As we look ahead to the Qipco Guineas Festival at the Rowley Mile, Newmarket our latest blog by Grenville Davies features Sceptre, a mare of a lifetime, who achieved a remarkable Guineas double in 1902.
Racing history is littered with great race mares: - Beeswing, Blink Bonny, Kincsem, Petite Etoile, whilst more recently there have been Black Caviar, Treve, Winx and Enable. All have captured the imagination and love of a nation but none more so than Sceptre; primarily because of her toughness but also because of the ‘have a go’ attitude of her owner Robert Sievier.
Foaled in 1899, Sceptre was bred in the purple being by the 1896 Derby and St. Leger winner Persimmon, who was himself a son of St. Simon. Persimmon was more than a handful as a colt, as was his full-brother Diamond Jubilee, both were owned by that most Royal of owners, the then Prince of Wales. Sceptre’s dam was Ornament, a full-sister to the 1886 Triple Crown hero – Ormonde, there was bound to be a lot of interest about her. Bred by the 1st Duke of Westminster, Sceptre had to be auctioned as a yearling, as the 1st Duke had died, she was bought by Robert Sievier, for the then astronomical sum of 10,000 Guineas.
Such was the life that Robert Sievier led, a book could be written about him, indeed two fascinating books have been, one by Sievier himself and the other by that esteemed historian John Welcome; but in summary Sievier was or had been at sometime: - bookmaker, racehorse trainer and editor of the Winning Post magazine, a position that often resulted him being in court on charges of libel; added to which he had once been accused of murder. Never afraid to vent his feelings, he was more often out of pocket than not but lived by his wits and this gained him Sceptre. People called him mad and an ass for paying 4,000 Guineas more than anyone else had paid for a racehorse at public auction but so sure was he of his senses and how right he would prove to be.
Trained by Charles Morton, Sceptre’s debut was in the Woodcote Stakes at Epsom’s Derby meeting and starting a heavily backed favourite due to some exceptional homework, she had little trouble in winning. Having missed Royal Ascot, she then followed up in the July Stakes at Newmarket. She had one more run as a two-year-old, which resulted in a third in Doncaster’s Champagne Stakes.
By the season’s end, Sievier was in his usual financial situation, which forced him to sell some of his horses but he knew he wanted to keep Sceptre, so as was his wont, he resorted to subterfuge by making out that Duke of Westminster was a better horse than Sceptre, which worked, as the colt was sold but he managed to keep Sceptre.
During the winter Charles Morton became private trainer to J. B. Joel, this may or may not have caused Sievier’s long running feud with Joel but it cannot have helped. Flush with funds, Sievier decided to purchase his own stables and who does Sievier turn to train his horses but himself. However, things did not run as smoothly as hoped, Sievier had been away for a month and on his return, he found Sceptre as thin as a rake, consequently the assistant was sacked.
Even by the standards of the day, Sceptre was given a decidedly unusual preparation for a filly with classic aspirations, as her seasonal debut was in the 1902 Lincoln, a three-year-old filly taking on seasoned handicappers over the straight mile of the Carholme, must have seemed daunting to her backers but she went down on her sword and was only beaten by a head. She was nothing if not tough, indeed she fared better out of the race than her infamous owner did, as it left him decidedly out of pocket.
After the rigours of the Carholme and its bleak straight mile, Sceptre headed straight to Newmarket for the 2,000 Guineas which she won in a then record time beating Pistol by two lengths at the generous odds with hind-sight of 4-1, with her old stable-mate Duke of Westminster well beaten. Two days later she won the 1,000 Guineas, with equal ease in justifying favouritism at 1-2, this was despite tearing a shoe off at the start, which meant her running in three plates. Unusually the fillies’ version was worth £400 more to the winner than the 2,000 Guineas. In both races she was ridden by Herbert Randall who would not have such an easy time of it later in the season.
Next stop would be Epsom and the Derby…
Blog by guest blogger, Grenville Davies