I always used to think that the most sensational Derby in history must have been that of 1844, when the colt who finished first, known as Running Rein, was disqualified after it was established he was a four-year-old ringer. But that was before I researched the circumstances of the only other time when the winner was disqualified, a race whose centenary falls this year.
That race has gone down in history as a landmark event for the fact that it was the one in which the militant suffragette Emily Davison lost her life, fatally injured under the hooves of Anmer. And, along with the history, there has been some mythology.
Miss Davison did not, as is often stated, throw herself under the King’s horse. She walked out onto the course at Tattenham Corner, believing all the runners had already passed, and her intention was to unfurl the banner wrapped around her waist which carried a legend demanding votes for women, then to hold it aloft as she strode purposefully towards the stands and inevitable arrest.
Craganour’s owner Bower Ismay was a cad and a bounder, a hedonist pure and simple
She had no idea there were stragglers far behind the rest of the field, and could not in any case have guessed the royal runner would be one of them. She would not have known which horse was bounding in her direction when she belatedly heard the hoofbeats and turned in a vain effort to divert its course.
Still, however that incident was portrayed, it was the one for which the race became remembered. If the public prints of the day after 1913’s Derby had been anything like the tabloids of our own era they would have played down what was obviously just another suffragette stunt – the victim survived until the following Sunday, so was not immediately a martyr to her cause – and concentrated on the real reason why that Derby rivalled, if not surpassed, the 1844 event in infamy.
Some insiders undoubtedly knew why 6-4 favourite Craganour had been stripped of his victory and 100-1 shot Aboyeur promoted to first place. But nobody was prepared to expose the scandal, and a century has gone by with successive generations accepting that Craganour’s number came down for bumping and boring his rival.
It was certainly a rough race, run on hard ground, and there is no doubt that there was contact between Craganour and Aboyeur but, as most people saw it, it was simply a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other. There was a head between them at the finish and Edwin Piper, rider of Aboyeur, had no thoughts of lodging an objection.
But if Craganour had won in the style of a Troy or a Shergar, he would probably still have been disqualified. The reason was that there was one man determined Craganour would not win, and he was the one man capable of ensuring he didn’t. That man was Eustace Loder, who had actually bred the colt.
If it seems strange he would want to forgo the kudos of having bred a Derby winner, it is less so given the colt was owned by the man he hated most in all the world.
Loder, an Old Etonian from a patrician family, brought up with Victorian values, was as solid and upright a citizen as might be imagined. He commanded huge respect both as a career soldier – major in the 12th Lancers, which regiment represented his most abiding passion – and as a sportsman, in which field he was famed as the owner-breeder of triple Classic heroine Pretty Polly and owner of Derby winner Spearmint, a colt he had bought as a yearling.
But Loder’s mind had been turned, and the man responsible for that was Bower Ismay, son of the founder of the White Star Line, the company that built and operated the ill-fated Titanic. Ismay, coming from ‘trade’ but Harrow-educated – for some time as a classmate of Winston Churchill – was a cad and a bounder, a hedonist pure and simple. Those flaws alone did not mark him down as the devil incarnate in Eustace Loder’s eyes, but that is what he became when he embarked on an affair with Nellie, the wife of Sydney Loder, Eustace’s beloved twin brother.
Both Loders were shy and reserved, but while Eustace, a bachelor, had 15 years in the army in which to express his manly qualities, Sydney was excessively diffident and, not to put too fine a point on it, clearly asexual.
What he was trying to prove by marrying Nellie, whose father was a well-known horse-coper with a flourishing livery business in Northamptonshire, is hard to imagine. And while marrying Sydney clearly meant a rise up the social scale for Nellie, it did not mean much else. So when the dashing Ismay came on the scene, offering the kind of excitement that her husband could never supply, it was hardly surprising that Nellie fell for his charms.
Whether Sydney ever cared about being cuckolded, who knows? But it soon became common knowledge in society circles, and when Eustace got to hear about it he was enraged over the Loder family’s honour being so openly besmirched. Ismay never had reason to hate Eustace Loder, but he probably did regard him as a rather pompous fellow who stood a little too much on his dignity and needed cutting down to size.
And that was where Ismay compounded his felony, taunting and provoking Loder by buying horses he had bred and seeking to make a fool of him by winning major races with them. Ismay had had a few without realising his objective when he became the third-hand owner of Craganour, whom Loder had sold as a foal; the colt became Ismay’s property as a 3,200gns yearling and in 1912 he was clearly the best juvenile, winning five of six races, including the Champagne and Middle Park Stakes. His owner naturally anticipated Classic wins to come, relishing the prospect of rubbing Loder’s nose in it.
On 2,000 Guineas day Ismay appeared to have achieved his goal. But while just about everyone in the stand reckoned that Craganour had won the Classic, the judge decreed otherwise. The Rowley Mile course then was twice as wide as now, with 3-1 favourite Craganour and 25-1 shot Louvois separated by its full width. In such circumstances the official might have been excused an error, which most assumed it to have been when he gave the verdict to Louvois by a head. But there was still the Derby to come, and after he had won the Newmarket Stakes with Louvois a well-beaten third, the public could not see beyond Craganour as its hero. Judge Robinson could not be seen to miss the winner this time, when so many cameras would be focused on the finish, and he duly got that right, though he did miss the third, an error that was never corrected.
But Craganour’s triumph was short-lived. An announcement was made to the effect that the stewards had objected to the winner, and from that moment Ismay must have realised his fate. For the man presiding over the inquiry was Eustace Loder, and he was effectively judge and jury in the proceedings. There was no way Loder was ever going to allow the result to stand.
It seems probable this was the only dishonourable act that could ever be laid at Loder’s door. In his determination to thwart his implacable enemy, he had robbed countless thousands of favourite backers, and his conscience would never be clear for the rest of his life. In fact, he was not spared long to rue his unforgivable action, for within 14 months he was dead at the age of 47, having suffered the fearful agonies of Bright’s Disease.
Ismay took the verdict philosophically, with the £30,000 which he accepted from Argentina for Craganour as some consolation. And when war was declared in 1914 the former ne’er-do-well exhibited a formerly unsuspected honourable trait.
It could not have been sheer coincidence that the regiment to which he applied successfully for a commission was the 12th Lancers.