Written by Caroline Baldock, July 2020
This years Derby will be different, no crowds, no drunken punters, no cars, buses, gypsies, no top hats and fancy hats, no champagne, well I hope there is some champagne, no Queen, no Royal Box. How strange. But there will be a race, behind closed doors, which is a large fence. But there will be a winner, there will be cameras, so we can all watch it in the peace and quiet of our own homes.
I think I have done enough peace and quiet in my home just recently and am dying for the pubs to open and to attend a race meeting and cheer on a winner or two.
The 1913 Derby was in every respect a strange and unusual Derby. The Bloodstock Breeders’ Review describes it as, ‘Historic! It is scarcely an adequate appellative. The dictionary would however, be searched in vain for one conveying all that it is desired to express.’
It was won by a horse that really should have been disqualified, it became the center of an accident which was to mark a significant development in the suffragette movement. It was thought that Emily Wilding Davison had tried to commit suicide a victim of the times. But she had a return ticket in her pocket so that was not the case. But a scarf was found on the racecourse that day.
Another explanation was that she did not realize that the horses were still running and crossed the course. She did in fact try to throw a scarf over the neck of the King’s horse Anmer, but was knocked down and never recovered consciousness.
Let us turn to Aboyeur, the eventual winner of the race. Just before the turn of the century down in the wilds of Salisbury plain an interesting group of men had got together and planned a systematic assault on the bookies. They were going to make money out of racing. They became known as the Druid’s Lodge Confederacy. They were Alan Percy Cunliffe, Jack Fallon a brilliant racehorse trainer, Homer Peard an Irish veterinarian, Edward Wigan, Frank Forester and Wilfred Bagwell Purefoy, and was related to the Duke of Cleveland, and when he died in 1891 Purefoy inherited a lot of money.
Purefoy and Percy Cunliffe were at Harrow together which may be where this idea had its conception. Percy Cunliffe owned a good chunk of Salisbury plain, and his brother was Walter Cunliffe, 1st Baron Cunliffe, who was governor of the Bank of England, and lived at Headly Court near Epsom. The were not poor, Purefoy was a West End impresario, and avid gambler. Percy Cunliffe was a director and shareholder of Sandown Park and a steward at Brighton. At the turn of the century this formidable collection of business and equine minds were about to clean up on the betting front. They bought horses wisely and cleverly, and with Frank Forester and Jack Fallon who were formidable horsemen they trained horses to the point of perfection, placing horses in races with the sole intention of covering up their talent and winning vast amounts of money.
By 1913 they had done extremely well with Heckler’s Pride, who along with the famous Sceptre, owned by Robert Siever, and Blink Bonny – all fillies – were dominating the racing scene. 1913 was also the year of another famous horse, The Tetrarch, trained by Atty Pearse. He came from the Herod line and although reluctant as a stallion did sire some good horses including Tetratema, and further down the line Mumtaz Mahal who formed the basis of the Boussac horses, that the Aga Khan finally managed to get his hands on when Boussac died. The same cannot be said of the son of Desmond.
They had acquired Aboyeur by Desmond, from Ireland through Homer Peard. He showed very little promise, but he did win the Champagne stakes at Salisbury. He showed stamina when unshipping his rider outside Druids Lodge and galloped the six miles into Salisbury.
Craganour, also a son of Desmond, however was a much classier horse. He won five out of his six races. He was bred by Eustace Loder and sold on to Sir Tatton Syke’s Sledmere Stud who then sold him on to Bower Ismay, a man Eustace Loder seems to have set against for personal or other reasons.
Eustace Loder was the only steward at Epsom that day who decided an objection should be made, Rosebery had a runner in the next race and declined an interest and Lord Wolverton, depending on the accounts one reads did not object. Robinson, Craganour’s trainer was not sure he had won and suspected an enquiry, his jockey Reiff was totally aware of the hanging and jostling that had gone on. Other jockeys claimed the race resembled a bull fight.
Piper who rode Aboyeur was also nervous of being disqualified so he was not going to object. The race was certainly rough; Craganour bumped Aboyeur two furlongs from home. Aboyeur hung badly. Neither jockey wanted to contest the issue. The winner had been announced and the bookies started to pay out, then Loder decided that it was an interference issue and called for an enquiry. All hell broke loose when Aboyeur was announced the winner at 100 to 1, and guess what, Percy Cunliffe and Wilfred Purefoy had a stack of money on the horse and went home loaded.
I can’t help but wonder what Baron Walter Cunliffe thought of the whole affair and his brother’s part in it. You can lay bets that it was a hot topic of conversation back at Headly Court that evening. I would love to have been a fly on the wall. We will never know.
Aboyeur was sold to Russia for £18,000 and got caught up in the revolution, so probably came to a sad end. He vanished from sight. Craganour was sold for £30,000 and shipped to Argentina. He seems to have had more luck than Aboyeur.
Edwin Piper died here in Epsom in 1951 and is buried at the Ashley Road cemetery.
Another aside, I was walking on the Downs one day when I met a lady called Barbara, who it turns out if the great niece of Emily Wilding Davison and she told me that Emily had been practicing throwing her Suffragette scarf over ponies in a field. Not quite the same as a racehorse travelling at thirty miles an hour.
- Bloodstock Breeders Review 1913
- Paul Mathieu, The Druid’s Lodge Confederacy, pub J.A Allen 1990 Records office, Kew
- Bourne Hall Museum
- Roger Mortimer, The History of the Derby Stakes
- Sporting Life
- Roberts Standish Sievier, The Autobiography of Sceptre
- Extraordinary Derby, Poverty Bay Heralds, Vol XXXX, Issue 13124, 10 July 1913