The final race of the Royal Ascot meeting on Saturday is the Queen Alexandra Stakes. The race, first run in 1865, as the Alexandra Stakes is the longest race in the British racing calendar over 2 miles 5 ½ furlongs.
Angela Durrant a volunteer at the National Heritage Centre and the museum’s Stephen Wallis take a look back at the hugely popular career of Brown Jack, who reigned supreme in the Royal meeting’s marathon test for six successive years.
Brown Jack was one of the most famous stayers in racing history. He was to achieve unrivalled fame and glory, developing a partnership with the legendary flat jockey, Steve Donoghue that would create history.
The story of Brown Jack starts in Ireland on 5 April 1924. Sired by Jackdaw, who had won the Alexandra Stakes at Ascot in 1912 out of Querquidella he was bred by Mr George Webb, who sold him to Marcus Thompson as a yearling for £110. Soon after the brown colt arrived at Thompson’s base in Cashel, Co Tipperary he was gelded.
In June 1926 Charlie Rogers, a trainer and bloodstock agent, who was looking out for likely chasers, having run out of petrol nearby, spotted Brown Jack grazing in a field. Rogers was on his way to Limerick races where he had a horse running in the first race. He liked what he saw, negotiated with Marcus Thompson and paid £275 for him.
Rogers then trained Brown Jack for his first two races as a three year old (he didn’t run as a two year old) at Navan (6 furlongs) and Phoenix Park (5 furlongs), where he showed promise. This prompted Rogers to contact the Hon Aubrey Hastings (the 3rd son of the Earl of Huntingdon), who at the time had been asked by Sir Harold Wernher to find him a horse to win the Champion Hurdle. Shortly afterwards Sir Harold bought him for £750 with a contingency of £50 should he win a race.
He arrived at the Hastings’ yard at Wroughton, near Swindon in July 1927, then one of the most powerful stables in the land. Hastings had ridden one, Ascetic’s Silver in 1906 and trained four Grand National winners, Ascetic’s Silver, Ally Sloper 1915, Ballymacad 1917 and Master Robert in 1924.
Alfie Garrett was assigned to him and in the seven years he looked after Jack he said he never missed an oat. Brown Jack was given hot beer, eggs and whiskey along with his normal diet and he loved to fall asleep in the afternoons resting with his hind quarters on his manger. Brown Jack took to hurdling like a duck to water. He first raced at Bournemouth in September 1927 finishing 3rd in the Southampton hurdle over 1mile 4 furlongs. He won his next race at Wolverhampton ten days later. Brown Jack proceeded to win five of his next seven races before heading to Cheltenham for the Champion Hurdle. Aubrey Hastings was sure he had a good chance of winning the Champion Hurdle. In fact he went on to win the race, the second ever Champion Hurdle at 4/1 under his new regular jockey Bilby Rees, a length and a half ahead of Peace River with Blaris, the defending champion a further six lengths back in third. The race was Brown Jack’s last run over hurdles.
At Cheltenham that day was the legendary flat jockey Steve Donoghue (1884 - 1945) who liked the look of Brown Jack and said to Hastings that this horse will win on the flat and I'd like to ride him. On 5 May 1928 Brown Jack made his English flat debut when he ran unplaced at Hurst Park, but subsequently won at Windsor, Kempton and then the Ascot Stakes (2 miles) at the Royal meeting by three lengths. However, in October on his first visit to Newmarket he disappointed as favourite in the Cesarewitch Stakes. He never liked Newmarket and Hastings’s assistant trainer Ivor Anthony said that “the conformation of the course does not suit him”.
1929 saw Jack taking on early races to warm him up for Ascot. The Derbyshire handicap at Derby in April became a staple race each year to sharpen him up for Ascot and the staying cup races ahead.
Sadly Aubrey Hastings had died in late May after playing polo so was not there to witness his Ascot run. Ivor Anthony had now taken over the training but Mrs Hastings and her children stayed on at Wroughton As preparation for his main target Brown Jack was second in the Ascot Stakes. Three days later he won the race which he would make his own, The Queen Alexandra Stakes, then known as the Alexandra Stakes the longest race in the racing calendar over 2 miles 6 furlongs and 85 yards by four lengths under a great ride from Steve.
The 1930 season saw the battling stayer win his second Alexandra Stakes, remarkably once again after a prep run, three days earlier in the Ascot Stakes where he was unplaced. One interesting change this campaign came via a new visitor to the stables, the five year old Mail Fist, who undertook the role as Brown Jack’s pacemaker. His new companion helped Jack win the Goodwood Cup and Doncaster Cup carrying 9st 7Ib and 9st 11Ib respectively. Brown Jack ended his season with his 3rd and last attempt at winning the Cesarewitch. Although 3rd the previous year he finished out of the frame. He preferred the twists and turns of Chester, York, Epsom and his beloved Ascot to the home of racing.
The 1931 season was littered with some brilliant four and five year olds but Brown Jack managed to beat them off with his ears pricked winning a major treble in the Chester Cup, the Queen Alexandra Stakes (by four lengths) and the Ebor at York. Notably in the Chester Cup he gave Trimdon (2/1 favourite) 6Ib and a length beating. Irishman Michael Beary had taken the ride as Steve was out of action with an injured knee. To underline the form of the Chester victory Trimdon won the Ascot Gold Cup, a race he won again the following year.
Now eight years old Brown Jack was as fit and healthy as ever. Indeed to get him ready for his main objective he ran in the Ascot Gold Vase. Despite being unplaced three days the regular duo of Steve and Jack won the Queen Alexandra Stakes for the fourth time by two lengths. They later won the Prince Edward Plate at Manchester in September. The public had warmed to Steve and Jack, not just for the wins but for the way he battled so gallantly when defeated often carrying large weights.
1933 saw Brown Jack begin the season as if he were a youngster. At Epsom in late May he won the Rosebery Memorial Plate with Steve, carrying 9st. 11Ib before his next Royal Ascot engagement. On this occasion he skipped his normal prep run at the meeting but the old warrior starting at odds of 5/1 on won the Queen Alexandra Stakes for the 5th time by a length and a half. Steve said. “He galloped up the straight, knowing the cheering and clapping hands were for him”.
And so we come to Brown Jack’s last season of 1934. Now 10 years old he was kept in training for one final tilt at the Queen Alexandra. He had his usual early season prep races at Lingfield Park and Derby followed by a brave 3rd place carrying top weight in the Chester Cup, which preceded what would become a race that no- one present will ever forget. Ivor Anthony saddled Brown Jack for the 6th year in succession on 22 June. The trainer was so nervous on race day he could not bear to watch the Ascot hero and sat under a tree in the paddock.
All the stable lads from Wroughton were present, all daring to dream that their hero might just create history. A huge crowd were there to cheer on 'the old firm' as Steve and Jack had become affectionately known. In his own words Steve now takes up the story. “It was the best day of my life. I went to post full of confidence, I knew Jack so well and felt certain he would win. I told my son Pat riding Jack’s pacemaker Mail Fist, to make it a good gallop. Brown Jack got away beautifully and was soon going in his customary style. We had gone a mile and a half when I moved up on the leaders. As we came in to the straight, the old champion set after the leaders and finished them off one by one, dancing his little two step. Never will I forget the roar of the crowd. I have never seen so many hats flung in the air. All my six Derby victories faded before the reception that was awaiting Jack and myself. I don’t think I was ever so happy in my life as I was at that moment. Jack had lost half his tail hair on the way to the winner’s enclosure. As we got there an old woman stretched up to pat his neck and like the gentleman he is, Jack stopped and lowered his head to let her stroke him, but it was not entirely a gesture of good manners, for while she was patting his neck, he was eating a bunch of flowers in her buttonhole. He had a light heart and everything he did in his own humorous way made me love him more. There was never one with whom I associated, who brought me greater joy than gallant Brown Jack. Not a day passes when I don't think of him, and I know then how rich my memories are".
Brown Jack and Mail Fist both retired after the Royal meeting to Sir Harold and Lady Zia’s estate at Thorpe Lubenham, Market Harborough.
Brown Jack ran 55 times on the flat winning 18 races worth £21,646. His short, but brilliant hurdling adventure brought him seven wins from ten starts
Royal Ascot’s seven time winner died in 1948 at the age of twenty four at his owners home.
Ascot stages the Brown Jack Stakes, a Class 2 handicap, over two miles in July each year.
1928 Champion Hurdle, Ascot Stakes
1929-1934 Queen Alexandra Stakes
1930 Goodwood Cup, Doncaster Cup
1931 Chester Cup, Ebor Handicap
We would like to thank Jockeypedia for allowing us to use the photo of Ivor Anthony with Brown Jack.