Swynford, The story of a horse saved by the Vet

20th October 2014

The story of a horse saved by the Vet

In September 1910 Swynford became the 17th Earl of Derby’s first classic winner when he won the St Leger and was set to become one of the most prominent sires of his age.  However, but for the actions of a dedicated local veterinary surgeon Mr W Livock a year later, he would have been lost. Stephen Wallis recalls the story of the strapping colt that developed into such a dominant force as a middle distance four year old until that fateful day in late September 1911.

Swynford was bred by the 16th Lord Derby in January 1907 at the family’s stud at Knowsley, Lincolnshire. On the 16th Lord Derby’s death in June 1908, his son the former Lord Stanley, succeeded to the title.  He also inherited the stud and Stanley House stables, which he had helped to establish with his father.

The Stanley House operation had begun in 1904 when the 16th Lord Derby moved from his adjacent stables at Bedford lodge and appointed George Lambton (1860-1945), the fifth son of the 2nd Earl of Durham, as his resident trainer.  By 1908 Lambton had already trained the winners of two British classics, including Canterbury Pilgrim, winner of the 1896 Oaks, who became the pillar of their future breeding empire.

Canterbury Pilgrim had been purchased from the estate of Catherine, Duchess of Montrose in 1894 and Swynford was her seventh foal. His sire John O’ Gaunt, who had been placed 2nd in both the 2,000 Guineas and Derby to St Amant in 1904, was impeccably bred out of Triple Crown winner Isinglass and the high class race mare La Fleche (fillies Triple Crown winner 1892).

Swynford standing at stud

When Swynford began training he was described by George Lambton as being “all legs and wings”.  He was a big, powerful animal who was given time to develop as a two year old, not having his first serious gallop until midsummer.

His first outing followed on 1 July in the 6 furlong Exeter Stakes at Newmarket.  Like his dam he was an exceptionally hard puller and the plan for jockey Danny Maher (1881-1916) to drop him in behind failed as he bolted off at the start.  Consequently he had ran himself out within 5 furlongs and finished 4th in an eight runner field.

During the winter Swynford transformed physically though his spring gallops didn’t show the same levels of improvement.  Indeed it wasn’t until ten days before the Derby that he began to show his true potential and on the evidence of an impressive gallop he took his chance on the Downs.

Punters didn’t show any enthusiasm for the strapping colt who went to post a 50/1 outsider with R Lynham on board, while the betting was dominated by the 2,000 Guineas first and second, Lemberg and Nell Gow.  Swynford ran poorly, not surprising considering he had been struck into from behind suffering a nasty gash from hock to fetlock.  Lemberg, the 7/4 favourite, who became Swynford’s most celebrated rival, took the prize from Greenback by a neck in a then record time for the race of 2 minutes 35 seconds.

Fortunately the colt recovered well, thanks mainly to the work of the Epsom vet John Coleman, and was soon back on the track. In mid June he lined up in the St James’s Palace Stakes (1 mile) at Royal Ascot but finished a moderate third after rolling all over the course  behind his then nemesis Lemberg.  A day later on the 17 June Swynford won his first race, the Hardwicke Stakes (1m 4f) although still being a maiden he had a good pull in the weights so his ¾ length win was considered unconvincing.

However, the horse was beginning to shows distinct signs of improvement on the gallops where he gave a stone and a ten length beating to Ascot Derby winner, Decision.  He then proceeded to comfortably win the Liverpool Summer Cup (1m 2f) at Aintree on 22 July by 5 lengths with Australian jockey Frank Wootton (1894-1940)  leading throughout.  Wootton had first teamed up with the colt at Royal Ascot and continued to ride him in this customary front running style for the rest of his racing career, bar one mishap as a four year old.  Wootton was the champion jockey four years in succession between 1909 and 1912.

Swynford now headed to the St Leger for another battle with Lemberg, who in his latest run had dead heated with Nell Gow in the Eclipse.  Following the Aintree victory alongside impressive form on the gallops confidence was high at Stanley House Stables.  Lambton also thought Lemberg’s stamina was doubtful.



Eleven runners went to post on 7 September, Lemberg heading the market at 4/5 with Swynford a 9/2 shot.  Lambton’s colt set off in front, while the favourite chased hard, but every time Lemberg tried to move up Swynford lengthened his stride and went away again.  At the two furlong pole Swynford led on the rails with Lemberg nestled in behind.  However, young Wootton in the saddle, whose riding weight was only 7st 4 Ib’s, was more tired than the hard pulling Swynford and as a result was unable to keep him balanced.  Swynford started to hang away from the rails and in the last hundred yards James De Rothchild’s Bronzino, a 20/1 chance, arrived on the scene.  Although Swynford managed to hold off the challenge there is no doubt that a mere two strides past the post Bronzino would have emerged the victor. Most experts thought that Danny Maher had ridden a deplorable race on Lemberg, who finished 3rd having been boxed in on the rails.  Lambton was of the opinion that Lemberg had room to get through but, as he had thought before the race, the Derby winner didn’t stay the distance.

Swynford concluded his three year old campaign with a walkover in the Liverpool St Leger in early November, whilst Bronzino won the Doncaster Cup just two days after his St Leger exertions.


1911 proved to be Swynford’s defining season where he proved he was the best of his generation.  He ran five times with the features being his three further clashes with his arch rival Lemberg.


His season began with a straight forward 2 length victory in the 1m 4f Chippenham Plate at Newmarket’s spring meeting before he lined up at Epsom in the Coronation Cup for his first meeting of the season with Lemberg.  Amongst the eight runners on the Downs were the 1909 Irish Derby winner Bachelor’s Double, Bronzino, along with Greenback and Charles O’Malley who were 2nd and 3rd in the previous year’s Derby.

Surprisingly, Wootton adopted waiting tactics on the colt and Lemberg beat him by three quarters of a length. Lambton firmly believed these tactics cost him the race.   Before their next clash Swynford won Royal Ascot’s Hardwicke Stakes again by an easy 4 lengths at very short odds carrying 9st 10Ib’s, over 2 stones more than in 1910.

The colt’s final two outings firmly established his dominance over Lemberg.  Firstly, he led from start to finish in the Princess of Wales Stakes at Newmarket’s July course over his preferred distance of a mile and half.  Finally, in mid July his front running tactics proved too strong in the Eclipse at Sandown where the young Australian jockey spread-eagled the field from the off winning by a very comfortable 4 lengths from Lemberg, who was a similar distance ahead of the third placed horse.  Lord Derby’s colt had proved beyond doubt his superiority over Lemberg.

Sadly at the end of September, whilst preparing for the Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket, Swynford broke his near fore fetlock joint in a half speed gallop on the Heath and his racing career was over.  It had also been intended to keep him in training for another season with the Ascot Gold Cup as his main target.

However, the next stage of Swynford’s life was in the hands of Mr W E Livock (1860 -1943).

Normally a broken fetlock meant a horse would be put down but Lambton was determined to save Lord Derby’s colt if possible.  Mr Livock, well-known in racing circles, was a highly respected vet based at March House, in Newmarket High Street.

Taking another hour to carefully load the big horse into an ambulance, the vet decided against putting Swynford in a box equipped with slings, the usual practice of the age, as he thought he would more than likely struggle and cause further injury to his leg.  Instead Livock put thick moss litter in his box, bandaged and put his leg in splints.  He dutifully dressed the leg every day and for weeks stayed very close to the patient, who behaved impeccably for the five months he was in Livock’s personal care.  Mr Livock reckoned saving Swynford was the proudest achievement of his professional life.

Swynford took up stallion duties in February 1913. He was champion sire in 1923, 2nd in 1924 & 25, 3rd in 1921 and the leading sire of broodmares in 1932.  His best personal progeny success came via Sansavino who triumphed in the 1924 Derby, though he was more renowned for his fillies with Tranquil, Keysoe, Saucy Sue, Ferry and Bettina all winning classics.  He also sired three runners up in the Blue Riband at Epsom including St Germans in 1924, who became the leading sire in the USA in 1931.

However without doubt his most significant son was Blandford, who although unsuccessful himself on the turf, sired four Derby winners, Trigo, Blenheim, Windsor Lad, and the 1935 Triple Crown winner Bahram.  He also sired an outstanding horse in France in Brantome who won the 1934 Prix De L’Arc De Triomphe.

Swynford passed away on 18 May 1928 at the age of 21 at Woodlands Stud in Newmarket.  Lord Derby’s colt had won eight of his twelve races earning £25,508 in prize money, but through the expert care of a celebrated Newmarket vet Mr W Livock, Swynford proved an even more impressive sire who left a lasting impact in three major racing arenas.