Troytown

25th November 2016

troytown3Troytown

Racing greats Arkle and Pretty Polly have races named after them in two countries but Troytown was commemorated in three.

Troytown was bred and owned by Major Thomas Collins-Gerard of Gibbstown, (originally known as Gibbstown and Troytown). The son of Zria, himself a son of the great staying sire Cyllene, and Diane, a daughter of the top steeplechase sire, Ascetic, was the epitome of an old fashioned chaser. Standing at 17 hands the bay gelding was big, strong and powerful. Given time to grow into his frame, he was eventually put into training with Algernon (Algy) Anthony, at Westenra, beside Kildare Station.

Troytown made his debut in the Seaside Steeplechase at Baldoyle and finished fourth under Clyde Aylin. After showing plenty of promise, next time out, on Saturday, 1 March 1919, in the Silver Park Maiden Steeplechase over two miles at Leopardstown, he was made evens favourite. Justifying his reputation the six year-old cantered away from his 15 rivals to a six length success with Grand National winning jockey Billy Smith.

After finishing second in the Stewards Plate at Baldoyle, Troytown was then sent across the Irish Sea to compete at the Grand National meeting. He should have won the 2 ¼ ml Stanley Chase, a race run over Aintree’s big fences with the water jump as the first obstacle. With Smith up again, he was disputing the lead with The Bore and a long way clear of the others, when they took the wrong course and ran out.

Two days later, consolation was sought when he lined up for the (nearly) 3 ml Champion Chase, historically a consolation race for Grand National also-rans. Making short work of three (more experienced) chasers, the 4/6 favourite, sauntered home six lengths clear. Some onlookers, including the racing correspondent in The Times, were unconvinced by him believing him to be a dodgy jumper and overrated. One former top gentleman rider was even quoted as saying he was “not a good one”.  Others were impressed and his owner turned down an offer of 3000 guineas for his horse. Other offers followed but the rising star was not for sale. Meanwhile his Champion Chase jockey, Willie Head, Criquette and Freddie’s grandfather, recommended that Troytown contest the Grand Steeplechase de Paris run at Auteuil in June.

Consequently, the chaser was sent to Chantilly to be prepared for the 6500 ms (approx 4 ml) race by Charles Carter. Like Aintree it was modelled on, Auteuil poses similar challenges, requiring agility and stamina. A week before France’s premier chase, he was introduced to French jumps in the Prix Saint-Damien. Starting as favourite, he jumped extravagantly before he slipped on landing after clearing the Rivière des Tribunes (the course’s famous water jump), unseating Willie Head.

Nonetheless, eight days later, he justified being made 27/10 favourite for the “Grand Steeple” and put in a commanding performance. From the start Troytown headed the ten runners and built up a big lead, eventually coasting home five lengths clear. His new jockey, Willie Head’s brother-in-law, Billy Escott also won plaudits, with his style reminding spectators of the late Alec Carter.

The next target for the horse described as “a wonder” was to emulate Jerry M who was the only horse to have been victorious in both the “Grand Steeple” and the Grand National.  Before then another new jockey was needed as tragically Escott was killed in a fall at Auteuil in October.

The man chosen was Mr JR Anthony (no relation to the trainer), better known as Jack Anthony, who already had two Grand Nationals to his credit, winning on Glenside in 1911 and on Ally Sloper in 1915.

The pair did not gel immediately and parted company when Troytown fell at a simple fence whilst schooling. Commenting on the widely reported mishap, Anthony said that Troytown was the fastest steeplechaser and most perfect jumper over big fences he had ever ridden and blamed an unsuitable schooling ground.

The new partnership was first seen in public on 6 March in the Grand Leopardstown Chase, which attracted five Grand National entries. Troytown, as usual, was made favourite but only managed a well-beaten fourth place, in a field of 17.

Nine days before the great race, Algy Anthony, who had ridden the Prince of Wales’ Ambush II to victory in the Grand National in 1900, gave Troytown a final prep race over 2 ml at Lingfield. Carrying 12st 2lb he failed by eight lengths to concede a stone to the Ernie Piggott ridden Silver Ring. His supporters were convinced that the race was too sharp for him but put him spot on for Liverpool; his critics pointed to his jumping errors and questionable French form.

His critics had a trump card in the shape of Poethlyn. Although allotted 12st 7lb and set to concede 12 lb to Troytown, Mrs Hugh Peel’s chaser was thought to be invincible. On a roll of eleven consecutive victories, the winner of the "War National" of 1918 at Gatwick had followed up in the real thing at Aintree in 1919 carrying 12st 7lb. The Harry Escott trained gelding had also won the competitive Lancashire Chase twice, in 1918 and 1919. At Aintree he was set to be ridden by his usual partner Ernie Piggott and started the 3/1 favourite.

Troytown may have been second best in the betting, at a well-backed 6/1, but was undoubtedly the best in the race. In a race run in a deluge, favourite backers learnt their fate at the first fence when Poethlyn fell. Through the mist, spectators could see Troytown bowling along in front with the other 23 runners toiling in his wake. By Valentine’s second time round, the field had thinned out with only Troytown, The Turk II, The Bore and Sergeant Murphy still standing. And that’s how they finished.

Reports suggest that Troytown did not jump well. He made at least two serious blunders, including one at the second last, which gave The Turk II’s jockey, “Tiny” Burford, a glimmer of hope. Jack Anthony though “recovered his mount with more than his accustomed skill” and powered to a famous victory. In fact, he had difficulty in pulling up as Troytown was still full of running! On the racecourse his supporters rejoiced “exuberantly” to such an extent that “the mounted police had to escort the winner to the saddling enclosure” according to the Liverpool Echo.

troytown-is-a-wonder

On his return home, celebrations continued with bonfires lit from Dublin to Gibbstown. Whilst the embers were still glowing there was talk of a Troytown-Poethlyn re-match.

Three months later, on 20 June, in Paris, in the “Grand Steeple”, worth 150,000 Fr (considerably more than the Grand National’s £4,425 prize) they met again. Most people saw the race as a clash between the two Grand National heroes. Troytown was the 28/10 favourite and Poethlyn, after proving his well-being “most auspiciously” when winning the Prix de Point- du-Jour, was 3/1. The French though were not without hope. The progressive  five- year-olds Coq Gaulois, winner of the Prix Murat and Prix du Président de la République, and Héros XII, winner of the Prix Saint-Sauveur, were both set to receive weight and were 9/2 and 9/1 respectively.

In front of a crowd of 98,575, from the start, Jack Anthony let Troytown take his customary position and lead the eight runners. As the race unfolded, the fast going rather than the weight concessions played into the hands of his challengers. After the bullfinch fence, Willie Head on Charles Liénart’s Coq Gaulois joined Troytown and gradually pulled clear; going on to win by four lengths from Héros XII. Troytown came in a further eight lengths back in third whilst, a never dangerous, Poethlyn finished lame in fourth.

Seeking consolation, Troytown lined up in the Prix des Drags over the same course four days later. Only four horses went to post, but one of them was Héros XII. However, the much anticipated duel failed to materialise as Troytown pulled up in front of the stands. In jumping over one of the fences Troytown had broken a fetlock. There was no choice but to put him down.

Troytown, whose career was brief but illustrious, was buried at Le Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques at Asnières. The seven-year-old, still with so much promise, had made such an impression wherever he raced that he was honoured in three countries. Auteuil racecourse inaugurated the Prix Troytown in 1921 and the group 3 chase is still going strong today. In 1922, the Troytown Chase was introduced to the Lingfield programme and until the mid-1960’s was a recognised Grand National trial. Major Collins-Gerard was one of the founders of the Proudstone Park racecourse at Navan and the Troytown Chase was instigated there in 1937 to become one of the most prestigious races in the Irish National Hunt calendar. Commemorating a great horse in such a way is a fitting tribute.

Tony Lake

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