spring of 1842 the Sporting Magazine announced his death in Newmarket on Saturday 9th April, aged 35. He was buried on the east side of All Saints Church close by the east entrance to the church. The headstone of his grave has, like Albert's plaque, suffered from the ravages of time and vandalism. It is virtually illegible and is lying flat.
It surely cannot be right for these two memorials to gradually fade into obscurity taking with them the presence of Albert and Conolly in Newmarket. Tony Morris raised the issue in April and I hope this rallying cry adds urgency to the need for restoration.
Acknowledgements to The Cox Library for assistance in research.
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