Success in the Derby, Epsom 1909
Two men went to Epsom races in 1909 hoping to make history – one was King Edward VII and the other was James Joseph Parkinson. The King had high hopes of winning the Derby and Oaks; “JJP” of landing an unprecedented five-timer for an Irish based trainer.
As the Prince of Wales, Edward had enjoyed Classic success with Persimmon and Diamond Jubilee, but as sovereign, since 1901, his luck seemed to have deserted him. His dream was to win the Blue Ribbon of the Turf as the reigning monarch, but his health was beginning to fail and Minoru (Japanese for “success”) might be his last chance. Winning the Oaks would not only be a bonus but give him the complete set of Classic victories.
"The turf in Ireland has no spring in it," wrote William Allison in The Sportsman, "the climate is too depressing, and no Irish trainer knows enough even to dare to compete for the greatest race in the world." Although without a runner in the Derby- and Allison was talking about the Derby - Parkinson knew that the sentiment could have extended to all the races at major meetings. He hoped to put an end to that.
Minoru was bred by Colonel William Hall-Walker at his Tully Stud, in County Kildare, and on the advice of his trainer, Richard Marsh, the King leased the colt from his breeder. The son of Cyllene's racing career began impressively, by winning the Great Surrey Foal Stakes at Epsom. However, his subsequent performances in 1908 were disappointing and there seemed to be stronger Classic pretenders. The French-trained Louviers outclassed him in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot; whilst Bayardo was rated an exceptional juvenile after finishing his season by taking the prestigious two -year old prizes, the Middle Park Plate and the Dewhurst Plate. Nevertheless, Minoru, carried the hopes of the King who was often unwell and increasingly struggled for breathe.
Born in 1870, by the mid-1890's, “JJP” combined training and race-riding with a very successful veterinary practice at Brownstown Lodge, on the Curragh. As he gained a reputation for turning out winners and landing gambles, his string expanded, until on 6 June, 1902, it all went wrong. Riding two-year-old Fame and Fortune, in the five-runner Sixth Cadogan Plate at Leopardstown, “JJP” got the better of Lord Rossmore, ridden by Peter Hughes. In a finish of heads and necks, the stewards ruled that Parkinson had ridden a rough race and warned him off the Turf for a year.
Making the most of his enforced absence, Parkinson spent much of 1903 in America and studied all aspects of the racing there. Significantly, he was impressed with their training methods and the “monkey up a stick” style of riding. Re-invigorated, he re-commenced training in 1904. With his ever-loyal jockey, John Thompson, willing to adopt the “American crouch”, the partnership was soon back amongst the winners and heading the trainers' and jockeys' lists. But could the partnership defy the odds and win prizes at the Derby meeting?
With Derby Day traditionally the last Wednesday in May, the four days of top class racing opened on Tuesday, 25 May, and Parkinson's Americus Girl was set to give her twelve rivals weight in the Egmont Plate Handicap. Starting at 2/1 favourite, Mr A H Ledlie's 4-year-old always travelled well for Thompson and won the five furlong contest easily, by 3 lengths. Half an hour later, the Maddenstown Lodge stable was represented by Wedding Ring in the Norbury Plate. Run over the full Derby course, Mr J Musker's chesnut mare was fourth choice with the punters and went off at 8/1. Given a copybook ride by Thompson, the double was easily notched up, winning by four lengths. The meeting could not have got off to a better start for Parkinson, but what about the King?
King Edward VII had every right to feel optimistic about Minoru's chances. His trainer, Marsh, had always liked him and although he thought he was “a bit on the leg” he saw him as “a fine and resolute goer," and during the winter the trainer's faith started to be realised. Although the King's racing manager, Marcus Beresford, was still sceptical, Marsh trained the colt for the Classics. Taking the Greenham Stakes in fine style on his seasonal debut Minoru then went to Newmarket for the 2000 Guineas. Seen as the main danger to Bayardo, and starting at 4/1, the mount of Herbert Jones romped home from Phaleron and Louviers, with Bayardo fourth, in a race record time of 1:37.8. Greeted with "intense enthusiasm" Minoru looked to have a favourite's chance at Epsom.
“Experience constantly demonstrates,” wrote the Times correspondent in anticipation of the big race, “that one should be prepared for surprises on the racecourse,” and victory for the Royal representative was by no means a foregone conclusion. Bayardo had had an interrupted preparation for the Guineas and his connections still had plenty of faith in him. Phaleron and Louviers had been well beaten at Newmarket, but both camps thought that their charges would be better suited by the mile and a half Derby trip, especially with Mr Raphael entering Brooklands to act as a pacemaker for his Louviers. The chief danger though was considered to be Sir Martin. Mr L Winan's had brought the son of Ogden over from America and the chesnut had a growing reputation. Trained by Joe Cannon and ridden by “Skeets” Martin, Sir Martin was an impressive winner, giving lumps of weight away in Newmarket's Wednesday Welter Handicap over a mile, a fortnight after the Guineas. Convinced that he was blessed with stamina as well as pace his supporters backed him accordingly. London's best hotels even organised a special news service for his American supporters and he started 3/1 favourite.
The Starter, Mr Willoughby, got the fifteen runners off to a level break. Predictably, Brooklands headed the field, closely tracked by Louviers, with Sir Martin third and Minoru fourth. For a mile, there was little change at the front, but then, as Brooklands faded, George Stern kicked Louviers on. Jones was alert to the move and kept tabs on the leader as they descended into Tattenham Corner. In behind there was scrimmaging; Bayardo, Valens and William the Forth were all squeezed for room, and a clipping of heels caused the favourite to fall. Meanwhile, unbalanced by the camber, Louviers came wide around the turn and, taking advantage, Jones urged Minoru on. Neck and neck, the two colts battled all the way up the straight. At the line, the Royal purple and scarlet jacket with gold braiding silks prevailed by a head. Unparalleled scenes of wild excitement followed.
Amidst chants of “Min-or-roo”,the King made his way down from the Royal box and “led in” the Derby winner. Men in the grandstand waved their hats, thousands came on to the course to cheer their King. On the Downs more hats were thrown in the air and the rejoicing was unprecedented. Word of the victory soon spread and by the time the Royal train had returned to London a crowd had gathered and cheered His Majesty all the way from Victoria Station to Buckingham Palace. The news was telegraphed throughout the Empire, and after an announcement was made at Toronto racecourse, the Royal Standard was hoisted above the grandstand as the National Anthem was played.
There was still a buzz in the air as the twelve runners went to post for the next race, the Juvenile Seller worth £200 to the winner. Parkinson-Thompson's hopes rested with Mr J Mallick's William Penn, a 5/2 chance. Only Mr Jack Barnato Joel's Doris filly was better fancied in the five furlong race, at 6/4. The 3 lb fillies' allowance though was not enough and William Penn won by a length. Taken by the winner, J B Joel's brother, Solly, bought him for 1150 guineas. It had been a good day all round.
After the excitement of Derby Day, Coronation Cup day was expected to be more subdued. Nonetheless, the peoples' horse, Dean Swift, won the feature race, whilst racegoers discussed the possibility of the King's Princesse de Galles securing the Oaks. Meanwhile, Parkinson had set his sights on the Horton Selling Stakes. Made the 7/2 favourite, Well Done, cantered away from his 19 rivals to a 3 lengths success. Lord Derby bought the winner for £650 at the subsequent auction. It was left to Decidedly to complete the nap hand on Friday, Oaks Day. Would that day see King Edward VII and JJ Parkinson fulfil their dreams?
Princesse de Galles faced a tough task. She had finished a length behind Electra in the 1000 Guineas who, a fortnight later, ran Louviers to three parts of length in the Newmarket Stakes. Louviers franked that form in the Derby and it was accepted that Princesse de Galles was inferior to her stable companion. Consequently, Electra was a warm favourite at 5/4, with Perola, her conqueror nine months earlier, second choice, whilst Princesse de Galles was only third best at 11/2.
“It is seldom that the result of a great race has seemed so well nigh inevitable,” wrote the Times' correspondent, but Electra would have been better off staying in her box. She completely missed the break, either due to a lapse in concentration by her jockey, Dillon, or by a blunder by Mr Willoughby, and with it any chance of victory. Hopes of a Royal victory improved though as Princesse de Galles made a good start and settled in mid-division. Approaching Tattenham Corner, Jones pushed the Royal filly forward and she responded. Momentarily, hopes were raised only to be dashed on seeing Perola cruising in the hands of Wootton. Princesse de Galles stayed on gamely but she was clearly no match for the winner. The King's improbable dream had just failed, thirty minutes later Parkinson would discover the fate of his.
The Oaks demonstrated how important it was to get a good start and in the Mickleham Selling Stakes it was Parkinson's horse that was tardy. Although drawing a bad starting position, bookmakers took no chances and made Decidedly 5/6 favourite. However, the bay gelding hesitated at “the off” and jumped the path that crossed the 5 furlong course. Thompson worked hard and gradually made up ground, but at the line Cupola, ridden by Saxby, was still a head in front. Parkinson had to settle for four winners and a second… as well as little a bit of history.
In Ireland, Parkinson did not stop writing history. In 1923, he sent out the winners of 134 races; a record that stood until 1990, when Jim Bolger broke it. Between 1904 and 1939, “JJP” headed the trainers' list (number of winners)23 times and prizemoney on eight occasions. At the time of his retirement in 1947, Parkinson had 2577 successes to his credit and that record was not broken until 2000 (by Dermot Weld). Meanwhile, his jockey, John Thompson, was champion jockey every year until his tragic death in 1913.
By 1909, the King's health was seriously weakened, and his last Derby Day was a strain for him. During a visit to Paris the following year King Edward caught a cold that aggravated his persistent bronchial catarrh. Even through his last illness, his love of the turf was evident. On the day of his death, his horse, Witch of the Air, won at Kempton. News of the win pleased him, and later that night, after a brave struggle, the King who made Derby history died.