Fred Archer – 1857 to 1886
Born in Cheltenham on January 11, 1857, Fred Archer was fourth of the five children of National Hunt jockey William Archer, who rode Little Charley to victory in the 1958 Grand National. His parents kept a pub, the King’s Arms in nearby Prestbury.
It was soon apparent that Fred Archer, who was riding in local pony races and with the Cotswold Foxhounds aged eight, was an outstanding rider. His father duly arranged for him to be apprenticed to one of the leading trainers in the country, Mathew Dawson of Heath House in Newmarket.
William Archer took young Fred to Newmarket in February 1866, shortly after the latter’s eleventh birthday.
Fred Archer had his first race-ride aged 14, but it was only once he had finished his apprenticeship (still aged only 16) that he enjoyed his big break: in 1873 Dawson put him forward to Lord Falmouth as successor for the latter’s jockey Tom French, who had died of consumption. Archer had already ridden the Mathew Dawson-trained Salvano to win the previous year’s Cesarewitch, but with the backing off Lord Falmouth his career really took off.
Fred Archer became champion jockey for the first time in 1874, aged 17. Thereafter he remained at the top of the table until he died 12 years later. He rode his first Classic winner that year, taking the 2,000 Guineas on Atlantic for Falmouth and Dawson, as well as riding the winners of two of the biggest handicaps, the Lincolnshire Handicap and the Stewards’ Cup.
In 1875, Falmouth, Dawson and Archer won two Classics (the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks) with Spinaway; while two years the same team took the Derby and St Leger with Silvio. This was the first of Archer’s five Derby victories, with wins on Bend Or, Iroquois, Melton and Ormonde following between 1881 and 1886.
Enjoying unparalleled success and popularity, Archer prospered, living in style in Falmouth House at the top of Newmarket High Street and building his own stable Falmouth Lodge (now Pegasus Stables) in the Snailwell Road. However, his size made his life a living hell.
Although he had made the weight of 5 stone 7lb when winning the Cesarewitch on Sansovino in 1872, adulthood saw Fred Archer grow to 5’9”. His determination to ride at light weights saw him living off virtually no food or drink, and regular laxative doses.
In January 1884 his wife Nellie,23, niece of trainer Mathew Dawson, bore him a son who lived only a few hours. Nellie herself was in a critical condition after labour but she was very soon pregnant again and on November 6 that same year she gave birth to a daughter. All seemed to be well with mother and daughter right up until 8am the following day when according to a report in the Newmarket Journal she was “seized with convulsions and unconsciousness intervened.” Despite the efforts of four doctors Nellie died shortly before midnight. Her death left Archer bereft and he was never the same again.
Weakened by the strain of riding St. Mirin at 8 stone 7lb in the Cambridgeshire Handicap 1886 (in which he was beaten a head, carrying 1lb overweight) Archer contracted a severe chill and fever, leaving him at as low an ebb physically as he was mentally.
On November 8 1886, almost two years to the day he lost his beloved young wife, Archer, the greatest jockey of the 19th century, perhaps of all time, put a revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger. An inquest ruled he was “temporarily insane when he committed the act. He was just 29 year old.
Sir John Astley – 1828 to 1894
Sir John Astley was a pillar of Newmarket’s community during the second half of the 19th century.
Hailing from Everleigh in Wiltshire, Sir John spent the early years of his adulthood as a soldier – which is ironic as in later life he was given the nickname ‘The Mate’, being deemed to possess a nautical air.
He rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Scots Guards, serving in the Crimean War, in which he was seriously wounded in the battle of Alma in 1854.
On his return to England, Sir John left the army and began to devote his attention to the turf, a focus which naturally drew him to Newmarket. He settled in Old Station Road on the site of the present Machell Place. Sir John initially rented the house, which had been built by the great jockey Jem Robinson, before buying it in 1870. The widow of another great jockey, Nat Flatman, lived next door, and Sir John kept his hacks at livery in her stables.
Sir John Astley was elected to the Jockey Club in 1869 before becoming senior steward in 1875. During his term at the helm of the club, he chaired a committee for revising the rules of racing and also took responsibility for re-building the decrepit grandstand on the Rowley Mile.
However, an even greater legacy was his founding of the Astley Institute, a social club for stablemen which was opened by the Prince of Wales in July 1883 after Sir John had persuaded Lady Wallace to donate the land on which the club was to be built and then raised the £3,000 needed for its construction.
His philanthropy and social conscience were further illustrated by his care of Joseph Lewis, a severely injured stable lad for whom Astley arranged re-training in secretarial duties, thus ensuring him a second career in an era in which the future for disabled manual workers was bleak.
Although not a rich man by the standards of racehorse owners of the time, Sir John owned some good horses including Peter (who won both the Royal Hunt Cup and the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1881), Windsor (successful in the same year’s Chester Cup) and Ostregor (winner of the Chesterfield Cup at Goodwood in 1867).
However, Sir John is remembered primarily for his good deeds. In the words of Richard Onslow in his classic account of Newmarket’s racing history ‘The Heath and the Turf’, “When Sir John Astley died on 10 October 1894, the whole racing community, from the stable lads of Newmarket to the Jockey Club had reason to mourn a great sportsman. His own troubles were never far away from him, yet he spent much of his time and energy helping other people, and whether they were rich or poor they could all be his friends.”
Sir Henry Cecil – 1943 to 2013
Born in Aberdeen on 11 January 1943, Henry Cecil came to Newmarket while still an infant when his mother, Rohays, (who had been widowed when her husband was killed in action in north Africa two weeks before Henry and his twin brother David were born) moved the family to the area to live at Gesyns Farm in Wickhambrook, from where they moved to Freemason Lodge in the Bury Road when Cecil Boyd-Rochford became his step-father.
Cecil took out a trainer’s licence in 1969, following the retirement of his step-father (who was knighted by the Queen in that year’s New Year’s Honours List). His first season proved notably successful as he trained the winners of two races which now carry Group One status: Wolver Hollow won the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown and Approval won the Observer Gold Cup (now Racing Post Trophy) at Doncaster.
When Boyd-Rochford sold Freemason Lodge, Cecil moved his string to the newly-built Marriott (now Chestnut Tree) Stables in Hamilton Road, from which property he sent out his first two Classic winners, Bolkonski and Wollow, winners of the 2,000 Guineas in 1975 and ’76. At the end of that latter season, he moved into Warren Place on the retirement of his father-in-law, Sir Noel Murless.
From Warren Place, which remained Cecil’s home until he died, Cecil went from being one of the most successful trainers in the country to standing as the undisputed master of his profession, held in the highest possible esteem by professionals and public alike. Among his many milestones, he was champion trainer 10 times, trained 25 British Classic winners and became the most successful trainer at Royal Ascot in history.
The four Derby winners trained by Cecil included the outstanding colts Slip Anchor and Reference Point, while his other champions included the Triple Crown-winning filly Oh So Sharp; the brilliant miler Kris and his full-brother Diesis, the only two-year-old in the modern era to complete the Middle Park / Dewhurst double; the dual Ascot Gold Cup winners Le Moss and Ardross; the terrific race mares Indian Skimmer, Bosra Sham and Midday; and Old Vic, whose Prix du Jockey-Club victory in 1989 made him the first British-trained colt to win the ‘French Derby’.
It transpired, though, that Cecil, who was knighted for services to horse racing in the Queen’s 2011 Birthday Honours List, had saved the best until last: the mighty Frankel, unbeaten winner of 14 races between August 2010 and October 2012 and justifiably described by his trainer as “the best horse anyone has ever seen”.
After Sir Henry Cecil’s death on 11 June 2013, his string at Warren Place was taken over by his widow Jane, who was able to pay him the perfect tribute by saddling a poignant and popular double at his beloved Royal Ascot the following week.
Hyperion – 1930 to 1960
Chestnut horse by Gainsborough ex Selene, by Chaucer
Owned and bred by the 17th Earl of Derby, Hyperion was a Newmarket horse through and through.
Born at Lord Derby’s Stanley House Stud, and raised there and at Side Hill Stud, then owned by Lord Derby, he was trained on the same property between the Bury and Snailwell Roads (by the Hon George Lambton at two and three and by Colledge Leader as a four-year-old) before crossing the Snailwell Road to spend his long and distinguished stud career at his owner’s Woodland Stud.
A small horse, Hyperion was not considered a potential star by his connections at the outset. However, his dam Selene had also been very small, her lack of size meaning that she was not entered for the Classics – which proved to be a costly omission because she was England’s best filly of her year. Happily, the lesson was learned, and Hyperion, although a seemingly undersized and unremarkable foal, was duly entered for both the Derby and St Leger.
Although he showed little promise in his first few gallops and was beaten at Doncaster on his debut, Hyperion turned out to be the dominant two-year-old of 1932, winning three races including the New (now Norfolk) Stakes over five furlongs at Royal Ascot and the Dewhurst Stakes over seven furlongs at Newmarket.
He made further improvement from two to three, and went through his Classic campaign unbeaten, including winning both the Derby and St Leger easily, ridden by his regular jockey Tommy Weston. He would probably have won the Triple Crown but for not having been entered in the first leg, the 2,000 Guineas.
A great racehorse, Hyperion became even greater as a stallion. He was champion sire of Britain and Ireland six times, his stock including the British Classic winners Owen Tudor, Sun Chariot, Sun Stream, Godiva and Hypericum, as well as the Queen’s Derby runner-up Aureole, and Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Pensive. Understandably, many of the best horses in Europe were exported to America during the early years of the Second World War.
Hyperion, though, remained in Newmarket, his owner responding to the offer of a blank cheque from Hollywood film producer Louis Mayer with the words, “Though England may be in ruins, Hyperion will never leave these shores”.
Instead, several of Hyperion’s sons and grandsons made their way around the globe, helping his sire-line to dominate international breeding for decades, thanks to the likes of Alibhai, Khaled and Heliopolis in
North America; Aristophanes and Gulf Stream in South America; Helios, Star Kingdom and Smokey Eyes in Australia; Ruthless and Stunning in New Zealand; and High Veldt and Deimos in South Africa.
Hyperion remained the world’s most influential stallion until the 1980s, eventually surrendering the role to his Canadian-bred descendant Northern Dancer, whose sire Nearctic was a son of the Hyperion mare Lady Angela.
A life-size bronze statue of Hyperion, sculpted by John Skeaping and bequeathed to the Jockey Club by the 18th Earl of Derby, stands outside the Jockey Club Rooms in Newmarket High Street.
Frankel – Born 2008
Bay horse by Galileo ex Kind, by Danehill
Prince Khalid Abdullah, owner breeder of Frankel, has raced many terrific horses, including Danehill, a Group One-winning sprinter in 1989, and Rainbow Quest, winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1985.
However, neither of these great horses can be ranked in the same league as their descendant Frankel, unbeaten winner of 14 races between August 2010 and October 2012 and considered by the majority of racing enthusiasts as the best horse in history.
The prince began owning horses in the late 1970s, building up his racing and breeding operations under the ‘Juddmonte’ banner, and nowadays has a string composed almost entirely of horses whose families have been in his ownership for several generations. Frankel is a fourth-generation Juddmonte-bred, and now stands as a stallion at Juddmonte’s principal property, Banstead Manor Stud in Cheveley, three miles north east of Newmarket.
Put into training as a two-year-old in Sir Henry Cecil’s Warren Place stable, Frankel showed star potential from the outset – so much so that he was handed the responsibility of bearing the name of his owner’s friend, the late Robert ‘Bobby’ Frankel, who died of cancer in November 2009.
Right from the start, when he made a winning debut on Newmarket’s July Course in a maiden race in August 2012 at the expense of subsequent King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Nathaniel, Frankel went on to bear his name with even greater distinction than anyone could have imagined. He stamped himself as the best two-year-old in Europe by taking the Dewhurst Stakes on his fourth and final outing of the season, but the following two seasons saw him even more dominant.
Frankel showed so much speed that he was not asked to race farther than a mile until he was a four-year-old, and never ran beyond the extended 10 furlongs of the Juddmonte International at York, which he won in August 2012 with his head in his chest. So marked was his superiority over his peers, though, that there is little doubt that he would have won either the Derby or the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe had he contested them: he was in a league of his own even when racing against the very best of the rest.
The final dozen of Frankel’s 14 scintillating victories came in Group races, with 10 of his triumphs coming in Group One company – including two magnificent triumphs, in the 2010 Dewhurst Stakes and 2011 2,000 Guineas, on Newmarket’s Rowley Mile.
Ridden in all his races by Tom Queally, Frankel proved to be the final and brightest jewel in the crown of his trainer, the late Sir Henry Cecil, who eventually broke a lifetime habit of understatement by describing Frankel as, “the best horse I’ve ever seen – in fact, I think he’s the best horse anyone has ever seen”.
Frankel has made an outstanding start to his stud career on the Juddmonte roster at Banstead Manor Stud with his first crop highlighted by the Group One winners Cracksman and Soul Stirring and the Group Two winners Eminent, Queen Kindly and Finche.
Lester Piggott – Born 5 November 1935
In the same way that Fred Archer ranks as Britain’s greatest jockey of the 19th century Piggott holds a similar place in the 20th pantheon. The similarities between the two great riders do not though end there.
Like Archer, Piggott was ultra-competitive and single-minded. Furthermore, he too was very tall for a Flat jockey, only able to stay light enough to ride on the Flat thanks to iron self-discipline. And he too came from a National Hunt background: his grandfather Ernie rode three Grand National winners while his father Keith trained Ayala to win the great steeplechase in 1963.
Indeed, Lester Piggott himself looked destined for the jumps at one stage of his youth: he rode 20 winners over hurdles, including partnering Prince Charlemagne to victory in the Triumph Hurdle at Hurst Park in 1954.
Apprenticed to his father in Lambourn, Lester Piggott was an instant success as a race-rider, landing his first victory on The Chase at Haydock Park in 1948, aged just 12.
He had his first ride in the Derby aged 16 in 1952 on Gay Time (who finished runner-up to Tulyar, ridden by the veteran Charlie Smirke) and then recorded the first of his unequalled nine victories in the race by winning on the Joe Lawson-trained Never Say Die two years later.
Champion jockey of Britain 11 times between 1960 and 1982, Lester Piggott rode 30 British Classic winners and partnered many of the greatest horses of modern racing history, headed by the 1970 Triple Crown winner Nijinsky and also including the likes of Crepello, Petite Etoile, St Paddy, Gladness, Sir Ivor, Roberto, Rheingold, The Minstrel, Alleged, Ardross and Royal Academy. From the mid 1950s to the early ‘80s, Lester Piggott was the most successful jockey in Europe and rode
for all of the leading trainers in Britain, Ireland and France at various times. However, his associations with three stables stand out, his partnerships with Noel Murless, Vincent O’Brien and Henry Cecil ranking as a succession of golden eras. His association with Murless saw him moving to Newmarket early in his career.
In a short-lasting ‘retirement’ in the ‘80s, Piggott trained from Eve Lodge Stables in Newmarket’s Hamilton Road, most notably sending out Cutting Blade to win the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1986.
Lester Piggott’s brief stint as a trainer ended when he was convicted of tax evasion in 1987. When he had served the resultant prison sentence, he resumed work not as a trainer but as a jockey, returning to race-riding just short of his 55th birthday and recording a breath-taking victory on the Vincent O’Brien-trained Royal Academy in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Mile in New York.
Lester Piggott finally retired from the saddle in 1994 with a career total of 4,493 winners, having combined with his old ally Vincent O’Brien to post a final and emotional Royal Ascot curtain call with College Chapel in the Cork And Orrery Stakes at the previous year’s Royal Meeting.