Legends of the Turf: La Fleche

15th May 2013

Described as “the cream of the bowl” by trainer John Porter and rated one of the best fillies of the Nineteenth Century, La Fleche was the fourth horse to capture the Fillies Triple Crown, and was more than a match for the finest colts of her era.

Foaled in 1889, she was a daughter of the incomparable stallion St. Simon and the excellent broodmare Quiver, who also produced 1890 Oaks and St Leger winner, Memoir. La Fleche was described as a beautiful filly, with a fine head and wiry, greyhound-esque physique. She was, according to her second trainer, Richard Marsh, at her best when worked hard and very lean, and some of her finest performances came when she looked her worst. Like other St. Simon offspring, she had a highly nervous and excitable temperament, but was all heart when it came to a fight.


La Fleche was bred at the Royal Stud at Hampton Court, and sold as a yearling to Baron de Hirsch for a record 5,500 guineas. The Baron was a keen supporter of the sport and donated all of La Fleche’s winnings to charitable causes, making him a popular figure on the racecourse.


La Fleche- lean and mean Lean and mean

La Fleche was an outstanding two year old and won all four races including the Chesterfield Stakes at Newmarket, the Lavant Stakes and Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood, and the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, all in impressive style. In the last race, she had the future Derby winner Sir Hugo well beaten in third.


She made her reappearance as a three year old in the 1000 Guineas, where she won in a canter from The Smew and Adoration. La Fleche was largely expected to maintain her unbeaten record in the Derby, but under a poor ride from George Barrett (who had her ten lengths back at Tattenham Corner), she just failed to catch Sir Hugo, who held on by three quarters of a length.


Despite this first loss, she ran again two days later and won the Oaks by a short head from The Smew, although it was clear her desperate Derby run had taken its toll on her.


Given time to recover, La Fleche got back to winning ways in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood, before attempting to avenge her loss to Sir Hugo in the St Leger. Also in the field was Orme, who had been forced to miss the Derby after being poisoned but had later won the Eclipse and Sussex Stakes. The colts made brave efforts, but the filly was far too good for them on the day, and won easily by two lengths to secure the Fillies Triple Crown.


La Fleche’s season was far from over, and she added the Lancashire Plate (under 9st 8lbs), Grand Duke Michael Stakes and Newmarket Oaks to her record before triumphing in the Cambridgeshire against a field of 30.

La Fleche in training

La Fleche was undoubtedly at her best as a three year old, and the following year was relocated to Richard Marsh’s yard after disagreements between her owner and John Porter. She was covered by the Ascot Gold Cup winner Morion in the spring of 1893, but later lost the foal. Marsh was convinced that this mating had a negative effect on La Fleche for much of the early part of the season.


La Fleche ran some fantastic races in defeat, notably when third to Orme in the Eclipse (after she had been difficult to train beforehand and Marsh was convinced she shouldn’t have run), second to Orme by a neck in the Gordon Stakes, with top class Watercross six lengths behind, and when third in the Lancashire Plate. The latter race had expected to be a match between La Fleche and that year’s outstanding Triple Crown winner Isinglass, whom the mare was conceding six pounds to. In the end, the jockeys of the two Triple Crown winners were so concerned with beating each other that they allowed another colt, Raeburn, to snatch the win close to the finish.


La Fleche finally registered a win in the Lowther Stakes where she won by six lengths from Champion Stakes winner Le Nicham, before an attempt at winning a second Cambridgeshire. Under 9st 7lbs, she finished sixth behind Molly Morgan, who carried over 3st less in weight.


La Fleche’s finest performance came in the Liverpool Autumn Cup where, despite of her poor appearance (Marsh was embarrassed and reluctant to remove her rug in the paddock), she won impressively by a length and a half. In her final race of the season, she could only finish fifth to Golden Drop in the Manchester November Handicap while giving him 2st in weight.


La Fleche returned to her best form as a five year old after again being covered by Morion and racing in foal that year. She recorded an emphatic victory in the Ascot Gold Cup, winning by three legnths from Callistrate, before failing by a half length to beat Ravensbury in the Hardwicke Stakes the very next day. She was unplaced in the Prince Edward Handicap at Manchester, before signing off her career in magnificent style in the Champion Stakes, where she trounced Ravensbury by eight lengths, winning with her ears pricked.


La Fleche was rated by far the best mare that Richard Marsh ever trained, and was the outstanding mare in a period of outstanding racehorses like Orme and Isinglass. Retired to stud, her best offspring were the excellent stallion John O’Gaunt (sired by Isinglass), who sired Swynford, and the broodmare Baroness La Fleche, who produced 1000 Guineas winner Cinna and Australian Champion Sire Beau Pere.


La Fleche at stud La Fleche at stud

When Baron de Hirsch died in 1896, La Fleche was sold to Sir Tatton Sykes for an extravagant 12,600 guineas, but her ragged appearance greatly offended her new owner, who refused to accept her and left her at the railway station for two weeks. Only the kindly stationmaster ensured the former champion was fed, and she was in a sorry state by the time Sykes came to collect her.


Her previous owner the Baron had also experienced a mishap with her appearance while she was racing. Despite her distinctive physique, he failed to recognise her as his own beloved champion when the visiting King Edward played a prank and removed her nameplate in Richard Marsh’s yard!


La Fleche retired from breeding in 1911, and died in 1916 at the age of 26.


La Fleche (1889) by St. Simon out of Quiver (Toxophilite)

Breeder: Royal Studs

Owner: Baron de Hirsch

Trainer: John Porter, Richard Marsh

Major wins:

Champagne Stakes (1891)

1000 Guineas (1892)

Epsom Oaks (1892)

Nassau Stakes (1892)

St Leger Stakes (1892)

Lancashire Plate (1892)

Newmarket Oaks (1892)

Cambridgeshire (1892)

Lowther Stakes (1893)

Liverpool Autumn Cup (1893)

Ascot Gold Cup (1894)

Champion Stakes (1894)

By Alice Kay