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    The Role of the British Aristocracy in the Development of Thoroughbred Racing
The Role of the British Aristocracy in the Development of Thoroughbred Racing
Artist Charles Heywood. 19th century stable in England. Source: https://flectone.ru/

The Role of the British Aristocracy in the Development of Thoroughbred Racing

Owning a racehorse has always been an expensive venture, historically reserved for the British aristocracy. Since the inception of horse racing as a sport in the United Kingdom, maintaining a stable of racehorses was a hallmark of nobility. This not only signified wealth and status but also elevated a family’s standing, bringing them closer to the royal court. Horse racing became an exclusive competition among the elite, a social pastime and leisure activity for the nobility. Commoners were only permitted at races in service roles.

This national passion originated with the royal family, who nurtured a love for horse racing across generations. Royals not only owned and raced horses but also managed stables and promoted thoroughbred breeding. Queen Anne, reigning from 1702 to 1714, was particularly fond of horse racing. The breeding program at the royal stables in Hampton Court flourished during her reign, with the famous Darley Arabian becoming England's leading sire. In 1711, Queen Anne established the Queen Anne Stakes, a race that continues to bear her name.

The Prince of Wales Stud, founded by the future King Edward VII at Sandringham in the 1880s, produced several notable winners. Among them were Florizel II, born in 1891, who won the Goodwood Cup; Diamond Jubilee, born in 1897, who achieved the "triple crown"; and Persimmon, born in 1893, who won the Derby and St. Leger, later becoming England's leading sire. Persimmon's daughter, Sceptre, made history by winning four of England's five classic races.

The British Classics, the five oldest and most prestigious races in the British Champion Series, consist of 35 Grade 1 flat races. These races set the standard for quality and professionalism. Winning any of these races elevates a horse to the status of a highly valuable sire, a source of immense pride and prestige for its owner.

Landscape of the 18th century, England. Source: https://flectone.ru/
Landscape of the 18th century, England. Source: https://flectone.ru/

Edward Smith Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby (1752-1834)

Edward Smith Stanley, the 12th Earl of Derby, was a prominent British peer and politician with a deep passion for horse racing and cockfighting. In 1779, he hosted the first race for fillies at his Oaks estate, with the Earl's horse Bridget emerging victorious. This race was named "The Oaks" after his estate. The following year, Stanley and his friends organized a race for colts, which, by the drawing of lots, was named "The Derby" after him. The excitement and prestige associated with this race were so significant that the Derby quickly became the most coveted prize in thoroughbred racing. The inaugural Derby was won by Diomed, a horse owned by Stanley's friend, Sir Charles Bunbury. Stanley himself secured victory in the 1787 Derby with his horse Sir Peter Teazle. The term "Derby" has since come to denote any race of the highest class.

George Stanhope, 6th Earl of Chesterfield (1805-1866)

George Stanhope, the 6th Earl of Chesterfield, was a British politician and courtier whose primary passion was horse racing. He was an active participant in the sport and achieved significant success, winning the Oaks twice and the Grand National in 1843 with his horse Vanguard, ridden by Tom Olliver. In 1840, his horse Crucifix won the 1000 Guineas, 2000 Guineas, and the Oaks. After these triumphs, Chesterfield retired to his country home at Bretby Hall in Derbyshire, where he dedicated himself to breeding and training horses. His estate became a renowned training ground, attracting many distinguished individuals and jockeys who sought his expertise and guidance.

Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild (1818-1874)

Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild, a businessman and politician from the English branch of the Rothschild family, was an avid hunter, rider, and lover of thoroughbred horses, despite weighing 101 kg. He was a member of the Jockey Club and founded the Crafton Stud, later owned by the Earl of Rosebery. In 1871, his horse Favonius won the Derby, and his filly Hannah achieved the "triple crown" by winning the Oaks, the 1000 Guineas, and the St. Leger.

Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, 1st Duke of Westminster (1825-1899)

Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, the 1st Duke of Westminster, was an English landowner and politician who inherited a substantial fortune. He devoted much of it to maintaining his estate and stables. In 1875, he founded a stable at Eaton, which housed up to 20 broodmares. Notably a teetotaler, Grosvenor did not gamble or bet on his horses. His horse Bend Or won the Derby in 1880 with jockey Fred Archer. His horses also triumphed in the Derby in 1882, 1886, and 1899. His stallion Ormonde won the Triple Crown in 1886, and Flying Fox repeated the feat in 1899.

19th-century engraving of horses preparing to gallop. Source: https://grafika.ru/
19th-century engraving of horses preparing to gallop. Source: https://grafika.ru/

Sir Frederick John William Johnston, 8th Baronet (1841-1913)

Sir Frederick John William Johnston, the 8th Baronet, was a Conservative politician who served in the House of Commons from 1874 to 1875. A close friend of the Prince of Wales, Johnston was an enthusiast of horse racing and owned thoroughbred horses. His horses won the Derby twice: St. Blaise in 1883 and Common in 1891. Common became the fifth horse in history to win the English Triple Crown.

Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929)

Archibald Philip Primrose, the 5th Earl of Rosebery, was a member of the House of Lords, served as Foreign Secretary from 1892 to 1894, and briefly as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1894 to 1895. Known for his energy and diverse interests, Rosebery was also passionate about horse racing. He owned the Mentmore Stables and the Crafton Stud in Crafton, Buckinghamshire. During his time as Prime Minister, two of his horses won the Epsom Derby: Ladas in 1894 and Sir Visto in 1895, events that brought him widespread publicity and pride. In 1905, his horse Cicero also won the Derby.

Sir William Bass, 2nd Baronet (1879-1952)

Sir William Bass, the 2nd Baronet, was a prominent member and steward of the Jockey Club, renowned for his ownership of racehorses. Among his notable horses was the stallion Sainfoin, whom he acquired after a series of victories in the 1897-1899 National Breeders' Stakes, Newmarket Stakes, and Jockey Club Stakes. He also owned the filly Rosedrop, who won prestigious races including the Oaks, Atlanta Stakes, and Great Yorkshire Stakes. One of his most famous horses was the filly Sceptre, who achieved the remarkable feat of winning four of the five classic races in 1902. 

Modern aristocracy. Source: https://dzen.ru/
Modern aristocracy. Source: https://dzen.ru/

Over time, horse racing in the United Kingdom has evolved to become more democratic and accessible, diminishing the aura of exclusive thoroughbred racing. Currently, the British Jockey Club owns 13 racecourses across the country and continues to serve as a moral guide and custodian of racing traditions. The club upholds standards of good taste and elitism, with membership traditionally being held by hereditary aristocrats.

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