1913 Epsom Derby: Tragedy, Scandal, 100/1 odds and the Titanic
I recently borrowed a few equestrian items from a friend of mine for a photoshoot. Two of those items were trinket boxes, made from actual horse hooves (pictured below). It wasn’t until after the shoot that I noticed an inscription on the top of one of the hoof lids:
I was intrigued, so I googled ‘Pawky’ and ‘Aboyeur’ and was astonished at what I discovered. It was no ordinary Derby that Aboyeur had won, but the infamous 1913 Epsom Derby in Britain.
The 1913 Derby had all the makings of a top grossing film with themes of tragedy, scandal, winning against all odds, British royalty and the Titanic thrown in for good measure.
I am no horse racing expert, but this is what I have pieced together of the plot twisting race…
Everyone in Britain was declaring it to be Craganour’s race with convincing 6-4 odds of winning. Owned by Charles Bower Ismay, Craganour had experienced a solid lead up to the Derby having only lost one race to Louvois. Craganour’s trainer felt that jockey Billy Saxby had taken the race he lost, too easy. A few weeks before the Epsom Derby, Ismay ditched jockey Billy Saxby in favour of an American jockey who was making waves on the European racing scene. Saxby was left to ride Louvois in the Derby who had less impressive 10-1 odds of winning.
Other horses of note in the field were King George V’s horse ‘Anmer’ and a British rank outsider called ‘Aboyeur’ with 100-1 odds of winning. Aboyeur was bred in Britain by my friend’s Grandfather who sold him as a foal.
Athough Ismay’s horse was the favourite to win, apparently Ismay was anything but favoured within racing circles and the general public. His father, “Charles Henry Ismay was the founder of the White Star Line whose “unsinkable” liner the RMS Titanic had come to catastrophic maiden voyage some 14months earlier.
The loss of 1500 lives had not endeared the Ismay family to the public but to make matters worse, Charles Bower Ismay’s older brother Bruce, Chairman of White Star Line was aboard the fateful sailing of the Titanic and took a seat in one of the life boats leaving other passengers to perish in the icy waters” Sean Magee. There is a scene in the blockbuster movie ‘Titanic’ that shows Bruce Ismay sheepishly taking a seat in a life boat.
Amongst the crowds who gathered to watch Britain’s richest horse race was Emily Davison, a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and staunch suffragette advocating for the right of women to vote in public elections. Ordinarily there wouldn’t be any reason to single her out in the crowd of hundreds of thousands of spectators, but she would later go down in history with an intrinsic link to this infamous race.
At 3pm the race got underway and as the horses flew along near Tattenham Corner Emily Davison ducked under the rail and walked out onto the course into the line of oncoming horses. The first group of horses avoided her but the second group came upon her too quickly and she was struck down by none other than the King’s horse Anmer, who too was brought to the ground sending his jockey flying.
Emily was knocked unconscious suffering a cracked skull (the King’s horse galloped off and the jockey was fine). It has been said that there was no way she could have possibly singled out the King’s horse but as fate had it, she did. In shock and disbelief at what they had just witnessed, people spilled out onto the racecourse to come to her aid.
Meantime, the race was heating up to boiling point with a group of four horses very closely vying for the win. Leading the group was the unlikely Aboyeur and race favourite Craganour neck and neck, brutally jostling and barging each other all the way to the winners post.
It was Craganour that crossed the line first, winning the famous race by a head. Aboyeur in second place and Louvois ridden by Billy Saxby a neck behind in third. Ismay proudly led Craganour to the winners circle and was declared the winner-all-right, the result was official. Bookies were busy paying out on the win UNTIL, moments later, an unlikely announcement was made that Craganour had been disqualified and Aboyeur had in fact won the Derby!
Whaaaat! Can you imagine the confusion?
In a stunning twist, it turns out that the three race stewards, one of which being Major Eustace Loder (who bred the winning horse Craganour and had all the glory to gain from that), had lodged a dispute against Craganour, claiming he caused interference with Aboyeur. In yet another scandalous twist, I read that Major Eustace Loder, a former soldier who was well-respected with strong Victorian values, “had contempt for Ismay for having an affair with his twin brother’s wife Nellie” Senan Molony.
Witnesses were called to the judicial committee, one of which was jockey Billy Saxby, who didn’t like the cocky American jockey who had taken his ride on Craganour. Saxby also had something to gain if Craganour was disqualified as Louvois would move up to second place. In any case, the decision was reached to disqualify Craganour.
The dramatic saga ended in tragedy four days later with Emily Davison passing away in hospital from her injuries. Some say she died a martyr for the cause, others say she was simply walking onto the course to raise the two Suffragette flags which were tied around her waist - to bring attention to the cause. We will never know.
And so it is, that the hooves pictured below (placed on top of 24ct gold and chrome plated Horseshoe Mementoes) are that of PAWKY the Dam of Aboyeur and Horseshoe Mementoes’ link to the infamous 1913 Epsom Derby.
It seems unbelievable that 115 years later, on the eve of the 2018 Epsom Derby Aboyeur’s Dam’s hoof was in my home in New Zealand, featuring in a photo shoot for Horseshoe Mementoes.
Further Interesting Facts:
- Aboyeur was sold to Russia after the Derby and disappeared during the Russian Revolution never to be heard of again.
- Craganour was sold to Argentina just five days after the Derby on the proviso that he was never to race again, and went on to produce some very strong bloodlines.
- Five years later in 1918, women were given the right to vote in the UK.
- Aboyeur’s winning jockey, Edwin Piper settled in Epsom and named his house “Aboyeur”
Go ahead, google the story for yourself. There is even film footage of the actual race that you can watch here.
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