Archer takes a bow in Ireland
Based on reports in Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser Tony Lake recalls an historic event from 130 years ago …
Gladstone was failing in his “mission to pacify Ireland” and lost the 1886 General Election. The new Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, appointed Lord Londonderry as Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland and, according to the Dictionary of National Biography, he "... filled the viceroyalty with tact and courage”. One of the first things he did was to persuade Fred Archer to ride in Ireland.
Archer had passed through Ireland on his way to America, twelve months earlier, but had never ridden there. The excitement of seeing the great man in action started in early September when Lord Londonderry’s speedy two-year-old Mount Stewart was entered for the Baldoyle Plate with Archer his intended partner. “The presence on our favourite metropolitan course of such a star of the racing heavens is bound to create a vast amount of interest.” However, the plan was thwarted when John Porter, who had a claim on Archer, required him to ride at Manchester.
An alternative plan to run Mount Stewart and two other horses at the Curragh October Meeting was drawn up. That too came to nothing as “so dissatisfied is his Excellency with the manner in which his horses have been handicapped … none of them will run.”
A couple days later, at the dinner staged by the racing community to say “Farewell to Garrett Moore” before he left Ireland to set up in England, the chairman, Captain McCalmont MP, spoke. He praised the Lord Lieutenant “for joining in the sports which they all loved so well” but expressed his regret at the decision to withdraw his horses. To applause, he urged that “the handicapper be treated in a generous spirit”.
Five days later, on 14 October, the Lord Lieutenant’s Cambusmore arrived in Dublin to fulfil his engagement in the Lord Lieutenant’s Plate scheduled for the following week. Accompanied by stable-hand Fordham (formerly employed by the Duchess of Montrose) the colt was kept in the Lower Castle Yard before being loaded on the 4 o’clock train bound for the Curragh. There he was stabled in the Turf Club’s Waterford Lodge in readiness for the big day when Archer would be up.
With the “positive and decisive information … that the renowned Fred Archer, the premier jockey of the ‘wide, wide world’” would be riding the excitement mounted. The meeting, it was hoped, was “to prove the most interesting, if not the most sensational of the year”. Described as a “red-lettered day in the annals of Irish racing … Archer is thoroughly welcome he may rest assured, and heartily all turfites will extend to him their céad míle fáilte.” “Archer ‘the Demon,’ Archer ‘the Wonder,’ Archer ‘the tinman,’ (needed) no introduction” but Canbusmore did.
Freeman's Journal devoted over 25 lines to the form of the five-year-old son of Doncaster out of Strathfleet. Owned by his breeder, the Duke of Westminster, and trained by John Porter, as a two-year-old he ran unplaced behind Busybody in the Middle Park Plate. At three, he won the St. James’s Palace Stakes and ran unplaced in the St Leger before winning three times at Newmarket. At four, he had six outings without troubling the judge until winning at Lichfield. In the 1886 season, he was purchased by Lord Londonderry and sent to Newmarket to be trained by George Dawson at Heath House. Since then “he has been rather unlucky, having run on seven occasions, and only won once – namely, the August Handicap at Kempton Park.”
With 158 winners and on the way to his thirteenth Jockeys’ Championship, Archer left for Ireland after the Newmarket Second October meeting, where he rode seven winners. Accompanied by his old friends Captain De Vere Smith and James Henry Smith (“Jim the Penman"), he sailed aboard the mail boat and arrived at Kingstown on the morning of Tuesday, 19 October. Former jockey Harry Custance was also in the party, being employed as the starter for the meeting following the retirement of Capt Charles Warburton. They stayed at the Shelbourne Hotel.
After breakfast and a brief tour of the city, the visitors made their way to the Curragh, where the man who had ridden 21 Classic winners “was right well received, and was the ‘observed of all observers.’ He took matters rather lazily after an unpleasant sea voyage, but he looked himself… His first appearance in silk in this country is awaited with a good deal of interest, and every jockey at headquarters is counting the hours till he beats ‘the king’.”
That evening, back in Dublin, Archer and his entourage received a number of invitations and chose to go to “The Mikado” at The Gaiety, where the royal box was reserved for them. After the performance, as they returned to the hotel, Custance estimated that a crowd of over three hundred followed them shouting and "Whoo roo-ing" for the “Great Mr Archer."
Cashing in on the jockey’s popularity, businesses made the most of the visit. Robinson & Son, the Grafton Street Opticians, used the occasion to advertise their new long-range field glasses. Whilst at Mr Chancellor’s Studio in Lower Sackville Street, Archer posed for a number of photographs that were sold in a range of sizes.
It was hoped that Archer would ride on Wednesday, “however, the public were doomed to disappointment … as he stayed in Dublin to waste away some 5lb”. The following day an “immense attendance” was not disappointed.
His Excellency The Lord Lieutenant’s Plate, over a mile and a half, was the second race on the card. Cambusmore, the 4/6 favourite, was opposed by five Irish trained horses. The home-side’s main hope was Kildare, who was fancied by his connections and started at 2/1. The Sprite colt with Dawson made the early running, tracked by Alexander (T Kavanagh) and Kildare (L Kelly) with the favourite settled in the rear. A mile from home, Kildare went to the front but was stalked by Archer. At the four furlong marker, Cambusmore ranged alongside the leader and the pair raced clear of the others. Inside the distance, rousted by Archer, Cambusmore forged clear to win “rather cleverly” by a length “amidst a very general scene of wild enthusiasm”. “On coming to scale the winner received a very hearty ovation. The warm cheers which greeted Archer inside found a willing echo outside, where the cheers were also great.”
Thirty minutes later Archer had the mount on Isidore in the Sweepstakes. Even putting up 5lb overweight did not deter his supporters and Charles J Blake’s two-year-old was backed into 1/4. The crowd enjoyed an exhibition ride. The five runners had only gone a furlong when the favourite pulled clear, and he soon had the others in trouble. Winning cosily, the horse and rider were “cheered to the echo both in and outside the enclosure”.
Archer’s hopes of a hat trick rested with Blake’s three-year-old Black Rose in the Welter Handicap. This time he finished only third behind Tommy Beasley aboard Spahi. Receiving a hero’s reception, fitting of Archer himself, “Mr Tommy” scored one of the most memorable victories of his career. A career that included three Grand Nationals, the Irish Derby twice (the second, in 1891, on Narraghmore, trained at Newmarket by Charles Archer, Fred’s brother), two Irish Grand Nationals, two Galway Plates and a Grand Steeplechase Paris!
After the races, Archer left for England but, overwhelmed by his welcome, promised to return. He did not. On 8 November, the man who "attained a height of fame and popularity never reached by any jockey of the olden time" took his own life, at the age of 29.
Thanks to Diana Foster, Fred Archer’s great granddaughter, for the photograph of Archer taken in Dublin and to Jockeypedia for the photograph of Tommy Beasley.