This week's blog takes a look at Hyperion’s attempt to win the 1934 Ascot Gold Cup. The previous year the 15h 1 1/2in chestnut, with four white socks, had easily won the Derby and St Leger by four and three lengths respectively. On the last day of May 1933 he had become the smallest Derby winner since Little Wonder in 1840.
The Ascot Gold Cup raced over 2 mile 4 furlongs on Ladies Day at the Royal Meeting is a unique challenge for the thoroughbred and Hyperion’s owner the 17th Lord Derby had kept him in training as a four year old to win Ascot’s premier prize.
The last Derby winner at the time to have completed the double was Prince of Wales’s, later Edward VII’s colt, Persimmon, who in 1897 stormed to victory by eight lengths.
Hyperion was no stranger to Royal Ascot winning there in 1932 and 1933. As a juvenile he arrived fresh from a debut 4th when a 25/1 outsider in a minor race at Doncaster to impressively win the New Stakes, now Norfolk Stakes, beating twenty one opponents. At the time his jockey Tommy Weston had more faith in the horse than his trainer George Lambton, who had missed his opening outing. “He’s a different horse as soon as he gets on a racecourse” remarked Weston before Royal Ascot. For a colt bred to stay the Derby, Hyperion covered the five furlongs only 2/5ths of a second less than Gold Bridge, the top three year old sprinter who had won the Granville Stakes earlier in the day. The win marked the beginning of the racing public’s affection for the little ‘un and ranks as one of his best ever performances.
He returned the following year the race after his Epsom triumph to win the Prince of Wales’s Stakes which was then a conditions race for three year olds over 1 mile 5 furlongs. Sent off as the 1/2 favourite on a rain soaked opening day Hyperion coasted to victory. A headline in The Times Newspaper the day after said ‘Hyp-hyp-hyperion’.
The right honourable George Lambton had been the Lord Derby’s resident trainer since 1893 but after a fall at home in May 1933, he was unable to travel to Epsom to saddle Hyperion and at the end of that season the owner replaced him at his Stanley House stables with College Leader. Lambton was not in agreement and continued to train in Newmarket at Kremlin House.
Hyperion, a favourite of Lambton’s, was lazy at home, not the easiest to get fit and a character, full of idiosyncrasies. He liked attention and Lambton knew how to train the little Newmarket Star. Lambton’s knowledge of Lord Derby’s bloodlines, who was a major owner breeder at the time, gave him a close understanding of the horses at Stanley House and their own individual requirements. However, training a dual Classic winner, who at the time was the most famous horse in the country, was a big responsibility for Leader. Indeed reports at the time said Leader might have underestimated the work needed to train Hyperion for the Ascot Gold Cup.
Prior to Hyperion’s return to Royal Ascot the colt had two preliminary runs, both at Newmarket. In the ten furlong March Stakes at the Guineas meeting he only won by a neck, conceding 20Ibs to the runner up Angelico. He followed up with a three quarters of a length win ahead of the previous year’s Derby runner up King Salmon in the twelve furlong Burwell Stakes. Leader intended to run Hyperion in the Coronation Cup but the colt was pulled out on the morning of the race due to the hard ground.
The spring and early summer of 1934 was unusually dry and hot which made it harder for Leader to test the little horse’s stamina on the firm ground of the Newmarket gallops. There were also rumours circulating about a disappointing final gallop ahead of his Royal Ascot date.
Ten horses lined up at Ascot on Thursday 21 June with Hyperion sent off the 8/11 favourite. The superb International field included Thor II, winner of the 1933 French Derby, the American horse Mate 2nd in the Coronation Cup, the Italian star Crapom, winner of the 1933 Prix De l’arc De Triomphe and the Aga Khan’s Felicitation, runner up in the 1933 St Leger. Hyperion had beaten Felicitation in his Dewhurst Stakes, Derby, St Leger and March Stakes victories but after his win in the previous days Churchill Stakes over two miles, the Aga Khan’s horse was backed down to 9/2 2nd favourite.
Champion jockey Gordon Richards on Felicitation set the pace from the start to test Hyperion’s stamina and at one stage led the field by ten lengths. With just under a mile to go Weston made a forward move and entered the straight in second place but sadly the horse made little impression on the leader. Newspaper reports said Hyperion could have finished second but that Weston did not press him once victory was out of grasp. Felicitation galloped home eight lengths clear of Thor II with a weary Hyperion a further 1 ½ lengths back in 3rd place.
Hyperion had one more race on 17 July when he was beaten by a short head in a two horse race at Newmarket before he was retired to stud.
Interestingly amongst his successful progeny was the 1941 War Time Derby Winner Owen Tudor, who won the following year’s Gold Cup run at Newmarket. Owen Tudor later sired Elpenor, the 1954 Ascot Gold Cup winner. Ocean Swell remains the last Derby winner (1944) to win the Ascot Gold Cup (1945) although his Derby win was at Newmarket.
It is now very unlikely we will ever see a Derby winner attempt to do the double. The last to try was Blakeney, the 1969 Blue Riband victor, who finished 2nd in the 1970 Ascot Gold Cup behind Precipice Wood.
Blog by Stephen Wallis, Visitor Services.