“Ministers of today have no taste for the Turf” wrote Newmarket in his “Chapters in Turf History” in 1922. Tony Lake looks at six Prime Ministers who certainly did.
Running for No.10
The Marquis of Rockingham
Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham was a prominent Whig and served as Prime Minister between 1765 and 1766 and again in 1782. Both his administrations were dogged by America wanting independence and as Newmarket said, he was “hopeless as a minister...(but) remarkable as a patron of the Turf.”
Some of his progress in politics can be put down to his friendship with the Duke of Cumberland, the breeder of Eclipse, and the two men often opposed each other in matches. In 1757, it's recorded that Rockingham's horse defeated the Duke's horse, Cullen Arabian, in a match for 1,000 guineas over Newmarket's Beacon Course, and in a later contest Prospero completed a double for him. However, Cumberland had his revenge at Ascot in 1758, with his famous Herod winning a four mile match.
It was in his native Yorkshire that Rockingham made his mark. At York he employed architect John Carr to build a grandstand and on its completion, in 1754, shareholders could watch the races on the Knavesmire in luxury. He won some good races there too. In 1759, his Whistlejacket won a famous match for 2,000 guineas over 4 miles beating Brutus by a length, and later his Bay Malton defeated King Herod in a 500 guineas sweepstake. Those successes were capped in 1768 when Pilgrim, ridden by John Singleton, won the Great Subscription and in doing so inflicted a rare defeat on the famous Gimcrack. Bay Malton, in receipt of 8lb, had defeated the little grey horse at Newmarket in 1765 but to repeat the defeat on home turf was special. At Cantley Common, Doncaster, on 24 September 1776, Allabaculia won a sweepstake of 25 Guineas run over a two-mile course for him. Two years later that race was known as the St Leger; with Rockingham insisting that “the oldest of the Classics” should be named after the instigator, Anthony St Leger, rather than himself.
Rockingham's second term as Prime Minister was short-lived, as he died on 1 July 1782, just 14 weeks after taking office. The owner of the green jacket and black cap colours had made an indelible mark on racing if not politics.
Duke of Grafton
Leading the supporters of the Earl of Chatham in the House of Commons, Augustus Henry FitzRoy, 3rd Duke of Grafton, with Chatham indisposed, found himself, in 1768 at the age of 33, Prime Minister. He was totally out of his depth and as Newmarket stated, “Irregular in life, capricious and indolent, he had few of the qualities of a statesman”. Amidst crisis and scandal he resigned in 1770. Like the Marquis of Rockingham though the Duke of Grafton was a founder member of the Jockey Club and enjoyed success on the Turf.
Grafton's success can be traced back to Penelope who was foaled in 1798. She was the dam of 11 top class horses, including two Derby winners, and the family won nearly £100,000. A smart racehorse in her own right Penelope won 18 races for the Duke, and twice beat Eleanor, the first mare to win the Derby.
The Duke won the Blue Ribbon for the first time, in 1802, with Tyrant, who was described by Nimrod in “The Turf” as "one of the worst horses that ever won the Derby”. The victory was gained thanks to a great ride by Frank Buckle. Judging that well fancied Young Eclipse and Orlando were setting too fast a pace Buckle bided his time and collared the weakening leaders just before the winning post. In 1809, a second Derby fell to the Duke when Waxy Pope, under a strong drive from Tom Goodisson, edged out Wizard by a neck. However, it was Whalebone, who landed the premier Classic in 1810, that was the Duke's greatest horse.
Whalebone, who racing commentator The Druid described as having "a rather Turkish pony look, and was broad and strong, with a shortish neck,” ran for four seasons with great distinction. Unraced at two, he won the Newmarket Stakes on his début, before taking the Derby, where he made all under Bill Clift. Running five more times that season he lost only once. At four and five, he won the King's Plate at Newmarket establishing himself as the best horse in training.
Within 12 months of Whalebone's Derby, the Duke of Grafton died. The Duke never won the St. Leger, but he twice won the Oaks, in 1804 with Pelisse and in 1808 with Morel. Although his reputation in politics amounted to very little his Euston Hall stud was exceptional and was responsible for many Classic winners in the years to come.
Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, was in office almost continuously from 1807 until his death in 1865 and served twice as Prime Minister, 1855-58 and 1859-65. A charismatic and controversial figure, his premiership was dominated by foreign affairs. However, whether dealing with the Crimean War or American Civil War he always had time for racing. An entry in his diary for a Monday in May 1860 reads "John Day … about Mainstone. Shaftesbury about Church appointments”. On one occasion he even left a debate to chat with his trainer.
In 1816, “Pam” had his horses in training with John Barham Day. According to the trainer's son in "William Day's reminiscences of the turf” his father was only given this instruction: “Run them where you like and when you think best. Only let me know when they are worth backing.” His first winner was Enchantress, who along with his Luxborough, Ranvilles, Biondetta, Black and All Black, Toothill, Zeila and Romsey, enjoyed success in the West Country, near his Tiverton constituency. His biggest success came when he won the third renewal of the Cesarewitch, with Iliona (R West up), in 1841. Palmerston himself had bought the daughter of Priam for £65 from Lord George Bentinck, intending to send her to the paddocks on his Brooklands estate in Hampshire. However, Day persuaded him to keep her in training and, as well as the Cesarewitch, she won the Southampton Stakes and the Chesterfield Cup. William Day thought that Buckthorn, was the best horse to carry the green and orange colours. His opinion was vindicated when, given a superb ride by his brother, Alfred, the Brooklands bred colt captured the 1853 Ascot Stakes.
Palmerston longed to win the Derby while he was Prime Minister, and in 1860 it looked possible. After a promising second place, behind Thornmanby at Northampton & Pytchley, and victories at Salisbury and Stockbridge, his Mainstone was touted as one of the “cracks”. He was steadily backed into third favourite, however, after a training setback, Sam Rogers' mount started at 40/1 and ran dismally behind Thornmanby. Years later when discussing a political reverse with a colleague his response was: "Of course, you are mortified and disappointed, but your disappointment is nothing to mine, who had a horse with whom I hoped to win the Derby and he went amiss at the last moment."
Following the retirement of “Old Day” his horses were trained by William Goater, but his lucky years were behind him. AJP Taylor said that Palmerston was “the first hero of the serious middle-class electorate” the man himself, no doubt, would have preferred to have been the owner of an Epsom hero.
Earl of Derby
Edward George Geoffrey Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, was Prime Minister three times, however, all his ministries were short-lived and totalled little over three years. As Newmarket pointed out, “Whether in office or in Opposition, Derby rarely allowed public business to interfere with the claims of the racecourse.” Indeed Disraeli often despaired, knowing that his party leader was “at Newmarket and Doncaster when Europe — nay the world — is in the throes of immense changes”.
Derby employed John Scott as his trainer and enjoyed considerable success, winning over £94,000. It was on his trainer's advice that Derby bought Canezou and tasted Classic success for the first time. Making her début in the 1848 1000 Guineas she won, under a strong drive from Frank Butler, and followed up with victories in the Nassau Stakes, the Ebor St Leger and the Park Hill Stakes. That latter victory coming two days after she was beaten by a neck into second place by Derby winner, Surplice, in the St Leger. Renowned for her gameness, the mare won back-to-back Goodwood Cups, in 1849 and 1850. Canezou also did well at stud, producing, amongst others for Derby, Paletot, who won a St. James Palace Stakes, and Fazzoletto, a winner of the Great Yorkshire Stakes and the 2,000 Guineas.
Further Classic glory for the black with white cap colours came with Iris, in the 1852 Oaks, and Sagitta, in the 1860 1000 Guineas. However, his luck was out in the 1854 Oaks when Meteora started an odds-on favourite only to fill second place behind Mincemeat; with some suggesting her jockey, Sim Templeman, failing to do her justice. It was, of course, Derby's ambition to emulate the success of his grandfather and win the Derby
In 1858, when he was Prime Minister for the second time, he hoped "to pull off the double event". As a progressive two-year-old his Toxophlite went to the head of the Derby market after a fine performance in a Goodwood sweepstakes. The popular “Tox” caught the imagination of the non-racing public as they became aware of the Prime Minister's quest. A week before the big race, “Baptiste”, in The Era, wrote a lengthy poem which concluded:
To Lord Derby I give the Turf's riband of blue;
And long may he flourish, successful and great
In affairs of the Turf as those of the State.
Back in third place at Goodwood, however, was the backward Beadsman who matured considerably over the winter. On Derby day, The Druid noted, "...nothing could possibly be finer than the style in which (Beadsman) swept past the Stand at Epsom to the astonishment of both Lord Derby and Flatman (Toxophilite's jockey), who believed that the beating which Toxophilite gave him... when conceding him 8 lb., could not on this occasion, at even weights, be possibly reversed."
A length was as close as Derby was to come in fulfilling his dream and in 1863 he sold his stud and retired from the Turf. His grandson, the 17th Earl of Derby, was to win the Derby on three occasions, however, although he held high office, he never became Prime Minister.
Earl of Rosebery
Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, became Prime Minister on Gladstone's retirement, and held office from 5 March 1894 to 22 June 1895. There were two runnings of the Derby in that period and he won both of them.
Lord Rosebery was attracted to the Turf from an early age. Whilst at Oxford, he contravened university regulations by buying a racehorse, Ladas. When this was discovered, he was given an ultimatum: to sell the horse or to give up his studies. He chose the latter. The horse ran in the 1869 Derby but finished last of the 22 runners.
By 1870, Lord Rosebery was a member of the Jockey Club and owning better horses. In 1873, he won five races, including the Gimcrack Stakes, with Padoroskna. In 1874, he won the City and Suburban with Aldrich, and later that year he had a serious contender for the Derby in Couronne de Fer. Trainer Mathew Dawson believed that the horse was unsound and advised owner, Mr Padwick, to sell him for 2500 guineas. Sent to East Ilsley to be trained by James Dover and partnered by Tom Chaloner, he ran well to finish second to George Frederick; finishing in front of four of his former stablemates in the process. In 1883, Lord Rosebery gained his first Classic success when Bonny Jean, ridden by Jack Watts and trained by Joe Cannon, landed the Oaks. Even so it was the Derby he wanted to win.
From his Crafton Stud, in 1891, he bred Ladas (repeating the earlier name in the hope of atoning the disappointment of the first one) and sent him to Mathew Dawson to be trained. Unbeaten at two, winning the Woodcote Stakes, Coventry Stakes, Champagne Stakes and the Middle Park Plate, Ladas was the pick of his generation. At three, he captured the 2000 Guineas and held an odds-on favourite's chance in the Derby. With Lord Rosebery installed as Prime Minister there was much expectation of "the double event”.
Starting at 2/9 (then the shortest price favourite ever for the race), with Jack Watts always in control, he won as he liked. Amidst scenes of unparalleled excitement, according to Newmarket, “the crowd swept the police off their feet, while Lord Rosebery struggled through the cheering masses to lead in the second Ladas. The spell had been broken, and at last the First Minister of the Crown during his term of office had won the Blue Riband of the Turf.” Ladas was never to win again.
Still in office, Rosebery took the Derby again in the following year, with the Sammy Loates ridden Sir Visto, who went on to win the St Leger. Ten years later Cicero (Danny Maher up) won his Lordship a third Derby. Other Classic victories in the primrose yellow and rose pink hooped colours were Chelandry (in 1897) and Neil Gow (in 1910) in the 2000 Guineas; and Vaucluse in the 1915 1000 Guineas.
Following a stroke in 1918 his interest in racing waned and he died in 1929. Although under Rosebery's premiership his government was largely unsuccessful it's reputed that he did fulfil his personal ambitions: to win the Derby, to marry an heiress, and to become Prime Minister.
Sir Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Churchill was Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955, and according to his daughter, racing “gave him enormous pleasure and interest” in his old age. In 1949, 74 years old and Leader of the Opposition, he bought Colonist II who captured his owner’s as well as the public's imagination.
As a 3-year-old the French-bred grey was sent to Epsom to be trained by Walter Nightingall. Making his début at Salisbury, the mount of Tommy Hawcroft won at 4/6. He followed up with facile wins at Windsor and Ascot. In 1950, Nightingall targeted the inaugural running of the Winston Churchill Stakes at Hurst Park. With Tommy Gosling now wearing the pink, chocolate sleeves and cap colours, Colonist was beaten by Wild Mec. However, the partnership won eight of their next nine races. Winning at Kempton Park twice, Hurst Park, Sandown Park, the Goodwood, Ascot and Newmarket twice; the only defeat coming in the Gold Cup at Ascot. In 1951, Colonist won two of his six races, including the Winston Churchill Stakes. The horse's colour and battling qualities ensured his popularity, but after sustaining an injury, Nightingall thought it was time to retire the horse to stud. Churchill, who had just returned to Number 10, responded with, “To stud? And have it said that the Prime Minister of Great Britain is living on the immoral earnings of a horse?”
Two of the major handicaps fell to Churchill. On his golden wedding anniversary in 1958, Welsh Abbot shouldered top weight to make all the running in the Portland Handicap under Stan Clayton. Afterwards Nightingall sent a telegram to the owner, “Congratulations on the double event. Welsh Abbot won in a canter by five lengths. What a golden day!” The 1959 Stewards’ Cup though was a closer race with his 25/1 outsider Tudor Monarch winning by a neck with Geoff Lewis.
According to Fred Glueckstein, in “Churchill and Colonist II”, between 1949 and 1964 Churchill's horses won 70 races. He enjoyed conspicuous success with horses he bred at his Newchapel Stud; notably High Hat, Vienna and Le Pretendant. High Hat finished fifth in the 1960 2,000 Guineas on only his second outing and later won the Oxfordshire Stakes at Newbury. As a four-year-old, he notched up a hat-trick, including the Winston Churchill Stakes. By lowering the colours of the great Petite Etoile, in the Aly Khan International Memorial Gold Cup (a trophy the Museum intends to display prominently in the new Sporting Glory gallery in Palace House), and finishing fourth to Molvedo in the Prix de l‘Arc de Triomphe, he underlined his class before retiring to stud. Vienna remained a maiden at two, but in his Classic year won Epsom's Blue Riband Trial and the Red Deer Stakes at Newbury, en route to finishing third to St Paddy in the St Leger. He won three races as a four-year-old and twice at five, including an all the way victory in Prix d’Harcourt at Longchamp under Duncan Keith, whose first success this was in France. In 1956, Le Pretendant, a half-brother to Colonist, won the Churchill Stakes and the Cumberland Lodge Stakes. Rated fourth best three-year-old in the Free handicap he was rewarded with an invitation to the fifth running of the $100,000 Washington D.C. International at Laurel Park. Ridden by Harry Carr he disappointed. Although not bred by Churchill, Dark Issue, trained in Ireland by Captain Rogers and ridden by Phil Canty, provided him with a Classic victory by winning the Irish 1000 Guineas in 1955. Churchill was absent from The Curragh, explaining that "The General Election was my owner, and I was already entered among the runners."
Enjoying both codes, his Sun Hat went into the 1964 Champion Hurdle unbeaten in four starts and was backed into 8/1 second favourite. In contention at the last the David Mould ridden four-year-old, however, faded into sixth behind Magic Court.
During the Second World War the man, named the Greatest Briton of all time in a 2002 poll, urged the nation, “Never, never, give up”. Let's hope that the current crop of politicians heed the advice.