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Saturday, 17th May 2008

Artist: Coaten-Roach, 25 Jan 1933.

suppose there are some things which are better designed to represent class distinction than horse-racing. Opera is traditionally an upper-class preserve. I feel a rant about the subsidizing of the 'rich' by the 'poor' by the cunning means of offering the 'poor' a chance at enormous wealth (at enormous odds against). I cannot see it being such a draw if lottery tickets were called opera tickets and people were invited to purchase them but not actually allowed to watch the opera. I can feel Karl Marx clawing his way out of thes grave at this point and as few people have any desire to listen to his particular brand of techno-babble, we mopve on. So come on lottery losers you have nothing to lose but your money.

Often the winning horse has a rags to riches glamour about it

Okay I can imagine listening to the idle moaning of a middle-class business man with enough technology to run a small village at his disposal and who has thrown away more life-chances than half of Weber's underclass will ever see is slightly nauseous to some; back to what I consider a plot and a purpose for this article.

In Britain even if you do not gamble there is one thing the nation will gamble on; The Grand National. Now this really is a national institution with all the problems this entails. As a global event it is pray to all forms of hijacking by minority groups which want to shake the establishment. I am going to neatly sidestep all the political correctness and political incorrectness by disappearing into the past.

I am going back to 1933 the year that Players issued that classic horse racing set, Derby and Grand National Winner. A series of 50 cards rather in the style of the Poultry series they did. Each horse is pictured in standing profile with the winning jockey sitting atop. Looking at the card the level of detail given to the illustrations is quite something. I have to admit I am no racing historian so I cannot tell you the dates at which the riding position changed with the shortening of the stirrups. I do know that as the years progressed the stirrup length became shorter. All the cards illustrated show an intermediary position.

But first

The Derby.

The first 24 cards of the series is dedicated to the Derby and the last 26 cards focusing on the Grand National. Each card is representative of a particular year. The Derby starts at 1908 up to 1932 and The National begins at 1907 and ends 1932.

The reverse of the card has an absolute wealth of detail. Spilt in two halves the top gives details of the owner, trainer, jockey, and bloodline together with winning lengths and the second and third places. The bottom half gives a little colour of the race itself. It is this detail on the reverse which very much puts this set of cards in the 'classic' range of cards. It also means I cannot possibly do this set justice in anything other than book form. I am honestly almost at a loss of how to tackle this subject matter. I am in trivia heaven, the amount of 'do you know' facts which can be gleaned from these cards is absolutely sensational.

In the introductory blurb I mentioned the fact I was going to be running down the time tunnel in an effort to get away from the demonstrations etc. Fat chance. Card 6, Aboyeur was the winner of the Derby in 1913. The starting price for the horse was 100 to 1. Long odds, although card 1, Signorinetta won the Derby in 1908 at the same odds. But the 1913 race was memorable for more reasons than this. It was in fact the only race this horse was going to win that year. The previous year he had only won one out of six.

If it had not been for world events he would not have won this one. The real winner was in fact Craganour winning by a head. Despite no complaint from anyone involved in the race the stewards took it upon themselves to disqualify the horse for not running straight. There was general bewilderment until it was discovered the owner of the horse was one B.Ismay, younger brother to J. Bruce Ismay, chairman and survivor of The Titanic. The reverse of the card fails to mention this particular bit of political fudging but does mention in passing the fact a woman rushed onto the course at Tattenham Corner and sustained fatal injuries.

Of course the woman was a suffragette demanding votes for women. She brought down the Kings horse in the process killing herself. Now there can hardly be anyone on the planet who has not seen the television pictures of this event (or am I being a bit parochial here?)

Cards 8 through to 11 deals with the war years, 1914-18 when the Derby was raced at Newmarket (instead of Epsom) and called the New Derby as a result. Humorist was the winner in 1921 but sadly 18 days later he was found dead in his box having burst a blood vessel.

The National

Those that know their racing probably enjoy The Derby but I am not really in that category. I rather like the rough and tumble of The Grand National. This is always billed as the most famous horse-race in the world. It is difficult to judge this from the centre of the storm. Living in Dubai might enable me to give a better perspective on this issue.

The Derby began, 4 May 1780 and is the greatest of England's five classics. In 1784 the distance was increased from a mile to a mile and one half, officially, One mile, 4 furlongs and 10 yards. Only open to three year olds, geldings were banned in 1906.

Signorinetta & Aboyeur along with Jeddah (1898) are the winners with the longest odds in the history of the Derby. The shortest odds were Ladas, 9-4 (1894). The hottest losing favourite was Surefoot again 1894 who managed to lose with odds of 40-95.
The largest field for a Grand National was 66 in 1929.
In the 1970's Red Rum ran the race 5 times, coming second twice and winning three times.
Manifesto ran a record 8 times (1895-1904) , foaled 1888 he won in 1897 and 1899, coming third three times and fourth once.

Now The Grand National really is the race in which the nation gets gambling fever. The number of people betting 50 pence on the race is a real chore for the bookmakers but 'tough' I say. Our local bookie reckons he has never come out on top on Grand National day but one day out of the year is a chastening experience for anyone.

The dominance of this race has meant it has been a very important race to disrupt for political reason and there are many viewers worldwide that see the upshot of this.

Eremon opens up the running as the winner of the 1907 National and sets the scene nicely. The race is so arduous that to get through its entire length without mishap is nigh-on impossible. The winner tends to be the one who made the least mistakes. The jockey on this occasion lost an iron a mile from home and had to complete the race with one stirrup. This is a matter of some horsemanship whatever way you look at it. He won by six lengths.

Often the winning horse has a rags to riches glamour about it. Some of the great winners of the past (Red Rum for example) were often on the brink of being pensioned off at some point in their lives before coming good in the National. Such was the case for Rubio the victor in 1908. Bred in the USA it was imported to the UK in 1898 and fetched the sum of 15 guineas in auction. And this is as miserable sum of money as it sounds. Indeed he spent some time pulling the hotel bus in Towcester. He won at the odds of 66 to 1.

In 1911 Glenside was the winner. The pre-race favourite was Lutteur III, winner in 1909 (and on card 28). However this was a race of mishaps and Glenside was the only horse to manage to get around the course without mishap. At 20-1 against it won by 20 lengths.

1912, was to be the year for Jerry M. after coming second in the 1910 race.

In 1913 it was business as usual. Only three horses managed to complete the course, the first one past the post being Covercoat.

Sunloch won in 1914. After the second fence he was never headed. It should be noted though Lutteur III made a gallant showing in third place.

1915 is a red letter year for the fairer-sex. Ally Sloper came home in first place and afforded Lady Nelson the honour of being the first woman owner to win the coveted race.

1916, was known as the War National. Because of the conflict the race was run at Gatwick rather than Aintree. Ally Sloper was favourite but finished sixth.

1917 saw the National at Gatwick once more. Won by Ballmacad but Ally Sloper had learnt a trick or two and finished third. This card also has a factual error when it says that Vermouth finished second the previous year when in fact it won.

Poethlyn is unique in the fact it won both the War National of 1918 and the Grand National of 1919.

Troytown was the winner of 1920 and has a sad story to tell. He exploded onto the scene having not been raced until he was six years of age. He then won, the Champion Chase at Aintree, the Grand Steeplechase de Paris and The Grand National. Later in the year he broke a leg and was destroyed. It is a shame we do not treat our footballers in the same manner, perhaps they would not roll on the ground in such agonies if the bloke with the magic sponge had a humane killer in the medi-bag.

1921 was another race of attrition. Two fences from home saw only two horses having not fallen. This was to change when The Bore fell breaking the jockey's collarbone. Something of a breed apart the jockey remounted to come in second. However the race was to go to Shaun Spadah.

1924 saw Master Robert winning, again a horse with a strange background. He had been pulling a plough in Ireland before a bit of training was drilled into him. Running whilst under a treatment for lameness. However the Irish are great gamblers and know their horses which might explain the surprisingly low odds of 25 to 1.

The winner of the 1926 National was Jack Horner, having started life as a horse in the hunt. He was actually bought for £4000 with another £2000 to pay if he won the National. Really though this card is important because the jockey, Watkinson, was tragically killed a month later from a fall on the Aintree course.

Sprig won in 1927 and this was very much the case of third time lucky as in the two previous runs he had only managed fourth place on each occasion.

1928 was a race remarkable because not enough horses finished to fill the places. In fact only two finished and only Tipperary Tim got around without mishap. Most horses contrived to loose their jockeys on the canal turn the first time around. The starting price for the winner was 100 to 1.

1929 is remarkable for the fact 66 horses started. Nine finished the winner being Gregalach.

1931 was the year that might have been for a Mr TK Laidlaw. This is the man that bet on red when the ball landed in black. This was the man that changed his lottery numbers when he was just about to win. Grakle won the race but Mr Laidlaw had sold him for 4000 guineas before the race. Second was Gregalach, again Mr Laidlaw had contrived to sell the horse for 5000 guineas before the race.

The final card records the 1932 National where Forbra won on the first attempt at 50 to 1.