Charles Barrington’s Easter Monday Challenge
Written by Tony Lake
Ten years after riding the winner of the Ward Hunt Cup and retiring from race riding, Charles Barrington announced that he would win it again. Many scoffed and urged the 45 year old to put his money with his mouth. He was always game for a challenge, but surely he had gone too far this time. Not only was Fairyhouse's Easter Monday meeting looming, but there was also the small matter of a horse … he had not got one. Furthermore he was up against a Grand National winning jockey. Charles Barrington though had taken greater risks.
As a 24 year old, in the summer of 1858, Charles was on holiday in the Swiss town of Grindlewald, during the golden age of Alpine climbing. Enthralled by stories about an unclimbed mountain in the area, the Eiger, at 13,000 feet (3,970 metres), he wanted to be the first to reach the summit. Assisted by two local guides, Peter Bohren and Christian Almer, Barrington set out up the west face at 3am on 11 August and by noon they had almost reached the top. According to family tradition, he drew a pistol from his pocket and informed his guides that he would be the first to the summit… and he was. Soon after Barrington returned to Ireland and never seriously climbed again.
He was the sixth son and ninth child of Edward Barrington of Fassaroe, Bray, the Deputy Lieutenant of the County, and his first wife, Sarah (née Leadbeater) of Kildare. Little is known of his childhood other than he was brought up as a Quaker, but it is clear that he developed a taste for the outdoor life and excitement. Certainly, he was a keen “fell runner” and, in 1870, organised the first hill-running race up (and down) Sugarloaf Mountain in Wicklow, and donated a gold watch to the winning athlete.
Charles was also a horseracing man, but not wishing to upset his Quaker family, he used the nomme de course of Mr L Dunne. His chocolate jacket, blue and white cap colours were often prominent and he had enjoyed success, including two victories in the Ward Hunt Cup. In 1869, he won on his Sir Robert Peel and, in 1872, his Constance took the race under Mr Longworth. Sandwiched between those triumphs was an even more famous one. When the first Irish Grand National was staged at Fairyhouse in 1870, Barrington’s grey horse, Sir Robert Peel, named after the former Prime Minister, clinched the £100 prize in the hands of John Boylan.
The horse he bought for the “I will ride the winner of the Ward Hunt Cup” challenge was Malahide. Bred by James Dobbyn, the horse had been hunted for two seasons before being purchased by leading trainer, William Jameson. The six-year-old had shown his trainer sufficient promise to merit an entry for the Coyningham Cup so Barrington at least owned a horse with potential.
Although the newspapers conceded that the Irish Grand National was “the chief event” of the day, it was noted that “a great deal of interest will attach to the Ward Hunt Cup in which Mr Charles Barrington has backed himself for a large stake to ride the winner.” The correspondent in Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser was not optimistic about Barrington’s chances though, advising “La Mienne is more likely to pull through for Mr Wm Murphy.”
By Easter Monday, 14 April 1879, Sunday’s snowstorms which threatened the fixture had passed and the course was in “fair condition”. Unperturbed by weather better suited to Christmas, thousands thronged to the County Meath course. However, the unseasonal weather had deterred ladies from wearing their “gay spring toilettes” and instead they “clung to their winter furs”.
The first race on the card was the Farmers’ Race and punters put their faith in the Jameson representative, Mab. Ridden by the trainer, the four-year-old mare was cherry ripe for the day, and “ran her opponents to a standstill,” cantering home ten lengths clear. So far so good for the Jinkinstown stable, but would the luck hold for the next race?
Opinion was divided as the eight maidens went to post for the three mile Ward Hunt Cup, with Malahide and La Mienne disputing favouritism at 2/1. Murphy’s five-year-old certainly looked well, but the owner had to put up four pounds overweight, at 12st 4lbs, so that would not help. Third choice with the backers, at 6/1, was Anthrax, the mount of the talented Garret Moore, who, just over a fortnight earlier, had enjoyed Grand National success with The Liberator. Jameson’s second string, Lady Coyningham, was quietly fancied by a few, whilst the other four looked out of their depth.
From the flag fall, Barrington took the initiative and sent Malahide to the front establishing a clear lead from Lady Coyningham and High Sheriff, with La Mienne settled at the back of the field. They maintained that order as they passed the stands for the first time. At the far end of the course the race began to take shape and the tempo quickened. Following falls and refusals, Malahide, Lady Coyningham and La Mienne had the race between them. Then, at the fence after the double, La Mienne and Murphy parted company. Barrington now went for home and ran out a comfortable winner by three lengths from Lady Coyningham.
Returning to the winner’s enclosure, Barrington was “very warmly greeted by his colleagues… for landing his fancy wager.”
Twenty years after climbing the Eiger, in a letter to his brother Richard Manliffe Barrington, a famous naturalist, Charles wrote: "They said it was impossible; I said: 'I will try.'” That could have been his motto.