Guest Blog - The Great Ebor Handicap

13th August 2013

The First Great Ebor Handicap

Something had to be done.  York races were on their last legs and the August meeting had become increasingly unpopular. Then, in 1843, there was a change of management and the fixture, dispite having to withstand further sniping, has never looked back.  Undoubtedly, the first running of the Great Ebor was a watershed event.

For years the Lockwood family had run York racecourse.  The August meeting was made up of  six races over two days:  three of them consisting of uncompetitive Queen’s and Members’ Plates, and the other three Sweepstakes, without any money added.  As the crowds dwindled there was a genuine fear that the races might disappear altogether.  The 1842 meeting was particularly dreary and the disquiet was widespread. It was time for new management.

The new era dawned when John Orton took control of the course.  Total responsibility was placed on his shoulders as he  became the Clerk of the Course, Keeper of the Match Book and Judge. Orton was warmly welcomed and supported by the great and good of Yorkshire.  There was a new found optimism. With first class training facilties nearby, excellent rail links, as well as ample and cheap stabling, the town had much in its favour.  Orton and his supporters felt that in a year or two York would compete with Chester, Doncaster and Epsom.  All that was needed was high quality racing and Orton responded by putting on twelve races, with good prizemoney, including the Great Ebor Handicap with 200 sovereigns added to 20 sovereigns stakes.

However, not everyone was convinced. Reviewing the runners and riders on the eve of the 1843 race the London based The Era thought the field a “worthless lot” and The Manchester Times and Gazette concluded that the race was “a most decided failure”.  The race had cut up badly, from “an extensive and once-cheering nomination” to a “meagre acceptance of fifteen candidates ... most …of very doubtful merit.”  (To make matters worse only eight faced the starter.) The Manchester Times and Gazette, did not stop there though and provided readers with an incredible warning. “We wish here to remind our readers that all the horses are Yorkshire, and that all the jockeys will probably be Yorkshire too; it may therefore prove a most biting affair. Perhaps all are cut, dried, and decided ere the word go.”

Race-goers were unperturbed by such scurrilous comment from the other side of the Pennines, and the day’s excitement was eagerly anticipated. Thursday, 24th August, was blessed with fine weather the course was in beautiful condition.  With the promise of a competitive race, crowds flocked to the Knavesmire, “fashionables” filled the grandstand and the betting ring was swelled by many of the Manchester punters.  The Great Ebor drew the largest crowd to the York races in ten years and the afternoon was full of expectation and enthusiasm.

Set to concede up to a stone to the others the classy Alice Hawthorn was considered to be handicapped out of it.  Similarly, with 8st 10lbs, Millipede was thought to have plenty to carry. The Gazette’s tipster also reasoned that Priscilla Tomboy “cannot give eleven pounds to Pagan,” and Our Nell, “winner of last year’s Oaks, teaches us to know that the sorriest jades, if we may judge from her general running, that ever padded a hoof, may, when in good health, occasionally drop in for a good thing: the mere circumstance of her acceptance, however, makes us half suspicious of the designs of the stable.” Of the others, The Prince of Wales “is most in demand,” and Poussin “the most dangerous amongst the dark ones.” In summing up, he went for Pagan “with all his faults.”

The first race on the card was a walk over for Philip.  The chestnut colt was partnered by Sim Templeman who was had the leg up on Pagan thirty minutes later.

From the grandstand, it looked as if Nat had got left at the start, but it was a false start and the runners were recalled.  Lara had gone a couple of furlongs so there was some delay.

At the second time of asking, the eight runners got off to a level break for their two mile journey.  Priscilla Tomboy took an early lead but soon dropped through the pack to second last, with only Alice Hawthorn behind her.  Belle Dame and Lara were soon disputing the lead and set a severe pace.  They were just in front of Idolatry, Nat, Millipede, Priscilla Tomboy and Alice Hawthorn with Pagan demoted to whipper-in. In single file they kept this order until they got to the wood where Lara and Idolatry gave way as Pagan took closer order.  There was no change amongst the leaders until they crossed the gravel road where Nat took up the running closely followed by Belle Dame and Pagan. At Middlethorpe Corner, Templeman made his move and readily collared Belle Dame and Nat.  In a matter of strides it was all over. Pagan was a cosy winner by one length, with another half-length separating Nat and Belle Dame. Millipede was a further three lengths behind, a length ahead of Alice Hawthorn. The rest had been found out by the scorching pace and finished tailed off.

The   Great Ebor Handicap Stakes of 200 sovs, given by the Race Committee, added to a   Handicap Stakes of 20 sovs each. The winner to pay 20 sovs towards the   expenses, and the owner of the second to save his stake. Fifty four subscribers.

Two miles.

1 Col   Cradock Pagan 5.7.12 S. Templeman
2 Mr   Eddison Nat (late Prince of Wales) 3.6.02 G.   Simpson
3 Mr   Allen Belle Dame 4.6.07 Copeland
Mr   Wormaid Millipede 5.8.10 J.   Holmes
Mr   Plummer Alice   Hawthorn 5.9.07 R.   Heseltine
Gen   Sharpe Lara 5.7.10 Job   Marson
Mr   Brookes Idolatry 4.6.10 G   Francis
Mr   Kitching Priscilla   Tomboy 4.7.13 W.   Oates
Betting: 2/1 Nat 9/2   Alice Hawthorn, 6/1 Belle Dame, 7/1 Millipede, Priscilla Tomboy, 8/1 Idolatry;   10/1 Pagan, Lara


The successful jockey, Simeon Templeman, was widely known as “Honest Sim”. After leaving school he had joined Tommy Sykes stables in Malton before moving on to Meiklam’s stable in Middleham. By 1843 he had already won the Derby once, in 1839, (in the snow) on Bloomsbury, and was to follow up in 1847 and 1848. The Everingham born jockey’s other Classic victories were the Oaks in 1847 and 1855 as well as the 1851 St. Leger. His peculiar style of riding with his legs sticking out so straight that his toes were in front of the shoulders of the horse was widely discussed but evidently effective.

The winning owner was Colonel Cradock of Hartforth, near Richmond, who was a terrific supporter of horseracing in Yorkshire.  His blue body and cap with white sleeves colours were often to the fore at Richmond and Doncaster as well as York.  Beldale handler, William "Billy" Peirse had care of his string until he handed over to his son, Thomas.

By winning the first Ebor Pagan secured a place in the History books, but the well-beaten top weight, Alice Hawthorn, became more famous. Mr J Plummer’s filly was a prolific winner successful in more than fifty races worth £8000.  In fact, she won a race at York on the day before the Ebor and won again, at Stockton, two days after. Her major successes included the Chester Cup, Cheshire Stakes, Goodwood Cup, Doncaster Cup (twice) and the Richmond Cup.

Following Pagan’s Great Ebor views changed about the York meeting. The Era admitted, “though for years we spurred at them with the same chance of a roar as from a dead lion; long may it be ere they enact the living jackass.”  Thus from “a most decided failure” the Ebor is now Europe’s richest handicap and a jewel in the flat racing crown.

Guest Blog by Tony Lake