Legends of the Turf: Touchstone

13th June 2013

Touchstone (born 1831) was bred by Robert Grosvenor, 1st Marquess of Westminster, and was sired by the excellent stallion Camel, himself a son of the 1810 Derby winner and outstanding sire Whalebone. Touchstone’s dam was the mare Banter, a granddaughter of the 1802 St Leger winner Orville. She also produced the 1840 St Leger winner Launcelot and the broodmare Sarcasm, dam of the 1841 St Leger winner Satirist, so Touchstone hailed from an impressive family of stayers.

Touchstone himself was also noted for his speed as well as stamina and was a hard puller during races. He was typically a difficult ride, lazy during training but resentful of the whip, which could cause him to swerve if applied. He also had rather poor conformation, with turned out hocks and straight knees, as well as an ankle that would cause problems later in his career.

Touchstone debuted as a two year old in the Produce Stakes at Litchfield in September, which he won in a walkover. His only other race that year saw him finish third to Queen Bess in the Champagne Stakes at the Holywell Hunt in October.

Touchstone improved as a three year old, although he did not run in the Derby, which was won impressively by Plenipotentiary. Instead he won both the Dee Stakes and Palestine Stakes at Chester (on consecutive days), before finishing second in the Liverpool St Leger after making all of the running. This race was significant as it marked the first time that his trainer John Scott had actually seen the horse in person and, despite the defeat, he was impressed with Touchstone. He ordered the horse to be brought north to his stable in Yorkshire to prepare for the St Leger at Doncaster. Unfortunately, the groom responsible for walking Touchstone the distance was very fond of drinking, and accidentally allowed the horse to escape into the wild. Eventually, Touchstone was recaptured by a seafarer and taken to Sheffield, but the adventure badly affected the horse. Exhaustion and an attack of jaundice hampered Touchstone’s preparation for the St Leger, and when he had a final gallop under jockey William Scott, he performed well below expectations. Accordingly, Scott abandoned him to ride Lady de Gross, and left George Calloway to ride Touchstone.

Touchstone was sent off for the St Leger at 40/1, with Plenipotentiary the 10/11 favourite. However, it appeared that the Derby winner had been “got at” as he could barely raise a gallop throughout the race. To the astonishment of the watching crowd, he could finish only fifth while Touchstone eased to a two length victory. Even Calloway seemed surprised at how easily the house had won, and he “turned his head left and right to see whether the others had not been swallowed up”.

Touchstone had three more races that season, winning a stakes race at Wrexham in September, finishing third in the Mostyn Mile at Holywel, then walking over in the Chieftain Stakes later that same day.

As a four year old, Touchstone suffered only two defeats in eight starts: in the Tradesmen’s Cup at Liverpool he inexplicably finished sixth behind General Chasse, and he was again beaten in the Mostyn Stakes over a mile at Holywel. In his other races, he walked over the Stand Cup at Chester, the Gold Cup at Heaton Park, and the Pengwern Stakes and Post Sweepstakes on the same day at Holywel. He also beat Epsom Gold Cup winner Languish in the Gold Plate at Heaton, and won the Doncaster Gold Cup against old rival General Chasse and Goodwood Cup winner Hornsea.

In 1836 as a five year old, Touchstone reappeared in the Ascot Gold Cup on 2nd June. Also in the field was Rockingham, the winner of the St Leger, Goodwood and Doncaster Cups, but he was no match for the 6/5 favourite, who won easily by two lengths. Touchstone followed up that performance with an even more memorable win in the Doncaster Cup, where he beat the outstanding racemare Beeswing, the winner of virtually every top staying race in the country. He rounded off his season with another walk over in the Heaton Park Gold Cup, having successfully scared off the opposition and established himself as the top stayer in the country.

Touchstone had only one race aged six, but once again it was a brilliant performance and secured him his second Ascot Gold Cup. Sent off the 1/2 favourite, he raced to the lead at the final turn and won by six lengths in a canter from Slane.

Touchstone retired with total earnings of £5,475 and covered forty mares in his first season at Moor Stud for a fee of thirty guineas. He soon established himself as a leading stallion and was relocated to Eaton Stud and his fee raised to forty guineas.  Although most of his foals were brown like their sire, he did not stamp his get with a particular physique, and they came in all shapes and sizes. Among his progeny were Derby winners Cotherstone, Orlando and Surplice, St Leger winner Blue Bonnet and 2000 Guineas winners Flatcatcher, Lord of the Isles and Nunnykirk. Perhaps his most significant offspring was St Leger winner Newminster, a son of his contemporary Beeswing, who the sired Derby winner and outstanding sire, Hermit.

Touchstone was rather particular when it came to mares; he didn’t like young mares, but showed less interest in older mares until high summer. He remained fertile until aged 27, and appeared in good health until close to his death in 1861, aged 30.

Touchstone (1831) by Camel out of Banter (Orville)

Breeder: Robert Grosvenor, 1st Marquess of Westminster

Owner: Robert Grosvenor, 1st Marquess of Westminster

Trainer: John Scott

Major wins:

St Leger (1834)

Dee Stakes (1834)

Doncaster Cup (1835, 1836)

Ascot Gold Cup (1836, 1837)

By Alice Kay