Leave it to the Judge

22nd September 2015

Tony Lake recalls two historic dead-heats


Leave it to the Judge

Monday, 22 October, 1855


On the first day of the Houghton (“hay and corn”) Meeting, the £10 sweepstake for two-year-olds attracted only five runners but four of them dead-heated for first place. Run over the first half of the Abingdon Mile* (3 furlongs 215 yards) the runners raced neck and neck all the way to the line.


Mr Howard's Overreach was the 4/6 favourite and the mount of John Wells who had been Champion Jockey for the last two years and was described by fellow jockey Harry Custance as “a very resolute finisher.” On offer at 5/1 were the others: Mr Stevens's Unexpected partnered by Yates; Mr Burgess's Gamester with Chillman; Mr Morris's Lady Go-lightly under Basham; Mr Winteringham's King of the Gypsies ridden by J Marson.


At the winning post, the judge could not separate the first four; but placed King of the Gypsies fifth, a half length behind the others.  A deciding heat was necessary.


Overreach still headed the market, but eased to odds against at 6/4, whilst Unexpectedly and Gamester found supporters at 3/1. At the second attempt Wells got the verdict, winning “cleverly” by a head; with Unexpectedly and Gamester only separated by half a length in second and third.


That Newmarket sweepstake provided the closest finish ever but a five furlong race at Lewes runs it a close second. In the Astley Stakes, Friday, 6 August 1880, Scobell (Tom Cannon), Wandering Nun (J Goater) and Mazurka (Fordham) dead-heated for first place, and a head behind them came Cumberland (Archer) and Thora (Luke), who also dead-heated for fourth place. Scobell subsequently walked over for the £500 added prizemoney, and the stakes were divided between the three.


*NB the start on the Abingdon Mile Course was about a furlong beyond the Rowley Mile Starting Post so the finishing post was in the vicinity of the current start for five furlong races.




Tuesday, 13 October, 1857


A field of 34 runners went to post for the 2 mile 2 furlong Cesarewitch Handicap, which since being established in 1839 had become a firm favourite with punters and bookmakers.


The “talent of the Ring” would not hear of defeat for M Dobler, despite the colt not showing much on the racecourse, and backed him into 4/1. The second favourite, at 8/1, was the winner of the Great Ebor Handicap El Hakim, whilst Warlock, the “Ebor” winner in 1856 and the mount of Nat Flatman, found plenty of supporters at 12/1. The class horse of the race was John Wells' partner, Fisherman, but burdened with 9st 3lb he was unlikely to give 4st 7lb to Queen Bess with Harry Grimshaw up. Amongst the no-hopers were 60/1 shot St Giles, who Champion Jockey George Fordham rode for Lord Ribblesdale, and 100/1 rank outsider Prioress.


Prioress was one of three horses brought to England from America by Richard Ten Broeck, an enterprising sportsman who wanted to test American bloodstock in Britain. Foaled in 1853, as a two-year-old the daughter of Imperial Sovereign had won both heats of the Equus Stakes at Metairie on her début and followed up over a mile at the same course a week later. On her third outing before being shipped across the Atlantic she had been beaten on the Fashion Course, Long Island, on very heavy ground. Put into training at Houghton Downs, Stockbridge, with her American trainer, DD Palmer, she was slow to acclimatise.  The mare did show a glimmer of promise in the Goodwood Cup with her American jockey Gillpatrick attracting a lot of criticism for his tactics. Sacked by Ten Broeck and maintaining the mare was unfit Gillpatrick opted to go home; meanwhile Prioress finished well-beaten at Lewes and plum last at Chester in the hands of Fordham.


From “the Off”, Grimshaw wanted to make the race a true test of stamina and went straight to the front. For two miles Queen Bess was in the vanguard and challengers dropped away one by one. Approaching the Bushes, Queen Bess was joined by El Hakim, who had been travelling well in mid-division. As the pair started to battle, American jockey Tankersley produced Prioress on the outside. The three horses raced in unison to the line and as they passed the winning post the judge did not hesitate in calling a dead-heat. A run-off was arranged for after the last race.


For the decider Ten Broeck was persuaded to employ a stronger jockey and put up George Fordham and as the news spread the American horse was backed into 2/1. Nevertheless El Hakim, who now had the services of the more experienced Bray instead of Little, was made 5/4 favourite.  Queen Bess was steady in the market at 3/1 with Grimshaw retaining the ride.


In deepening twilight, El Hakim made the early running before Fordham let the hard pulling Prioress take the lead. Settling her at the Ditch, he then let her drop back behind the other two. Queen Bess went for home fully five furlongs out and was still clear at the Bushes. As Fordham asked his mount to quicken she seemed to hang to the left and he needed to straighten her before going for his whip. Once balanced, Fordham rode her in a “masterly style” and “won cleverly” by one and a half lengths from El Hakim and Queen Bess, who were separated by a head.


In landing Ten Broeck the prize, which carried £200 added by the Jockey Club, Prioress was his first winner in Britain and spearheaded an American invasion that was to take racing by storm.