As we reflect on last Saturday's final Classic of the season at Doncaster guest blogger Grenville Davies reviews the career of Gainsborough, the 1918 Wartime winner of the St Leger .
The Holy Grail of British flat racing is the Triple Crown, comprising the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in May over a mile, the Derby at Epsom over a mile and half in June and the St. Leger at Doncaster over a mile 6 furlongs and 127 yards in September.
These races have been in existence now for over 200 years and in that time, fifteen horses have written their names on that roll of honour, from West Australian in 1853 to Nijinsky in 1970. In between those two titans of the turf, others that stand out are: - Gladiateur 1865, Ormonde 1886, Isinglass 1893 and Bahram in 1935, who all achieved the Triple Crown.
The history books though, will sometimes only credit twelve Triple Crown winners, as the three that achieved this feat between the years 1914 – 1918, were during the First World War. The then restrictions placed by the government on racing during that time, meant racing was very much run on a localised basis. This was because the main method of transport to and from the races, was the railway, not just for the horses but also the racegoers, all of which were needed for the movement of troops and munitions. This resulted in there being only a limited number of racecourses in use, indeed all the war-time classic races were run on Newmarket's July Course. Many courses were also used as hospitals like Epsom, others were used for farming, army barracks and even prisons.
Of the three war-time winners Pommern – 1915, Gay Crusader – 1917 and Gainsborough in 1918, the best of those on the racecourse was Gay Crusader but by far the best at stud was Gainsborough.
Like the 1917 winner - Gay Crusader, Gainsborough was by Bayardo and trained by Alec Taylor, so becoming only the second time that a horse has sired two Triple Crown Winners and a trainer has trained more than one winner of the “Holy Grail”. Gainsborough also became the first winner of an English Classic to be owned by a woman - Lady James Douglas.
Upon seeing the name of Gainsborough in the records of racing, you would have every right to believe that he was named after the 18th Century artist Thomas Gainsborough, however you could not be further from the truth, for he was named after the Lincolnshire town's train station. When deciding upon the name for her son of Bayardo, the owner breeder Lady James Douglas happened upon an A-Z of British Railway Stations and she stopped on the letter G.
Gainsborough was sent to the sales as a yearling but failed to reach his reserve of 2,000 Guineas, so her breeder took the rare step of keeping him, as she sold most of her yearlings. She later turned down an offer from America. Thankfully for herself and British Bloodstock, she was to stand by that decision.
He made his debut in Newmarket’s Thurlow Plate, a five-furlong two-year old race, where he finished fourth. In an afternoon of racing to be much forgotten, only left memorable by the fact that the meeting was run in conditions that were akin to a monsoon and that his much lauded stable-mate Gay Crusader won the Derby, this is the only time that two Triple-Crown winners would appear on the same race card.
Gainsborough’s only victory as a two-year old was in the Autumn Stakes. So impressive was his victory, it resulted him being placed second on the Free Handicap.
His three-year-old seasonal debut was in the five-furlong Severals Stakes at Newmarket, racing against seasoned sprinters and elders, it must have been used as no more than a “racecourse gallop” and was unplaced. Come the Guineas, it was very much a different result, where he won easily from Subtle Kiss and his stable-mate Blink.
In the Derby, Gainsborough was a warm 13-8 on favourite and the race was all about Alec Taylor's Manton stable, as the stable's Blink and Air Raid led the field for the first half a mile. The latter would go onto win the Cesarewitch later in the year. At the four-furlong marker the favourite went to the front and made the best of his way home to win by one and a half lengths from Blink.
He then defeated two opponents in the Newmarket Gold Cup before he beat his two stable-mates in the September Stakes to complete the Triple Crown. In the September Stakes (St. Leger), like all his Triple-Crown victories, Gainsborough was ridden by Joe Childs, who had been granted leave of absence by his regiment the 4th Hussars, as way of a thank you he passed on his fee to them.
One of his opponents that day, Prince Chimay, who finished third, turned around the form and beat Gainsborough in his final race, the Jockey Club Stakes over the Leger distance, by a length in a race that was nothing but an anti-climax.
If Gainsborough retired from the racecourse on a downturn, his career at a stud was anything but. Champion Sire in 1932 and 1933 he would be excelled by his son, the 1933 Derby and St. Leger winner Hyperion, who would himself be six-times Champion Sire and a dynasty was so formed.
Like Pommern and Gay Crusader, Gainsborough has often been maligned and down-graded as a “Faux Triple Crown winner” but all a racehorse can be expected to do is to beat the best around. If circumstances conspire against him, history should not then view them any differently and they should be judged as equals amongst horses.
Blog by guest blogger, Grenville Davies