Legends of the Turf: Fairway

11th July 2013

“Far and away the best horse in England and probably the world” was how Fairway was described at the end of his four year old campaign. A horse of impeccable breeding, Fairway recorded a string of top class wins during his career, and his defeat in the Derby must rank as one of the unluckiest in history, as he had lost the race before it even began due to events beyond his control.


Bred by Lord Derby in 1925, Fairway was a son of Phalaris, one of the most influential stallions in history, and the mare Scapa Flow, who was the daughter of another great sire in Chaucer. Fairway was a full bother to Pharos, a good racehorse and hugely important sire (his son Nearco cemented the dominance of the Phalaris line). Unlike his brother and most of his sire’s progeny, Fairway took after his grandsire Polymelus in appearance, and was a lengthy, rangy horse with an exceptionally long stride.


In 1927, Fairway topped the Free Handicap for two year olds along with Hermit II and Buland, all of which were given 126. During his juvenile campaign, Fairway ran very green on his first start, improved to win the Coventry by three lengths, held of the classy Hakim by a head in the July Stakes, and took the Champagne Stakes by two lengths from Nance. The colt came back sore from this last race, and so was rested for the season.

Fairway’s career continued to be hampered by problems the following spring, first from heavy rain impeding his training, and then from mouth abscesses Although the horse looked well enough during a parade on Craven Day, he suffered another attack the day before the 2000 Guineas and had be withdrawn. In his absence, Flamingo won the race and Fairway’s excellent stablemate (rated some way inferior) Pharamond finished fourth, suggesting that a top form Fairway could have won the race.


Fairway instead reappeared in the Newmarket Stakes where he won very easily by two lengths from The Wheedler, and was made favourite for the Derby. Again, disaster struck before the Classic, as Fairway’s popularity led to him being mobbed by the crowd on his way down to the start. Racegoers plucked hairs from his tail and the colt was greatly distressed when he finally joined the others. The start of the race was no better, as the tape was broken three times by Gang Warily and Black Watch, so Fairway was not given a chance to regain his composure. He finished a well beaten seventh to the unfancied Felstead, but most observers agreed that this was not his true running.


After this ordeal, Fairway was withdrawn from Royal Ascot and given time to recover and regain his confidence. His next appearance came in a fantastic renewal of the Eclipse Stakes where he faced Royal Minstrel (winner of the Craven, St James Palace, and Cork & Orrey Stakes) and Book Law (winner of the Coronation, Nassau, St Leger and Jockey Club Stakes), who was sent off the 7/4 favourite. Proving his class, Fairway won by eight lengths in a canter, and indicated that he would be a real danger in the St Leger, although some thought that Felstead would outstay him.


In the final Classic of the season, Fairway was judged to look “exquisite” in the paddock. The Derby winner had been injured and withdrawn, so Fairway was sent off the favourite. The leaders Cyclonic and Palais Royal II came under pressure two furlongs out, while Fairway merely needed one tap with the whip to sweep to a length and a half win. He rounded off his season by defeated the Nassau and Hardwicke Stakes winner Foliation by a neck in the Champion Stakes, with dual Ascot Gold Cup winner Invershin back in third. Fairway was the top rated horse for 1928 with 136, two pounds clear of Felstead.


Fairway won five of six starts as a four year old, reappearing in the Burwell Stakes and then winning the Rous Memorial Stakes at Ascot, where he conceded eight and more pounds to the opposition. A win in the Princess of Wales’ Stakes under 9st12lbs set Fairway up to record a second Eclipse success, but this year the tables were turned and he finished a four length second to Royal Minstrel. Connections and onlookers deemed that he had run below form, though the winner was a very fine horse himself.

Fairway rebounded to win the final two starts of his career, registering three length triumphs in the Champion Stakes (beating Jockey Club Stakes winner Cyclonic) and Jockey Club Cup (beating Cambridgeshire victor Palais Royal II) to take his career record to twelve wins and earnings of £42,722. He ended the year rated 138.


Fairway was kept in training as a five year old for a crack at the Ascot Gold Cup, before tendon issues led to his retirement.


He stood for an initial 400 guineas fee (reduced to 300 guineas during the War), and was champion sire four times. Among his progeny were Derby winners Blue Peter and Watling Street, and by the time of his death in 1948 his progeny had won 399 races and £297,482 in earnings.


Fairway (1925) by Phalaris out of Scapa Flow (Chaucer)

Breeder: Lord Derby

Owner: Lord Derby

Trainer: George Lambton, Frank Butters.

Major wins:

Coventry Stakes (1927)

  July Stakes (1927)

    Champagne Stakes (1927)   

Newmarket Stakes (1928)   

Eclipse Stakes (1928)   

St Leger (1928)  

Champion Stakes (1928, 1929)

Princess of Wales’ Stakes (1929)

Jockey Club Cup (1929)