EPSOM DERBY 1913 - THE RACE

Derby Day 1913.
Derby Day 1913.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

Introduction

In 1913 suffragette Emily Davison was fatally injured when she was mown down at the Derby by Anmer, owned by King George V. That was the overwhelming importance of the race in that year. However, straight afterwards, when it was reported in the newspapers, no one was quite sure exactly what had happened and it was initially described as 'an incident'. Emily had been taken to hospital - she would not die for four days yet - and Anmer's jockey, Herbert Jones, had suffered injuries. But, in the immediate aftermath, the newspapers were somewhat confused through lack of information and accounts of the actual race were interspersed with mentions of 'the incident'. Ultimately, though, it was the most incredible Derby in Epsom's history.

Anmer was never in contention and most of the field had passed by when Emily was fatally injured. The race itself was an irrelevance in the light of what happened, but it did have a fascinating sub-plot. The records will tell you that the 1913 Derby was won by Aboyeur, ridden by Edwin Piper, but there was much more to it than that.

Major Loder and Mr Ismay

The story goes back some time and the principal players at that point were Major Eustace Loder, a former Army Officer who owned and trained racehorses in Ireland, and Charles Bower Ismay, son of the founder of the White Star shipping line. Loder's most notable racing successes were Pretty Polly (winner of the 1000 Guineas, the Oaks and St Leger in 1904 - the Fillies Triple Crown) and Spearmint, who won the 1906 Derby.

Major Eustace Loder
Major Eustace Loder,
as depicted by Leslie Ward ("Spy") in Vanity Fair of 5 September 1906.

Ismay has been described as a cad and a bounder; I do not know if he actually worked, but his main interests seem to have been hunting, shooting and horse-racing. He incurred the wrath of Loder by having an extra-marital affair with Nelly, the wife of Eustace Loder's twin brother Sydney.

The next thing that upset Loder greatly was the sinking of the White Star liner RMS Titanic in April 1912; he lost several friends in the disaster and the Ismay family got most of the bad press, although they did not actually own the ship. J Bruce Ismay, Charles's brother, was on board and took a seat in a life boat. He was in charge of the White Star Line at the time, but there is no suggestion that Charles had anything to do with the company. Nevertheless, mud stuck to anyone with the surname of Ismay at that period. Bruce swiftly became a pariah on both sides of the Atlantic.

Craganour

Craganour now enters the picture and he was another grudge that Loder might have had against Ismay. This horse was a son of the mare Veneration II, bred by Loder, who sold her when she was in foal with Craganour; he eventually ended up in the hands of Charles Bower Ismay. The horse showed much promise and began to be talked up as a Derby prospect. Starting as 5-2 favourite for the 1913 2000 Guineas, with William Saxby up (remember that name for later), he lost to 25-1 shot Louvois, ridden by American Johnny Reiff (more of him shortly). Or did he?

Craganour and Louvois finished on opposite sides of the track, making it difficult to tell who had won (there were no photo finish cameras in those days and everything depended on the verdict of the judge, Charlie Robinson - remember this name for later too). Most people on the course thought that Craganour had won, but Robinson gave it to Louvois. Craganour's trainer was incredulous and rounded on Saxby for easing up too soon, to which the jockey replied that he thought he had won it. You can, of course, take your pick as to the truth of the matter. Was Robinson right (probably not, since he initially gave second place to a horse that was two lengths behind both Louvois and Craganour)? Was his eyesight bad? Was this because the owner was Ismay?

Saxby was then removed as Craganour's jockey. Two weeks before the Derby Craganour, now ridden by Danny Maher (one of Lord Rosebery's favoured jockeys), won the Newmarket Stakes, with Louvois trailing in third. The winner was then installed as favourite for the Derby.

And so we come to Derby Day. Maher was riding Prue for Lord Rosebery, which may or may not become significant in due course, so Johnny Reiff was engaged for Craganour. Although he had a brilliant record, he and his brother, Lester, had both been suspected of involvement in doping rings and Lester, winner of the 1901 Derby on Volodyovski, was warned off later that year for pulling a horse at Manchester and letting his brother win. Johnny had then had his licence revoked by the French Jockey Club and our Jockey Club followed suit. After regaining his licence he took the Derby in 1907 and 1912 on Orby and Tagalie respectively.

Johnny Reiff
Cigarette card of Johnny Reiff in 1912.
Image source: New York Public Library.


Aboyeur

Aboyeur in 1913, from an Arents cigarette card.
Aboyeur in 1913, from an Arents cigarette card.
Image source: New York Public Library.

We need the other horse to make the tale run and that of course is Aboyeur. He had the same sire as Craganour (one Desmond by name) and was a good-looking animal, but a very mediocre record reflected in his starting price of 100-1. Now I am not suggesting for a moment that there was any kind of intended skulduggery attaching to Aboyeur's connections, but …

The horse was owned by gambler Alan Cunliffe, who was a leading member of a racing organisation known as the Druid's Lodge Confederacy (sorry, I nearly said Conspiracy), sometimes also known as The Hermits of Salisbury Plain. What they did might have been legal (technically) but it was not honest.

The DLC operated in conditions of great secrecy in a remote part of Salisbury Plain. Visitors were very rare and the Hermits made sure that information didn't leak out. No one ever saw the horses on the gallops (or even in the parade before a race quite often) and generally the whole set-up was pretty odd. They sought out horses with untapped potential and it was crucial that the animal had won nothing of any consequence; they then developed it and entered it in a modest race so they could get odds and bet. At a later date, when the horse still had not won anything remarkable, it would be entered for a big race, rated by the bookies as a no-hoper at long odds, and all of a sudden it would win. The DLC cleaned up. Even in those days the authorities would get wind of suspicious betting patterns, but you couldn't get wind of the DLC, since they had a network of helpers all over the country, including a priest and a dentist, who put money on the horse in modest amounts. Sometimes, after a coup, the horse would go back to its previous indifferent form and they would work the whole scam over again with the same animal. I haven't seen it suggested that this was happening with Aboyeur (the Derby win seems to have been put down to fluke), but here is his racing record.

Date Venue Race Place Odds
July 1912 Bibury Champagne Stakes 1st 100-6
Aug 1912 Kempton International Plate Unplaced 4-1
Oct 1912 Newmarket Free Handicap Unplaced 5-1
Mar 1913 Kempton Easter Stakes Unplaced 100-8
Jun 1913 Epsom Derby 1st 100-1
May 1913 Liverpool St George Stakes 3rd 5-4
Aug 1913 Goodwood Gordon Stakes 2nd 5-1

We shall never know what Aboyeur would have done next as he was sold to the Russian Government and disappeared during the Revolution. He was rated one of the poorest horses to win the Derby in the 20th century, along with the 1920 winner Spion Kop (sired by Eustace Loder's Derby winner, Spearmint, and owned by Loder's nephew, as it happens), another horse who made a startling improvement in form just before the race and then declined.

So, we're now under starter's orders, but I just need to tell you that the Derby judge was Charlie Robinson (yes, the same man who thought Louvois won the 2000 Guineas) and the race stewards were Eustace Loder, Lord Rosebery and Lord Wolverton.

We are off! It is not disputed that there was much bumping and boring during the race, which affected some other runners, but the general opinion amongst spectators seemed to be that it was six of one and half a dozen of the other, so that either both Aboyeur and Craganour should have been disqualified or neither should. It was said that Aboyeur, an ill-tempered animal, had tried to bite Craganour, which had caused much of the trouble, and Ismay claimed that the latter actually had been bitten. In a close finish Craganour crossed the line by a head from Aboyeur and Charlie Robinson had no eyesight problem with that, although he failed to spot Day Comet in the throng at the finish - he was actually third or fourth but didn't get mentioned. There was no official objection by Cunliffe, the owner of Aboyeur, and the bookies even started paying out. We don't know, of course, if Cunliffe was running a scam in this race, but I would just say that he had an each-way bet on his horse, so he would have made some money anyway. Then, all of a sudden there was an objection - from Loder. His motives were never explained, but it was unusual for an objection to emanate from the stewards. There was a stewards' enquiry and Craganour was disqualified.

Charlie Robinson now had eyes like an eagle: he weighed in with his account of what had gone on. Saxby, the jockey who had lost the ride on Craganour (he was now on Louvois, which would move up to second if there was a disqualification), spoke out, as did other jockeys. Local man Frank Wootton (on Shogun) reckoned he would have won by three lengths had he not been impeded and there was also a suspicion that the riders were not keen on Johnny Reiff, partly because he was a cocky American and partly because of his somewhat shady reputation. One or two reports say that Lord Rosebery did not take any part in the enquiry because he had a runner in the race himself and others say that he did, with an agenda of his own against the Ismays.

William Saxby
An Arents cigarette card depicting jockey William Saxby.
Image source: New York Public Library.

Ismay was minded to launch a court action over the matter but dropped it. He was probably on a hiding to nothing anyway, given the status of his adversaries and the fact that courts were reluctant to interfere in such matters. Ismay, disillusioned with English racing, never raced Craganour again and sold him to an Argentinian breeder as a stud horse: his progeny did very well.

Winning jockey Edwin Piper settled in Epsom and lived at 115 Longdown Lane South - his house was called Aboyeur.

Edwin Piper.
1925 cigarette card depicting Edwin Piper.

Main source re the Druid's Lodge Confederacy: The Apprentice Jockey.

Linda Jackson © 2014


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