1891 – 1900

Irish Derby day 1891 opened on a sombre note for the tightly-knit Irish racing community, paying its final respects to trainer Pat Doucie, four times successful in Ireland’s only classic race at that time. Narraghmore, trained in Newmarket by Charles Archer, younger brother of the famous Fred, dominated the market and ultimately the race itself, driven home by Mr Tommy Beasley to deny Kaboonga by three-parts of a length. Her task may have been eased after Battle Bell galloped full tilt into the stone mile post, giving her rider an unmerciful fall. Owner John D Wardell thus became the first to emulate his father in winning an Irish Derby, his late father having succeeded with Ben Battle and Madame du Barry.

Shock news from London of the sudden death of the Marquess of Drogheda cast doubt as to whether the 1892 Irish Derby would even be staged, such was the esteem in which the ‘Admiral Rous of the Irish Turf’ was held. A hastily-convened meeting of the Turf Club stewards under Charles J Blake deemed that the show must go on. Although Roy Neil, winner of the Cork Derby, and Wordsworth, successful in the Baldoyle Derby, represented the best public form, backers plumped for The Dummy, winner over five furlongs at Derby back in April. Wordsworth bolted in running. The Dummy failed to stay. Blancmange all but came down in the shadow of the post, gifting victory to Roy Neil, a second Irish Derby winner for rider Michael Dawson and trainer Rice Meredith. Subsequently successful in the Great Northern St Leger at Stockton and again at Manchester, Roy Neil changed hands for 4,000 guineas. That proved fortuitous for owner-breeder Dr George Moorhead. Roy Neil never won again and died while in training. Presumably for professional reasons, Tullamore doctor George Moorhead continued to employ the pseudonym – ‘RM Delamere’ – under which he and his late father had begun owning horses in partnership over twenty years previously. Joe Moorhead, his grandson, bred The Dikler, winner of the 1973 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Restored to its 1887 prize money level, the 1893 Irish Derby saw eight face the starter, headed in the market by Baccarat, owned, trained and ridden by Mr Harry Beasley. He sought to emulate his elder brother, Tommy, just as he had done when riding Come Away to win the 1891 Grand National. On this occasion Tommy teamed up with TG Gordon, riding Loot. Baccarat made a brave attempt, only to be run out of it by Bowline, a narrow winner from First Flower, with Baccarat in third. By Torpedo, as Kentish Fire had been, Bowline gave owner-breeder Mat Maher his second Irish Derby in three years, likewise trained by Rice Meredith, now in Rathbride Manor, Curragh, and ridden by Michael Dawson. Kept in training for a further four years, Bowline won in Ireland, England and France before being retired to stud. Baccarat likewise proved a faithful servant, though that did not save him from an ignominious career change – pulling a carriage in Antwerp.

Although ten paraded before the 1894 Irish Derby it was regarded as a match between HE Linde’s Ball Coote and owner-breeder John Gubbins’ Blairfinde, trained in Beckhampton by Sam Darling. They were sent off joint favourites. Inseparable in the betting, this pair finished wide apart in the race itself, Blairfinde storming home ten lengths clear of Hartstown with Ball Coote in the ruck. That proved to be Blairfinde’s swansong, retired to his owner’s Knockaney Stud, the place of his birth. But Blairfinde was only the beginning of the story that saw his dam, Morganette, produce Galtee More, winner of the 1897 Triple Crown, and Ard Patrick, successful in the 1902 Derby, beating Sceptre, as he did again in the 1903 Eclipse Stakes.

No such market rivalry related to the 1895 Irish Derby, in which Portmarnock went off long odds-onto beat five rivals. This he proceeded to do in style, twelve lengths clear of Burnett, the widest winning margin in thirty runnings of Ireland’s oldest classic. Trained on Maryborough Heath by SC ‘Shem’ Jeffrey, private trainer to Charles J Blake, Portmarnock carried the colours of Captain James Octavius Machell, who had recently purchased a half-share in this strapping son of Gallinule from Blake and TL Plunkett.Transferred to Machell’s Bedford Lodge, Newmarket, stable under the care of James Jewitt, Portmarnock won the Rous Memorial Stakes at Royal Ascot, Machell’s favourite hunting ground. He subsequently stood in Scotland, Germany and England, if to no significant effect.

Destined to become the most successful stallion to have stood in Ireland up to then, Gallinule sired his second consecutive Irish Derby winner when Gulsaberk provided Charles J Blake’s with his third such success, following upon Sylph (1883) and St Kevin (1885), all three homebred. Breaching classic race etiquette, Mr GW Lushington, rider of third-placed Conquering Hero, lodged an objection for foul riding against winning rider Alfred Aylin. As it happened, Charles J Blake was senor steward of the Turf Club – the sixth of his nine such terms of office – in 1896. The objection was overruled. A second Irish Derby winner for private trainer ‘Shem’ Jeffrey, Gulsaberk provided stable jockey Alfred ‘Alf’ Aylin with success at his first attempt. The eldest of four jockey brothers – the others being Arthur, Harry and Clyde – Alf Aylin won the 1897 Irish Oaks on Dabchick, subsequently returning to his native England and a lengthy career riding over fences.

Mr GW Lushington rode the sole English-trained challenger, Field Day, early favourite until displaced by Wales, regarded as the pick of the paddock. Those who followed the money were rewarded when Tommy Fiely brought Wales home in front, less than a length ahead of White Hackle, with Mr Lushington once again third. Tommy wore the 'Black, pink hoop & cap' of the colt's lessee and trainer William Parke Cullen, one of the most versatile performers in Irish racing. The younger of two Galway brothers, Willie Cullen rode his first winner – for his brother Fred – at Ennis in 1879. He went on to become outright Irish champion jockey in 1886 and 1889, thereby leading amateur as well. Champion trainer in 1898 and 1899, Willie Cullen also headed the Irish owners’ table (for races won) in the latter year.

Casting around to find a favourite in an undistinguished sextet for the 1898 Irish Derby, the vast crowd (6,000 by train from Dublin alone) plumped for Kilfintan. Trained privately in faraway Edgeworthstown, County Longford, for Edward More O’Ferrall, Kilfintan was considered superior to stable companion Slip the Wind, recent winner of the Baldoyle Derby. In the event Kilfintan proved costly, last of the six behind Noble Howard, Sebastian Nolan’s homebred son of Gallinule, that had overcome a tendency to break blood vessels, a trait inherited from his sire. This strapping chestnut was trained in Rossmore Lodge, Curragh, by Fred Cullen, Willie’s elder brother. At that time, however, the trainer’s licence was held by Robert Lyster Exshaw. Wealthy Galway guano importer, Sebastian Nolan enjoyed consistent Turf success, only to become a greater celebrity following his death in 1907. He left the bulk of his Galway property and substantial fortune to the Magdalene Asylum, Forster Street, Galway. His family failed in their High Court action to overturn that bequest. In tribute to their ‘kind and generous benefactor’ the Magdalene sisters erected a magnificent Celtic cross over his grave in Galway.

Fred Cullen, four times responsible for the greatest number of winners annually between 1890 and 1896, saddled the winners of six Galway Plates, three of them with Tipperary Boy. The accidental death of his ten-year-old son Henry, followed by the death of his wife Eleanor, saw Fred Cullen cease training in 1907, returning to County Galway to live with his unmarried sister outside Ballinasloe. Tragedy struck yet again in 1920 when his jockey son Frank was killed riding at Hurst Park. Tommy Moran became Irish champion jockey in 1899 when he rode the winners of a two-year-old race, a flat handicap, a hurdle race and a steeplechase at the same meeting. Retiring to the comparative safety of running a public house in Clonmel, Tommy was tragically killed while shooting cormorants from a boat in Dunmore Harbour in 1924.

Thunder and lightning reduced the attendance in 1899 when nine hopefuls took on the supposed certainty – Oppressor. He had recently finished a luckless, hampered fifth to Flying Fox in the Derby itself. Patiently ridden by ‘Algy’ Anthony, Oppressor hit the front a furlong down, running out a comfortable winner. The third Irish Derby winner in five years for Heath House trainer ‘Shem’ Jeffrey, and the fourth in the same period sired by Gallinule, Oppressor had been leased for his racing career by Thomas Laidlaw Plunkett, proprietor of a thriving brick factory in Portmarnock, County Dublin. Racing on an extensive scale on both sides of the Irish Sea until the outbreak of World War One, TL Plunkett died in 1927, having outlived his Irish Derby winner by five years.

Algernon Anthony (1871-1923), born in Cheltenham and apprenticed to Sam Darling, rode his first winner in 1886, moving to Ireland in 1892 to join the Conyngham Lodge stable, controlled by Noble Johnston and GW Lushington. Within four years he had become Irish champion jockey, heading the list three years in succession. His fame spread back to his native land when he rode Ambush II to win the 1900 Grand National for Edward, Prince of Wales. On turning to training at Westenra, Curragh, Algy completed a rare double when revisiting Aintree to win the 1920 Grand National with Troytown. His tombstone stands in the grounds of Kildare Cathedral.

Algy Anthony’s hopes of celebrating the end of the nineteenth century by completing a Grand National and Irish Derby double were dashed when Graham Wildman Lushington declared his intention to ride Gallinaria in the Irish classic. He thus became the second and last amateur to ride an Irish Derby winner. Yet another Irish Derby winner sired by Gallinule, Gallinaria was bred by Captain Eustace Loder and trained in his Eyrefield Lodge establishment by ‘Eyrefield Dan’ McNally, supervised by Lushington and Noble Johnston.