Don't Boycott the Race

20th August 2015

Captain Boycott, racing man

By the end of 1880 “boycott” was being used as a verb and the Englishman's dilemma was discussed worldwide.  Much is known of Captain Boycott, who was ostracised by the Land League, but what is known of Captain Boycott the “racing man”?

After a nondescript army career, Charles Cunningham Boycott stayed on in Ireland and, in 1873, became a land agent for Lord Erne on the Lough Mask estate, County Mayo. Always a keen sportsman, he had played cricket for the Dublin Military District in 1860's and rode in a chase at St Albans in 1870; he now hunted, shot, fished and kept a few racehorses.

When neighbouring village, Glenamaddy, staged its first race meeting for over 50 years in 1874, Boycott was in the thick of the action over the Furry Park Course. Taking four rides, all for owner Mr A Weekes, he won once: the Visitors' Plate, a Pony Race over the jumps worth £15, on Fenella. The following year he rode in more races including at the Queen's County Meeting at Attanah, Glenamaddy again and Sligo, where he won the Great Midland Railway Plate on Weekes's Murray.

Increasingly well-known in racing circles, Capt CC Boycott was elected to the National Hunt Club in 1877 and regularly attended the prestigious meetings.  At Punchestown, he rode his own Martinet in the Conyngham Cup, only to part company at the “new double”. At Galway, he entered the same horse in the Plate; ridden this time by Paddy Gavin, the gelding had no chance with Tattoo, who “won in a canter”.  After the Metropolitan Meeting (Baldoyle), where Martinet was beaten again, the owner resumed riding duties; only to fall at the Old Rock fixture over the Oldstone Course.

As well as being well-known on the racecourse Boycott became a familiar sight at the sales. At the Curragh Sales, the 44 guineas he paid Captain Lowe for a bay yearling filly proved a shrewd buy.

As a two-year-old Dame Durdan won under S Dillon at Bellewstown over 6 furlongs before finishing third next time out under J Donnelly at Royal Down. The filly then progressed to compete at the Curragh's Royal meeting, in the Angelsey Stakes, and finished second ridden by Frank Wynne. She came out again the following day and, although made favourite for the Curragh Plate, could only finish fourth. Next she was taken to Kilkenny and was made odds on, but she was never in the hunt.  Put away for the year she would return to form.

Pemmican was another of Boycott's horses that provided him with good sport. Through the summer of 1878 the colt ran at Baldoyle, the Curragh, Bellewstown and Londonderry without “troubling the judge”. The owner though preferred to ride and still qualified for a gentleman rider's license.

The Beasley brothers - Willie, Tommy, Harry and John - as well as Garrett and Willie Moore also held licenses at that time and Boycott mixed with these racing greats. Freeman's Journal recorded that he travelled with them for the 1879 and 1880 Grand Nationals; Garrett won the 1879 race on The Liberator and finished second to Tommy on Empress in 1880. Although Boycott regularly hunted his Capard he tended to leave the race-riding in the big races to his friends. “Wenty” Johnstone took the mount in a Hunters' Chase at Baldoyle and in the Spencer Cup, on the Irish Grand National card, where he was no match for Foreman. Willie Beasley took over the reins in the Bishopscourt Plate at Punchestown, but was also out of luck.

During the summer and autumn of 1880, Boycott's green, with rose sleeves and a black cap colours continued to be prominent on the racecourses.  His two-year-old Aphrodite ran at Baldoyle, the Curragh and Bellewstown whilst his Guerilla provided him with a success at the Curragh. Beaten by Hip in the Flying Handicap on Tuesday the colt turned out on Wednesday to reverse the placings and win The Curragh Plate in good style.

That success came just after Boycott drew attention to his predicament in a letter to The Times. He wrote:

".....the people collected in crowds upon my farm, and some hundred or so came up to my house and ordered off, under threats of ulterior consequences, all my farm labourers, workmen, and stablemen, commanding them never to work for me again.... I can get no workmen to do anything, and my ruin is openly avowed as the object of the Land League unless I throw up everything and leave the country." (The Times, 18 October)

“Boycotted”, he and his family left Ireland on 1 December 1880 for a holiday in America.  According to Joyce Marlow in Captain Boycott and the Irish,  he left Ireland without bitterness and looked forward to returning.

He arrived back at Queenstown on 6 July 1881 and resumed his position at Lough Mask, with his horses soon re-appearing on the racecourse.  Firstly, at the Bellewstown meeting in 1882, his Refraction ran; then Dame Durdin came out at Ballinasloe, before winning, a Pony Race in a canter under Willie Beasley, at Tramore in November. Significantly, in January 1883, Freeman's Journal reported that Captain Boycott “has hunted with the South Mayo Harriers at Brize, without protection”.  After two years of uncertainty Boycott's life seemed to be back to normal and he was about to enjoy the best horse he ever owned.

In 1883, Buttes des Mortes won the Stewards' Plate under Dawson on Irish Derby Day.  In August, the three-year-old won twice at the Galway Meeting: the Renmore Plate, over a mile in the hands of Saunders, and the Kylemore Plate, a seven furlong handicap with Harris.  Trained by the doyenne of trainers, James Dunne, at Heath Stables, some eight months later the versatile filly won the Spring Hurdle at the Curragh partnered by Harry Beasley. In November, Buttes des Mortes crossed the Irish Sea to contest the Midland Handicap Plate at Four Oaks, but John Beasley's mount was no match for Comrie and had to settle for second place. Back on home soil, in 1885, Buttes des Mortes returned to winning ways in the Railway Plate hurdle race at Cork (Harris up).

Meanwhile Dame Durdan was still doing her owner proud. She won the Pony Race at Galway's May meeting (W Behan up) and a match under Willie Beasley at Baldoyle. She ran with credit throughout the season; at the Ballybrit course again, as well as Baldoyle and Tuam, before taking another prize at Baldoyle in August.

Although enjoying the races, hunting with the South Mayo Hounds, visiting Royal Dublin Society's National Horse Show, Boycott was no longer able to make a viable living at Lough Mask. Consequently, in February 1886, he became land agent for Hugh Adair's Flixton Hall estates in Suffolk. He returned to England in March, but he could not stay away from Ireland for long and was back in time for the South Mayo steeplechases at Claremorris in April.

That summer Buttes des Mortes was made favourite for the Galway Plate but was beaten under Willie Beasley. The partnership then tried for the Tradesman's Plate at Limerick but finished unplaced when favourite again. In April 1887, however, when ridden by Willie Cullen, Buttes des Mortes won a mile and half welter handicap at the Curragh and followed up in the Visitors' Plate hurdle race at Cork in September. At Manchester's New Year meeting they tried their luck in England again only to finish a length behind the Willie Moore ridden Chibby.

Boycott gradually withdrew his links with Ireland as his commitments in England increased.  Buttes des Mortes was sent to be trained by James Gatland in Sussex and she now raced at Plumpton rather than Galway. Meanwhile Boycott became the secretary of the Bungay race committee and, described as “indefatigable” by Ipswich Journal, he was instrumental in reintroducing steeplechases to Suffolk in 1888.

He died at the age of 65, on 19 June 1897, at his home in Flixton after an illness. As his obituary in The Times said, he “outlived the prejudice excited against him, and by forbearance and kindness recovered the place which he had formerly enjoyed in popular esteem.” A few years earlier he had retired Dame Durdan to the paddocks and bred a filly by Sideral and named it Lough Mask.  Clearly Captain Boycott had fond memories of his County Mayo home from where he was sent to Coventry.

By Tony Lake