Guest Blog: The Manchester November Handicap – The Manchester Years

30th October 2013

For some of us they will always be “The Whitbread”, “The Schweppes” and the “The Manchester November Handicap”. Unbelievably, The Manchester November Handicap, the last big handicap of the season and traditionally run on the final day of season, has not been run at Manchester since 1963.  Our guest blogger, Tony Lake, picks up the story …


"The course is the worst thing about New Barns", wrote Charles Richardson, of the venue for the great handicap. The going "is very bad, owing to the fact that the course was laid on marshy land". Consequently, race frequently endured appalling conditions, often obscured by thick fog, and on one occasion gales blew the beer tent's canvas roof away. Runners and riders, however, were rarely perturbed and the race was usually none of the most competitive of the season.


As part of a new 2-day mixed meeting the Manchester November Handicap was first run on Friday, 24th November, 1876.  The comfortable winner was Polonaise. Ridden by the bearded and be-whiskered Dodge, the five year old was owned by Mr John Bowes of Streatlam Castle.  Bowes, the owner-breeder of West Australian, the first Triple Crown winner, had his horses trained in Malton and the locals certainly fancied Polonaise as she was supported into 5/2.

Daily News (London, England), Saturday, November 25, 1876

The race was originally contested over 1 mile and 4 furlongs but, in 1880, it was extended an extra two furlongs, furthermore £1000 was added to the prize money. It was whilst being contested over the Manchester Cup distance that some of the great horses of the period featured. In 1883, Corrie Boy, with Charles Wood up, shouldered 9st 10Ib to victory, and in 1887, Carlton won under the welter burden of 9st 12lb, with George Barrett.

1894 was the turn of Ravensbury. Mr Rose’s luckless colt had the misfortune of being a contemporary of the mighty Isinglass and ran second to him in all three of the colts’ Classics. At Manchester, however, as a four-year old and giving weight all round, Ravensbury defeated a good class field of eighteen. Behind him were Cypria, who dead-heated in the Caesarewitch; Clorane, winner of the Lincoln Handicap and Royal Hunt Cup; Ragimunde, winner of the Caesarewitch and Great Metropolitan; Bushey Park, successful in the Great Yorkshire Handicap and Liverpool Cup; Dare Devil, hero of two Chester Cups as well as a Northumberland Plate. Winning in great style the race also gave some consolation to his popular jockey Harry Barker, who had not only ridden Ravensbury into second place in the 2000 Guineas and Derby, but had earlier finished second in that year’s Grand National on Aesop.

If Ravensbury was the best horse to win the November Handicap then La Fleche (see blog 15th May, 2013) was the best horse not to. Unable to cope with a track resembling a ploughed field, in 1893, the great mare finished a forlorn sixth behind 40/1 shock Golden Drop.

Another Classic winner to suffer defeat in the November Handicap was Volodyovski in 1902. With the race re-located to Castle Irwell and reverting to one and a half miles, the 1901 Derby winner put in a lack lustre performance behind good winner, St Maclou. Colonel Mac Calmont’s colt was capping a fine season which started by defeating the remarkable Sceptre in the Lincoln.

As the race became established at Castle Irwell soon north-westerners were cheering on one of their own. Warrington born Steve Donoghue won three Manchester November Handicaps with the first coming in 1911 on Ultimus. At 9/4 the four year old was the shortest price winner of the race but according to the jockey it was not an elaborate plot. “Until the evening before the race no jockey was engaged for him, and when the trainer (J Fallon) came to me and asked me to ride the horse, I was dumbfounded to learn that his weight was 7st. That was impossible for me to do, but I promised to ride as light as I could, and I got off 6lbs by wasting overnight, and rode the horse at 7st 3lbs.

This was on a pound saddle, so when he stopped with me on the way to the post and started to kick (they warned me he was an awkward customer!) I began to wonder how far I should get in the race on him. However, I coaxed him into a good humour, and he got off all right, and won easily by three lengths.” (“Just my Story”).

The ten times champion jockey had back to back victories in 1927 and 1928. Mr JJ Murphy’s Old Orkney, at 8/1, being the first (and only) Irish trained winner, and Saracen, at 6/1, who benefited from an exemplary ride, with Steve sheltering Major Courtauld’s horse from the strong wind until the last possible moment.

In the 1930’s the race was becoming increasingly popular and was one of the first races to be broadcast on the BBC with “a running commentary by Mr R C Lyle relayed from Castle Irwell”. Clearly, listeners realised just how much of a lottery the race often was and it is of no surprise to learn that it was used for the Irish Hospitals' Sweepstake.

When the Second World War broke out racing was curtailed. In 1939, the Jack Jarvis trained Tutor won the Handicap. However, it was a bittersweet success for the Master of Palace House because his Blue Peter, thought to be 3 stones superior to his stable companion, was denied a tilt at the Triple Crown due the cancellation of the St Leger.  As the war continued Castle Irwell was requisitioned and a substitute race was staged at Pontefract from 1942 to 1945. Confined to northern trained horses F. Armstrong trained two of the four winners in Kerry Piper and Oatflake. Racing returned to Manchester in 1946 and, in his last day in the saddle, popular jockey Harry Wragg landed a treble, including Las Vegas in the big one.

In the 1950’s punters found it more beneficial following a trainer rather than a jockey, namely Sam Hall.  Between 1950 and 1960 he trained four winners: Coltbridge, Good Taste, Tearaway and Dalnamein. Tearaway’s year though summed up how difficult it was picking the winner since the first three past the post were 40/1, 33/1 and 50/1 respectively.  Indeed it was owner, Jack Hanson's second 40/1 winner in the last 2 runnings (the race had been abandoned in 1954) and he was as shocked by the results as everyone else.

Lightly weighted horses ridden by apprentices were enjoying a successful spell as well.  In 1956, Tearaway, skilfully handled by 5lb claimer Josh Gifford, landed a touch for owner Mr T H Degg. Coincidently, in 1957, Gifford’s soon to be employer, Ryan Price, won the race with Chief Barker.  In a desperate finish, Nat Cohen’s and the Variety Club’s horse, was well ridden by Dennis Walker, who tipped the scales at 4st 10lb and needed to be lifted to reach the girths by Price’s assistant “Boggy” Whelan.

Through the 1950’s and early ‘60’s “the November Handicap remained a great betting medium, even if rain, mist and fog often meant that little of the action could be seen,” Chris Pitt recalls in “A Long Time Gone”. It was always a competitive race yet especially so in 1959 when 49 went to post. Then just before the off, Operatic Society unseated his rider and bolted. His jockey Ken Gethin pleaded a lift and pursued his mount for a mile or so.  Eventually re-united, the partnership returned to join the other 48 … and then ran out a comfortable 2 lengths winner.

The race had become an institution and racing at Manchester was thriving, but in 1963, Manchester Racecourse Company sold out to a property developer. Blessed with fine weather for a change and a crowd of over 20,000, the biggest since hosting the wartime St Leger in 1943, Saturday, 9th November, 1963, was the last Manchester November Handicap run at Manchester.

In a field of 31 Nos Royalistes (Lester Piggott) failed by a length back in 4th under 9st 13lb which would have been a record. Instead, Jack “Towser” Gosden had his third winner of the race (and also had his third second in it). Blighted by coughing in the yard for most of the autumn the only two horses who avoided it were Bird Song and Damredub, winner of the 1962 renewal. No horse had ever won the race two years running but Damredub came very close only deprived by a particularly fine ride by Jimmy Lindley.

And so, Bird Song provided the great race’s swan song.


Manchester November Handicap (1876 – 1963) Quick Facts

Shortest price winner:  Ultimus (1911) 9/4

Shortest price loser: Crevasse (1922) 7/4

Longest price winner: Regret (1947) 66/1

Average price of winner: 17/1

Biggest field: 49 (1959)

Smallest field: 6 (1927)

Most successful jockeys:

Steve Donoghue – Ultimus (1911), Old Orkney (1927), Saracen (1928)

Billy Nevett – Newton Ford (1936), Beinn Dearg (1940), Good Taste (1951)

Most successful trainer:

Sam Hall – Coltbridge (1950), Good Taste (1951), Tearaway (1955), Dalnamein (1960) (NB some sources credit Torch Singer (1953) to Hall and others to Norman Scobie)

Winner carrying the most weight: Carlton 9st 12lb (1887)

Classic winner of the race: Belphoebe (1878) won 1000 Guineas(1877)

No. of renewals: 80 (including 4 substitute races at Pontefract 1942-45)

Races lost:  3 (World War One) & 5 (weather).

Most successful horse: no horse won this race more than once