1911 – 1920

Short Grass became the market choice to run out an appropriate winner of the 1911 Irish Derby;’ ‘the short grass’ being a common pseudonym for the headquarters of Irish racing. However, this was destined to become the ‘small man’s Irish Derby’, won by Shanballymore, a second success in a row for rider John Doyle, who purchased Rossmore Lodge for £1,300 in December of that year.

More significantly, Shanballymore became a rare Irish Derby winner trained other than on the Curragh or in England since the race began in 1866. Unlike those Irish Derby winners to have emerged from the Blake’s Martborough Heath establishment and Orby from Glencairn, Shanballymore came up from John O’Dwyer’s small stable at The Commons, Cashel, Tipperary.

As for his pedigree – Shanballymore was by Popoff, given away as a yearling owing to his dropped hip, sold to a short-sighted farmer for £25, raffled for sixpenny tickets, played for in a card game as a 30/- stake and exchanged for a barrel of porter. Calyce, an ugly, useless mare, cost Cappawhite farmer John Kelly £6. Safely, as he thought, Tipperary bookmaker Bryan O’Donnell had offered John Kelly 100-to-1 against his ugly duckling winning the Irish Derby two years hence. Kelly’s courageous wager was to see him refuse good offers for his colt at the day of reckoning drew ever nearer. Not one to push his luck, John Kelly sold Shanballymore after he won a match for a King’s Plate on his next appearance.

Stock Exchange highflier Graham A Prentice, owner of Short Grass, the beaten favourite twelve months previously, confidently backed his recent purchase Gael Rhu to make amends in 1912. His wagers – £1,400 to win £800 and £1,000 to win £500 – ensured Joe Hunter’s charge going off odds-onto beat just four rivals. Fred Hunter’s mount did get closer than Short Grass had done, but still had to give best to Civility, a first mount in Ireland for American ace and English champion Danny Maher.

Owned and bred by ebullient bookmaker John Reese, who named his colt to reflect his own racecourse nickname – ‘Civility Reese’ – the bay colt provided Limerick native Bartholemew ‘Batt’ Kirby with a memorable success in his first season as a public trainer in Curragh View. Civility thus refreshed Curragh View’s distinguished Irish Derby record, initiated by Thomas Connolly with Billy Pitt (1870), Ben Battle (1874) and Soulouque (1879) and continued by Rice Meredith with Kentish Fire (1890).

Civility went wrong after what had been his finest hour. ‘Batt’ Kirby was soon obliged to return to his Knocklong, County Limerick, home. John Reese suffered increasing ill-health, necessitating prolonged foreign travels. Danny Maher, worthy forerunner of Steve Cauthen as gifted American champion jockeys to shine in Britain, fell prey to tuberculosis, brought on by excessive wasting. He died in his native America in November 1916, aged only thirty-five.

A dramatic increase in prize money for the 1913 Irish Derby – up from £620 to £1,165 – ensured renewal of English interest. Bachelor’s Wedding, a £4,000 purchase by Sir William Nelson in March had been transferred from Michael Dawson to HS ‘Atty’ Persse in Stockbridge. His English classic exploits ensured Steve Donoghue’s mount starting 6/4 favourite to defeat seven rivals, headed by Charles J Blake’s Count Anthony. Favourite backers had little cause for concern, Bachelor’s Wedding comfortably holding off the late challenge of Arizona, with Count Anthony taking third ahead of John Kelly’s Chadville, a full-brother to his 1911 winner Shanballymore.

Bred and raced as a two-year-old by Joseph Lowry, Bachelor’s Hope was the third high-class produce of repeated matings between Lowry’s resident stallion Tredennis and the unraced twin Lady Bawn. Bachelor’s Double had won the 1909 Irish Derby en route to City and Suburban, Royal Hunt Cup and Jubilee handicaps. Bachelor’s Hope had also won the Jubilee Handicap. While this Irish Derby might have been Bachelor’s Wedding’s finest hour in these islands, he went on to win India’s Viceroy’s Cup in 1914 and again in 1917.

Henry Seymour ‘Atty’ Persse, a member of the long-established Galway distilling family, had enjoyed a distinguished career as an amateur rider before moving to England to train. 1913 was the year that brought him lasting renown through the exploits of his most famous charge – The Tetrarch. ‘Atty’ Persse continued to target Irish classics, amassing seven such between Bachelor’s Wedding in 1913 and Conversation Piece in 1938.

For all that his colours were ‘White, red, white & blue sash, red cap,’ Sir William Nelson was in fact Irish by birth. His fortune was founded on meat and shipping – the Nelson Line. It was largely due to his intercession that the drastic curtailment of racing in Britain during World War One was not extended to Ireland. His wife, Margaret Lady Nelson, became the first woman to win the Grand National in her own name when successful with Ally Sloper in 1915.

A further boost to the Irish Derby prize money – now £2,040 to the winner – determined ‘Atty’ Persse to target it again, this time with Land of Song, a high-class two-year-old that had more recently finished fourth in the 2000 Guineas. The home team was headed by King’s Common, from JJ Parkinson’s in-form Maddenstown Lodge stable, responsible for five of the six winners on the previous day. Sent off odds-on by the vast attendance, King’s Common narrowly failed, beaten a head in race record time by Land of Song, a second consecutive success for Persse and stable jockey Steve Donoghue.

Bred in County Tipperary by Major Frank Wise, a nephew of John Gubbins, Land of Song carried the colours of Edward Temple Patterson, for whom this win provided a timely tonic following a major operation. Subsequently purchased by Messrs Robinson and Clark for £4,000, Land of Song was exported to Australia. Good colt as he was, Land of Song had been tried with The Tetrarch prior to his Guineas bid. Set to receive 28lb from the grey flier, Land of Song had been beaten out of sight.

Neither owner nor breeder lived long to savour this success. ET Patterson died in London in July 1915 and Frank Wise in 1917. The former’s daughter, Vera Maud, married the Hon EBS ‘Barry’ Bingham, awarded the Victoria Cross for his role in the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

Safely distanced from the carnage on European battlefields, the 1915 Irish Derby attracted four English raiders, headed by Achtoi, winner of the Dee Stakes at Chester and then fourth to Pommern in the New Derby at Newmarket. The home team was headed by Ballaghtobin, beaten only once in seven starts. Such had been the colt’s home reputation as a juvenile Lord Decies had given owners Colonel Chaloner Knox and GW Lushington £4,000 for a half-share following Ballaghtobin’s spectacular winning debut at the Phoenix Park. That transaction had taken place soon after Decies’ marriage to Helen Vivienne, daughter of American billionaire George Jay Gould.

Not for the first time the outcome of the Irish Derby was influenced by misfortune, this time the spectacular fall St Cuimin, all but bringing down Carnwherry and badly hampering Achtoi. As the latter recovered to run Ballaghtobin to a neck, the favourite had to be counted unlucky.

Joe Hunter, previously credited with training Ambush II to win the 1900 Grand National for Edward, Prince of Wales, held the licence in Conyngham Lodge, under the aegis of ‘Tommy’ Lushington. Joe Hunter headed the Irish trainers’ table in 1915, when completing an Irish classic double with Latharna, again in 1920, when taking the Irish St Leger with Kirk-Alloway and finally in 1921, when sending out sent out a second Irish Derby winner, Ballyheron. Winning rider William ‘Billy’ Barrett was one of three jockey brothers from the west of Ireland, the others being Michael and Anthony. He headed the list of professionals in Ireland in 1914. Increasing weight problems obliged him to retire in 1922. Fully a decade later trainer Hubert Hartigan persuaded Billy Barrett to spend the winter breaking yearlings for him. The weight melted off. Hartigan persuaded him to take out his licence once again, whereupon Billy Barrett showed he had lost none of his dash or finesse until finally hanging up his boots at the end of World War Two. His son Jack rode successfully both in Ireland and the north of England.

The 1916 Easter Rising might have led to the suspension of racing until early June, but did not deter three English raiders, among them Furore, sent off favourite to win the richest Irish Derby decided to date. Outpaced until turning for home, Furore wore down compatriot King Robert to finish three lengths to the good. Bred in Ireland by Captain Henry Greer, Furore provided beginner’s luck to Virginian tobacco planter and manufacturer of “Recruit” cigarettes, Mr H Ellis. The day after his Irish Derby triumph Mr Ellis bought Furore’s foal half-brother. Duly named Furious, he won the 1920 Lincolnshire Handicap.

Winning trainer Charles Victor Tabor, son of an Essex farmer, had come into racing as an amateur rider, commencing training in 1907. Furore became the first of his three Cesarewitch winners in 1917, followed by Arctic Star in 1928 and Punch in 1937. He relinquished his licence in 1946, dying five years later aged seventy-seven. Herbert Robbins (1877-1927) had experienced fluctuating fortunes until joining Victor Tabor’s Epsom stable in 1911, his 55 winners in 1912 seeing him placed seventh in the jockeys’ table. Described as a grave and reserved individual, his austere mien apparently concealed a strong vein of tenderness and sentimentality.

Sir William Nelson’s efforts had enabled Irish racing to escape its virtual moratorium across the Irish Sea, even if the English-trained quintet comprised half the field for the 1917 Irish Derby. Khaki was the height of fashion in the attendance that gazed in disbelief at an incongruous crop of oats waving amidst the time-honoured Curragh gallops across from the stands. The market was headed by dual Newmarket winner Argosy, narrowly preferred to compatriot Kingston Black. First Flier was best fancied of the home team to keep what was by far the most valuable prize of the Irish racing year at home.

Kingston Black’s reputation rested much more on reports of Newmarket gallops than racecourse performance, as became horribly apparent when he refused to jump off with his field. His defection eased First Flier’s task in seeing off Argosy’s challenge to win by an extending five lengths in the hands of Billy Barrett.

The reception accorded to the winner on his return was principally directed at his owner-trainer, who had thus rectified a glaring omission in his curriculum vitae. A qualified veterinary surgeon and former amateur rider, James J Parkinson (1870-1946) had hit the headlines in 1901 when turning out more winners than any other of his profession. By 1917 he had headed that category seven times, in addition to becoming champion trainer in stakes won on four occasions. In 1915 his talented amateur son, My WJ ‘Billy’ Parkinson, had headed the combined Irish riders’ list with 72 winners, an amateurs’ record only bettered by Patrick Mullins almost one hundred years later.

First Flier, carrying his trainer’s ‘White, red spots and cap,’ had been one of four yearlings that Jim Parkinson had bought from breeder John Musker’s draft at the Newmarket July sales in 1915, giving just 155 guineas for the quartet. By the middle of the 1917 season they had won £3,549 between them. Resold in 1918, First Flier was exported to India where he won the Viceroy’s Cup in 1919.

The first Irish Derby to offer a winner’s purse of over £3,000 attracted seven starters, three from across the Irish Sea. Outstanding on form having finished fourth to Gainsborough in the New Derby, King John went off long odds-on to claim the prize for Peter Purcell Gilpin’s Clarehaven stable in Newmarket. This he duly did – to the tune of eight lengths – in the hands of HH ‘Harry’ Beasley, son of the legendary ‘Old Harry’ and champion jockey in Ireland in 1918. Homebred at nearby Eyrefield Lodge by Giles Loder, King John was by Roi Herode out of Miranda, a full-sister to the fabulous Pretty Polly. Subsequently dogged by rheumatism, King John won the 1919 Manchester November Handicap, subsequently exported to New Zealand in 1921.

The return of British racing to something normal in 1919 did nothing to diminish English interest in what was nonetheless a valuable prize. At £3,350 to the winner the Irish Derby offered a tempting consolation prize to Epsom also-rans for £6,450. The Panther was a primary case in point. Favourite for the Derby on its return to Epsom on the strength of his 2000 Guineas success, The Panther had disgraced himself when favourite for the Derby won by Grand Parade. Ridden now by Steve Donoghue, The Panther was once again made favourite to redeem his reputation.

Sadly for favourite backers, not even Steve Donoghue’s magic could persuade The Panther to perform, leaving the blinkered Loch Lomond to come home six lengths clear in the hands of future Irish champion jockey Martin Quirke, giving Jim Parkinson his second Irish Derby victory and enabling Elizabeth Mary Cowhy to become the first of her sex to have her colours on an Irish Derby winner. Having broken down on his reappearance Loch Lomond was retired to stud, where he made his name as a sire of stayers and jumpers.

The building of a new grandstand on the Curragh, deferred for the duration of the war, had finally commenced, though still incomplete when eight lined out for the 1920 Irish Derby. Michael Dawson’s charge, Wily Attorney, ridden by his son-in-law Joe Canty, was marginally preferred in the betting to Newmarket raider He Goes, tenth in Spion Kop’s record-breaking Derby.

After a robust final furlong He Goes got home by a length from Wily Attorney, with Prince Herod half a length back in third. The widely anticipated stewards’ enquiry was not forthcoming. Despite objections from both Joe Canty and Steve Donoghue on Prince Herod the stewards decided – predictably in the circumstances – that the result should stand. He Goes accomplished little thereafter, either on the racecourse or at stud, where he became the maternal grandsire of 1951 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Silver Fame.

The winner was bred and raced by Yorkshire brewer Captain Henry Whitworth (1871-1930), whose long association with Ireland had been fostered by Lucan breeder Ernest Bellaney. Harry Whitworth became joint Master of the Galway Blazers (1902-1903), moving on to the Westmeaths for five years and then returning to God’s own county to take over the York and Ainsty. Equally adept at polo and point-to-pointing, Harry Whitworth was one of the very earliest advocates of regular weighing of horses as a guide to assessing their response to feeding and exercise regimes.

Joseph Butters (1847-1933) dapper master of Kremlin House, Newmarket, had been leading jockey in Austria, where he began training, returning to England in 1903 to train for Prince Soltykoff. By the time he retired in 1926 Joe Butters had seen his sons Frank and Fred established as successful trainers in their own right.

Winning rider Frederick George Templeman (1890-1973) bore one of the oldest names in British jockeys’ annals. Sim Templeman, his grandfather, had ridden Cossack and Surplice to consecutive Derby victories in the 1840s. Fred emulated his ancestor when successful on Grand Parade in 1919 and retired at the end of the following season. Equally successful as a trainer in Lambourn, where he also farmed extensively, Fred Templeman sent out Diolite and Lambert Simnel to win the 2000 Guineas and Chatelaine to win the Oaks in a second career that ended with his retirement in 1956.