Femme Fatale

in the name of horse racing

Camilla Osterman National Horseracing Museum

Now and again the name Lillie Langtry pops up in various contexts. A mare by that name is the mother of Coolmore’s fantastic filly Minding, and there is the Lillie Langtry Stakes at Goodwood. There have been books and TV-series bearing her name. But the story of the real Mrs Langtry surpasses all fiction. It’s as if her life had been taken straight out of a major soap opera. Born in a rural family she climbed society’s highest echelons and enchanted men with her beauty and wit.

Lillie Langtry was the Kim Kardashian of her era. Always in the spotlight, hanging out with the jet-set, and a member of the Professional Beauties. The PBs were married women of high birth and spotless reputations that London’s social life revolved around. Lillie was also a commercial genius and supposedly the first woman to endorse a product—she was the face of Pear’s Soap. She also had her own theatre company and, most importantly, was one hell of a horse-woman, with her own racing stable in Kentford outside Newmarket and a farm in Northern California complete with a breeding operation and a training track.

Lillie’s first success at the races came when she was still a teenager in her native Jersey. She and her brother Reggie bought a mare with the appropriate name Flirt for £4, fixed her up, and went on to win a seller at the local race meet at Gorey Commons. Later, when she moved to London with her husband, Ned Langtry, as one of the Professional Beauties, she got invitations to private boxes at all the great race meets; Goodwood, Ascot and Epsom. Lillie loved the racing and she was a good handicapper and made some money at the bookies.

Albert, The Prince of Wales, who later was to become King Edward.
Albert, The Prince of Wales, who later was to become King Edward.

As one of the PBs, Lillie was surrounded by men and two of Lillie’s most ardent admirers thought that the gift of a horse would strengthen their chances of attracting her attention. They offered Lillie a horse and riding lessons. She played along and the first time one of them helped her up on the horse, she pretended to faint and fell down on the other side into the arms of the other. But after she revived and galloped off they realized she was no beginner. The horse, Redskin, became a favorite and she rode him on the Rotten Row every day. The Rotten Row in London was what where anybody who was anybody was showing off their newest horse, their newest carriage, and their newest outfits.

During Lillie’s morning rides she was sometimes accompanied by Albert, The Prince of Wales, who later was to become King Edward. They shared a common interest in racing and were often seen together at the races. After a day of racing at Goodwood when Lillie’s husband Ned was out fishing with one of the Prince’s friends, Lillie and the Prince were both invited to stay at Lord Rothschild’s summer house near Goodwood. What happened that night we will never know, but after that Lillie was always invited wherever Bertie went.

“What happened that night we will never know, but after that Lillie was always invited wherever Bertie went”

This relationship lasted for some years, but after a big party were Lillie was supposed to have dropped a piece of ice down the Prince’s neck it ended. After that the credit she had enjoyed as the Prince’s official mistress quickly dried up and tradesmen, seamstresses, and milliners presented Lillie with a mountain of unpaid bills and demanded to get paid immediately, if not sooner. What to do?

Lillie followed her catch-call “Get on with it” and decided to go on the stage. During her years in high society she had met with actors, writers, and other artists so she had the necessary contacts. The public was willing to pay for a glimpse of the Famous Fallen Beauty and she was an immediate hit.

She toured the UK and the public clamored for tickets to her shows. Eventually she formed her own company and was invited to the USA where she had her own luxury rail-way carriage built for her convenience. Of course she went racing both on the old tracks in New York and Saratoga and also on the tracks around the country. She was often seen together with the young heir Freddie Gephard who also enjoyed racing and had his own stable.

Her theater company was a big success and by June 1884 Lillie had about $125,000 to her name. She decided to spend it on horses, so she and Freddie went off to buy a few horses for his racing stable. But she also wrote to her solicitor George Lewis in London about starting a stable of her own. So far she had only been a part-owner of Freddie’s horses, but now she was ready to get her own.

In the summer the traveling circus reached San Francisco where they stopped for a while and had some time off. Lillie and Freddie went looking for a property where they could breed horses and found it at a ranch in Guenoc Valley. They hired a ranch manager, Charles W Aby, who had managed Lucky Baldwin’s ranch at Santa Anita, outside Los Angeles. But when Lillie and Freddie’s horses were shipped out from New York to California tragedy struck. The train with 16 horses on board derailed. 11 horses died on the spot and the rest were badly injured and had to be put down. Freddie’s champion Eole, the winner of the Woodland Vase and other big races, was among the horses that were killed. After that the California-operation never really got off the ground and Lillie lost some of her interest. In the end, she and Freddie broke up and Lillie went back to England.

One day at the races she was placing a bet with a bookie when a man came up to her and told her that his horse was going to win the race. He bought her a win ticket on it and when the horse won he invited her out to dinner. Not that he ate a lot himself for he was the notorious Squire Abington, real name George Baird, the leading amateur rider. He rode just as well as the pros, but he was too tall to make low weights. He survived on various concoctions that were supposed to help him keep his weight low. God knows what they might have contained. Abington was not only a very good rider, he was also a stinking rich dropout from all the schools he had attended, a promotor of boxers, and a beater of women and horses. But with a yearly income of close to £250,000 he could afford to be an asshole.

He bought her a win ticket on it and when the horse won he invited her out to dinner.
He bought her a win ticket on it and when the horse won he invited her out to dinner.

Abington had a string of 150 horses at Moulton Paddocks outside Newmarket—a state of the art establishment. He also kept a string of prize-fighters in his house in London, which cost him £1,500 a week in keep. Add to that the cost of bailing himself and the pugilists out of trouble with the law and buying expensive gifts for the women he beat up. As one of his contemporaries put it, he was a dyed-in-the-wool swine. But for some reason women are attracted by such swine and Lillie was. After being used to twirling men around her little finger, this was something different. Good horse-men have always been attractive to good horse-women. Abington and Lillie often went racing and she enjoyed watching him training his horses in Newmarket.

Lillie still had a string of horses in California trained by Doc Aby, but they didn’t seem to win any races. So the Squire offered to get her one. A good one. Lillie got all excited and one night when they were having dinner in London a man came up to their table and started to talk about buying horses. The man offered £8,000 for Abington’s star Milford, but he wouldn’t sell and gave Lillie the horse instead.

“He is a son of Saraband and should be a winner. He’ll stay at Moulton Paddocks and my trainer Moreton can train him for you.”

In May 1892, Milford was ready for his first race—a big race for 2-year-olds at Kempton and it was time for Lillie to register her colors with Weatherby’s. She was wearing a fawn dress and a turquoise brooch the Squire had given her so that was it. The Squire even filled out the form, “turquoise with fawn hoops and turquoise cap”. She registered them under the nom-de-course Mr Jersey, even though it was possible for women to own their own horse. I suppose Lillie wanted to able to enjoy some privacy—at least for a while.

Milford lived up to the high expectations—he made almost £10,000 as a two-year old and was one of the leaders of his crop. And there was Meddler, he won the Middle Park on his last outing as a two-year old and the Squire promised he would run in the Derby under Lillie’s colors before he set off to the US with his fighters. The trip was a disaster, the American fighters gave the English a sound beating and the Squire’s hard living took its toll as he died of pneumonia March 18th. Unfortunately he had forgotten to sign the will he had made, in which he left Lillie a large sum of money. Now she was left with a yacht, a stable full of horses, and a host of other expenses that she had to take care of. Of course, she still made large sums herself, but she did have to reconsider her style of living. The money Milford had made she had spent on new horses so, with the Squire gone, she had to find her own establishment. She bought Regal Lodge in Kentford outside Newmarket and turned over the training of her horses to Sam Pickering. The death of the Squire meant that she was not going to get Meddler. She tried to buy him at the dispersal, but was prevented by the representative of the family. Meddler was favorite with the bookies for the Derby, but never got to the race—seemingly due to administrative trouble over the ownership. Lillie was able to buy Lady Roseberry at the sale, but she was not of the same standard as Meddler.

The money Milford had made she had spent on new horses so, with the Squire gone, she had to find her own establishment.
The money Milford had made she had spent on new horses so, with the Squire gone, she had to find her own establishment.

So after the a crazy period with the Squire, Lillie resumed her life. Her affairs were in a mess, but with the help of a new business manager, she managed to sort things out. Lillie had almost a year off from the stage and she spent a lot of it at Regal Lodge, where she enjoyed following her horses and their work. But to regain her place in society was another story. She was snubbed by all the hostesses and ostracized in the circles she used to belong to. At the Goodwood meet she visited with the Rothschilds, nobody paid her any attention—until she ran into Bertie. The Prince rushed to meet her when he saw her and, walking at his arm, she was all of a sudden best friends with all the ladies who complimented her on her dress and were so happy to see her again. The Prince and Lillie’s friendship was solid and lasted the remainder of his life.

Sam Pickering had done a fairly good job with Lillie’s horses. Lady Roseberry won the Lanark Cup, the Jockey Club Cup at Newmarket, and ran second in Lillie’s special race, the Cesarewitch. Milford didn’t train on, but she had Nobleman and several “platers” that did their part to pay for the rest. She had a “satisfactory season, and realized more and more the fascination of the national sport of England”.

And then she moved her horses—to Mr William Robertson. They hadn’t won often enough and Lillie aspired to be the Queen of the Turf. Seconds didn’t count.

Bertie, by now Edward VII, had had a good year in 1896, with Persimmon who not only won the Derby but also the St Leger and the Jockey Club Stakes and now Lillie was out to beat him in 1897. She had Merman, whom she had bought from Australia and shipped back to England—a big gamble even for somebody as fearless as Lillie. She had already had a misfortune with the mare Maluma, who she bought from New South Wales and who had fared badly during the trip over the Red Sea and never been the same horse again. But she was persuaded that Merman was worth it and that he would take a cooler route around the Cape of Good Hope. He arrived sound and in good shape and later the same year Lillie also imported a horse named Chesney, but his trip didn’t pan out quite as well. The ship carrying him was wrecked and Chesney had to swim eight and a half miles to shore, landing at Three Anchor Bay. Talk about a hard horse.

Lillie now had a string of 35 horses and she was at the stables every morning to oversee their training. She knew her business having been around horses since her childhood in Jersey and then she had learned a lot from the Squire who, besides being crazy, had been a very good horseman.

“The man offered £8,000 for Abington’s star Milford, but he wouldn’t sell and gave Lillie the horse instead”

Merman made it to the races and was ridden by Tod Sloan, the great American rider famous for introducing the ‘monkey on a stick’ seat. He lost at Nottingham and then he went for the Lewes Handicap. Lillie got an a tip from a Lord William Beresford to try to run him bare-foot since he was probably used to that in Australia. The idea sounded preposterous, but after his dismal performance in his first outing Lillie convinced her blacksmith to give it a try—and it worked. He won the race easily and from there on it was barefoot for Merman. Next time out was Lillie’s race, the Cesarewitch at Newmarket.

But now Lillie was free to marry again and found a new young man who unfortunately didn’t think women should have racehorses.
But now Lillie was free to marry again and found a new young man who unfortunately didn’t think women should have racehorses.

Her Brayhead had won the Liverpool Cup and she decided to work Merman with him to get an idea just how good Merman was. He easily beat Brayhead in an early morning work and Lillie decided to have a big bet on him in the Cesarewitch. Merman with Tod Sloan won the race and paid a good price and Lillie had made over £39‚000 at the bookies. After the race Bertie escorted her into the Jockey Club enclosure—a sanctum previously only open to men. “A toast to Ms Langtry, all hail to Mr Jersey” and the champagne bottles were opened. And that evening there was a big party at the Regal Lodge with a cake complete with a picture of Merman on it. And as Lillie was celebrating her win, her estranged husband Ned died in the asylum. To top it off the wreath that the florist made for Ned’s funeral had flowers in Lillie’s racing colors, fawn and turquoise. Not in very good taste.

“Now she stood with a yacht, a stable full of horses and a bunch of other expenses that she had to take care of”

But now Lillie was free to marry again and found a new young man who unfortunately didn’t think women should have racehorses. It seems Lillie felt that she now had to settle down and live a “normal” life. So here ends our story of the fabulous Ms Langtry.

If this has made you curious there are still a lot of places where you can find mementoes of her life. The reason I found about her is that I lived in her gardener’s house in Kentford when I worked at the headquarters of racing in Newmarket, UK. And if you haven’t visited Newmarket—hurry. It is fantastic.

THE MAN, who changed the racing world

Mats Genberg Alan Crowhurst, Warren Little, Chris Jackson/Getty Images, Nils RosenKjaer
HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, gave an exclusive interview to Gallop Magazine.
HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, gave an exclusive interview to Gallop Magazine.

On June 20, 1977, a six-year-old mare named Hatta won a race in Brighton. Not a race that anyone would call historic in any sense of the word. But to one man it was exactly that—the owner of the horse was a young man named HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and this was his first thoroughbred winner. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. And horse racing has never been the same again.

HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, gave an exclusive interview to Gallop Magazine on how Sheikh Mohammed brought racing back to its roots and made it grow in a way it never had before.


Today Sheikh Mohammed is the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai. He is the creator of Godolphin – the world’s largest horse racing operation – and the Dubai World Cup. His wife, HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, gave an exclusive interview to Gallop Magazine on how Sheikh Mohammed brought racing back to its roots and made it grow in a way it never had before.

Sheikh Mohammed has fulfilled his dream to make Dubai an international racing centre.
Sheikh Mohammed has fulfilled his dream to make Dubai an international racing centre.

If Great Britain had a reputation for being conservative in the 1970-80s, horse racing in the country was widely seen as the very heart of that conservatism. Suddenly a man from Dubai – a place that few had even heard of – entered the scene: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum – bringing in new ideas, new money, and a new approach to the sport. A beginning of what is often described as “a seismic shift” in the racing world.

Today, racing is a global sport where it is natural to see the same jockeys in big races in the UK, Hong Kong, and Dubai. Trainers and breeders keep track of what goes on in both Kentucky and Normandy. Few people realize that 30 years ago this was not the case at all and racing was a rather internal affair. Sheikh Mohammed wanted to change this. He had a vision to make racing big again. He wanted to make it global. And he wanted to make Dubai an international racing centre.

“The establishment saw owners as people who were just supposed to drink champagne in their box and show up in the paddock five minutes before a race,” says Princess Haya when we meet her in Dubai. “They paid the bills, and everybody was happy.”

“When Sheikh Mohammed turned up he changed the role of the owner completely. He wanted to see the feed rooms, he wanted to know what the horses ate, he wanted to know what the vets gave them. And he did not always agree with what horses the bloodstock agents thought he should buy.”

“Many, many trainers were surprised by his knowledge, but he genuinely wanted to meet them as colleagues and partners, and they weren’t used to it. Many did not understand his background. He grew up here in Dubai and was born and bred with horses. When he was young, they used horses for transport and raced on the beaches. Their survival in the early days depended on recognizing speed in an animal. They would be out in the desert hunting for food, and when they saw gazelles, they had to go for the slowest one. Recognizing speed in horses, in camels, in gazelles was a large part of their upbringing.”

“He is a true horseman. He was one of the last people who was taught how to train war horses; he can still make an Arabian horse lie down so that you can shoot from behind it”

Sheikh Mohammed is also an experienced endurance rider. In 2010 in Kentucky he was on the team that took the endurance gold medal, riding 160km!
Sheikh Mohammed is also an experienced endurance rider. In 2010 in Kentucky he was on the team that took the endurance gold medal, riding 160km!

A new era in racing

The entry of Sheikh Mohammed in Newmarket meant a new era in racing. Horses were sold at higher prices, making it possible for breeders to invest. Jobs were created, and investments in media such as the Racing Post and Channel Four television made it possible for racing to have a platform for communication. New technologies and ideas were encouraged, and money was invested in research. Each player in the field realized that to keep up they had to follow suit. Following familiar paths was no longer enough.

Royalty meets Royalty.
Royalty meets Royalty.

“It is important to understand that it was always about the big picture. It was always much more important to make racing as such bigger, than to just be a bigger player in the sport.”

Princess Haya is herself a respected horsewoman and was a world class show jumper. In 2000, she carried the flag for her native Jordan at the Olympics in Sydney. She was the President of the International Equestrian Federation for eight years.

It was a horse that brought the couple together. Having occasionally met in the Royal circles, she called up Sheikh Mohammed before the 2000 Olympics to get his advice on feed for a horse she was riding.

Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya with New Approach (Galileo x Park Express/ Saddler's Wells) after his win in the 2008 Epsom Derby. New Approach raced in the colours of Princess Haya, was trained by Jim Bolger and ridden in all races by Kevin Manning.
Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya with New Approach (Galileo x Park Express/ Saddler’s Wells) after his win in the 2008 Epsom Derby. New Approach raced in the colours of Princess Haya, was trained by Jim Bolger and ridden in all races by Kevin Manning.

“He is a true horseman. He was one of the last people who was taught how to train war horses; he can still make an Arabian horse lie down so that you can shoot from behind it. He does a lot of similar things to what Monty Roberts does like ‘Join Up’. He loves that! That’s really where he came from. And don’t forget that he is a great endurance rider. In 2010 in Kentucky he was on the team that took the endurance gold medal, riding 160km!”

Sheikh Mohammed himself tells a story about his own first horse race. As a boy, he found a mare in the family stable that nobody wanted – Sawdah Um Halag. She had a bowed tendon and had the tip of her ear split, but he wanted to try her in the annual races on Jumeirah Beach in Dubai.

The first person he went to see was his mother, to get advice on what herbs to use on the leg. Instead, she looked the angles of feet and joints of the mare and explained that the problem in a horse often is not where the symptoms are. She taught him how to make the right potions and how to trim the hooves. For three months he trained the mare, swam with her in the sea and rode her on the beaches. He let her run loose and come back on his command. When the race day came, he rode the mare that nobody had noticed and they both fought until the very end, beaten by just a length. That night he slept on the beach, curled up by Um Halag’s stomach.

“I thanked her for all she had done for me, over and over again. I spoke to her of my gratitude for sharing this experience with me, for the race itself was more than just a sporting event. And this was how the Dubai World Cup began, a race that started with a flat blade across the beach sand of Dubai has grown into a world-class event that crowns the place of Dubai in the racing world.”


Racing’s origins

Many people see horse racing as a sport with British origins.

The truth is that long before the Romans introduced racing on the British islands, it was a major pastime in the Arab world. A place where the speed and endurance of horses was a matter of life and death. One example is the story of the two tribes Bani Abs and Dhibyan. Each tribe had a mare that was renowned for her speed – Dahes and Al Ghabra.

One day the two tribes arranged for a race between the mares to finally settle the discussion. However, the leader of the Dhibyan was so worried that his mare Al Ghabra would be beaten that he arranged for two of his men to hide by the track and jump up and spook Dahes when she passed them. Dahes nearly threw off her rider and Al Ghabra won the race, but word got out about the foul play and this led to ‘The War of Dahes and Al Ghabra’, which lasted for 40 years!

Since the days of the crusades, soldiers in Europe saw and learned to fear, respect, and admire the speed of the Arabian horse. In the battle of Waterloo, both Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington rode Arabians.

Many horses from the Middle East were brought to Europe where they soon made a major impact on local breeding. Three of those horses received a special place in history as the stallions that founded the Thoroughbred and that every horse of that breed can trace back to: the Godolphin Arabian, the Darley Arabian, and the Byerley Turk.

“Some people think that Sheikh Mohammed’s investment in racing was a way to gain acceptance in the social circles in the UK,” Princess Haya continues. “But it was really the other way around. He wanted to make the sport great. And bring it back home.”

Sheikh Mohammed is a true horseman.
Sheikh Mohammed is a true horseman.

Princess Haya explains that sport has always been important to Sheikh Mohammed. He sees it as a way both to build national pride, and to make young people work physically.

“They wanted people to get involved in sport and an Arab-rooted sport that they could relate to. With the introduction of oil, there was a very quick change in lifestyle. People who were very poor and had spent their life moving around, were introduced to cars and fast food. They wanted to create a sporting environment. That is why it was so important to have an Arab trainer, such as Saeed, in the beginning. To show that it could be done. It motivated young people here. The jockeys wearing the blue silks of Godolphin became like a national team.”

“With racing, he found a sport that has been our own for thousands of years and which was still important in the West. Racing was an integral part of making Dubai known all over the world and to become the finance and tourist center that it is today.”


“They had no idea where it was”

Sheikh Mohammed met the young trainer Saeed Bin Suroor in the early 1990’s at a local racetrack, and asked him to train thoroughbreds for him in Dubai  Saeed had previously trained horses for local racing but the concept of thoroughbreds in the desert was totally new.

Trainer Saeed Bin Suroor giving instructions to jockey Adrie De Vries.
Trainer Saeed Bin Suroor giving instructions to jockey Adrie De Vries.

“He had a vision,” Saeed says. “He wanted to get horses from Europe to Dubai, train them here, and then win races in the world and that way get people to learn about Dubai.”

After a short while, Saeed moved to England and took care of Sheikh Mohammed’s horses there. The Arab owner  and his Arab trainer were smirked upon by many when no one was looking. But some people, like John Gosden and Vincent O’Brien, recognized the horsemanship, passion, and knowledge and helped open doors for the new team.

“In 1994 I went to Santa Anita with Red Bishop, and we won a Group 1. People asked where we came from, and I said Dubai, in the UAE. They had no idea where it was. They thought it was Saudi Arabia. Some remembered the war in 1990 and thought we were from Kuwait. Some of the English understood, but the others had no clue.”

After showing the UAE flag to people who had never heard about the country or Dubai, it was time for the next step: bringing the world’s best horses to Dubai. The concept of the Dubai World Cup was created, and in 1996, the first edition of what was the world’s richest horse race was run at the new track in Dubai: Nad Al Sheba.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum rejoices as he wins the Dubai World Cup with his horse African Story ridden by Silvestre De Sousa, 2014.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum rejoices as he wins the Dubai World Cup with his horse African Story ridden by Silvestre De Sousa, 2014.

“We were lucky,” Saeed laughs. “Cigar, who was the American racing superstar at the time, entered the race and won. Suddenly Dubai was becoming known in the racing world.”

“The Dubai World Cup was and is unique. For the first time, racing people from all over the world were invited to meet and see who was the best – all financed by a third party.

For the first time, racing people from all over the world had a place to meet and network. At the same time, Emirates Airlines was created and inch by inch Dubai grew into what it is today.”

“People see Dubai with all the glitzy malls and tall buildings,” Princess Haya says. “They talk about how much we spend on the Dubai World Cup. They rarely speak about how much we get back from it. Business investments and tourism have made the UAE become the 2nd biggest giver of humanitarian aid in the world according to the OECD. Or how we have been able to grow crops in the desert.”

Princess Haya tells of how Sheikh Mohammed once planted a small tree in the desert. After some years he saw how migrating birds used it as a resting place. And eventually, as the tree grew, other birds built nests in it and other plants grew in the shade.

“This is precisely his vision with Dubai,” she says.


Seismic change

Parallel with the creation of the Dubai World Cup, Sheikh Mohammed set up his racing operation, Godolphin.

“Sheikh Mohammed and his brothers were very successful owners in their own rights during the 1980s,” says Hugh Anderson, managing director of Godolphin in UK and UAE.

The Grandstand at Meydan Racecourse. PHOTO: Frank Sorge.
The Grandstand at Meydan Racecourse.
PHOTO: Frank Sorge.

“When Sheikh Mohammed created Godolphin in 1993 it was a seismic change in the industry. This was a brand new type of owner/trainer operation where things were done in new ways on so many levels, not least of which was the movement of the racehorses to Dubai each winter.”

The economic impact of a new financially strong player is obvious. But Godolphin meant much more than money, Anderson says, not least in Newmarket – the epicenter of horse racing in Europe.

“Racing was an integral part of making Dubai known all over the world and to become the finance and tourist center that it is today”

“It was an entirely new way of doing things that was in many ways a challenge to the traditional and conservative racing industry. A man from a relatively new country, who was himself an expert rider and a horseman, came right in and set up an operation that was unconventional in many ways but, crucially, was immediately very successful.”

Around the same time, Dubai started to expand into the force you now see today. In a way, Godolphin and Dubai were reflections of each other. Growing rapidly and doing things in new ways and on a scale rarely seen.

It is always impressing to see the Godolphin blue string. Godolphin has operations in six countries on four continents and some 1,500 employees all over the world.
It is always impressing to see the Godolphin blue string. Godolphin has operations in six countries on four continents and some 1,500 employees all over the world.

“Godolphin is about innovation, challenging the norm and building an operation that reflects the spirit of Dubai and Sheikh Mohammed’s pioneering approach. Away from the racetrack, we have the Godolphin Flying Start – a first class program that aims to train and produce the future international leaders of the industry. In the UAE, we have just set up a one-year program called Masar Godolphin for Emiratis that aims to foster the young talent and love of the horse that is so much a part of Emirati life. Godolphin also leads the sporting world in its international support for the people who work in the industry, in the form of the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards.”

“Godolphin is a wonderful organization to work for – always exciting, always changing and we are all immensely grateful to His Highness for his loyalty and commitment to his team.”

Today, Godolphin has operations in six countries on four continents and some 1,500 employees all over the world. The scale is as impressive as the results. Since 1992, Godolphin horses have won more than 4,000 races, including more than 1,000 Stakes races and 240 Group 1s.

“Princess Haya tells of how Sheikh Mohammed once planted a small tree in the desert. After some years he saw how migrating birds used it as a resting place. And eventually, as the tree grew, other birds built nests in it and other plants grew in the shade. ‘This is precisely his vision with Dubai,’ she says”
“Princess Haya tells of how Sheikh Mohammed once planted a small tree in the desert. After some years he saw how migrating birds used it as a resting place. And eventually, as the tree grew, other birds built nests in it and other plants grew in the shade. ‘This is precisely his vision with Dubai,’ she says”

But at the end of the day, it’s the horses that count. In his opening speech before the 2016 Dubai World Cup, Sheikh Mohammed expressed it this way:

“My very earliest memory was galloping in the desert, seated in the saddle in front of my late father, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. I remember the rhythm of Saglawi, the white stallion my father loved so much, and I remember how the sky and the sand rolled with the stallion’s long strides across the dunes. But most of all, I remember my father’s arm around my waist, and a feeling of utter joy and peace in my soul.”

“The horses are central to him, even if he now has less time for them,” Princess Haya says.

“But whenever there are tough decisions to be made or problems to consider, I know where to find him. In the stables – alone with his horses.”

Where the Turf meets the Surf


Jörgen Nilsson, Amanda Duckworth Getty Images, Del Mar/thoroughbred club

In May 1936, in the aftermath of the American Depression, a hastily convened meeting took place at the Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank, California. The reason for the gathering, however, had nothing to do with movies.

After a prosperous career as a pro football player, William A. Quigley settled down in La Jolla, Southern California, where he turned out to be a great visionary with a nose for business. He had his eye on the fairgrounds in Del Mar, near San Diego, and he sensed a certain potential. The area bordered to the Pacific Ocean and had exhibition facilities, a mile course for different equine stunts and provisional stands. It was by no means an impressive establishment, but its location and surroundings were ideal for Quigley’s purposes, and he was given a verbal promise to lease the area for 10 years.

Del Mar’s Three Musketeers—General Manager Bill Quigley, Chairman Bing Crosby, and Vice Chairman Pat O’Brien.
Del Mar’s Three Musketeers—General Manager Bill Quigley, Chairman Bing Crosby, and Vice Chairman Pat O’Brien.

The ex-footballer had a vision. He saw Los Angeles a 100 miles to the north. He saw people coming in droves for a day of fun in relaxed surroundings. He saw a race track that could be named Del Mar. He also saw who could be the track’s face to the world.

Bing Crosby was in the middle of a remarkable singing career, and during the 1930s and ‘40s he also found fame as an actor.
Bing Crosby was in the middle of a remarkable singing career, and during the 1930s and ‘40s he also found fame as an actor.

Bing Crosby was in the middle of a remarkable singing career, and during the 1930s and ‘40s he also found fame as an actor. Harry Lillis Crosby—his real name—more or less invented the singing style of crooning and was the trail blazer for celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He was the brightest shining star of his time. Crosby also owned Don Juan Osuna Ranch in Rancho Santa Fe to the north east of Del Mar, where he relaxed with his family and a plethora of friends when he wasn’t performing.

Quigley, a socially accomplished charmer, knew this. He also knew Crosby was very keen on racing. Quigley was straightforward and a bit of a snob, too. He was always immaculately clad and changed his clothes several times a day. His style and personality attracted the singer, and William soon became Bill within the Crosby household. The idea of a race track at Del Mar enthused Bing Crosby to no end and not long after, the Del Mar Turf Club was founded in a board room at Warner Bros. Crosby was elected chairman, his brother Everett Crosby treasurer, Hardy secretary and O’Brien vice chairman, while Quigley himself became general manager of Del

Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor were there for opening day at Del Mar in 1937
Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor were there for opening day at Del Mar in 1937

Mar. Cooper, who a year later was to decline the leading role in Gone with the Wind, accepted a place on the board. The shares were $100 apiece and the Hollywood in-crowd dug into their pockets. Funding and schedules were in place. Now just the track itself was missing.

It took some juridical quibbling to get started, but after a while the construction was underway. To that end local San Diego architects Sam W. Hamill and Herbert Louis Jackson were engaged. The idea was to build in the style of Spanish colonial splendor, which was so much part of the architecture in Southern California.

“To the initial idea of the Spanish colonial style they soon began to add elements of Venice and Versailles including canals, lagoons and formalistic gardens.”

The architects were given a free hand and to the initial idea of the Spanish colonial style, they began to add elements of Venice and Versailles including canals, lagoons and formalistic gardens. Soon enough the money was gone. Unfazed, Crosby and O’Brien borrowed against their life insurances and each lent $600,000 interest-free to the project. The architects, however, no longer had a free hand.

At that time, Southern California was thinly populated and mainly considered a place for summer holidays.
At that time, Southern California was thinly populated and mainly considered a place for summer holidays.

Quigley was intimately connected to the events in Arcadia, California, where in 1934 Santa Anita Park had reopened to the public thanks to the initiative of film mogul Hal Roach. That track had developed into a major success with the Santa Anita Handicap, aka The Big Cap, as its main attraction. The Santa Anita meetings were held during winter, and Quigley planned to fill the space between those winter meetings with a summer meeting at Del Mar.

At that time, Southern California was thinly populated and mainly considered a place for summer holidays. The Del Mar project more or less depended on the Santa Anita crowd being willing to travel 60 miles to the new track.

On July 3, 1937, the track opened for business, but the stables and the paddock were makeshift arrangements. The employees had difficulties finding their way round the area and had to take measures to avoid the wet paint on most surfaces. Still, the horses were in place and so were the news boys. Crosby himself was at the turnstiles to greet the first fan through the gate.

After a Quigley- like change of clothes, Crosby went to the judge’s box, picked up the microphone and in his characteristically laid back and spontaneous manner announced:

“We hope you all enjoy the meeting… and have a measure of success at the payoff windows.”

An estimated 15,000 spectators turned up that first day. Crosby, Quigley and O’Brien held court. Hardy was honorary official, and Bette Davis, Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, W.C. Fields, Una Merkel, Jack Dempsey, Walter Connolly and Mary Carlisle mingled. All agreed Del Mar was a success.

An innovation that became a game changer for the entire sport also debuted that day. Prior to the grand opening, Crosby contacted Lorenzo del Riccio, an optical engineer for the research department of Paramount Pictures, and commissioned him to develop a photo finish camera. He installed the camera at the cost of $300,000, which was an enormous amount of money at the time.

The first photo it took at Del Mar was hardly necessary. High Strike, a 2-year-old gelding sent off at odds of 2-1, immediately went to the front in a maiden race and stayed there. He carried the Crosby colors of blue and gold, which went down well with the crowd, and the horse came home to whooping and applause. Several races later, Stanwyck crowned the winner in the day’s main event, The Inaugural Handicap, and the cheering knew no end.

When a crowd of 18,000 turned over close to a quarter of a million dollars on the second day, everybody thought big time racing had come to stay at Del Mar. The heady days didn’t last, however. Del Mar averaged 5,000 visitors for the remainder of the 22-day meet. The weak point in Quigley’s project was of a logistic nature. The trip from Los Angeles was a pain: the trains went slow, the roads were bad and regular flights were nonexistent.

The project’s financial aspect aside, the atmosphere was good at Del Mar in the summer of 1937. The environment was pleasing. The sounds of the Pacific Ocean’s waves were pleasing. Crosby himself had a soothing effect. A columnist wrote that the singer had to be the most laid back person ever to live. The style was easy going and relaxed and word had it that only the horses were in a hurry at Del Mar.

Bing Crosby himself took tickets on opening day.
Bing Crosby himself took tickets on opening day.

During the mornings, or what counted for mornings, the in-crowd dozed at the beach and analyzed the afternoon’s events together with the regular mortals. At night, the stars danced at the Old Del Mar Hotel or hung out at the town’s only watering hole, La Tienda, which only closed when Bette Davis had had her share. Weekends culminated with the notorious “Bing’s Saturday Night Parties.” Those kicked off at eight in the evening and stars performed at their leisure. It may not only be for religious reasons that Sunday was a blank on the racing calendar during the early years of Del Mar.

The parties that launched each race meeting became legendary, too. The festivities started right after the compulsory walking-the-course and accommodation was at the Old Del Mar Hotel. They were boozy affairs, greeting dawn with red rimmed eyes. Al Jolson, Abe Burrows, Jimmy Durante, Joe Frisco, the Ritz Brothers, Danny Thomas, Tony Martin, Donald O’Connor and Lou Holtz took care of the entertainment.

During one such party, Durante forgot the mini piano he used to pick apart as a part of his act. Instead he rocked a proper piano, and piece by piece threw it from the terrace to the patio below. Pete Townsend of The Who would repeat that feat 30 years on, but the rest of that night at Del Mar the entertainment was strictly a capella.

Journalists often complained of hangovers lasting for days after those parties. Even so, they were back the following year. As for Durante, he was such a regular, the track eventually named its turf course in his honor.

Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor were there for opening day at Del Mar in 1937
Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor were there for opening day at Del Mar in 1937

The Crosby movie Sing, You Sinners was a Paramount musical set in a racing environment and had its world premiere at Del Mar during the opening day of the 1938 meet. Crosby also succeeded in persuading NBC to broadcast his radio show, the Kraft Music Hall, which at the time was the most popular in the States, from Del Mar for half an hour on Saturday mornings. The concept was simple: short interviews from the race track, rounded off by a couple of songs by the singer himself.

It was during one of these broadcasts in 1938 that Crosby first sung the tune that would forever define Del Mar. Mrs. Herb Poleisee, the wife of one of Crosby’s staff writers, came up with the phrase “Where the Turf Meets the Surf.” The singer and Johnny Burke came up with the rest of the words, while James V. Monaco set them to music. The refrain goes like this:

Where the turf meets the surf/
down at old Del Mar/
Take a plane, take a train, take a car/
There’s a smile on every face/
and a winner in every race/
Where the turf meets the surf/
at Del Mar.

Crosby sang it live before the races that year and even nowadays “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” starts and ends racing at Del Mar.

As an attraction the presence of Hollywood stars at Del Mar races cannot be overestimated. Still it took two four-legged stars to spread the track’s appeal nationwide in its second year. Charles S. Howard had one of the most successful stables in America, and the legendary Seabiscuit was its star. Howard’s son, Lin, had a racing stable with Crosby under the name BingLin Stables. They had imported an Argentinian top performer by the name of Ligaroti, and Quigley suggested a match race between the two horses.

Seabiscuit, with his tremendous fighting spirit, was the darling of American racing and had been named the 1937 Champion Handicap Male. He had, however, disdainfully lost two “Big Caps” and now rumor had it, he was not quite the same anymore. Howard was of a different opinion and challenged his son to a side bet. His $15,000 against his son’s $5,000.

Quigley’s brainchild of a match race combined with Crosby’s wide network had made Del Mar known from coast to coast.

The press monitored the race like a title match, and the news teams loaded their film cameras. From the roof of the grandstand, Crosby and O’Brien commented on the event to a nationwide radio audience. An estimated crowd of 20,000, many sporting paraphernalia for their pick in the $25,000 winner-take-all event, showed up for the race.

After the match race between Seabiscuit and Ligaroti. Bing Crosby with, George “Ice Man” Woolf and Noel “Spec” Richardson.

Seabiscuit was ridden by George “Ice Man” Woolf and the South American horse by Noel “Spec” Richardson. Race riding at this time was no Sunday School event and this race was no exception. Seabiscuit was in front coming around the final turn, but Richardson grabbed his saddlecloth at the top of the stretch and later went for Woolf’s wrist. Reports claim that in retaliation, Woolf grabbed Ligaroti’s bridle about 20 yards from the wire and didn’t let go until the race was over. Richardson later said Woolf was whipping Ligaroti, which is why he grabbed his wrist. To this day, no one quite knows exactly what happened, except that it was a roughly run race to say the least.

It is known that the crowd loved the spectacle. In the end, Seabiscuit held on by a nose and shaved four seconds off the track record in the process, even though he was carrying 130 lbs to Ligaroti’s 115 lbs. The stewards, however, were livid and declared the race void and warned off both Richardson and Woolf. It took a while of negotiating before the result was allowed to stand and the jockeys got away with a one week suspension each.

Even if the jockeys were not best friends after the race, the atmosphere at the track was electric. Quigley’s brainchild of a match race combined with Crosby’s wide network had made Del Mar known from coast to coast.


Del Mar Thoroughbred Club
2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd
Del Mar, CA 92014
Tel (858) 755-1141

Major races

Pacific Classic (G1), Eddie Read Stakes (G2)
Del Mar Oaks (G1), Bing Crosby Stakes (G1)
Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1)
Del Mar Debutante (G1)
Del Mar Futurity (G1)

Getting there
City of Del Mar is on the I-5 20 miles north of San Diego or 100 miles south of Los Angeles (downtown). Amtrak and Coaster have trains to Solana Beach from where there are free shuttle buses to Del Mar.

Bing Crosby on horseback at Del Mar. “Laid-back” seems like a fitting description.
Bing Crosby on horseback at Del Mar. “Laid-back” seems like a fitting description.

Ann Sheridan, Paulette Goddard and Joan Bennett were some of the celebs to turn up in Del Mar’s winner’s circle that summer. Rumor even had it that Greta Garbo was there, though nobody saw her. Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and Red Skelton definitely were there, though, and it had become important to one’s film carrier to be seen at Del Mar.

If the second year at Del Mar was a success based on media coverage, crowds and betting turn-over, the next couple of seasons hardly made the shareholders dance in the streets. The net profit for 1939 landed on a modest $69. The real economical breakthrough had to wait until 1941, when the Pacific Highway (US 101) had been expanded and the air traffic to the San Diego area intensified.

Everything came to an abrupt halt, however, in December 1941 when the United States entered the Second World War. Between 1942 and 1944, the track was closed and the grounds were initially used for training by the United States Marine Corps, then as a manufacturing site for parts to B-17 bombers.

Del Mar was back in business as a racetrack in July 1945, but without Quigley, who had passed away after a short time of bad health. A crowd of more than 20,000 turned up on the reopening day, and the rest of the year was a formidable success. The upward trend continued the next year and after nine years Crosby and O’Brien at last had their investments back. Crosby sold his shares and left the board, and he was soon followed by O’Brien.

In spite of that, the Hollywood crowd continued to go racing at Del Mar. Santa Fe Railroad contributed to the effort with a special train from Los Angeles to Del Mar. The “racetrack special” debuted in 1947, and when the train first came into view, a tremendous cheering broke out. That cheering became a tradition for years to come.

The horses that put Del Mar on the map went on to greater things. Seabiscuit headed east, where he trounced War Admiral in the epic match race at Pimlico and was named the 1938 Horse of the Year. He capped off his career by winning the Santa Anita Handicap at long last in 1940.

Ligaroti won the 1938 Del Mar Handicap but like Seabiscuit was a disappointment in the breeding shed. It was not for lack of effort, though, as he ended his days collapsing on top of a mare named Midge. The resulting foal was suitably named Last Bang.

Gary Cooper, who had turned down Gone with the Wind because he felt it would be a resounding flop, could after its premiere in Atlanta 1939 and eight Oscars later note that he had made a serious error of judgment.

Lorenzo del Riccio turned his back on Paramount Pictures and went all in on the new and lucrative photo finish business. The company wanted its share of the pie and sued him, but unabated he continued to install photo finish cameras all over the country with Paramount’s lawyers snapping at his heels. He managed to keep one step ahead and somewhere along the line he disappeared altogether as a wealthy man.

Bing Crosby visited the track one last time in 1977. He died of a heart attack the following year, but the style and spirit he created at Del Mar still lives on. The Bing Crosby Stakes, which was inaugurated in 1946, is run to this day and is a Grade 1 race.

Pat O’Brien kept his movie carrier alive until he in 1983, like his old partner in crime, died of a heart attack. He too has a race named after him at Del Mar. First held in 1986, today it is a Grade 2 event.

Del Mar remains one of America’s most beloved racetracks to this day.
Del Mar remains one of America’s most beloved racetracks to this day.

Today, Del Mar is revered as one of America’s most iconic tracks, and in 2014, it was announced the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, one of Thoroughbred racing’s most prestigious international events, would be held there for the first time in November 2017. Next year, the world’s best will gather at the timelessly beautiful track at the edge of the Pacific Ocean or, as it says in the song, “Where the Turf Meets the Surf.”

The GRAND NATIONAL from the back of a horse

Ten minutes FOR FAME

Richard Dunwoody GEORGE SELWYN, Jon franklin
The start of the Grand National.
The start of the Grand National.

The Grand National is probably the most well known horse race in the world. Controversial. Loved by some. Hated by others.
But what is it really like from the inside? From the back of a horse?

Richard Dunwoody rode The National 14 times and won it twice. This is his story.


It’s fair to say that the Grand National probably is the most famous horse race in the world. Every April, more than 600 million people around the globe turn to and tune in to the action at Aintree as 40 brave men and horses embark upon an odyssey, the memories of which will sustain them into old age.

FIRST-FENCE - This is an ordinary, plain fence that over the years has accounted for a large number of fallers because of its position in the race
FIRST-FENCE – This is an ordinary, plain fence that over the years has accounted for a large number of fallers because of its position in the race

Read Richard’s own thoughts about all the jumps in The Grand National

This is where adrenaline levels rise off the scale; where mouths dry up and hearts beat double-time as the allotted hour draws near; where the difference between winning and losing can be short-head slim and worlds apart both at the same time.

”Ten minutes is not a particularly long time. What can one do in ten minutes – boil a couple of eggs, write an email, hang the washing on the line?  Yet the Grand National lasts only 10 minutes, and it can break your heart, break your body, and change your life for better or worse. It changed my life.”

Win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the highest-quality steeplechase on the calendar, and a jockey is famous only within the narrow confines of the sport. Victory in the Grand National gives a jockey to the world, makes his name common currency in the field of sporting heroics.

I have won more than 1,700 races, but the two I am remembered for above all others are my two National wins: West Tip in 1986 and on Miinnehoma eight years later. Without them I would not be writing this, without them I would be virtually forgotten.

The Grand National is dramatic, melodramatic, arbitrary, emotional, compelling, uplifting. It changes lives forever, all in the space of 10 minutes.

I was 21 when I had my first ride in the National on West Tip in 1985, just a kid really, and the difference between this race and the thousands of others during a season was laid out in stark relief even before I’d pulled the owner’s light blue and black jersey over my head.

Becher’s Brook - The most famous fence in the world.
Becher’s Brook – The most famous fence in the world.

The weighing room was a different place, almost a photographic negative of its normal self. The quiet jockeys were inexplicably chatty, nerves and adrenaline loosening their tongues, while the habitual livewires were sitting silently beneath their pegs, wrapped tightly in their own thoughts.

The senior steward marched in to deliver a pep-talk based on the principle of not going too fast too soon, of taking it easy on the run to the first fence, of discretion being the better part of valour. Every year a roomful of jockeys listens, nods. Every year we go down to the first as though we’d been conscripted into the Light Brigade.

The CANAL TURN - is where horses have to make a 90-degree turn on the landing side.
The CANAL TURN – is where horses have to make a 90-degree turn on the landing side.

The atmosphere during the half-hour before everyone takes a deep breath and walks out into the parade ring is unique. All the jockeys know that this is the big one, that a different race awaits us all, that before the day is out one of them, one of the few, one of this tight-knit band of brothers, will have had his life changed forever.

During the long parade, the vast crowd broadcasts a steady hum of anticipation, broken now and again by the seagull cries from the bookmakers or a fusillade of abuse from an angry punter who reckons you gave your mount in the previous race a poor ride. As the runners circle at the start, as our girths are checked, as the pulse begins to resemble the beat in an Ibiza nightclub, the jockeys call out to each other, something that never happens in any other race.

“Best of luck.”

“Have a good ride round.”

“Keep safe.”

At times the Grand National is like the Olympics – it’s not about the winning, but the taking part. And then the starter climbs his ladder and releases the tape, and it becomes like every other race – all about the winning.

West Tip didn’t win. But at least I had the luxury of thinking he might until he took his eye off the ball at Becher’s Brook second time round, until the spectators and the TV cameras waiting on the landing side distracted him. He got in close, came down steep, his front legs crumpled underneath him, and that was that.


What does it feel like when everything comes to a sudden stop, mud in your face, breath knocked out of you, your loose horse about to vanish over the horizon? I was gutted. I was absolutely distraught. I sat there with my head in my hands, cursing my luck. West Tip had jumped so well, hadn’t made the slightest mistake until the one that separated us.

The St John Ambulance volunteer walked over and asked if I was all right.

No, no broken bones, just a broken heart.

The race went to 50-1 chance Last Suspect, whose jockey Hywel Davies would no doubt have been thinking, “It probably won’t be me,” in that lonely pre-race half-hour of introspection. The following morning, the traditional National winner’s parade took place at trainer Tim Forster’s yard, where I was then based. I aimed for a celebratory mood, but I’m only human, and the sight of happy Hywel shook salt into my wounds.

RICHARD DUNWOODY - A three-time champion jockey, Dunwoody rode more than 1,700 winners over jumps in his 17-year career and was the Jump Jockey of the Year in the UK five times.
RICHARD DUNWOODY – A three-time champion jockey, Dunwoody rode more than 1,700 winners over jumps in his 17-year career and was the Jump Jockey of the Year in the UK five times.

Fast-forward 12 months, and disaster was transformed into triumph. There we were again, West Tip and I, running down to Becher’s with the usual hope stacked against the experience of the previous season. The brave jockeys always go down the inner, where the drop is steepest, while the more cautious ones drift to the outside to minimise the risk.

I began to angle to the right and relative safety. I remember Tom Taaffe shouting, “Christ, Woody, keep straight, you’re going to murder me,” as I took his horse across with me, but all I could think about was getting over Becher’s.

We landed safely, and it’s at that point, with the terror of Becher’s behind, that every jockey starts thinking that this time it might be his time. There are eight fences to jump, and if your horse is still travelling sweetly, you begin to check out the horses around you. You might ask the fellow next to you how he’s going, and then you have to decide how much truth there is in his answer. Is he bluffing? Does he just want me to give his horse a lead?

Voices get lost in the crash of spruce; sometimes riders get lost in it, too.

On this occasion Young Driver and Chris Grant gave me a great lead, and the feeling that I had been trying to suppress since the Canal Turn bubbled over with two fences left to jump. I was going to win the National.

West Tip was going so well that my sole consideration was to not hit the front too soon, but unfortunately we arrived there soon enough, and just after the Elbow, almost a furlong from home, he began to idle.

To approach the Elbow is to ride into the wide end of a funnel. The noise is incredible – it hits you hard in the face – but my focus had shrunk to just one thought: keep him going. Such were the roars from the crowd that I couldn’t hear my whip landing on West Tip’s backside, but he kept running and I kept swinging and between us we made it across the line into racing immortality.

After that, a blur. My back was slapped and my hand wrung weary by fellow jockeys, who were – as I would have been for any of their number – delighted on my behalf. We walked off the track between two huge police horses, West Tip dwarfed by their bulk.

I remember a gap-toothed smile stretching so far across my face that it almost hurt. There was a brief window for reflection, to let the immensity of what I had achieved sink in, but as soon as we reached the winner’s enclosure I became public property.

The cameras, the media, the crowd, the noise, the confusion, the bewildering number of people who come toward you with a word, a smile, an outstretched hand – it all washed over me like a waterfall of happiness. I couldn’t tell you what I said, did, thought. My mind was a whirl, each moment slipping past without me being able to hold on to it.

I recall the celebration that evening through a haze of satisfaction. I can remember the victory parade the following morning through another sort of haze. What does it feel like to win the National? Hazy! But it changed my life.

A few years later I remember talking to Carl Llewellyn, who had also won a National, and saying, “If I ever win the race again, I’ll make sure I step back and take it all in, make sure I enjoy it properly.” We were so lucky; we both had the chance to do that.

A three-time champion jockey, Dunwoody rode more than 1,700 winners over jumps in his 17-year career and was the Jump Jockey of the Year in the UK five times.

The three-time champion jockey, Richard Dunwoody.
The three-time champion jockey, Richard Dunwoody.

Major wins:
The King George VI Chase (1989*, 1990*, 1995, 1996)
The Grand National (1986, 1994)
Cheltenham Gold Cup (1988)
* on the legendary Desert Orchid

In January 2008, Richard and American explorer Doug Stop reached the South Pole after a 48-day trek without any outside support. They had taken the route that Shackleton attempted – but failed – in 1914.
In 2004, he drove the Gumball 3000 rally.
His autobiography Obsessed was published in 2000 and is said to be one of the best written jockey biographies ever.

Today Richard is a respected photojournalist, covering countries and places that few people ever visit. In our Summer 2014 issue, you can see his photos of horse racing in Sudan’s capital Khartoum.


I have so many memories of the Grand National, coloured by sadness, disappointment, frustration – the indolent Samlee, who would nearly have won instead of finishing third, if only I could have persuaded him to exert himself –and amazement, such as during the ‘bombscare’ National, when the day was abandoned and no-one could return to the weighing room for their belongings. That night the dance floor at the famous old Adelphi Hotel in the centre of Liverpool was full of jockeys still dressed in silks and breeches, a surreal, heartwarming, uplifting sight on a day of such unhappy dislocation.

Yet the good memories always come to the top, the days of glory that last us until the end of our days. Eight years after West Tip, Miinnehoma slogged through the cloying mud to win me a second National. Miinnehoma had his quirks – don’t we all – and his crucial flaw was his dislike of reaching the front too soon. He had to be buried in the mix, played like a fat trout on a thin line until the moment was right.

The attritional conditions were not conducive to safety. As we flicked over the fences, I frequently heard above the general push and crash the thin, metallic sound of stirrup irons clashing together as some poor horse slithered to the ground and rolled over. The noise signifies another’s misfortune, yet you take heart from it as it is one rival fewer to worry about.

With four to jump, there were four horses remaining with a chance, and we were going so well. Yet I couldn’t go to the front. I had to wait. When my great rival Adrian Maguire, who was riding Moorcroft Boy, skipped clear at the last,

I thought my patience had undone me.

I shouted at him as he rode away, the words catching hoarsely in my throat: “You little bastard, you’ve beaten me all year and now you’re going to do it again!”

But as if by magic, Moorcroft Boy stopped to a bare walk, and Miinnehoma strode past him. We were in front, and the longest run-in in racing stretched ahead of us like a living nightmare. Miinnehoma looked at the sky; he looked at the ground; he looked at the crowd. His ears flicked back and forth, his stride shortened, he dallied. I lifted him onwards, roaring at him with the little breath I had left. The winning post drew closer, yard by yard.


And then at my knee a horse’s head appeared. It was Just So, nicknamed “Just Slow,” whose glacial but surefooted progress through the race had unexpectedly brought him to the brink of victory.

Surely now, here, after almost four and a half miles of hope, my dreams were to be shattered. I reached for the whip, hit Miinnehoma a desperate, tired, glancing blow, a Hail Mary hit, hope on the hoof, and it woke him up. He shook himself, surged forward, stayed on again.

Despair went back into its box, elation took its place. We were going to win. We were going to win. We won. Did I appreciate that victory more than my first? You bet. I revelled in it.

But this is such a strange race, such a searching test of man and beast, that it has an extraordinary effect on those it touches. Simon Burrough, Just So’s jockey, never won a big race. He was a “journeyman” rider, part of the cast but never in the spotlight. That National was his one chance, his big moment, and it went by him. Was he angry, anguished, bitter, bereft?


“When we got home, put the horse away and went out to the pub for the evening, how we celebrated,” he said later, in a book called Go Down To The Beaten, about jockeys who have tried and failed to win the Grand National. “We carried on celebrating for the next two or three nights because we’d had a chance that not many people get. We’d come second in the Grand National. We’ll never forget it. You can never take that away from us.”

If you find that sentiment peculiar, then you do not understand the Grand National.

Andy Warhol once said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”  Well, the Grand National doesn’t take as long to produce the same effect. Just 10 minutes, but they stay with you forever.

Read Richard’s own thoughts about all the jumps in The Grand National


A movie about AP McCoy

Mats Genberg MICHAEL STEELE/getty images

Making a living from a sport where breaking your body is part of the game, AP McCoy might not strike you as a man of fear. This movie shows us that he is—but in a different way.

Being AP Director: Anthony Wonke Available on DVD/Blueray from amazon.co.uk
Being AP Director: Anthony Wonke Available on DVD/Blueray from amazon.co.uk

Jump racing in the United Kingdom and Ireland is a bit like baseball in the United States: mega-big at home but less understood in other parts of the world.

That is why AP’s name might not ring the biggest bells to people in Hong Kong, the U.S. or Australia, but make no mistake about it, he is a Superstar with a capital S at home. In fact, he is considered one of Britain’s greatest sportsmen. Ever.

AP won 20 (yes, 20!) consecutive UK jockey championships over jumps. That means some of the riders he was competing against in his last seasons were not even born when he won his first title.

Or to put it in another way, he has been the only champion jump jockey for each and every year of their entire lives. It is hard to come up with any other athlete in any other sport in any other country that even comes close.

It comes as no surprise that AP, who retired in April 2015, is now the subject of a full-length documentary that was backed by BBC Films and directed by Anthony Wonke (Fire in the Night, Ronaldo).

“When we first set out to start filming we knew that we had about a year of shooting ahead of us,” says Being AP’s
producer, Nick Ryle. “We did however not know what sort of a year it was going to be or what the movie would be about. Would it be a story about success, injuries, retirement, failure? Anthony would have to adjust his ideas as time passed.”


”Pain is temporary, losing is permanent.”


It turned out to be a movie about fear. Not fear of falling or getting every bone in the body broken—AP is already as close to a bionic man as they come, with a part-metal skeleton—but fear of not being a champion. Fear of not knowing what lies beyond that next bend in the road of life, when racing is no longer there.

”Pain is temporary, losing is permanent,” as AP’s wife, Chanelle, puts it.

”It’s like being an addict,” AP says at one point in the documentary. Instead of ”just one more drink” or ”just one more bet,” it’s just one more race, one more championship, one more record. AP won a total of 4,348 races. As his agent, Dave Roberts, says in the movie: ”If a new jockey wins 200 races per year for 10 years, he still won’t even have half of your wins.”

Viewers get to follow AP in what became his last season of racing and, ultimately, his 20th consecutive championship. The idea of retirement is not there at all in the beginning. When his wife/soulmate tries to bring the subject up, you get that awkward feeling of ”guess I should leave the room now,” but you can’t. You’re there like a fly on the wall.


Like other athletes, jockeys need to perform on a regular basis. But they are on their own. No team. No coach. After having passed the 4,000 wins mark in 2013, AP set another goal: to win 300 races in a season.

”It’s all numbers,” he says. “It’s only ever been about numbers. It was about winning as many winners in as little time as possible.”

That meant riding races every day. Even going to a dinner to accept an award was seen as a waste of time, as it kept him from riding.

”AP will ride any horse that has a chance of winning,” says Dave at one point. ”He will drive for five hours to Newcastle for one ride.”

In the UK, jockeys go from track to track to ride. In the movie, you follow AP as he runs out, in full racing gear, to a waiting helicopter at one track so he is be able to get to the next track, and the next ride, in time. All in all, he gets to ride in 800-1000 races in a season. Keep in mind that jump races are rarely shorter than two miles.

AP Mccoy -Wiki

As the movie goes on, you feel AP’s fear of the unknown getting stronger and stronger. But somewhere along the line it dawns on him that there is something even more frightening lurking in the shadows: the fate of one who did not quit in time.

Or as he puts it himself: ”I want people to ask why I retired, not why I didn’t retire.”

Being Ap is a rare look into the thoughts and life of a top athlete as he makes the ultimate decision. It is also a movie that keeps popping into your mind the day after you have seen it.

Lucky until The End

Camilla Osterman Historic

In 1834, at the age of 6, Elias Jackson Baldwin and his mother, father and three siblings moved from Hamilton, Ohio, to an 80-acre farm in Terre Coupee Town, Indiana. His father, William Baldwin, had previously served as a community preacher. Now he was going to operate the new farm and tend to its horses. Elias liked helping out, especially with the animals, and as the years went by he developed a special mind for buying and trading horses. By the time he was 19, his capital was already several thousand dollars.

Lucky Baldwin.
Lucky Baldwin.

With this money, Elias decided to take his skills and knowledge to a new level. He opened a grocery store and a saloon. By this time, he had also become a father, after having eloped with Sarah Ann Unruh one year earlier. They were married without their parents’ consent.

Elias then opened a hotel and a general store in New Buffalo, Indiana, and although business was good, it was also boring. So, he decided to try his luck in Wisconsin with yet another grocery store and a hotel, but after a while he found himself without a challenge yet again.


Elias then opened a hotel and a general store in New Buffalo, Indiana, and although business was good, it was also boring.


However, news had travelled about gold from California. Like many other men who sought their fortune in digging, this was something for Elias. He did not want to find the gold, but rather, the businessman that he was, he saw an opportunity to provide food and supplies for the diggers who did.

And so, Elias decided to sell out in Wisconsin and head for the west coast with four wagons, which carried only his family, their belongings and brandy, tobacco and tea.

The trip out west was quite an undertaking in those days. The Baldwin family joined a wagon train, and it suffered several misfortunes on the way. After a month on the road, Elias went out scouting by himself and got lost for days.

He was lucky enough to be saved by friendly Native Americans who helped him back to his party. That luck would change by the time they reached Salt Lake City. The wagon train was attacked by the Ute tribe and had to flee for dear life. They were ambushed another two times before they completed the 2,000 mile trail and reached California.

In 1853, they settled in San Francisco, and once there, Elias finally got down to business. With the cash he brought with him from Wisconsin, he bought and improved the Temperance Hotel. Only 30 days later, he sold it for a $5,000 profit. Later he built another luxury hotel, The Baldwin Hotel and Theatre, and started making big money.

Emperor of Norfolk was an outstanding race horse for Lucky, and he went on to be an influential stallion as well.
Emperor of Norfolk was an outstanding race horse for Lucky, and he went on to be an influential stallion as well.

In 1867, his luck took a little turn when he became a divorced man after his wife left him for being absent at home. Elias decided it was time for a change of scenery and took off on a grand tour across the Pacific. He went elephant hunting in India and partying in Japan. When he came back to New York, he brought with him a whole group of Japanese acrobats and became a vaudeville producer.

Meanwhile, back home in San Francisco, he had left his broker with orders to sell off his shares of the Hale & Norcross Mine if their prices fell to $800 a foot. Unfortunately, or fortunately as it would turn out, Elias had forgotten to leave the key to the safe where the stocks were kept. His broker couldn’t sell. Just in time for his return, the value of the mine had climbed to $12,000 a foot. He had now earned himself the nickname “Lucky” as he was not only rich, but very rich. In fact, he was a multimillionaire.

Lucky was now ready for more new adventures. He went south in 1875 and started looking for a place where he could fulfill his dream—being a great farmer. The Rancho Santa Anita caught his interest, and he approached owner Harris Newmark with an offer that wasn’t accepted. He was willing to give $150,000, but Newmark wanted $200,000. Lucky wanted that piece of land bad—as anyone who has been to Santa Anita can easily understand. So, he packed a tin box full of cash—several million dollars—and went back to Newmark and offered him $12,500 in cash as a down payment.

With Volante, Lucky won his first American Derby at Washington Park in 1885. His stable would win the famed race three more times.
With Volante, Lucky won his first American Derby at Washington Park in 1885. His stable would win the famed race three more times.

Furthermore, Lucky’s luck continued—a bank he had lent money, with land as securities, collapsed and left him with even more property. He was now one of the biggest, if not the biggest, landowner in the San Gabriel Valley.

Lucky’s racing stables became among the finest in the country, and he loved horses almost as much as he loved women. He was married three more
times and had a string of affairs.

He even was sued for broken wedding promises four separate times. During one court trial, the sister of a woman he had gotten pregnant took a shot at him, grazing his skull. But he, lucky as always, came out of the incident more or less unscarred.

But forget the women—it’s horseflesh we’re interested in. In those days there were several tracks in California, but they were mostly at fairs and kind of raggedy. The big races were back east, and the big race for 3-year-olds was the American Derby at Washington Park in Chicago. Lucky won it four times in nine years, garnering national attention for California race horses.

His first victory came with Volante in 1885, then Silver Cloud the following year, Emperor of Norfolk in 1888, and finally with Rey el Santa Anita in 1894. In doing so, Rey el Santa Anita defeated the previously unbeaten Domino, which was an accomplishment that turned out to be worth nothing in the breeding shed.


Rey el Santa Anita, one of Lucky’s homebreds, was something else on the track—placing in 62 of his 69 starts. He traveled around the east coast and won big races in Chicago, St. Louis and New York but was no success at stud. There, Domino beat him soundly. Domino, who died after his first season at stud, only sired 19 horses but eight of them were stakes winners, and he’s still found in the pedigree of some of today’s runners, often through Seattle Slew.

Meanwhile, Emperor of Norfolk was considered by many as the best California-bred runner ever until Swaps came along 67 years later. Not to mention, Emperor of Norfolk has made a major impact on today’s Thoroughbred through his son Americus, who was sent to England after a successful career in the U.S. The great flying filly Mumtaz Mahal traces back to Emperor of Norfolk through Americus, and she herself can be found in Northern Dancer’s pedigree.

But not many of Emperor of Norfolk’s descendants can match his race record. He made 18 starts as a 2-year-old and won three races in Chicago in eight days, then won two more in four days at Jerome Park in New York.

As a 3-year-old, Emperor of Norfolk won eight in a row for a total of nine wins from 11 starts. He was some horse, as shipping around the country in those days was not the air-conditioned luxury that today’s horses enjoy.

As the years went by, Lucky’s luxurious way of living meant his funds began to dwindle. He even had to sell the old star Volante for a mere $425 to settle a feed bill. Lucky was never one to worry too much, though. One of his favorite sayings is said to have been: “By Gad, I’m not licked yet!”

In 1900 at the tender age of 72, off he went to Alaska where he teamed up with another western legend, Wyatt Earp. It didn’t quite work out as planned—Wyatt didn’t want to sell the piece of land in Nome that Lucky wanted, so he went back to California empty-handed.

Even though he didn’t amass a new fortune during Alaska’s gold rush, Lucky’s farming skills did pay his bills and then some. It also appears he settled down a little in his old age, keeping expenses for patrimony suits down.

In 1907, Lucky was finally able to fulfill his dream of opening his own first-class racetrack, the finest in the western United States.

The first incarnation of Santa Anita racetrack had its grand opening on December 7, 1907, and ran a 108-day winter meet. Opening day featured a full card, including the Pomona Handicap, and by all historical accounts met with great success.

The place was Lucky’s. He built it up beautifully with a racing stable staffed by a variety of Mexicans, Chinese, and formers slaves. The racetrack had a place for everybody.

In sadly odd timing for Lucky, Emperor of Norfolk died in his stall several days later at the age of 22. His death warranted a story in The San Francisco Call, which reported: “Emperor of Norfolk, winner of the American Derby and one of the greatest race horses and sires in the history of the American Turf, died of old age this morning at Lucky Baldwin’s Santa Anita ranch. The closing hours of the famous stallion’s life presented a unique spectacle. When word was sent out that the Emperor was dying, racing men who are at Santa Anita track gathered in numbers at the Baldwin stable, and the grand old horse passed away like a king surrounded by his court.”lucky_baldwin_20150523

Lucky himself was also not long for this world. He died in March 1909 at the age of 81 as the result of pneumonia and was buried next to his first wife, Sarah, in San Francisco. Just one month later, on April 17, 1909, Santa Anita held its final race. It was a time of turmoil, as lawmakers fought over whether horse race wagering was legal or not, and without its leader, the racetrack fell victim.

Eventually, the lawmakers sorted themselves out, and Santa Anita Park as we know it now opened on Christmas Day, 1934. It quickly became one of the most respected racetracks in the world and remains so to this day.

But that is another story. For Lucky, his life had ended with what it had
started with—horses.

Get more good racing stories and great photographyin the world’s only feel-good horse racing magazine. 

The guy with the golden smile

Hobert & Krupa Hobert & Krupa

The best-kept secrets are often hiding from the spotlight. The Guy with the Golden Smile is one of them. We’ve met Dihigi Gladney, the exercise rider of California Chrome.


Imagine yourself a man who constantly smiles in the light of a Riviera morning. Whose radiant attitude fills those around him with laughter, whether they are Rashid from Pakistan or Martin Perry from Yuba City.

Put him in a pair of blue jeans, a hat, and a t-shirt.

“Gday, ladies, y’all waiting for me?” says Dihigi Gladney, the 40-year-old exercise rider who rides California Chrome in the mornings.

It’s an early morning as we meet in the lobby of the Meydan Hotel. The atmosphere here is very different from Dihigi’s native neighborhood of Watts, in Los Angeles, California. The hotel is infused with elegance. Beautifully dressed men and women walk through its gigantic glass sliding doors. Some of the ladies sport custom-made silk dresses, all perfectly matched with their crème-white fresh water pearls and their coral-embroidered clutches. The gentlemen in jackets read the day’s newspaper, one of which has California Chrome on the cover. The anticipation is tangible: how will this rags to riches story turn out?

Dihigi looks cool, floating through the cocktail crowd with the confidence of Jay-Z.

“I really love what I do and being able to ride again. You know as a kid from Watts, I didn’t even know of any black men in the business.”
“I really love what I do and being able to ride again. You know as a kid from Watts, I didn’t even know of any black men in the business.”

He has a wild-eyed attitude all the same, popping through the herds of pretties with his home-brewed American humor, a down-to-earth mindset, and turf-mud on his hands. Today, just like most other days of his life, he is the center of attention.

They don’t get up on stage to receive the trophy with the rest of the team. And, in the hose down hall, there’s not a single camera flash, that’s for sure.

Yet, nobody seems to know that they’re talking about him.

“I started riding California Chrome last October,” Dihigi says. “Alan Sherman had shown me a video of Chrome on his phone and just looking at his body I saw he was huge.”

Dihigi’s knowledge of horses comes from many years of experience and from growing up at a rental stable.

“I even rode my horse to McDonalds drive-through as a kid,” Dihigi says with a laugh. “I’d order French fries and an orange juice. You know, something that I could share with the horse.”

Dihigi’s innate passion for animals has been lifelong. He is a horseman to his very core, and besides the mission of guiding California Chrome to peak form, Dihigi also runs his own riding business in Los Angeles, where he teaches people about horsemanship and how to become better riders.

“I started off as a bull rider, but that was back when there were no sponsorships in the sport,” he says. “It was hard to make money from it, and I got too tired of being hurt and chased around the arena. At a very young age I would go to live racing with my grandfather. He would also do the backside picnic with his pony business, where I was able to meet many of the jockeys I’d been watching race. At a stable as a teenager, I would gallop my cousin’s quarter horse that sometimes raced at Los Alamitos. Between all these events, my love for racing began.”

Dihigi soon found himself riding races and started off performing well as a jockey. But then, in January of 2002, every jockey’s worst fear became a reality for him.

”I was battling with top riders and I kept getting better,” he says. “Then, I was thrown off a horse and broke four thoracic discs in my back and all of my left ribs.”

His body was a wreck. He couldn’t even stand up straight and his jockey career was over. He had to stay sidelined, unable to ride and suffering through the long process of physical rehab.

“I had to wear a brace, but I found a way to be around horses anyway,” Dihigi says. “I’d teach other people to ride, and I’d go for long walks with my son when he was riding.”

It took five years of persistent determination, mental toil, and a tortuous physical healing process. Slowly, Dihigi was able to go back to riding again and today, 13 years later, he’s in the best shape of his life, fit enough to exercise 10 racehorses a day.

“I really love what I do and being able to ride again,” he says. “You know as a kid from Watts, I didn’t even know of any black men in the business. I may have met a lot of racism in the business, but if so I haven’t seen it. I’ve made sure to make people around me smile instead. There can’t be any racism if there is a smile, right?”

Last year, trainers Alan and Art Sherman asked Dihigi if he could start exercising California Chrome, who was America’s Horse of the Year in 2014 but hadn’t raced since finishing second in the 2015 Dubai World Cup.

“I was already exercising horses for them daily,” says Dihigi. “The conversation about Chrome coming back into training opened up an opportunity for me to become his exercise rider.”

In October, Dihigi and California Chrome first started their workouts together, and today, having spent almost every day together since then, the pair has developed deep bond.

“California Chrome is a horse with an amazing personality,” Dihigi says. “I mean, one day I was out riding at Los Alamitos, and I met a woman who stopped at the rail and said ‘Good morning.’ I smiled to her and I said, ‘Oh, well good morning to you, too,’ but then she looked at me as if I was an idiot and said, ‘Well, I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to the horse!’ That was about when I understood how famous this horse really is.”

California Chrome has become a true celebrity. Put him on a BRAVO show and he would rival the Kardashians. Every morning during exercise before the Dubai World Cup, people would wait in line, eager to get his picture or just see him ride by.

“Chrome really loves the attention,” Dihigi says. “He’s looking around and posing in front of the cameras. He has the eye of a hawk. He can see from a distance if there’s a new truck coming on the road.”

Wouldn’t you want to race him as a jockey yourself?

“Me? Well, I’m not a race jockey anymore,” Dihigi says.

But if anyone did ask you, would you do it?

“If they had asked me to do it, well, who wouldn’t say yes to that,” Dihigi says as he shakes his head and smiles. “You see, what you’ve got to understand is that we all do this as a team. Me, I am a good exercise rider for Chrome. The Shermans are great trainers, Raul (Rodriguez) is a wonderful groom, Victor (Espinoza) is a great jockey, and Chrome is managed by extra-ordinary owners.”

Do you ever feel that it’s unfair sometimes? Like, you’re a huge part of California Chrome’s success, but you don’t get any attention for it?

“That’s the way it is in this business,” Dihigi says, now with an even bigger smile on his face.

“I mean, Raul, the groom, he literally sleeps in the same room as California Chrome, but there’s nobody paying attention to him either. That’s the way it is. There will always be parts left out.”

“I really love what I do and being able to ride again. You know as a kid from Watts, I didn’t even know of any black men in the business.”

Watching Dihigi and Raul the night of Dubai World Cup is an eye-opening experience. Their devotion is remarkable. Even when their hands are full and other grooms come to offer them help, they whisk people away, persistent in taking care of every single detail on their own.

When the race is over and California Chrome has won, it is Dihigi and Raul who take the champion to the hose-down hall below. After posing in the winner’s enclosure, they don’t get up on stage to receive the trophy with the rest of the team but rather continue to take care of the horse. In the hose-down hall, there are far fewer cameras, but it doesn’t seem to bother either Dihigi or Raul. The only thing they care about is the condition of the horse.

“I used to long for the spotlight when I was younger,” Dihigi says. “I’ve won some races, and that was a great feeling, but what I care about today is my health and my kids.”

He can understand the frustration of some of the exercise riders, who see jockeys getting famous after riding a horse for two minutes in the spotlight while their own hard work goes un-recognized, but that is not the path he has chosen.

“What I personally love is to ride and to be around horses,” he says. “Even during days when I’ve been exercise riding other people’s horses, I go straight to my own stable to ride my own horses, and then I clean the stable.”

Is that what you want to be remembered for? For succeeding in silence?

“I want to be remembered for being the guy with the golden smile,” he says—and smiles.

The Espinoza revolution


Hobert & Krupa Hobert & Krupa

The winning jockey in the 2016 Dubai World Cup was Victor Espinoza. A 44-year-old rider recognized as one of the world’s best. “Why do you guys want to do this?” Victor asked us when we introduced our idea of following him over the 72 hours prior to the richest race in the world. “Because we think your story is like a movie,”we answered. “And because we think it’s time people understood who you are.”


“Look into the camera and smile,” I shout.
It’s now two hours and forty-five minutes before post time for the Dubai World Cup and we’ve taken Espinoza to a dead-end road a few streets away from the Meydan Hotel, where the skyline appears like a passage to eternity.

Victor Espinoza.
Victor Espinoza. Photo: Hobert & Krupa


Victor Espinoza’s dark eyes peacefully look back at us, his face truly glows, and he looks like a movie star. And just as the spotlights from Meydan racecourse are turned on, as the vibration from the eighty thousand people who have come to see him ride California Chrome in the world’s richest race intensifies, as the expectations, the pressure, and the smell of the six million dollars to be won fill the atmos-phere, it’s in that moment that Victor Espinoza says, “How can I not smile?” and shows us his pearly whites.

“Espinoza brought toys, books, and several American Pharoah hats to the young patients. He exchanged numbers with the kids and their parents and invited them to come visit him at the racetrack, before moving along to individual patient rooms to visit children aged 4 to 11, each fighting a different variation of the deadly disease.Victor’s support and generosity have been a tremendous gift to City of Hope.More importantly, his personal commitment and involvement have made a real difference in the lives of our patients, particularly our pediatric patients.”

Robert W. Stone, President and CEO of cancer research organization City of Hope.
Victor Espinoza in Dubai. (Photo: Hoberth & Krupa)
Victor Espinoza in Dubai. Photo: Hobert & Krupa

“I was one of 11 brothers and sisters,” Victor says. We lived at a dairy farm and my mother used to cook us fish and vegetables and other Mexican food for dinner. Us kids played outdoors and got dirty during the day. Sometimes we wouldn’t even wash our hands before dinner, but we never got sick. First time I saw a doctor was when I turned 16 years old. Life was effortless. I was happy.”

After Victor Espinoza and California Chrome won Dubai World Cup 2016.
After Victor Espinoza and California Chrome won Dubai World Cup 2016. Photo: Hobert & Krupa

An effortless life. It’s time for us to update the definition of what that is. Because an effortless life does not mean a life steeped in privilege, but the ability to choose what the privileges are and how to relate to them as a human. Growing up as a little boy in Mexico, Victor Espinoza’s privilege was the authenticity of his life. It was the nature and the soundscapes and the sky and the mountains. It was the feeling of getting his hands dirty from the mud and the fields and the puddles of water when it rained, and it was the view from riding racehorses with his brothers and sisters until the sun over Hidalgo showed the golden hues of dawn.


2016 CALIFORNIA CHROME (USA) (Victor Espinoza / Art Sherman) Photo: Hobert & Krupa

“The first time I sat on a horse I never thought to myself that I was a good rider,” Victor says. “To me, riding was about joy. I loved horses and I still do, I think they are the most amazing and intelligent animals on earth.”

However, believing that he was good was unthinkable. He has always thought that would only prevent him from working harder.

“I still don’t tell myself that I’m good. I keep on encouraging myself to always become better,” he says.

A lot of people define themselves by their mistakes, but it is evident that Victor Espinoza is not one of them. He defines himself by his choices and takes full responsibility for every action in his life.

“I probably miss a lot of things that other people have,” he says.

“Happiness and health are the two things I pray for, “ Victor says. “I pray three or four times per day, wherever I am, no matter what.”

“Things like friends, relationships, family, and that kind of stuff. But I know that I would never have been where I am today if I had chosen that type of life. I haven’t prioritized it. I’ve prioritized my career.”

In his current successful situation, it’s easy to look back at his life and see his choices as quite lucrative ones, but what’s fascinating is that despite setting new records as a jockey, re-writing racing history, winning legendary titles as a sportsman, and even pushing the boundaries of what a man in his forties can do, the goal has never been to hustle for fame. It has been to survive. And during the early years of his career this was just a step-by-step method, where winning one—only one!—race would be enough.

“My dad died when I was 13-years old, “ Victor says. “I needed to make money and I didn’t understand why I should go to school. Why would I not make money before I was too old to enjoy it? ‘I need money now’ I thought to myself. So I quit school and started working at a farm.”

Victor Espinoza in Dubai. (Photo: Hoberth & Krupa)
Victor Espinoza in Dubai. Photo: Hobert & Krupa

Victor had to grow up fast.Responsibilities quickly arose and took away the innocence of his childhood. At only thirteen, Victor was already supporting himself and his ambitions on his own, knowing that he couldn’t trust anyone but himself to achieve them.

“It was a difficult time, but I learned how to move on from it.”

Today, thirty years later, the poorly paid farmer’s life is but a memory to look back on.

The jockey now owns properties in Los Angeles, does his seasonal shopping at Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and drives a Porsche 911 Twin Turbo that accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.0 seconds.

Despite the upgrades in his life, the two things that really matter to him today are the same as they were when he was a little boy in Mexico.

“Happiness and health are the two things I pray for, “ Victor says. “I pray three or four times per day, wherever I am, no matter what.”

As a kid, his mother Gloria took him and all his ten siblings to church during weekdays.

Victor Espinoza in Dubai. (Photo: Hoberth & Krupa)
Victor Espinoza in Dubai. Photo: Hobert & Krupa

“Praying has never been about wishing for my dreams to come true,” Victor explains. “It’s about practicing gratitude. It’s about appreciating what you already have.”

Life is too short, he says, and you can’t take anything for granted. His humbleness towards life comes from the experience of fighting for it.

“Today I wake up and I truly appreciate life more than anything else,” says Victor who is a Buddhist. “Twenty years ago there was just stuff going on that forced me to reflect on who I am,” he says. Buddhism was right for me, but I really encourage everybody’s free will to choose what’s right for them.”

Buddhism has also brought Espinoza the daily routine of practicing mindful meditation. Meditation is an effort to access the gap between your brain and thought, when your body is awake but your mind remains quiet. You focus on your breathing, while the buzz of thoughts in your head disappears, and in this way your brain recovers in a deeply strengthening neurobiological manner.

“I meditate wherever I am,” Victor explains. “Before a race, on a trip, in a hotel room or in a car.” A recent study on the mind-mastery of meditating monks showed that after many years of practicing meditation, the monk’s emotional control was so powerful that not even a gunshot increased their heart rate.

What is he seeking in meditation that he can’t get in his ‘real life’, I ask.

A giant white limousine with black windows passes by as he looks out onto the landscape of unlimited possibilities and calmly replies, “the silence!”

“Though he has had a huge amount of success lately, it really hasn’t changed him. In the jockeys’ room, he is still called ‘Chapo’ (meaning ‘shorty’, or ‘little one’) and he seems to always take in the bigger picture. Where even the most successful of riders normally fails to win four out of every five races they ride, his steady nature is a blessing that lets him succeed much more. I’ve not seen him get down on things or himself when things go badly. He certainly has enjoyed his success, but he doesn’t go over the moon with it”

Mac McBride, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.

Victor may have spent the past several years making headlines, but those around him still see the same man they knew before California Chrome and American Pharoah came into his life.

Victor’s path to success is not a common one. He drove buses in Mexico to pay to attend jockey school before moving to the United States in 1990, and a decade later he would win of the biggest races in the world. It was the first of many top level successes.

Victor Espinoza in Dubai. (Photo: Hoberth & Krupa)
Victor Espinoza in Dubai. Photo: Hobert & Krupa

“When I was 14 I started working as a bus driver in Mexico City. It was fun, I liked it, I learned about cars and engines and I learned how to take the pieces out and then put them back together again. But I was not paid enough and I couldn’t afford a place to live so I stayed in my sister’s apartment in central Mexico City and I only slept 3-4 hours per night and often on the road. Then I decided to take another job, but, since I had no money, I couldn’t stop driving until the same day I got myself a new job. And yes, that’s the way it’s been going since then. I still haven’t had a vacation.”

When Victor was sixteen years old he moved from the rougher streets of Mexico City to the palm-lined boulevards of sunny California.

His older brother worked as a jockey at Golden Gate Fields in San Francisco and Victor came to assist him, living on the little money that he had earned as a bus driver.

There was one problem though; Victor didn’t know a single word of English.
“He would look at me and nod, and I would walk away wondering if he understood anything I had just said,” Steve Specht, one of the trainers that worked with Espinoza during his early days at Golden Gate Fields, told The Pasadena Star-News. “Victor was living in the tack room here at the track, but he kept getting better and better, and soon people started seeing the talent he had.”

Victor continued riding, but he had to learn English too, he thought.
So he signed up for a six-month course at a school in San Francisco, but none of the other students seemed to share the same type of inspiration or life experience that Victor had, so he would go to his lessons but he never really made any friends.

“I thought the guys were boring—they didn’t have any dreams,” he says.” I liked the girls better. It was because of the girls that I went to classes and it was because of the girls that I wanted to become a better student.”

Victor Espinoza in Dubai. (Photo: Hoberth & Krupa)
Victor Espinoza in Dubai. Photo: Hobert & Krupa

Growing up close to his mother and his sisters, women have always been enlightening contributors in Victor Espinoza’s life.

“I’m crazy about women. I always have been,” he says. “I think being in love is one of the most amazing feelings a human can ever have and I think everyone should be more in love in their life because when you are, everything gets more fun. You get happier. Even when you go to work you will do your job much better.”

Are you in love right now?
“Me? Oh my god,” he says. “I’m a little bit in love every day!”

The media’s image of Victor Espinoza is no less loved up. He is charming, friendly, funny, and constantly surrounded by fans and people who think they know him.

Yet Victor himself says that he doesn’t have any real friends.
“I do hang out with people sometimes, but I don’t have any best friends,” he says.
“It’s hard to make things work with a girlfriend because I’m very focused on my career right now.”

Can it be that you feel lonely being surrounded by all these people who often come from much wealthier backgrounds than you? Do you ever feel like you don’t belong?

“It’s ok.” Victor Espinoza says.
Because that’s what it is; ok.

In 2000, the Espinoza revolution began. The first Breeder’s Cup race he won, which came aboard Spain in the Distaff at odds of 50-1, triggered an unbelievable upward trend. In 2002, he would win his first Kentucky Derby aboard the enigmatic War Emblem, who would also carry him to victory in the Preakness Stakes. The duo lost all chance at winning the Triple Crown when War Emblem, a confirmed front runner, stumbled badly coming out of the starting gate of the Belmont Stakes.

Today, his success seems to be reaching its climax and Victor, who is now 44, has won over 3,200 races all over the world. He came agonizingly close to winning the Triple Crown in 2014 with California Chrome, but then, last year, he made history aboard American Pharoah, who became the horse in 37 years to win the Holy Grail of American racing. In doing so, Victor also became the oldest rider and first Latino jockey to win the coveted race series.

His journey has taken him from a dairy farm in Mexico to the luxurious surroundings of Dubai.

Victor Espinoza.
Victor Espinoza. Photo: Hobert & Krupa

And all this with a mind not founded on scholarships or family wealth, but a step-by-step method, in which development and gratitude rather than greediness and perfection have been key, with none of today’s smash-and-grab athletic heroism.

It’s liberating, isn’t it? There is hope for the power of hope.
“It’s because of my own pressure,” Victor says.
Victor is where he is today as a result of never choosing to settle down.

“I always put myself in hard situations,” Victor says. ”I need challenges and I need resistance. When I was young I knew that I wanted to have power and become a leader, but I needed experience, I thought, because without challenges and experience, I wouldn’t become a good leader.”

Victor Espinoza and California Chrome. Photo: Hobert & Krupa

An active social media user, Victor has over 36,000 followers on Instagram and close to 200,000 on Facebook. This large following makes him a leader of sorts, but unlike many other sportsmen, he does not seem to be interested in using it for self-promotion, but rather for showing his thoughts on what matters in the world. For example, although he has donated money to City of Hope since 2001, it is something he does for himself.

“ Yes, but you know what,” Victor says, and now there’s actually something heartbreakingly serious in his voice.

“I don’t ask people to do the same. This is something I do from my heart. Because when I go to the hospital and see the kids, it’s painful. I remember myself when I was a kid and how I always wanted to get out and get dirty and run around outside all day. These kids just can’t, they don’t even know how long they will live and it’s… painful. If I have the possibility to help them I will.”

Only two hours to post time for the Dubai World Cup.

Meydan is lit up like a shining temple. Horse-loving pilgrims from all over the world have come to watch Espinoza ride.

“I have to go,” Victor says. “I’m meeting the team and then I’ll get down to the jockeys’ room to get dressed.”
The air outside is warm and perfumed, a cocoon of luxury, with fragrances of patchouli, tobacco, saffron, and black plums. Meydan is lit up like a shining temple. Horse-loving pilgrims from all over the world have come to watch Espinoza ride.

Are you nervous?
“ No.”
Are you looking forward to it?
“ Yes.”

And just before one of the world’s best jockeys turns towards the threshold of eternity, I say:
“ One more thing. If you win tonight, could we get some more images of you when you’ve won? We want something special that nobody else has. You know we’re not like two regular photo-journalists. We’re like you; we want to become the best. And it’s…
“Ok.” (interrupting)
Ok? (confusion)

Victor Espinoza throws a glance at the silver Longines watch around his sun-tanned wrist.
“Call me later,” he says. And then he just leaves.
We don’t even get to say good luck; we just stand there and stare at the back of a movie star.

Sheikh Mohammed, Raul Rodriguez. Photo: Hobert & Krupa

Race night. Dubai World Cup. In five unforgettable seconds, we realize this is a now or never moment and we rush into the parade ring, push ourselves through a crowd of four hundred photographers and run towards the track, like two Swedish oracles ready to get the best shots.

Victor Espinoza and California Chrome wins the Dubai World Cup. The saddle having slipped so badly that Victor had to use all his skill just to stay aboard. A symphony is playing. The audience sings his name and a euphoric moment of sweat, smoke, tears, and ten million dollars pervades the atmosphere.

Espinoza comes riding with his arms triumphantly raised to the sky like a hero.

The fans of Team California Chrome cry in happiness. Victor pauses and the cinema-like spotlights shimmer over his body. But then something strange happens. In a split second that we’ll never forget, the winner of the 2016 Dubai World Cup turns his head right toward our camera, commanding California Chrome to start walking toward us, and doesn’t tell the world’s best horse to stop doing so until they are right in front of us.

And with the eyes of a millionaire winner, yet with the mind of a thirteen-year-old boy from Mexico, Victor Espinoza dips down his ten-million dollar winning whip right into the frame of our best ever picture, to the sound of the eighty thousand people screaming his name, and the tones of despair from those four hundred other photographers whose facial expressions suggest they might be ready to change jobs.

Victor Espinoza himself remains silent. Just the way he likes.


Girls – Rule the world

Amanda Duckworth Sharon Lee Chapman, Getty Images

In its 155-year history, the Melbourne Cup has been won by female owners, trainers and horses. And now, finally, by a female jockey. When a 100-1 shot wins one of the biggest races in the world, usually the horse’s name is what becomes legendary. However, with all due respect to Prince of Penzance’s gallant effort, it is his jockey Michelle Payne who is going into the record books after the pair took the AU$6.2 million Melbourne Cup.

Prince of Penzance’s and jockey Michelle Payne winning Melbourne Cup 2015.
Prince of Penzance’s and jockey Michelle Payne winning Melbourne Cup 2015.


In the immediate aftermath of the race, story lines came pouring out like molten lava from a volcano. Once everyone had come to terms with the fact a huge upset had taken place, one factoid quickly became the headline: Michelle had just become the first female jockey to ever win the ‘Race that Stops a Nation.’

“I just hope it’s a reminder that if you work hard and you dream, things can happen,” she said. “I really want to say to all the young children and people growing up with dreams, you’ve got to believe in yourself. For some reason I always have had great belief in myself. I don’t know why, but I always thought I was going to be a good jockey and one day win the Melbourne Cup.”

Making the win even sweeter is the fact it was also the first Cup victory for Prince of Penzance’s trainer, Darren Weir. The champion Victorian trainer has always had faith in Michelle, who has piloted Prince of Penzance in 23 of his 24 career starts.

The feel-good nature of their victory didn’t stop there, though. Prince of Penzance’s strapper is Michelle’s brother, Stevie, who successfully predicted he would snare barrier one for his sister at the Melbourne Cup’s draw.

However, almost dying is a pretty good reason to not be at your best for a bit.

Sharing the historic win with her brother, who has Down Syndrome, made the victory even sweeter for Michelle.
Sharing the historic win with her brother, who has Down Syndrome, made the victory even sweeter for Michelle.


• 1915 The first woman owner to win the Cup was Mrs E.A. Widdis with Patrobas.

• 1938 Technically Mrs. Allen McDonald became the first female trainer to win the Cup, but because women could not be licensed in Australia, it was her husband who was put down as the trainer of record of Catalogue.

• 1987 The first female jockey to ride in the Cup was Maree Lyndon on Argonaut Style.

• 2001 Sheila Laxon becomes the first woman trainer to officially win the Melbourne Cup. Doubling up on girl power, she won with the mare Ethereal.

• 2003 The first Australian female jockey to ride in the Cup was Clare Lindop on Debben.

• 2005 Wondermare Makybe Diva becomes the only horse to ever win the Cup three times.

• 2013 Fiorente makes trainer Gai Waterhouse, the ‘First Lady of
Australian Racing,’ the third (or second if you want to be technical) woman to win the Cup.

• 2015 Michelle Payne, riding Prince of Penzance, becomes the first female jockey to win the Cup.


“Michelle said she would have been happy with barrier one or two, but I said ‘I’m going to get barrier number one’ and I got it,” Stevie said. “It was very exciting, I’m so happy for Darren, Michelle and all the owners.”

Having a beneficial post position helped Michelle win the race of her life. Stevie has Down Syndrome, and the spotlight on his career success has hopefully challenged stigmas surrounding the condition. Watching Stevie lead Michelle and Prince of Penzance back into the yard after their victory is one of the most touching moments in sports this year.
Or ever.
“He’s just as capable and can do just as good a job as any of the other staff,” said Michelle. “It’s just great that he’s been able to share this experience with me because growing up we were always so much closer being the two youngest of 10. We were often left to go and play on our own, and it’s just amazing to be able to share that with him.”

Then there is the horse himself. Prince of Penzance earned his spot in the race by finishing second in the Moonee Valley Cup just 11 days prior. The gelding had won the contest in 2014, which was his last victory before the duo’s historic achievement. However, almost dying is a pretty good reason to not be at your best for a bit. In February, while on a spell, the gelding suffered from colic and had to have life-saving surgery due to his twisted bowel. His spell ended up stretching to 41 weeks while he recovered.

“He’s just a superstar, this horse,” said Michelle. “What he’s been through, I thought he could do it, but Darren said they don’t usually come back from colic surgery as good as they were. But he’s come back better.”

To top it all off, there are the 6-year-old gelding’s owners. All 50 or so of them. Back in 2011, you could get a 2% stake in the future Melbourne Cup winner for AU$1,000. The horse, affectionately known as Pop, has now earned AU$4,405,690.

For all the storylines, though, the one that will leave its biggest mark on history is Michelle’s.

“The unlikely win of Darren Weir, Michelle Payne and my good friend Sandy McGregor, the managing owner of Prince of Penzance, is another unforgettable chapter in the rich history of our great race,” said Victoria Racing Club’s CEO Simon Love. “Michelle’s remarkable Emirates Melbourne Cup victory has made history and headlines around the world. We hope that her determination will encourage further female participation and provide countless new opportunities for women in racing.”

The first female jockey to ride in the Cup was Maree Lyndon on Argonaut Style in 1987, and now Michelle’s name will go down as the first to win it. The 30-year-old was riding in just her second Melbourne Cup, after finishing 22nd on Allez Wonder in 2009.

This time though, with this horse, she was not to be denied.

“I’ve obviously dreamt about it for many years,” Michelle said. “I’d run this race in my head a few times, and I couldn’t believe how relaxed I was. I just went out there and rode the race. It didn’t work out great from the start because he began a bit slow. I had to dig him out, which was the last thing I wanted to do, to get him pulling in the race. But I felt I had to hold my position. I wasn’t giving up that rail.”

Michelle, who once said she would retire from racing riding at age 28 but changed her mind, came by her love of riding honestly, hailing from a racing family. She paid tribute to that heritage, noting that her father was a trainer and seven of her nine other siblings also became jockeys.

“Racing is in my blood,” she said. “Right from as long as I can remember I was going to be a jockey. There are just so many people to thank. My family, every one of them is a support in their own way and I’m so grateful to be from such a large family. My dad, he’s awesome. Every time you’re going through a hard stage he picks you up and brings you back. I’m just grateful to everybody because I wouldn’t be here without them.”

For those who doubted her, Michelle also had a few memorable words:

“I just want to say to everyone else, they can get stuffed because they think women aren’t strong enough. We just beat the world. I’m so glad I could do the job, not only for Darren and all the owners and his team, but for female jockeys in particular.”




AL CAPONE – and the fight for the gambling buck


When I first found myself in Chicago, back in the autumn of 1987, it was by pure chance. The first of many on my racing travels.
I visited Hawthorne Race Course in Sickney/Cicero on the south side of Chicago, and I soon got to know the owner, Mr. Thomas Carey.
That he and his wife, Sue, invited me to stay with them rather than in the cheap hotel I could just about afford was probably no coincidence. The Careys are Irish Americans and, in running the oldest family-owned racetrack in the United States, genuine hospitality is a way of life.


I was there visiting, curiously observing U.S. racing for the first time, and hoping to sell an article or two about my experiences when I returned back home. My first job as a racing journalist in the Windy City was another coincidence. One day Mr. Carey came up to the press box to fetch me. “I think I have small job for you,” he said. Back down in his office, Mr. Carey introduced me to his racing secretary and handicapper, Mr. Frank Arsenault. Frank was as laid back and easy going as the Careys, but he did give me a strange look as he glanced up from his handicapping sheets. I later heard that he had been a bit concerned, thinking I was after his job.
Perhaps I should have been but I wasn’t.

“We have the Hawthorne Derby here on Saturday, and a horse is coming over from Europe,” Carey said. “I believe his name is Z-something. Do you know this horse?”
I pretended to be effortlessly searching my brain, as one does in this situations. “Yes of course, sure Mr. Carey, I know the horse.” He smiled and said, “You called me Tom over dinner at my house last night…”

Then he turned to the in-house form expert: “Frank, I think we should have Geir write a press release on this horse, and give an assessment. How do you assess a horse like that, by the way?” Frank didn’t really answer that last question, but he agreed that I could do the job. “The name of the horse is Zaizoom,” he added and returned to looking busy.

Carey wanted to know what I knew about the foreign runner.


I also learnt more about Al Capone’s involvement in racing. And, no, before you ask, there is no “Al Capone Memorial Stakes” staged at Hawthorne.


I told him that he had been imported from England and that I believed he had won the Italian Derby that May.
“Is that right,” Tom chuckled. “We have an Italian raider on the grounds. Well, we are used to those here.”
Tom was of course referring to a more famous Italian, the mafia boss Al Capone, whose interest in gambling and horseracing made lasting marks on the sport in the Chicago area.

Turf Guide.
Turf Guide.

I wrote my press release, gave Zaizoom a rating comparing him to the local runners, concluded that he would probably win the race (which he did), and returned to Chicago as a freelance journalist for their autumn racing every season for the next 10 years. This was pre-internet days, and I specialised in providing information on horses visiting from and/or imported from Europe. I also learnt more about Al Capone’s involvement in racing. And, no, before you ask, there is no “Al Capone Memorial Stakes” staged at Hawthorne.

When you hear that the two racecourses in the area, Sportsman’s Park and Hawthorne, were just stone’s throw apart, do not believe for one moment it is an exaggeration. The two tracks were literally built so close you could hear the sounds of farriers working from both tracks. When horses stabled at Sportsman’s raced at Hawthorne, they were simply led across to the other venue, a walk that would take no more than two to three minutes.



Sportsman’s Park, operating horseracing from 1923 to 2003, was built so close to Hawthorne for a reason. The reason was none other than Al Capone. Capone first turned up on the scene when he was 21-years-old, and he controlled the Cicero and Stickney areas by the young age of 25. His decision to run his illegal operations from Cicero and Stickney was quite simple. Out there, he could buy off most of the politicians and police forces. That was not so easy inside the Windy City itself, despite the fact that Chicago’s nickname originates from the time when politics there were known to be somewhat different to other big cities.

It was well known that it was rather windy in the political circles. Today, most of us think it is because Chicago is such a flat landscape by the huge Michigan Lake, making it very windy. Which is also true.
Working his way up to became the czar of organised crime in Cicero, Capone  soon set his eyes on Hawthorne. Several recollections of his life say that he did in fact control racing at Hawthorne, but official history on the Al Capone era has always been a bit flawed, since too many local historians were not interested in writing about Capone. When he was finally gone, they were more interested in closing that chapter.

In racing circles, the tales paint a picture which seems, if not totally accurate, somewhat plausible. Racing historians say Capone tried to buy Hawthorne, or at least become a partner in the racecourse, but owner Tom Carey Sr. was reluctant to sell to the mobster. Carey was determined to run the racecourse himself, though in fact he had become the owner of the course much against his own will in 1909. Carey had done extensive work for the founder of Hawthorne, but he was never paid. In the end he was handed the property as payment. It was the track or nothing. The value of the settlement must have been debatable, as they did not have a license to race. However, he managed to stage a meeting without one, running for 16 days in 1916.

Legal racing did not reopen until six years later though, and that was also when Capone surfaced and wanted to take over. Being heavily involved in the illegal gambling in Chicago, he wanted to take charge of the legalised gambling as well. That made perfect sense. To Al Capone. For a change, he came to a closed door. Whereas his rise in power in the area had been going generally unopposed, he could not get his hands on the racecourse. Who actually controlled the races staged in Chicago in those days is another question, however. Many of the races were almost certainly controlled, or fixed, by Capone. There was always talk of “the fix” and when Al Capone was involved, they never went wrong.


“Being heavily involved in the illegal gambling in Chicago, he wanted to take charge of the legalised gambling as well. That made perfect sense. To Al Capone.”


Looking back on this era, it is not at all hard to understand why horse racing struggled with a poor image in North America. To the man on the street, horseracing, gambling, criminals and dishonesty were pretty much synonymus words. Most have seen Robert Redford and Paul Newman in the brilliant film The Sting, and to believe that the plot in this winner of seven Oscars, including Best Film, was far from reality is naïve at best. It was set in 1936, when corruption and illegal gambling raced neck and neck in the Mid-West. There were con men everywhere, small and big, not least on the racetracks.
Even the publishers of tipping sheets in Chicago, two-paged A4 publications with previews and selections that are still very popular, were often crooked.

“They never work for me,” Capone allegedly said when challenged on the subject. And they probably never did.
Tipping sheets giving out false information were undoubtedly too small a con for Capone. That he had inspired these guys, however, is more than likely. One con they pulled off was to print thousands of sheets after the sixth or seventh races had been run. Naturally, on these sheets, they had “tipped” just about every winner and exacta in the first seven races. Since race days had 10 to 12 races, it gave them time to do a quick print-run and spread the false sheets. How? They simply got “runners” to jump on and off the trains and buses that would be taking horseplayers back home from the track – and leave the sheets on the seats they would be occupying. For the tipsters, this was an easier way to make money than backing their selections. Over the next few days, everybody wanted to buy THAT fantastic tipping sheet.

The 1930s and 40s were a golden age for horse racing in Chicago. That included Sportsman’s Park, despite its unfortunate location next to an oil refinery.
The 1930s and 40s were a golden age for horse racing in Chicago. That included Sportsman’s Park, despite its unfortunate location next to an oil refinery.

Not Al Capone, however. It’s a fair guess he did not bother with reading any tipping sheet or studying the form. He was not interested in who the horseracing experts thought would win. He was interested in what horses he could make sure would win, or, in most cases, what horses he could make sure would not win. He liked to bet. Did he need the money? Probably not. Was he hooked on gambling? Probably not. His way of betting wasn’t really gambling. So why go through all of the trouble to fix races? Well, it did make money of course, and just as importantly, he enjoyed the feeling of being in control. That was all that mattered. And he didn’t mind letting people know that he was in control of the races. So the answer to the question whether it was Capone or Carey who controlled racing at Hawthorne was purely a matter of definition – and most certainly dependent on who you asked.


In his book Capone, the Man and the Era author Lawrence Bergreen quotes Joe Berardi, a photographer working for the Evening American at the time. Berardi was covering the Hawthorne races, and to his surprise he found that Capone was at the track that day, accompanied by his usual squad of five or six bodyguards.

“Hey, Berardi, how you doin’ today?” Capone asked when he saw the man with the camera, always keen to be friendly with members of the media.
“I’m doing just fine,” Berardi replied.

“Why don’t you bet on the six-horse in the next race,” Capone said.
Berardi looked at the tote board and could not believe Capone was serious, as No. 6 was showing at 99-1.

“Before I knew it, one of Capone’s men came over to me and slipped a piece of paper into my jacket pocket,” Berardi recalled. “When they walked away, I looked at the paper. It was a $5 win ticket on the six-horse. Well, horse No. 6 broke out in front and stayed out in front, and I don’t think anyone dared catch him. The goddamn horse won by a block… Capone didn’t bribe me; he just put $300 in my pocket.”

In other words, the horse had been bet down from 99-1 to 60-1 just before the start. No prizes for guessing who placed that gamble on the six-horse, a no-hoper who was allowed by the other jockeys to lead all the way. Oh, and don’t forget Capone had just also paid just $5 for a $300 bribe. He was having a good day at the races.

Capone and his friend and partner, the infamous attorney Edward J. O’Hare, eventually gave up on acquiring Hawthorne, and we can safely assume that Carey Sr. was himself a strong and powerful man. Carey’s persistence paid off, as he eventually did get permission to conduct race meetings. A decade later, Hawthorne had been turned into a highly profitable business, though Carey soon also found himself in direct competition with Capone and O’Hare.

Al Capone and O'Hara.
Al Capone and O’Hara.

They built their own racecourse north of Hawthorne, but it was a course for greyhound racing, called the Hawthorne Kennel Track. Soon after, greyhound racing was made illegal in Chicago. The authorities were not all keen on gambling, and even less so when Capone got involved. This was their way of giving the man broadside opposition on the gambling field.
One morning O’Hare was summoned to Capone’s office.
“We shall move that Hawthorne Kennel track,” Capone said. “How about outside town; I mean somewhere way outside city borders?” He felt he had a simple solution to the new challenge, the new problem that had arisen from political corridors.

“No,” was O’Hare’s blunt answer. “Won’t help us Al. A bill is about to be passed making greyhound racing illegal throughout the state of Illinois.” It was never easy, but politicians in Illinois clearly did try their very best to stop Capone. And this time, they were one step ahead of him. Capone wasn’t used to that. The man, who had been expelled from school at the age of 14 for having hit a female teacher and never went back, was in no way comfortable with being restricted by others.

Capone was furious about not winning the battle over the gambling dollar, and what he still wanted the most was Hawthorne Park. After all it was right in the middle of Stickney/Cicero. That was his patch, his backyard. Horse racing was about to take off, and the future for racetrack owners was rosy. And this track was right next to one of his brothels, damn it. He was not happy about it.

That the O’Hare airport in Chicago is one of the biggest airports in the world is widely known. But did you know it also has a connection to Al Capone and to horse racing? Al Capone’s partner and lawyer was Edward O’Hare (aka “Easy Eddie”). As a lawyer, O’Hare represented the inventor Owen Smith – the man who invented the hare that is used in dog races – and once owned three dog race tracks. Together with Capone, he later started Sportsman’s Park in Chicago, where he also became the manager.

ohareIt was O’Hare who gave the tax man the information needed to sentence Capone in 1931. Capone was not exactly happy about this, and a couple of days before Capone was paroled 1939, O’hare was shot to death on his way home from the office at the racetrack.
The story would have ended there if it weren’t for Edward O’Hare having a son. Also named Edward, his son went by ”Butch” and became one of the country’s most famous fighter pilots during WWII. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor after becoming the Navy’s first flying ace when he single-handedly attacked a formation of nine heavy bombers approaching his aircraft carrier.
O’Hare the younger died at age 29 while he was leading the U.S. Navy’s first-ever nighttime fighter attack launched from an aircraft carrier. His aircraft was shot down and never found.
In 1949, Chicago’s airport was renamed in his honor and an estimated 200,000 Chicago citizens showed up for the event.

“We buy the land next door,” he said to O’Hare one day. “We buy that worthless piece of land and build our own track. That’s gonna show them!”
So they did. The two men purchased 79 acres of land right behind the Hawthorne grandstand and built Sportsman’s Park, another Thoroughbred racecourse. Talk about going into competition head-to-head. Then again, as the Americans would call it, the two racecourses were located back-to-back. Sportsman’s Park also conducted harness racing, as does Hawthorne through the winter months today. The course was also home to the famous Illinois Derby, inaugurated in 1923, a race that is today staged at Hawthorne and  used to be an important prep for the Kentucky Derby.

Sportsman’s Park was an arena for speedway racing, and only one of two tracks in the USA to race both horses and speedway cars, along with Dover International Speedway. The venue eventually closed in 2003. It has been a long haul. It took 80 years for things to return to normal for Hawthorne – and during these years the financial climate in Thoroughbred racing went through several phases. The bottom line of these phases has, unfortunately, been a relatively consistent and marked decline.
The Carey family’s course once staged the American Derby, the second most valuable race in America, but is now one of the lesser tracks on the North American circuit, with rather ordinary day-to-day racing and moderate purses. It was quite different in the good old days.

Arlington Park, the premier racecourse in Illinois and best known for its Arlington Million day, and Hawthorne managed to stay open during the years of World War II. Racing and betting at the family-owned venue thrived during these turbulent years. Tom Carey and his team were also forward thinking operators, often ahead of their time. They realised that consistent success was reliant on local support and introduced valuable races for Illinois-bred and owned horses. These days, virtually every course in North America puts on valuable stakes races restricted to state-bred horses.

Sportsman’s Park was closed in 2003 and torn down a few years later. However, you can still clearly see the old course (top) and how close it was to Hawthorne (lower). © 2010 Google Data SIO, NOAA, U.S.Navy, NGA, GEBCO
Sportsman’s Park was closed in 2003 and torn down a few years later. However, you can still clearly see the old course (top) and how close it was to Hawthorne (lower).
© 2010 Google Data SIO, NOAA, U.S.Navy, NGA, GEBCO

Already in the 1940s, Hawthorne staged meetings with a $1,000 minimum purses per race. Today, that would equate to about $12,500. Hawthorne also recorded its first $1 million raceday betting turnover as long ago as in 1943, and the following year the average daily turnover was a staggering $943,000. The average daily crowd was well over 14,000.
To put these figures into perspective, the first $1 million plus handle at Hawthorne was not achieved until 1966, and it took all the way to 1992 before Hawthorne’s average daily turnover exceeded $2 million. On Illinois Derby day in 2004, a record $5.5 million was wagered at Hawthorne. That is a healthy figure, but in real money value it is only 50 percent of the daily average in 1943.

In today’s world, the 1943 average of $943,000 would be almost $12 million. Was the horseracing business lucrative in Chicago in 1940s? I just think we can all agree it was.

Seeing these figures, one can understand why Al Capone wanted so desperately to get a slice of the action. Wanted it so much that he built a track next door to another. Horse racing men and women in Chicago can today be proud of the fact that it is Hawthorne, not Sportsman’s Park, that is still in operation.

Contrary to popular belief, Al Capone (or Alphonse, his real name) was not born in Italy. His father, Gabriele Capone, a barber, and his mother, Teresina, immigrated to the USA in 1894 from the small village Castellmarre di Stabia, barely 12 miles south of Neapel. The couple came to America with 43,000 other Italians, together with their two sons Vincenzo (later named James) and Rafaele (who became Ralph).

Alphonse was born in Brooklyn in 1899 and was at 10 years of age already associated with the neighborhood’s gang, which was led by Johnny Torrio. He left school at the age of 14 after beating a female teacher.

He came to Chicago in 1919 and ran Torrio’s alcohol and prostitution businesses before he started his own when Torrio retired.

On Oct. 17, 1931, he was convicted and sent to prison for 11 years because of tax evasion. By the time he died in 1945 due to a stroke, he was so physically and psychically affected by syphilis, he was said to have been at the intellectual level of a 12-year-old.


Photo special

Mats Genberg Elina Björklund

Once in a while you just fall upon photos that won’t let you go. That is what happened when we were invited to like the Facebook page ”Roccam Shots”.

Who was this person who showed racing in a way that we had never seen before?

We were in for a surprise. This was the art of 23-year-old amateur photographer Elina Björklund from Täby in Sweden. She is a regular at the classic Stockholm Racecourse in the same suburb.

Elina works at a dog daycare center (!) but spends all her free time with photography and processing her images in a truly special way.

”I always had a love for horses, but was never allowed to start riding,” she says. ”I had a simple camera and was slowly drawn into photography. I started going to the zoo to get portraits of wild animals, but then two years ago I got an SLR and that changed everything.

I went to the track to see horses and to take pictures and it was all there. The action, the drama, the stories. Wherever you look there is something visual happening. I hope one day maybe I can do this for a living, but right now I take care of dogs. And that is not a bad thing either…”


Photo Special

Mats Genberg

In the summer of 1994 Jon Franklin and three work colleagues from a William Hill betting shop drove down from London to the Glorious Goodwood race meeting ob the south coast of England.

”Looking back, I am glad that I took my camera along. After the summer, I was moving up to Nottingham to begin a three year full time course in Photography.

Though he was a keen follower of racing through his job at William Hill, he had not till that day attended a race meeting.

From the moment I set foot inside Goodwood Racecourse, I couldn’t put my camera down.

I was fascinated. The people, the horses, the highly charged atmosphere, the sheer beauty of the racecourse.

From that day on, I knew precisely how I was going to spend my three years at University. I was going to dedicate my time there to documenting racecourse life in Britain.”

Jon sent some of his photos to Goodwood and by chance, his style of photography fitted very much their vision at the time and Jon soon became the ”house photographer”.

This led to his involvement in the well known book ”Racing Tribe” —a light hearted study of racing and race going in Britain by social anthropologist Kate Fox.

Today Jon produces photographic imagery for the marketing departments of over twenty racecourses throughout Britain, Ireland and in Scandinavia.

‘As I say, looking back, I am glad that I remembered to take my camera with me on my day trip to Goodwood in 1994.’

It has been a marvelous photography journey and one that hasn’t ended yet.”

How to be in big races

while paying for the small

Mats Genberg Highcleare stud

Highclere is a name that has a certain ring to it. Highclere Castle is one of the truly classic British homes, located just outside the racing town of Newbury between London and Oxford. It’s so iconic in its presence that the castle was chosen to play the ”lead role” in the TV series Downton Abbey.


But Highclere Estate is not just a pretty house on TV. It has been the scene for racehorse breeding and management for many years. Highclere Stud covers more than 300 acres and is home to about 20 top quality broodmares.

”We have been into racing here for more than 100 years,” says Harry Herbert, who is the man behind Highclere Thoroughbred Racing.
Harry’s father was racing manager for The Queen, and the family lived at the now-famous castle. The royal racing manager duty is still in the family as Harry’s brother-in-law, John Warren, now holds that responsibility.

John is also considered one of the world’s top bloodstock agents, and he has a long track record of finding future racing stars at reasonable prices at sales.

”Me and John sat down one day some 20 years ago and talked about the fact that so many of the big races are won by the same owners.” Herbert said. ”You see the same silks over and over again and the same faces in the winners’ enclosures at the major races.

”At the same time you see new owners buying expensive horses and putting all their eggs in one basket. That often turns out to be not so succesful.”
With the knowledge and facilities at hand the two decided to create a brand new form of racehorse ownership—a group of syndicates aimed at owning horses at the very highest level. In turn, that gives the share owners a true race horse ownership experience at the highest level.

”The very idea is to give a full experience at a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the time normally needed. A bit like being Royal without the need for a royal income…”


”Syndicates are nothing new, but many times the share owner is reduced to a bill-payer,” said Herbert. ”Our idea was to provide the experience that many want but that is so hard to come by. And to do it at a cost efficient level.”

Highclere Thoroughbred Racing is different from many as it is not one syndicate. It is a group of syndicates. Also, it is not affiliated with any one trainer. All syndicates have two horses, trained by two different trainers.

”We create our new syndicates every year in June,” said Herbert. ”At that time there are no horses in them, but the trainers are already named. So when you look at a syndicate you chose one with a trainer combination that you like. Such as Andrew Balding and Richard Hannon or Sir Michael Stoute and William Haggas.”

Many of Highclere’s trainers are known for not normally accepting horses owned by partnerships, as it often means a lot of extra work for them. Highclere Racing has been an exception, having horses with most top trainers in the UK as well as some of the most respected names in France and in Australia. Once the syndicates are formed, Warren goes out to find the right horses for each syndicate. Normally some 18-20 horses are purchased at the yearling sales starting in Deauville in August and ending in Newmarket in October.

All yearlings are then shown at Highclere’s Yearling Parade at Highclere Estate in October. The event gives the new share owners a taste of what is to come. Here in the shadow of Highclere Castle everybody is a VIP and can meet their horses trainers and mingle with other owners.

”Owning a race horse is never to be seen as an investment,” said Herbert. ”It is something that adds to the fun of life, and our job as an ownership company is to make sure that each shareholder gets as much fun as possibe as ‘dividend’ for the money they put in. The best fun is of course to be in the winner’s enclosure­—but we want to make the time leading up to that to be fun as well.”

After the yearling parade, horses get their first schooling at Highclere Stud before being sent of to the trainers after a few months. This gives Highclere staff a good chance of seeing the individuals and advising the trainers on any particularities.

Share owners in Highclere’s syndicates get regular updates and can also feel trust in having the same racing manager as The Queen.
”John keeps constant track over the most suitable races for every horse and gives advice to the trainers,” said Herbert. ”And they know that his advice is normally worth listening to!”

With 30 percent of all syndicates ending up owning Black Type horses, the statistics speak for themselves. Not to mention, wins or places in all UK Classic races and seven champions. This includes the world’s highest rated racehorse in 2010 —Harbinger.

Tours to trainers yards are organized during the training period and owners get a chance to stay at the historic ”Jockey Club Rooms” in Newmarket. When a horse runs, each owner gets two owner-badges that give access to the paddock and all owner-only facilities.

”We don’t just send out e-mails,” said Herbert. ”We find it very important to have a living contact, and we often call owners to give them information and to tell about upcoming races.” Highclere Racing also has their own box at Newbury Racecourse and makes arrangements for hospitality on major race days.

”The very idea is to give a full experience at a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the time normally need,” said Herbert.
”A bit like being Royal without the need for a royal income…”

Highclere Thoroughbred Racing’s famous colours.
Highclere Thoroughbred Racing’s famous colours.

Shares in Highclere Thoroughbred Racing start at about £16,000. That includes all costs for 2 horses until the end of the 2-year-old season.
A second, smaller payment is made for the 3-year-old season.
Each syndicate has 10 – 20 owners.
After the 3-year-old season, proceeds are split between owners. Any minus in the books is covered by Highclere Racing.

Famous Highclere horses

Harbinger, bought for 180,000 Guineas had 6 wins in 9 races including King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 2010. That year he was ranked the best horse in the world (135).

Memory won her debut at Goodwood before going out to win The Albany Stakes (G3) at Ascot and the Cherry Hinton Stakes (G2) at Newmarket.

Petrushka won the Irish Oaks and the Yorkshire Oaks in 2000 as the first ever syndicate horse to win a Classic race in Europe. Sold for $5.25 million to Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley Stud.

Delilah, bought for 72,000 Guineas as a yearling she went on to win the Princess Royal Stakes (G3) at Ascot and the Constant Security Park Hill Fillies Stakes (G3). She was then sold in the USA for $600,000.


A photo special

Mats Genberg

Richard Dunwoody has been in more photos than most. Winners photos that is. During his career as a jockey he rode 1,699 winners in the UK alone. Over jumps. That was at the time more than any other jockey. Ever.

At 22 he won The Grand National. At 30 he did it again. He became the only jockey of his generation to win the Big Three: the Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Grand National.

In 1999 he retired but the need for adrenaline was still there. In 2003 he competed in the inaugural Polar Race to the Magnetic North Pole.

In 2008 he went to the South Pole.

Alone. 680 miles on skis.
Richard is a man that gets ideas.

And then makes them come true.
Two years ago, he decided to pursue another dream and signed for a nine month intensive photojournalism course at the Spéos Photographic Institute in Paris.
The result can be seen on the following pages.
Did we hear anyone say amazing?

About Richard Dunwoody

Elizabeth Arden

Make-up and race horses

Mats Genberg

Almost everyone knows Elizabeth Arden as the woman behind a brand of cosmetics. But in the 1940s and ’50s USA she was almost as famous because of her horses.

Elizabeth Arden’s “Eight Hour Cream” is one of the cosmetic world’s classics. A product which goes up and down in popularity, but never disappears. And which people uses for all different kinds of things.
Use as shoe polish or to treat skin diseases.
Or you can use it on horses!

Elizabeth Arden sold it herself by saying “Try it, I use it on the horses.” And she did. The cream had therapeutic qualities that eased skin irritations such as chappy, scale, blushings, scratches and broken cuticles. Elizabeth Arden said that if the product was good enough for her beloved horses’ legs, it should also fit her clients.

Elisabeth Arden.
Elisabeth Arden.

Elizabeth Arden loved horses. Race horses. In 1931, she was one of USA’s most famous women. And wealthiest.
At an auction in Saratoga she bought her first Thoroughbred – the start of something that would be the beginning of an racing empire.
Arden had her own thoughts about a lot. Among other things, only her own creams and lotions could be used on her horses instead of liniment. Blinkers weren’t allowed because “It doesn’t look good.” And any jockey using a whip on her her horses could count on getting a real bashing.

From the old Coldstream Stud she built her own stud farm “Main Chance Farm.” Sucess came in thick and fast. During the ’40s and ’50s they were the leading horse owners and among the leading breeders in the country.
In 1945 her Star Pilot and the filly Beaugay won Eclipse Awards as USA’s best horses in their categories.

In 1947 Jet Pilot won Kentucky Derby.
In 1954 Fascinator won Kentucky Oaks.
She bought the super filly Busher, who would become one of the top 40 racehorses of last century.
In 1960 she was the breeder of Gun Bow, who would later get a place in racing’s Hall of Fame.
Gun Bow was the sire of Pistol Packer, who won several Group 1 races, including France’s Prix de Dianne.

At her death in 1966, Arden left her Main Chance farm to the University of Kentucky. Today it’s a breeding and nutrition research facility that breeds both Thoroughbreds and Quarter horses. One of those, Riddells Creek, was named he best 2-year-old in Canada in 1998.
Arden’s heritage lives on.
Both at the racetracks and in the perfumeries.


“Try it, I use it on the horses”


Elizabeth Arden’s “Eight Hour Cream"
Elizabeth Arden’s “Eight Hour Cream”

The 4th of may 1946. The first time Kentucky Derby was ridden after the war. In the shadow of the Derby one of the first races of the day was won by an unraced 2 year old. By nine lengths. His father was Blenheim II – winner of 1930’s Epsom Derby. Nobody gave it any certain attention because of the main attraction of the day. Not even the owner of the horse – Florence Nightingale Graham.
More known as Elizabeth Arden.

But a few who saw him race said “There’s next years Derby-winner!. The trainer was Tom Smith “Silent Tom”. The man who trained Seabiscuit. The week before 1947’s derby Tom just said – “We’ll win”.

The 3rd of may the prediction is true.
Jet Pilot wins one the closest wins the race has ever seen. And Elizabeth Arden isn’t just the owner, but also the breeder, of a Kentucky Derby winner.


TRUE COLOURS – your design on your horse

Mats Genberg Photo Trevor Jones/thoroughbredphoto.com, Jon franklin,

Formula 1 cars. Soccer teams. Corporations. Everyone’s got identifying colours today. But the tradition of colours may be the oldest in horse racing. Racing authorities require that every horse owner registers a unique colour-and-pattern combination, called silks. It’s a tradition that was started more than a hundred years ago, and that goes back all the way to the knights.


IIn horse racing, all owners design their own unique silks, which are then worn by the jockeys riding their horses. You make up a colour and pattern, submit your silks for approval with the horse racing federation and wait for approval. If the silks aren’t already being used, you are normally approved and can have the silks sewn up.

You can have one pattern on the chest, another on the arms and a third on the cap. Stars, stripes, rhombi, polka dots and other patterns in different colours. The combinations are endless.

The most desirable are the single-coloured, distinguished silks, especially in the sport’s home country, England. In the UK (where there are auctions for sought after license plates!) there are auctions for the privilege to ride in certain silks in horse racing.

There are those who are willing to go far to get silks in the colours they really want their jockeys to ride in.

Susan Magnier, of the family behind the world’s leading breeding empire, Coolmore, is one of them. In 2000 at a Sothebys auction, she paid 69 000 pounds for the right to race in all pink silks!

When the British arrange auctions of attractive horse owner silks, you will see prices up to £69,000. That doesn’t include the silks as such, just the right to compete in them.
When the British arrange auctions of attractive horse owner silks, you will see prices up to £69,000. That doesn’t include the silks as such, just the right to compete in them.

Bear in mind that this wasn’t Ms Magnier’s first silks: she already had all-dark blue silks registered. The new pink silks are used only when she has two horses in race – a couple of times per year.

Auction program
Auction program

In 2005 the British Horse Racing Authority put bronze-coloured silks up for auction at Sotheby’s. The starting bid was GBP 60 000, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s sons were willing to pay. The next year, all-grey silks were up for auction for the same amount, GBP60 000.

The auctioneer, Graham Budd, said: ”Each time single-coloured silks are on the market, the request is big. Some of the large horse owners have them, and it’s seen as prestigious to race in them.”

All this began in the early 1760’s, when it became mandatory to register your silks. In 1762 the Jockey Club in England registered 17 different silks, “to more easily be able to recognise the horses in races and even to prevent disputes to begin as a result of not be able to identify the riders.”

In 1766 the use of silks spread to “the Colonies” (now the U.S.A.), when the Philadelphia Jockey Club first registered silks.

Royal Silks

Some of the silks in the world have their own history.

In 1875 the Royal Silks were registered by Queen Victoria: purple jacket with red arms, golden strings on the chest and a black velvet cap with a golden tassel (the golden tassel Her Majesty’s idea). The silks are still seen often, as Queen Elizabeth II is a majoir horse racing enthusiast and owner.

The Queen Elizabeth II in True Colours

In 1788 the 13th Earl of Derby (called Lord Derby) chose his black silks with a white hat. These are still used by the Derby family. The silks actually are not only a black jacket with a white cap, but black with a white button and a white cap. Those details are not registered, but the button has a good story behind it: In 1924 Tommy Weston rode the Lord Derby’s (The 17th Earl of Derby) horse to victory in the English Derby. In that race he wore what appeared to be a white button on Lord Derby’s black silks: in a hurry, Weston had accidentally buttoned the jacket with his white scarf covering one of the buttons. Since that day, the button has always been part of the silks.

Military Influence

Horse racing had its western beginnings in the military: in that sense, uniforms were the de facto first silks.

In Sweden horse racing from its beginning was a sport for officers, and the riders wore their uniforms. By the late 1800s, special jockey silks began to appear and even here some where Royal. All black and a silver tassel on the cap belonged to Prince Gustaf Adolf, father to the current King Carl XVI Gustaf, during the 1920s and 30s, when he successfully rode jump races on his own horses. Prince Gustaf Adolf was actually the second-best amateur rider in 1930, with five victories in jump races!

Who has silks?

All horse owners must have a unique colour combination on their silks. And a combination of owners is considered a new owner. If, for example, Mrs Smith owns a horse, she has her own silks. If she owns a horse with her cousin Mr Jones, and the horse is registered with “Mrs Smith & Mr Jones” as owner then that “stable” must have its own silks, even if it’s only the colour on the cap that is different.

Designing silks is fun. Is a horse owned by a company that has a graphic profile? Are there any symbols or colours that have a special meaning to you? Are the colours you consider visible?

From a long distance, it can be difficult to see the difference between dark green, burgundy or marine blue. But pink and yellow might not suit everyone…

The combinations are plenty, even though there is now a European agreement that prevents too much creativity in the patterns. There’s still some variety: for coloured jackets, 25 different body details are available, plus 10 different patterns for the arms and eight different for the caps. You are also allowed to use any of 23 different colours in the creation of new silks.


Jörgen Nilsson Mirrorpix, Trevor Jones/thoroughbredphoto.com

When Milan-born jockey Lanfranco Dettori arrived at Ascot racecourse on 28 September 1996, he was quite well known in the British domestic racing scene and had been Anglicized to the more familiar ‘Frankie.’ Nevertheless, on the international racing stage he was still merely in consideration for a minor role.
Until that Saturday, that is. By the end of the day, he was making headlines all over the world.


Meanwhile, Pat Epton, a cleaner and a mother of four from Lincolnshire, was a devoted admirer of Frankie Dettori. When she noticed that the object of her admiration was riding in all seven races at Ascot, it was only natural that she bet a half-pound win on each of Dettori’s seven mounts.

Darren Yates from Morecambe was far more than a devoted admirer of Dettori—he was obsessed. He was also a compulsive gambler who backed all of Dettori’s runners. This passion was not shared by his wife, especially since her husband’s gambling strategy was going as badly as his cabinet-making business. Yates had reassured his wife more than once there would be no more gambling on his part, and on this particular Saturday, he made the same promise as he left home for a football game. But on the way, he took a detour to the local betting-shop, William Hill, and invested a large amount of the household money on his Italian idol. It was supposed to be that very last bet every confirmed gambler considers, and he placed a major part of the investment in a half a pound Super Heinz.

A Super Heinz is a wager on seven selections that consists of 120 separate bets: 21 doubles, 35 trebles, 35 fourfolds, 21 fivefolds, seven sixfolds and a sevenfold accumulator. Since the winning odds are multiplied with each other, the final odds can be astronomical on a lucky day. Yates completed his wager with an each-way accumulator, meaning that Dettori’s seven runners should either win, or at least come in second. He wagered a pound and opted for the Early Bird odds, which are fixed odds that do not fluctuate with the market movements on the race-course.

Kevin Nightingale was not in the best of moods when he opened Corals betting-shop in Battersea in south London. He had lost big time on Dettori’s five runners the previous day at Haydock Park. He got a good laugh for himself when a customer wagered a £5 each-way accumulator on Dettori’s five first runners at Ascot.

Fred Done, the owner of a chain of betting-shops in the north of England, made a devastating decision when he gathered the staff for the morning meeting that day. He proclaimed that the customers who wagered on multiple bets should be offered a double bonus.

John and Mary Bolton celebrated
their 19th wedding anniversary in London that weekend. It was decided Mary should do some shopping while John spent the afternoon at Ascot. As a gift, Mary received a bet consisting of her own picks. As they studied the race card together, she chose the easy way out when her husband tormented her with questions. “Take Frankie Dettori,” she said. And to end the questioning session rapidly, she continued, “In all seven races.”

John Bolton strolled down to Ladbrokes betting shop and wagered 21 nine pound doubles and a five pound each-way accumulator on Dettori’s seven rides. He preferred the Early Bird odds and paid £217 for the lot.

As the audience flooded into Ascot that day, Gary Wiltshire arrived in a fairly good mood. Wiltshire was an on-course-bookmaker who managed his business directly on the British racecourses. He was a master in his métier and had earned a minor fortune during his long and industrious carrier.
When Wiltshire left his £500,000 house, he was actually on his way to Worcester Racecourse, but after a second glance at the Ascot race card, he made a fatal decision. The races looked difficult—every bookmakers dream—and he went to Ascot instead. Andy Smith, a colleague of Wiltshire, was of the same opinion and also on his way to Ascot. But the bookie got stuck in a traffic jam and instead headed for Worcester.

Our main character, Frankie Dettori, had not had one of his best outings at Haydock the previous day, and expressed a bit of worry to his fiancée saying, “I´ve got a bad feeling about Saturday.” But encouraged by a night’s sleep, the Italian estimated a decent each-way chance in the first race and a proper win chance in the highlight of the afternoon, The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

The Cumberland Lodge Stakes is a Group 3 race run over a distance of one mile and four furlongs. In the blue colours of Godolphin, Dettori mounted the 3-year-old filly Wall Street as a favourite. The Italian made no mistakes and fulfilled the crowds’ expectations through a rather comfortable victory. The punters got an immediate advantage from the on-course bookmakers at Ascot.

”But after a second glance at the Ascot race card, he made a fatal decision. The races looked difficult — every book-makers dream — and went for Ascot instead”

Except for Tote, at this time owned by the UK Government (sold to Betfred 2011), the English bookmakers are exposed to liability. Hence it is not the punters’ generated money that determines the odds in a betting pool like in pari-mutuel betting. Both the off-course bookmaker and the on-course bookmaker offer fixed odds, with no economical back up but their own purse. Of course, bookmaking is a far more complicated business, but it is never to the benefit of the bookmakers when the public favourites or national icons triumph.

In the second race of the afternoon, The Diadem Stakes, a Group 2 race run over six furlongs, Dettori was yet again dressed in the Godolphin colors. His mount Diffident faced a dozen contenders, and having not impressed in his previous two races, the Godolphin horse went off at 12/1.

Dettori, who rode Diffident for the first time, got a prominent position early on from stall 10. The race went slowly, and it was just one furlong out that things began to happen. The heavily backed favourite, Lucayan Prince, had been in trouble throughout the whole race but finished quickly. However, it was too late. Dettori had already made his move and held on to a close victory. It was a characteristic jockey win, and the Dettori followers were exultant.

Done, the proprietor of a chain of betting-shops in the north of England, was soon notified of the forthcoming threat. An employee phoned him at his home and made him aware that there was £20,000 riding on Dettori ahead of the third race.

The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, a Group 1 race run over one mile, was undoubtedly the main event of the afternoon. The starting field was all talent.

The 3-year-olds included Bosra Sham, winner of 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket; Ashkalani, winner of Poule d’Essai des Poulains; and Bijou d’Inde, winner of St James’s Palace Stakes. The elder guard wasn’t bad either: First Island, a Sussex Stakes winner; Charnwood, a Queen Anne Stakes winner; and Soviet Line, winner of the Lockage Stakes.

Dettori mounted Godolphin’s 3-year-old Mark of Esteem, who had won the 2,000 Guineas earlier in the year. He was scratched from the Epsom Derby and failed in the St James’s Palace Stakes. Mark of Esteem sweated up in the parade ring, and the on-course punters made him shared second favourite with Bosra Sham. Ashkalani was in a poor shape and turned out to be a bad favourite.

Bijou d’Inde set the early pace together with Bosra Sham, and Mark of Esteem trailed five lengths behind. As Bijou d’Inde tired, Dettori advanced inside the final furlong and the race developed into two-horse contest. As they approached the finishing line, Pat Eddery on Bosra Sham had a slight advantage and felt he couldn´t lose. He was wrong.

From the corner of the eye, Eddery noticed Dettori raising his right hand, claiming victory. Mark of Esteem had a tremendous turn on foot, or as the Italian expressed it, “When I asked him, the response was electric.”

Dettori’s third win alerted the betting companies to the gravity of the situation. Another Dettori win and they would face big payouts on popular betting types such as Yankee and Lucky 15.

Frankie Dettori leaps from Fujiyama Crest, his 7th out of 7 winners Ascot Festival 28th September 1996 © Trevor Jones
Frankie Dettori leaps from Fujiyama Crest, his 7th out of 7 winners Ascot Festival 28th September 1996
© Trevor Jones

A Yankee is a multiple bet consisting of four selections divided into six doubles, four trebles, and finally a fourfold accumulator. Lucky 15 is basically the same but includes four win bets which altogether makes 15 combinations, hence the name. The punters could pick any of Dettori’s seven mounts, but unfortunately, especially from the point of view of the betting companies, most of the money was on the first four races—simply because they were the only races covered by the BBC.

The dominating betting companies at this time, William Hill, Coral and Ladbrokes, were heavily exposed by the fact they were laying a major part of the multiple bets. Most of the multiple bets were premised on starting price, which is the average odds offered by the on-course bookmakers who operate on the racecourses.

In contrast to the fixed Early Bird odds, the starting price odds fluctuate until the race begins—a fact that the off-course bookmakers could utilize by having representatives at the racetrack who shorten the starting price odds if necessary as a kind of assurance.

For example, Dettori’s next mount, John Gosden’s Decorated Hero was available early on at 12/1 but went off at 7/1 through a collective endeavor by the exposed off-course bookmakers.

The Tote Festival Handicap rounded up 26 runners. Decorated Hero carried top weight and had a bothersome draw in stall 22. Dettori was in no way optimistic, but the race turned out perfectly for the pair.

Decorated Hero ran wide and gradually worked his way into the field. With one furlong to go, Dettori headed front and kept on well, winning easily by 3.5 lengths. The jockey, who had already pleased the crowd with his spectacular flying dismount after his victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, celebrated with restriction after his fourth win: raising his fist, hiding his thumb and spreading four fingers apart.

The accumulated odds after Dettori’s fourth win were up to 1351/1. The major betting companies knew that it could easily go from bad to worse. In the upcoming race there were potential betting payouts for the Super Yankee, which consists of five selections combined in a total of 26 bets. This would be extremely bad and could get even worse if Dettori was victorious in the sixth and seventh race, considering the enormous payouts on Heinz (six selections) and Super Heinz (seven selections).

The BBC was only scheduled to transmit the first four races. But instead of ending the transmission as usual, it decided to linger for a few more races, hopeful of a continuation of Dettori’s one-man show.

This bewildered Yates when he entered the local pub just in time for the fifth race. He was a bit crestfallen after a disappointing four-nil defeat in the afternoon’s football game, and later on he knew he had to face his wife with an acceptable explanation about the missing household money. When he became aware of what was going on at Ascot, it was not a matter of drowning his sorrows. His initial £67,58 wager had produced a net profit of £700 and it was far from over.

The 3-year-old Godolphin filly Fatefully was available at 9/2 as fixed odds that morning. When the bell rang and the gates opened in the Rosemary Rated Stakes, Fatefully’s odds had crashed to seven to four. The message was obvious from the off-course bookmakers: Salvage what you can, at the expense of the on-course bookmakers.

The Rosemary Rated Stakes is a handicap race run over a mile. Fatefully broke well and Dettori placed the filly neatly high up in the field. With two and half furlong to go, Dettori advanced and squeezed through to lead one furlong out. The filly barely held on to a close victory and managed to survive a stewards´ enquiry.

There was no need for Dettori to fold in his thumb this time. He raised his right hand and demonstrated that he was born without flaws, spreading five fingers apart.

In the north of England, Done the book maker knew he was in trouble. He was at his office calculating the losses up to the fifth race. It was a disaster already, and it was going to get worse—a lot worse.

In London, Mary Bolton had returned to the hotel after some serious shopping. She decided to watch the races on TV while waiting for her husband. After the fourth race she calculated that she had already won £15,000. When Dettori won the fifth race she couldn’t bear to watch anymore and left the hotel pacing the streets nervously.

The sixth race, the Blue Seal Conditions Stakes, attracted a quintet runners. Under normal circumstances, Dettori’s mount, Ian Balding’s Lochangel, would be considered the second or third choice behind the odds-on favorite, Henry Cecil’s Corsini.

However, ’normal’ was not the correct word to describe the events at Ascot that day. Coral, Ladbrokes and William Hill poured tons of money on Lochangel in order to keep the starting price as short as possible. The professional gamblers utilized the overgenerous odds on Corsini, and when the gates opened, Lochangel and Corsini were five to four joint favourites.

According to Balding, Dettori was supposed to drop the horse in the field and go for a late run. However, in a split second Dettori reappraised the situation and decided to do the running in front. Eddery soon accompanied him on Corsini and the two of them drew clear of the field.

The home stretch at Ascot was a marvelous display of Dettori’s extraordinary riding skills. Whenever Eddery and Corsini seemed to approach, Dettori extracted another length of Lochangel and proved his change of game plan to be a stroke of genius.

Dettori had use of both his hands in the winners’ enclosure—the raised left hand, five fingers spread apart, joined with the right fists, thumb out, and an almost surprised smile demonstrating the sixth victory. He had equaled the record set by legends like Willie Carson, Gordon Richards and Alec Russell. The crowd at Ascot praised him as a hero.

Yates had plenty of reasons for grinning—specifically 27,000—for each sterling pound his multiple bet had generated, with one race to go.

Done the bookie did not grin that broadly. Through a quick but rather depressing arithmetic exercise, he established that Dettori’s six victories had escalated to 8,365/1 based on starting price odds. He dug out his chequebook and prepared for the day of reckoning.

Fujiyama Crest was title defender in the upcoming Gordon Carter Handicap. Nevertheless, the horse had presented poor form since and in addition, had been off for three months. He was also burdened with more weight this year and had been offered at double-figure Early Bird odds.

The general belief was that Dettori stood little chance going through the race card on board Fujiyama Crest. The Early Bird odds offering prices from 12/1 up to 20/1 were a correct estimation under normal circumstances.

However, at Ascot on this afternoon, the betting ring (the area where the British on-course bookmakers charge their business) had developed into a war zone. The three major off-course bookmakers were forced to shorten the starting price odds on Fujiyama Crest as a security measure. Despite their combined efforts the odds refused to drop below 2/1.

Afterward it was appreciated that the turnover in the betting ring on Fujiyama Crest reached a staggering £600,000. The on-course bookmakers had lost a fortune in the previous races to the representatives of the big betting companies and spotted an opportunity. Since they were completely convinced that Fujiyama Crest couldn’t win, they kept the pot boiling by refusing to lower the starting price odds below 2/1. They had stumbled into their own trap: instead of working the percentage, they had become gamblers.

”However, ’normal’ was not the correct word to describe the events at Ascot that day. Coral, Ladbrokes and William Hill poured tons of money on Lochangel in order to keep the starting price as short as possible”

Unaware of the events in the betting ring, Dettori approached the starting gate on board Fujiyama Crest wearing the blue and pink silks of Japanese owner Seisuke Hata.

Shooting Light, a long shot contender partly owned by a certain J M Brown, manager of the bookies of William Hill, was heading in the same direction. The riding instructions communicated to jockey Tim Sprake by Brown were intended as a joke but to be taken seriously: “If you get anywhere near Frankie, stick him over the rails—I´ll pay your fine.”

The Gordon Carter Handicap stretches over two miles, and when top weighted Fujiyama Crest headed for lead, the atmosphere was tangible. Dettori kept a moderate pace unchallenged, and as the acknowledged judge of pace, he made no mistakes and got his mount into a nice rhythm.

Ray Cochrane noticed something he never experienced at Ascot before when he passed the grand stand on Pike Creek—a sustained roar. It was a noise that accompanied Dettori as he left the stands downhill towards Swinley Bottom (a turn at Ascot Race Course). Still no one challenged with five furlongs to go, and Fujiyama Crest showed no signs of fatigue.

In front when the field entered the home stretch, Fujiyama Crest was burdened by the top weight. Eddery on Northern Fleet closed in with the rest of the field. Dettori looked back, worried by the approaching sound of Northern Fleet’s clumping hooves. He pumped vigorously and Fujiyama Crest responded.

One furlong out, Northern Fleet was still cutting the margin, but the roar of the crowd carried Dettori and Fujiyama Crest to a narrow victory. The Italian defined his place in the history books by adding one more finger to his victory gesture and completed his achievement with his trademark—the spectacular flying dismount.

Simultaneously as the champagne flooded the winners’ enclosure at Ascot, Dettori’s feat reached front-pages throughout the world. Sporting Life changed the front page the whole afternoon due to Dettori’s tour de force. And when they were ready to print, the headline proclaimed “The Magnificent Seven,” the very wording their rival Racing Post chose.

The bookies in the betting ring were not likely to participate in the champagne party. As an on-course bookmaker put it, “If a bookmaker hasn´t lost a fortune this afternoon, then they just don´t lay horses properly.”

Bookie Wiltshire, the one who was originally was heading for Worcester that day, had lost about £800,000 at Ascot and was facing ruin. He was forced to sell his expensive and hard earned house. When he laid his first one-pound bet later that evening at Milton Keynes dog track, he thought, “It´s going to be a long way back from there.”

In north England, bookmaker Done was done calculating. He had lost £1,500,000—a figure that could have been so much less if he had kept his mouth shut during that morning meeting. He got use of a full chequebook and handled the situation in good spirit, screening Reward, Dead or Alive: Good Looking Italian Kid, Last seen In Ascot Area from the front of his betting shops.

”Reward, Dead or Alive: Good Looking Italian Kid, Last seen In Ascot Area”

Jockey Frankie Dettori November 2006
Jockey Frankie Dettori November 2006

John Bolton had experienced a depressing day at Ascot, constantly backing the wrong horses. That fact did not bother him in the least as he tore apart his bet tickets. He was mainly concerned with two other things: How much money had his wife won on his wedding day gift and was the betting slip in safekeeping?

Ahead of the seventh race, he had heard rumours of a customer at Ladbrokes that had £29,000 rolling on Fujiyama Crest at 20/1. It could only be his wife, he figured. When he returned to the hotel, he found his wife slightly awed but firmly holding the betting slip.

The next day, he got the answer to his first concern: Mary Bolton had technically won a shocking £900,000. However, she had to settle with £500,000 since that was the amount of Ladbrokes pay-out-limit. Still, it was a decent wedding day gift under any circumstances.

Epton, the cleaner who wagered a half a pound win ticket on Dettori’s seven runners, collected a total of £19. If she had bet another half-pound in an accumulator on all Dettori’s mounts, she would have increased her winning by roughly £120,000. She was quite pragmatic about it stating, “What you haven’t got, you don’t miss.”

Yates knew that the invested household money had yielded well, but not to the exact amount. He had forgotten he opted the Early Birds odds and was euphoric when he learnt his multiple bet had exceeded William Hill’s pay-out-limit by £50,000—making a total win of £550,823. And presumably, for once, his wife was rather pleased her husband had ignored her advice.

The following Sunday, Yates got an offer he could not refuse. He was to be paid the full amount by William Hill if he went public, and additionally, his Italian idol, Frankie Dettori, would personally hand out the winning cheque. He didn´t hesitate for one second.

William Hill and Ladbrokes paid out £8,000,000 each, while Coral got away with only paying out £4,000,000. In the end, the bookmaking industry lost almost £40 million on Dettori’s seven winners that Saturday afternoon, September 28, 1996.

Dettori’s consecutive seven winners added up to £384,992 in earnings for the owners. Dettori kept about £16,000 in basic pay. But of course winning the entire race card at Ascot, which means beating not only the very best of Thoroughbreds but the most able riders as well, was worth far more than that.

According to an interview some years later, Dettori claimed that a prominent recollection of his record-breaking day was that he went to bed in an extremely bad mood due to a quarrel with his fiancée.

What did they argue about?

That trifle had slipped his mind.