Horse Racing Colours have been a key part of the Sport of Kings since a Jockey Club resolution in 1762. If you take a browse in the King's Yard you will see our excellent gallery supported by Weatherbys which focuses on the administration of the sport.
Under BHA regulations there are only 18 prime horse racing colours to choose from, but you can have any of these colours in any of the body, sleeve and cap designs.
This week's blog by guest blogger Grenville Davies covers some of the interesting stories about how a few famous horse racing colours were chosen.
One of the great pleasures of owning a racehorse, is said to be choosing your own colours.
So how are they chosen?
One of the most talked about and recognisable horse racing colours of recent times are Susannah Ricci’s of Faugheen and Douvan fame and according to her husband Rich, she took a liking to someone’s handbag. Must have been some handbag that carried bright pink with luminous green spots!
Style has also influenced another set of iconic horse racing colours; Prince Khaled Abdullah owner of Dancing Brave and Frankel (pictured further down), is said to have got the idea for his colours of green body, pink sash and white sleeves from Sir Michael Sobell’s curtains in his study, that is, if legend is to be believed.
Lester Piggott, more than any other jockey, has been associated with so many famous horses and their owner’s colours; the one set more than any other that he is often shown wearing is Robert Sangster’s (even more so than the Queen’s). Robert Sangster’s silks of green body, blue sleeves and white cap with green spots, which Lester carried to success on the likes of The Minstrel, Alleged and his last classic winner the 1992 2000 Guineas winner Rodrigo de Triano. Those colours must have created a very favourable impression on racing fan David Johnson, for when he owned his first horse Mister Majestic, who went onto win the 1986 Middle Park Stakes, he chose Roberts Sangster’s colours as the basis for his, in that he swapped the blue and green round for the jacket and sleeves but retained the green spots on the white cap. David Johnson would go onto win 2008 Grand National with Comply or Die.
Football and horse racing often go hand in hand on the racecourse as both Michael Owen and Mick Channon have proved and it’s no different in the sphere of racing silks. Two triple Cheltenham Festival champions owe their colours to their owner’s love of Football. Henry Alper bought his first horse Persian War (1968, 69 and 70 Champion Hurdler) after watching him win on TV and when he came to choose his colours, it occurred to him of course I’m a West Ham fan, so why not use those colours of claret and light blue. Fast forward more than thirty years and Best Mate (Gold Cup 2002, 03 and 04) is on the scene and a different version of claret and blue are now to the fore – those of the 1957 F.A. Cup winners Aston Villa, as owner Jim Lewis is a lifelong fan.
The origin of owners’ colours is a hazy one. It’s often thought that when lords, dukes and earls raced their horses in the 17th Century, they would be raced in their servant’s livery, as the jockeys were then servants. Indeed, in the late 19th Century Hugh Lonsdale - the Fifth Earl, who would earn the sobriquet “The Yellow Earl”, on account of his colours which matched his servants livery. Many feel though, that it dates back to the middle-ages, when knights would joust and carry the handkerchief of their sponsoring lady tied to their armour.
By the 1760s racing was becoming more or a sport, than just a rural pastime. The Jockey Club decided that racing had to be more organised and in 1762 one of it’s first rulings, was that jockeys should wear the registered colours of the horses’ owners. The Racing Calendar published the following:- “For the better convenience of distinguishing each horse during a race, and also to avoid disputes that may arise from non-recognition of colours worn by each rider, the gentlemen named below have resolved to ascribe the following colours to the appropriate name, and they will be worn as follows”. Of the sixteen owners and their colours listed, only one is still seen on the racecourse – The Duke of Devonshire’s Straw colours – made famous in the late 1960s by Park Top.
The name Derby is synominous with racing, because of both the race and the family from which it takes it’s name. With the toss of a coin, the race for three-year-old colts at Epsom in early June was called the Derby and not the Bunbury and so was named after the 12th Earl. Apart from one win by Sir Peter Teazle in 1787, the family had been trying to win “their” race ever since. After many a close call, the 17th Earl finally landed the catch, that his ancestors had tried in vain to land. Prior to 1924, Lord Derby’s colours had been black jacket with white cap, except as jockey - Tommy Weston got changed to ride out for that year’s Derby on Sansovino, he failed to realise that his white scarf had got wrapped around one of the buttons of his jacket. That explains why there is a rogue white button on Lord Derby’s colours, as the 17th Earl took it as good omen and it has stuck ever since.
As a teenager one of my favourite colours were Jim Joel’s of black jacket and scarlet cap, made famous down the years by the likes of Royal Palace, Light Cavalry and Maori Venture. They were originally owned by Richard Sutton – owner of Lord Lyon the 1866 Triple Crown winner. On Sutton’s death he bequeathed his colours to Jack Barnato Joel (who twice landed the Derby). After he died in 1940 his son Jim subsequently took over his racing interests as well his colours. Sadly, those iconic colours have been absent from the racecourse since his death in 1992.
What would my colours be? As a Notts County fan and a lover of the colour red, there would have to be a mix somewhere in there.
Blog by Guest blogger Grenville Davies
If you enjoyed this blog and would like to learn more about the fascinating history of horseracing, why not visit Palace House, Newmarket. Tickets here