In our latest blog, Stephen Wallis looked into the clash between St Frusquin and Persimmon at the July meeting in the 1896 Princess of Wales’s Stakes.
We all love exciting finishes when two horses race head to head to the finish line. It is even better when a rivalry develops between two horses. At the beginning of the 21st century we had two memorable clashes between Godolphin’s five-year-old Fantastic Light and Coolmore’s Derby winner Galileo, which we can happily look back on through YouTube.
Sadly, we cannot do the same for the 1896 variety when a similar rivalry built up between St Frusquin and Persimmon. Two well-bred colts, owned by close friends The Prince of Wales and Leopold de Rothschild, who served up a couple of races to remember in the Derby and at Newmarket’s July meeting of 1896.
To add some context, both horses were trained in Newmarket, St Frusquin, here at Palace House stables by Alfred Hayhoe and Persimmon, the royal colt at Egerton House stables by Richard Marsh and they were both sired by St Simon, (the 1884 Ascot Gold Cup winner).
The pair had first met as two-year-olds in the Middle Park Plate over six furlongs at Newmarket in October 1895. On that occasion at level weights St Frusquin had prevailed, four and a half lengths ahead of Persimmon, who was a sorry 3rd. Persimmon was off colour at the Rowley Mile and Richard Marsh had wanted to withdraw the colt because he had been coughing but Lord Marcus Beresford, the King’s Racing Manager disagreed. Fortunately, reports say that his jockey, Jack Watts was easy on Persimmon once victory was not within his grasp.
Persimmon was not ready to run in the spring of 1896 and the 2000 Guineas was left at the mercy of St Frusquin, who comfortably took the prize at the prohibitive odds of 12/100.
The roles were reversed in the Blue Riband where Persimmon having his first run of the season just got up after a two-furlong battle in the Epsom straight. St Frusquin with Tommy Loates in the saddle on the rails were only passed by Persimmon and Jack Watts with one hundred yards to go, who got up to win by a neck.
The result led to some of the most triumphant scenes ever witnessed at Epsom with the Prince of Wales leading Persimmon to the winner’s enclosure through an enthusiastic crowd cheering his name. The ‘Prince’s Derby’ as it became known remains a landmark in flat racing history. The Manchester Guardian even reported scenes outside and inside the London Stock Exchange where stockbrokers were heard cheering, “God bless the Prince of Wales”.
A month later the pair met for the third time in the Princess of Wales’s Stakes. The race, first ran in 1894 was named after Alexandra of Denmark, who became Princess of Wales in 1863, and was originally contested over 1 mile. The race had already built up a reputation as the 1893 Triple Crown winner Isinglass won the inaugural race, which also featured that year’s Derby winner Ladas. A prize of £10,000 meant the race along with the Eclipse Stakes was one of the most valuable races in the calendar and worth more than the Derby.
The 1896 running also attracted a powerful field of nine which included the Duke of Westminster’s colt Regret, who had missed the Derby, Sir Visto, the Derby and St Leger winner of 1895, and the first two in the 1895 2000 Guineas Kirkconnell and Laverno. Regret receiving weight from the Derby duo was favourite at 7/4 with St Frusquin 5/2 and Persimmon 4/1.
Having won the Guineas on the straight Newmarket mile it was thought by some of the racing scribes that St Frusquin would prefer the course and the trip. He was also carrying 3Ib less than the Derby winner.
A large contingent from the Royal Family were in attendance on Thursday 2 July. The Prince and Princess of Wales, Princesses Victoria and Maud, the Duke and Duchess of York and the Duke of Cambridge all spent the afternoon in the enclosure reserved for the Jockey Club.
Regret led the field until halfway before Persimmon took the lead with a quarter of a mile to go closely followed by St Frusquin. However, this time St Frusquin got the better of his rival passing him about one hundred yards from the post to win by half a length. Regret was third.
St Frusquin went on to win the Eclipse Stakes but racing on such hard going at Epsom and Newmarket had its effect on his fragile legs. 1896 was a very dry summer and preparing for the St Leger and a widely anticipated clash with Persimmon, St Frusquin broke down and sustained an injury to the suspensory ligaments in his forelegs.
Consequently, the Royal colt easily won the final classic of the season and the following year he won the Eclipse and the Ascot Gold Cup. Persimmon remains the last Epsom Derby winner to win the Ascot Gold Cup as well.
Persimmon by virtue of his famous Derby victory often receives more plaudits than St Frusquin although the latter won their head to head battles 2-1. It could, however, be rightly argued that Persimmon was not right in their two-year-old clash.
What you can say is that there was very little between these two outstanding colts just like a century later with Fantastic Light and Galileo, though in their case we can make up our own minds by watching YouTube.
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