Frederick Gretton – ‘Celebrated’ Racehorse Owner and Gambler

11th November 2017

Frederick Gretton - 'Celebrated' Racehorse Owner and  Gambler

Born in 1839 Frederick Gretton was the younger son of John Gretton of Bass Ratcliffe & Gretton, brewers from Burton upon Trent.   He retained an eighth share in the brewery.

He is described by contemporary sources as a 'celebrated' racehorse owner and gambler, kindly and well-meaning but obstinate - not very well liked with the general betting public as he tended to not run his horses if they had been backed.  Out of all the racehorses he was associated with - Sterling and Isonomy were probably the two best horses.

'White & Gold' writing Frederick's obituary in the Glasgow Herald on 20 November 1882 said of him -

'No man in the last twelve years spent more money on the turf and I do not think I should be far from the mark - during that period his expenses amounted to a quarter of a million sterling.'

In November 1873 Frederick leased Sterling a five year old who won the Liverpool Autumn Cup over 1 mile 4 furlongs at Aintree.  Sterling was bred by the Graham family at Yardley Stud, Birmingham, who also acted as agents for Bass, Ratcliffe & Gretton for the purchase of barley.   It may be that Frederick as a partner in the brewery was introduced to 'the turf' through this association.

henry-custance Harry Custance

After Sterling's victory Frederick gave Harry Custance the jockey a gift of £500 and to the trainer Thomas Roughton, Frederick presented a revolver with the following inscription:

'Presented to Thomas Roughton on his winning the Liverpool Autumn Cup with Sterling'  9st 4lb

The revolver is on display in the National Horse Racing Museum as tragically it was the weapon with which Fred Archer shot himself''.

Apart from winning the Liverpool Autumn Cup, Sterling had won The Craven Stakes in 1872 at Newmarket when it was a weight for age race for horses' age three and over. At age five, Sterling ran in the Cambridgeshire, and was beaten by two heads by the French horse, Montargis and the three-year-old Walnut.

jporter John Porter

Frederick also had horses in training with the leading trainer of the Victorian era John Porter at his Kingsclere stables.  One of the first horses trained by Porter was Pageant bought from a Mr Gomm for £1,000 whom Frederick had thought was a colt when in fact he was a gelding and blind in one eye!

Nevertheless, it became clear that Frederick unwittingly had secured a bargain as he developed into a very good stayer winning eight races in Frederick's colours (orange jacket, purple belt and hat) including two Chester Cups as well as the Brighton and Doncaster Cups.

isonomy Isonomy

One of Sterling's sons, named Isonomy was bought on behalf of Frederick for 360 gns at the Doncaster Sales.    Isonomy had three races as a two year old finishing 3rd in a minor race at Brighton followed by victory in a 4 furlong nursery handicap at Newmarket before he came 2nd at the same course in his final run.  Although he was entered for both the Derby and the St Leger, Frederick wanted to give Isonomy time to grow and develop so he did not race again until the autumn. He then won the Cambridgeshire at 40/1 (1878) when Frederick had a substantial bet on the three year old and subsequently won £40,000.  In the following season Isonomy established himself as one of the most celebrated staying horses of the nineteenth century.   He won six out of eight races which included the Ascot Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup, the Great Ebor Handicap and the Doncaster Cup. In his final season  the five year retained his Ascot Gold Cup crown.

In total Frederick won £120,000 in bets on Isonomy but he also lost major sums on other horses that he owned, especially, Pageant and Westbourne.

Around this time Frederick's personal life changed.  He met and ran away to Paris with a 16 year old actress called Fanny Lucy Radmall (or Poppy) who was known as Mrs Gretton. During their riotous six year partnership Frederick gave her many gifts, before bequeathing her £6,000 a year for life.

Frederick continued to have horse horses in training with John Porter until the Prestonpans/Fernandez incident.   Both these horses had been entered in the Liverpool Autumn Cup of 1880 and the betting public assumed that Fernandez with the better form would be the horse to beat and backed it.   However, Frederick backed Prestonpans and scratched Fernandez so he did not run.  Prestonpans won and after the race the crowd booed viciously - a further hostile demonstration took place as the horse went into the unsaddling enclosure.

This episode upset John Porter, he had never experienced anything like it on a racecourse and so reluctantly he asked Frederick to remove his horses from his yard.  They subsequently went to 'old' Alec Taylor at Manton, but were never that successful.

John Porter trained 57 winners from 145 races which accrued £37,670 in winnings for Frederick.

Sadly during the last year of his life Frederick's health deteriorated and he died on 16 November 1882.  An obituary in the Birmingham Daily Post said of him

'The deceased is a well known owner of racehorses but considering the purchases he made his colours were not so successfully carried as might have been expected.'

Frederick left an estate of more than £400,000.

Jenny Barley

We would like to thank Jockeypedia for allowing us to use the photos.