Tag Archive | Jockey Club

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion For the Turf

racecourse

Breeding and training thoroughbreds for racing was the passion of many wealthy gentlemen of good birth. Even more participated in watching and wagering the races. Newmarket, with its network of race courses, sponsored seven race meetings a year, and a third of all the race horses in England were trained nearby. (Transporting horses was very difficult, and most horses were walked to the race course, so it was better to keep them as near as possible.)

Around 500 spectators—nearly all upper-class—gathered to watch the race on horseback, sitting on top of carriage roofs, or standing around the course at Newmarket, as there were no grandstands as there were at other courses. In 1809, the 2000 Guineas, a sweepstakes for three-year-olds was established at Rowley Mile. The 1000 Guineas, a race for three-year-old fillies was established in 1817 at the less taxing course of Ditch Mile.

newmarket

Prince George was an enthusiastic participant in racing in his younger days (1788-1791), but withdrew in a huff when the jockey of his horse Escape was involved in a dreadful scandal, and the Jockey Club—the organization that oversaw the sport—insisted that the Prince give the jockey his marching orders. What was the scandal? A matter of Escape losing a race one day, forcing the odds up for the next day, resulting in the Prince winning a large sum of money. The Prince continued to patronize the races, however. He just could not resist the lure of the excitement and gambling.

Types of Races

Horse matches were head-to-head contests where individual owners would agree on a wager, and the winner took all. Spectators would make side bets as well. In one famous match, Hambletonian vs. Diamond, almost 300,000 pounds changed hands.

Plate and cup matches, where the prize was a trophy, were quite common as well.

The sweepstakes, however, with a line-up of horses running against each other, was the most popular in the late 18th/early 19th century. The owners put up a specified sum to subscribe to the race, and the winner took everything.

Race Courses

Ascot, with its close proximity to London, became a popular venue for fashionable race fans. In 1814, popular heroes such as Blücher, Tsar Alexander, the King of Prussia and Hetnan Platov provided additional entertainment for the race-mad hordes.

epsom downs

Epsom Downs

Epsom Downs, home of the legendary horse Eclipse, drew large crowds of the fashionable on Derby Day (named after the Earl of Derby who was instrumental in its development), a one-and-a-half mile race for three-year-olds. The only permanent structure on the course was Prinny’s stand, a miniature “castle” with Gothic arches where he could sit with his cronies to enjoy the races.

Eclipse

Eclipse

Other race courses were Goodwood in Yorkshire, Newcastle, Chester, Warwick, Winchester and Doncaster. Raikes (a dandy, banker and diarist) says:

“The Prince made Brighton and Lewes the gaiest scene of the year in England. The Pavilion was full of guests; the Steyne was crowded with all the rank and fashion from London during that week; the best horses were brought from Newmarket and the North, to run at these races, on which immense sums were depending; and the course was graced by the handsomest equipages.”

The Jockey Club

The organization responsible for regulating the racing world was the Jockey Club, whose members in 1790 included the Prince Regent, the Dukes of Bedford, Cumberland, Devonshire, and Norfolk. The Jockey Club established rules for such things as record-keeping and ensured that they were followed.

Wagering

As in London clubs and gaming hells, fortunes were won and lost at race courses. Brummell, too, lost large sums on horse racing. Raikes says:

“…I was never more surprised than when, in 1816, one morning he confided to me, that he must fly the country that night and by stealth. The next day he was landed in Calais, and, as he said, without any resources. I had several letters from him, at that time written with much cleverness, in which his natural high spirits struggled manfully against his overpowering reverses; but from the first he felt confident that he should never be able to return to his own country.”

Stud Book

Stud Book

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion For Horses

Before the emergence of trains, cars and airplanes, horses were the mainstay of land transportation. Over and above that, however, the English were obsessed with horses. And carriages. And everything that went along with them.

The Four-in-Hand Club parading through Hyde Park

The Four-in-Hand Club parading through Hyde Park

A fashionable gentleman took just as much care to have a quality horse when he rode through Hyde Park at five o’clock in the afternoon with the crème de la crème of London society. His carriage, when he drove one, was sure to be drawn by horses that matched in size and color, and his conveyance—whether it be a high-perch phaeton or some other trendy vehicle—would be well-appointed and equipped with liveried footmen or tigers. He, of course, would be dressed to the nines himself, as Captain Gronow describes:

“The dandy’s dress consisted of a blue coat with brass buttons, leather breeches, and top boots, and it was the fashion to wear a deep, stiff white cravat, which prevented you from seeing your boots while standing…”

SOPH-High_Perch_Phaeton

high-flyer phaeton

Driving clubs such as the Whip Club, which in 1809 became the Four-in-Hand Club, were all the rage. Four times a year, the Four-in-Hand Club met to drive twenty miles at a steady trot from Hanover Square to Salt Hill, where they would dine at the Windhill Inn before making the return trip. The more enthusiastic members would arrange to drive public coaches instead of or with the professional coachman sitting alongside. Imagine the thrill of the passengers to realize they were being driven by an earl or a duke!

The Four-in-Hand Club

The Four-in-Hand Club

Only the very wealthy could afford the enormous expense of keeping a stable in town, much less the carriages and horses. Townhouses had stables in the mews at the back, but less-affluent gentlemen could rent horses and carriages from Mr. Tilbury’s livery stable on Mount Street.

Tattersall's

Tattersall’s

Tattersall’s on Hyde Park Corner was the best place to buy and sell quality horseflesh. Auctions were held twice a week, and prices for the best horses could go into thousands of pounds. Even gentlemen not in the market for a horse, could pay an annual fee to socialize with his horse-mad peers in the Subscription Room. This is where the members of the Jockey Club, the organization that regulated horse racing, would settle up their wagers every Monday. The perfect place for a gentleman to go to escape the cacophony of his fashion-obsessed wife and daughters during the London Season!

Reminiscences of Captain Gronow (free on Kindle)

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf