Despite the murder and mayhem that characterised the War of Independence, inching to its exhausted conclusion, racing continued largely uninterrupted, a huge crowd braving the rail shortages to attend the 1921 Irish Derby. Jim Parkinson’s confidence in Belsize, unbeaten as a two-year-old but unraced at three, saw Patrick W Shaw’s colt sent off favourite, narrowly preferred to Soldennis, winner of the inaugural Irish 2000 Guineas. In the event neither saw out the stiff Curragh twelve furlongs, leaving the way open for the quirky but talented Ballyheron to triumph in the hands of Mornington Wing.
Bred and raced by Turf Club senior steward Colonel Richard Butler Charteris (1866-1961), Cahir Park, County Tipperary, Ballyheron failed to win again over two seasons, eventually making amends as a successful sire in Poland. Nevertheless, the merit of his Irish Derby success was repeatedly underlined by the subsequent success of Kircubbin and Soldennis. The former won the Irish St Leger, prior to proving himself both as a racehorse and sire in France. Soldennis went on to win a total of twenty-four races, his winnings £13,046 constituting an Irish record. Coincidentally, in 1930 Soldennis became champion sire in Ireland, as did Kircubbin in France.
Just as Ballyheron became trainer Joe Hunter’s second and final Irish Derby winner, so did he mark Morny Wing’s first of six such victories in a total of twenty-three Irish classics as a rider. Outright Irish champion jockey nine times, this stocky, unsmiling Doncaster native headed the list of flat jockeys on fifteen occasions. Unlike his most formidable rivals, Tommy ‘Scotchman’ Burns and Joe Canty, Morny Wing (1897-1965) confined his activities exclusively to flat racing. An interesting sidelight on Ballyheron’s Irish Derby arose some years later when the Revenue Commissioners took Morny Wing to the High Court, claiming that his £400 winning present for Colonel Charteris was liable to tax. A majority verdict ruled that it was not.
The momentous treaty negotiations that led to the formation of the Irish Provisional Government followed by a General Election saw the Irish Free State move inexorably towards civil war. However, as so often in Ireland, differences were briefly set aside in the search for the winner of the 1922 Irish Derby. To the majority present there did not appear to be too far to look. The only doubt surrounding Spike Island, winner of the Irish 2000 Guineas, concerned his stamina. Of the home-trained contingent, the unbeaten King David, bidding to give Joe Hunter and Morny Wing a follow-up to Ballyheron, represented the best chance of keeping Ireland’s richest racing prize at home.
George Archibald (1890-1927), American-born rider of Spike Island, reported that he had proved himself the only true stayer in the field when beating O’Dorney by a length and a half. Named after the military outpost in Cork harbour still in British control, Spike Island was owned and bred by Giles Loder. By Spearmint, Spike Island was out of Molly Desmond, the most successful of Pretty Polly’s progeny, both on the racecourse and at stud. Unfortunately, troublesome forelegs – a characteristic of Spearmint’s get – prevented Spike Island running again. Sold to the Argentine for £4,000, Spike Island eventually made his way to Italy, where he became a leading sire.
Fifteen, the largest field in the history of the Irish Derby, faced the starter in 1923, with Soldumeno favourite to keep the prize at home. However, what was to become almost an export-only event fell now to Newmarket raider Waygood. Having sired the Epsom winner Papyrus, Tracery thus became the first stallion to beget the winners of both Derbies in the same year. Trained by former dual-purpose jockey William Halsey (1867-1961) and ridden by Morny Wing, Waygood was bred and raced by wealthy London stockbroker Walter Raphael (1862-1938). Raphael had previously enjoyed classic success with Tagalie, heroine of the 1000 Guineas and Derby in 1912.
From 770 races run in Ireland in 1921, worth £145,151, the fixture list had swollen in two years to a record 980 races for total stakes of £128,312. While many agreed that Ireland was suffering a surfeit of racing, those in charge seemed reluctant to take remedial action. Worse, the downturn in the home economy had led owners to insist on reduced training fees. This in turn led to Curragh trainers reducing wages, resulting in a stable lads strike, eventually resolved in the trainers’ favour.
The composition of the field for the 1924 Irish Derby reflected the state of affairs; three home-trained hopefuls faced an English quartet that included the first three in the market, headed by Haine. Nevertheless, the race itself produced a thrilling finish in which the judge was unable to separate Haine and Zodiac; the first dead heat in 59 runnings of the Irish Derby. Zodiac, Spike Island’s half-brother, returned to Ireland to win the Irish St Leger for the same connections. Exported to Uruguay in 1927, Zodiac became champion sire there.
From its inception in 1866 up to 1916 the Irish Derby had fallen to English-trained raiders on ten occasions. Its ever-rising profile had seen Ireland’s premier flat race carried off by English raiders on five of its seven subsequent renewals, including 1924, the first Irish Derby dead heat, in which both protagonists – Haine and Zodiac – were trained across the Irish Sea. The 1925 renewal drew a field of eight, evenly divided between home-trained defenders and overseas raiders. In a gesture of support to the home side both the Governor-General, Tim Healy, and the Free State President, WT Cosgrave, attended on a welcome summer’s day after what had come to feel like endless winter.
The quality of the raiding party was ominously apparent. Zionist had finished second to Manna in the Derby itself. Sparus, down the field in the Derby, had since divided Solario and Manna in the Ascot Derby. Warminster had beaten Zionist by a neck at Ascot, albeit in receipt of 12lb. The home team was headed by St Donagh, successful in the Irish 2000 Guineas in bottomless going. In the event Warminster set out to make all, only to be caught and beaten in the final two furlongs by Zionist.
Although owned by HH the Aga Khan III, for whom he became the first of five Irish Derby winners, Zionist was to all intents and purposes an Irish winner. Bred by Captain Charles Moore of Mooresfort, Tipperary, Zionist was trained by Irishman RC ‘Dick’ Dawson in Whatcombe, Berkshire, and ridden by his compatriot HH ‘Harry’ Beasley. Retired to stud in France, Zionist failed to make his mark in that sphere.
The negative effects of the Betting Tax and Entertainment Tax on the Irish racing scene in 1926 resulted in a diminished home-trained opposition to no fewer than six English raiders, headed by Embargo, winner of the Irish 2000 Guineas and subsequently second in the Royal Hunt Cup at Ascot. Ridden by Steve Donoghue, Embargo justified favouritism with a half length to spare over Silver Lark. His success meant that HH the Maharajah of Rajpipla had won the Irish Derby at his first attempt, a feat he was to emulate when Windsor Lad won the 1934 Derby. Having gone on to prove himself in the highest class, Embargo was purchased by JJ Parkinson and stood at his First Flier Stud close by the Curragh, proving himself as a dual-purpose sire.
A further quartet from across the Irish Sea in 1927 faced only two home-trained defenders. Chantrey, runaway winner of the Prince of Wales Stakes at Ascot, was sent off odds-on, only to be foiled by a neck by compatriot Knight of the Grail, with local hope Archway a head further back in third. Chantrey went on to gain compensation in the Welsh Derby at Chepstow, only to die before the year was out.
Winning owner Sir Henry John ‘Jock’ Delves Broughton was to break himself in underwriting the short-lived Bournemouth racecourse. Emigrating to Kenya, he was tried for the murder of Josslyn Hay, 22nd earl of Erroll, his wife’s lover. His unexpected acquittal brought this telegram from his friend Lord Carnarvon of Highclere. ‘Hearty congratulations. Understand you won a neck cleverly. Regards. Porchy.’ On his return to England, as a consequence of riding injuries in Kenya, ‘Jock’ Delves Broughton died by his own hand in the Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool, in December 1942, aged fifty-nine. No one was ever convicted of Erroll’s murder, an enigma that was to spawn numerous books and a film.
Tilshead, Wiltshire trainer Ronald James Farquharson, from an ancient Dorset hunting family, rode his first winner in Colombo in 1877. The winning owner gave him a gold chain, which he was to wear as a talisman for the rest of his days. Returning to Britain in 1906 with a brace of proven New Zealand-breds, Ronald Farquharson made the best of any horses entrusted to his care, eventually retiring in 1933, aged seventy-eight.
Clonmel-born Michael Beary had headed the jockeys’ list in Ireland in 1920, on his way to becoming one of the best and consistently successful riders in a vintage era for jockeyship in Britain. However, success brought no financial stability, obliging Michael Beary to ride on until almost sixty. He eventually retired in 1955, dying a year later.
The raiding quintet in 1928 was headed by O’Curry, a ‘half-bred’ son of Dan Sullivan’s inaugural Irish St Leger winner La Poloma. In the event the prize went to another raider, the grey Baytown had a neck to spare over home hope Wavetop in a thrilling finish. Previously successful in the Irish 2000 Guineas, Baytown failed by a length to concede 6lb to Law Suit in the Irish St Leger.
Bred by Charles T Wallis at his Vesington Stud in County Meath, Baytown carried the colours of Birmingham newspaper proprietor Sir Charles Hyde, knighted in 1922 for his contributions to medical and educational institutions. In his twenty years on the Turf Sir Charles had only one trainer. That was Whitsbury-based Norman C Scobie, son of leading Australian trainer James Scobie, four times successful in the Melbourne Cup. Winning rider Freddie Fox went on to defeat Gordon Richards by one for the 1930 British jockeys’ title. His outstanding mount was Bahram, unbeaten Triple Crown hero of 1935.
MP Byrne, the first man to broadcast an Irish Derby on radio in 1929, had an easy task. Kopi, a faller at Epsom, gained compensation with an all-the-way five-length success over Star Eagle, odds-on to do so. Owned by diamond millionaire Solomon Barnato Joel and trained by Walter Earl (1890-1950) in Newmarket, Kopi was ridden by Fred Winter (1894-1965), father of the multiple NH champion jockey and trainer of the same name. Bred by Giles Loder in Eyrefield Stud, from the Pretty Polly family, Kopi had been culled as a yearling. Loder’s misfortune became Solly Joel’s good luck when handing out £3,000 for the then unraced two-year-old. Subsequently retired to stud in France, Kopi failed to leave any mark on the breed.
The English monopoly of the Irish Derby extended to an unbroken sequence of nine when Rock Star proved best of the six raiders in 1930. A third such success for Morny Wing, Rock Star was trained in South Hatch, Epsom by Walter Nightingall (1895-1968) for Colonel Sir Matthew Wilson DSO (1875-1958). Rock Star raced on for a further six seasons, the last of his five wins coming at Bath in July 1936. This was the first Irish Derby on which punters could choose between taking bookmakers’ prices or taking their chances on the Totalisator, introduced at the annual Fairyhouse fixture on Easter Monday.