As the 2014 flat season gets into its stride, Tony Lake recalls a “peoples’ horse” from yesteryear …
He looked like a carthorse. As a two year old he ran in selling races. At three and four he was stigmatised as an “imposter” and a “rogue”, yet 62 outings and over 71 miles later, Dean Swift was the “hero of thousands”. Mr J B Joel’s handicapper improved with age and was a real star. A specialist around Epsom, he made the competitive City and Suburban Handicap - a race with three Classic winners on its Roll of Honour - his own, and even won the prestigious Coronation Cup. Dean Swift was the Londoners' idol and is well worth remembering.
Without portents of his career ahead Dean Swift made his debut at Kempton in the Sunbury Selling Plate, on May 8th, 1903. Unfancied in the betting, Lynham’s mount was prominent early on before fading to a well beaten fourth.
On his next outing Dean Swift returned to Kempton for the St Margaret’s Selling Plate. This time ridden by former champion jockey, Mornington Cannon, and going off at 4/6, he made every yard of the running, to win by 2 lengths. The connections did not want to part with him and “bought him in”.
The man who paid the 510 guineas was gold and diamond magnate Jack Barnato Joel. He owned a large string of horses and had them trained privately by Charles Morton at Wantage. Owner and trainer were enjoying plenty of success in 1903, most notably with the homebred, dual Classic winner, Our Lassie. What they saw in Dean Swift certainly wasn’t his looks, as that good judge Harding Cox wrote, “Dean Swift would never have taken the championship at a beauty show. To see him wandering around the paddock was to pity him for his loneliness without the shafts of a four-wheeler to hold him up.” In that case they must have spotted potential.
However, in his next outing, he disappointed in a seller at Sandown on Eclipse Day and five more lacklustre runs followed. In the late autumn there was some encouragement though, when he won Newmarket’s Ditch Mile Nursery well, under Billy Lane.
As a three-year-old, the son of Childwick, the 1894 Cesarewitch winner, made his re-appearance in Epsom’s 10 furlong handicap showpiece, the City and Suburban. Ridden by Charles Trigg, who put up 2lbs overweight at 6st 7lb, he belied his 25/1 odds and finished well to take second place, having no chance with the runaway winner Robert le Diable. It was hoped that he would progress from there, but he disappointed in the Great Jubilee, Chesterfield Cup and the Cambridgeshire.
Said to have improved from three to four the chestnut was well backed for the 1905 City and Suburban, when it was announced that he was set to carry 8st. A month before the race, however, Messrs Weatherby received a telegram informing them that he had been scratched. This caused much consternation amongst the betting public until Mr Joel was able to tell them that the telegram was a forgery and the horse would be taking his chance. In the event he only managed third place, under Bert Randall, 1 ¾ lengths behind the favourite, Pharisee. Then similar to 1904, he ran with in some big handicaps including the Jubilee, Royal Hunt Cup and Cambridgeshire, but failed to feature.
His 1906 campaign started in the Lincoln. He was difficult at the start, but eventually got off and ran well, only to be touched off by French raider, Ob. Although he was race fit and well in at the weights with 7st 11lb, he went to the start of the City and Suburban on a losing streak of fourteen and with Polymelus, Golden Measure, Donnetta, Velocity, Chaucer, Ambition, The White Knight in the field it was the strongest renewal for some years. However, the owner was confident and shared his confidence with the public. Consequently, he was a popular choice at 13/2, and he gave Randall an armchair ride, winning easily by three lengths. He followed up by taking Ascot’s Trial Stakes before his season petered out with him struggling in competitive handicaps.
As a six year old, Dean Swift’s season started in the City and Suburban. Although burdened with top weight at 8st 7lb he was market leader until just before the off. Partnered by Bill Halsey he was unplaced behind Velocity, one of the best and most versatile horses of his day. In June, reunited with Randall, he returned to Epsom and cantered away from a good field in the Durdans Plate before landing back-to-back victories in the Trial Stakes. By now he was a favourite with the public and defeats in the Royal Hunt Cup and Chesterfield Cup were not held against him.
In 1908, the public were aware that he had won a trial gallop as part of his preparation to become the first dual winner of the City and Suburban and supported him accordingly even with 8st 12lbs. Approaching the final stages , he looked squeezed for room, but responding bravely to Randall’s driving, the gelding won easily by 1 ½ lengths. The legions of supporters of the 13/2 second favourite cheered him to the echo. Next time out, he stepped up in class as well as distance when he tackled the Coronation Cup. Finishing second behind The White Knight was no disgrace and confirmed that he was improving with age.
Defeats in the Trial Stakes and Hunt Cup, however, suggested that seven furlong races were too sharp for him now. This seemed to be confirmed when he won the 1 mile 3 furlong Liverpool Cup, with Walter Griggs, carrying a hefty 9st 1lb (a record). He then went to Brighton and won the Southdown Plate as he liked for Bill Saxby from a solitary opponent, Morny. It was widely suggested that “the Dean” had frightened off all the other possible rivals.
Trainer Morton was convinced that his charge would stay beyond two miles and took his chance in the Doncaster Cup. Prominent from the off and looking all over the winner inside the distance he eventually finished third. His season was not finished, however, and reverting to a mile he won the Select Stakes beating Cocksure II, considered to be one of, if not the best of, the three year old crop.
Although burdened with the 9st 2lb steadier, Dean Swift was well supported for the 1909 renewal of “the City”. The public and professionals thought that he was the one to beat and he went off at 100/15 favourite. Not for the first time he misbehaved at the start and was most reluctant to line up. When Griggs eventually persuaded him to take his place he missed the break and gave away valuable ground. Steadily picking off his rivals one by one, he held every chance rounding Tattenham Corner, but in the run for home he could not concede 9lbs to White Eagle and finished second. He had to settle for the runner-up berth in his next race too as he was surprising beaten by Ebor, in the Jubilee, who was well held on Epsom form.
However, it was back on the Surrey track that Dean Swift reached the pinnacle of his career. The field for the Coronation Cup was not a big one, but undoubtedly a select one. Once again he was opposed by White Eagle, who had been placed in two Classics in 1908, and was made 13/8 favourite. The 5 year old Wool Winder was well fancied too. A winner of nine races, he was only beaten once as a three-year-old, in the Derby, where jockey Otto Madden gave him a bad ride. However, he took the St Leger with ease. Reputations counted for nothing against the “aged horse” that day and he scored impressively with Triggs. Alexander Scott wrote “The making of such a shelly, light-fleshed gelding into a handicapper of the first class is surely one of Charles Morton's greatest achievements,” and indeed who could argue.
Although increasingly fractious at the start Dean Swift ran honourably throughout the rest of the season without enjoying success. He had to settle for second place a frustrating four more times: in the Trial Stakes; in the Liverpool Cup, where he failed by ½ length to concede 39lbs to Adversary; in Chesterfield Cup; and the Champion Stakes, behind Bayardo.
He had run so well as an eight year old it was no surprise that he returned to action in 1910 “City”. Reported to be fit and well, the veteran had been set a tough task by the handicapper though. With 9st 5lbs he had to give weight to the entire field, including the 1909 Derby winner Minoru. After a display of his usual antics at the start, he nonetheless ran with merit, finishing third just ahead of Minoru, but had no chance with Bachelor's Double.
In fact, doubters were beginning to gather and it was suggested that age was catching up with him. He ran unplaced in the Coronation Cup; he lacked the necessary toe to hold off the challenge of Whisk Broom in his fifth attempt in the Trial Stakes; younger horses were too quick for him in the Liverpool Cup; he could not give away lumps of weight in the Chesterfield Cup; he was no match for Lemberg in the Champion Stakes and struggled behind Whisk Broom again in the Select Stakes. On form he had clearly deteriorated and his retirement loomed.
Yet, in 1911, at ten years old, the veteran made his eighth consecutive appearance in the City and Suburban. Carrying 8st 11lbs, ridden by E Shaw, and unfancied at 25/1, he finished unplaced behind Mushroom. He ran one more time at his beloved Epsom in the Durdans Plate but seemed to be a shadow of his former self amongst the also-rans.
As the old gelding thrived in the summer, connections decided that he would have one more tilt at Goodwood’s Chesterfield Cup before being retired. Sentimental racegoers wanted him to wind up his career with a victory but his task looked difficult and he was only third choice with the bookies at 6/1. Frank Wooton’s mount Decision looked well in at the weights, after being considered an unlucky loser of the Liverpool Cup the week before and was 5/4 favourite; Succour had good form around Goodwood; Orphah was known to be particularly fit and well; Ignition had won the Goodwood Plate two days earlier and still only had to carry 6st 10lbs; Rose Verte was the winner of the French Oaks. A furlong from home though the race had developed into a match between Decision and Dean Swift. From the stands it appeared that Decision was hanging into Dean Swift, but the old horse dug deep, answering Walter Griggs’ urgings, and battled all the way to the line, to prevail by a shorthead.
To resounding cheers he was welcomed back into the winner’s enclosure … and a leisurely retirement.