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Ashgill; or, The life and times of John Osborne online

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doorkeeper was regarded with something of awe,
and the policeman on duty received homage as a useful
and meritorious public servant. He who was fortunate
enough to get a peep inside when the gate was opened
was envied; he who could point out the dignitaries in
the passage was generally supposed to be in a position



AND TIMES OF JOHN OSBORNE 203

to die happy. Within, the state of matters was for a
time similar to that which prevailed at the club, and
the only object of interest was a written protest of Sir
Joseph Hawley. It is evident that Sir Joseph Hawley
had been led into some extraordinary error, or been the
victim of a very discreditable hoax. The latter appears
the more probable theory. For it is almost impossible
to conceive that he would have taken such a step as to
protest against the payment of stakes, unless evidence
that was at least apparently conclusive had been pre-
sented to him."

Wells on " Pero " rode his second Leger winner,
the first being Saacebox for Mr. T. Parr; he had
also won up to this period three " Derbies " on
Beadsman, Blue Gown, and Musjid. Fordham had
ridden second in the Leger three times, viz., on Buck-
stone, Paul Jones, and Martyrdom. Of Mr. Merry it
was said that he had not a shilling on Pero Gomez until
when, disliking Pretender in the paddock, he took 300
to 100 about his colt. There was an on dit circulated
that Mr. Jardine gave John Osborne 1000 for winning
the Derby on Pretender. While on his way to Ascot
with the remainder of Tom Dawson's team, Pretender
had a narrow escape of being burned to death. At
Ketford the axle of the horse van became hot, and the
train was much delayed in consequence.

It does not serve our purpose to dwell upon the
interval between the decision of Pretender's Derby
and the St. Leger, beyond mentioning that the son
of Adventurer progressed in so satisfactory a manner
in his preparation for Doncaster that he became a
raging hot favourite. Evidently, from the foregoing
detailed and graphic report of the Derby, mainly
extracted in extenso from the Sporting Times, Pero



204



ASHGILL; OR, THE LIFE



Gomez had been disappointed in the struggle round
Tattenham Corner, and it would appear, even at this
distant date, that Pretender was somewhat lucky
to triumph at Epsom. On the flat, long, tiring course
at Doncaster, Pero Gomez completely reversed the
Derby running as between the pair, depriving the
Tupgill candidate of the coveted triple crown in most
decisive fashion. Osborne attributes the reversal of form
to the difference in the state of the going, for, whereas
the galloping was on the top of the ground at Epsom, it
was heavy at Doncaster. At all events, Pero Gomez
beat Pretender out of place, and established himself
in the severer ordeal over the Town Moor as a better
stayer than Adventurer's son.

The disgrace of Pretender, the success of Pero
Gomez, and the defeat of Martyrdom were the staple
topics of conversation after the Leger. The Tupgill
people to a man appeared to be utterly confounded and
totally unable to explain in any way the wretched
running of their idol.

John Fobert, with whose name that of The Flying
Dutchman and many good horses is identified, died 29th
May, 1869, being succeeded at Spigot Lodge by Arthur
Briggs. It was reported at the time that Fobert died
worth 35,000 and left no will, hence the whole of his
property went to his brother, with whom he had
not been on speaking terms for years. There is grave
reason to doubt that Fobert died a wealthy man.

The opening of the year '69 was also marked by the
death at Nenagh, Ireland, of Johnny O'Brien, one of
the most extraordinary adventurers that ever figured on
the Turf. The son of a laundress at Leeds, his effrontery
and speculation on the Turf were so successful that he



AND TIMES OF JOHN OSBORNE 205

ultimately became the owner of an extensive stud of
horses. At the outset of his career he employed Tom
Dawson as trainer. In 1846 he won the Goodwood
Stakes with Jonathan Wild and the Goodwood Cup with
Grimston, being accredited with winning 50,000 over
the double event. Amongst other good animals he
owned were The Traverser, The Liberator, and Erin-go-
Bragh. Launching out as a man of fashion, he cut a
great figure for a time, but his conduct to one of the
members of the Cinque Ports led to his being ostracised
from the racing world. Misfortune overtook him at
last with his speculations ; he lost his wealth as rapidly
as he gained it, eventually sinking into mendicancy.
Indeed, he died in such straitened circumstances that
a subscription was raised in Nenagh to defray the
expenses of his funeral.

Still another noteworthy event occurred this year
of '69. The glances of a fair lady made an inroad into
John Osborne's affections; and he determined to go
through the world thereafter in double harness. He
wooed, won, and wedded Miss Bradford, of Westbourne
Park, London, the union having been ever since of the
happiest character.

Bidding farewell to Pretender and John's connection
with him as a jockey, here follows his own curt
description of the two races:

" There was nothing extraordinary happened
in the Two Thousand. Belladrum made most of
the running, and I won cleverly."

In describing Pretender's Derby triumph he
"extended" himself a little more, stating

" Well, I had a nice place round Tattenham
Corner, where, from all accounts, Pero Gomez



206 ASHGILL; OR, THE LIFE

was disappointed in coming round. I took up
the running half-way between Tattenham Corner
and the winning chair. Then Pero Gomez came
up past the stand, and was beaten by a short
head. Wells always said the head was the other
way; but, fortunately, the judge didn't say so.
That was my first and only win in the Derby."



AND TIMES OF JOHN OSBORNE 207



CHAPTER XIII

"The turf hath bubbles like the Stock Exchange,
And these are of them."

BEGINNING in 1846, John Osborne in 1869, now in
his thirty-sixth year, had already been a professional
horseman quarter of a century. As the subsequent and
meteoric career of Fred Archer proved, it did not appear
a great performance on the part of " Our Johnnie," for
such was the term of endearment applied to him in the
North, to achieve in two decades and a half a win in
the One Thousand, three in the Two Thousand, two in
the St. Leger, and one in the Derby, Pretender being
the only Derby winner he ever rode, notwithstanding
that during his prolonged career he figured in no less
than thirty-eight races for what D'Israeli dubbed the
" blue riband " of the Turf. But in extenuation of this
apparent bald performance, so far as regards the classic
races, it must be borne in mind that, unlike Archer,
George Fordham, Fred Webb, Wells, Doyle, Jim
Snowden, Tom Cannon, or others of his distinguished
contemporaries in the pigskin, he had not the choice
of mounts which assisted these undoubtedly great
jockeys in paving their way to the altitudes of fame.
His time and energies were much occupied by his duties
in looking after the horses at Ashgill duties in which



208 ASHGILL; OR, THE LIFE

he was assisted by his brother Robert, who looked after
the clerical and commercial departments, while stay-at-
home William was out with the nags on Middleham
Moor by dawn every day. Indeed, it was not until Mr.
Johnstone, the nominal owner of Pretender, jointly with
Mr. Robert Jardine, gave Tom Dawson instructions to
retain a second call after Ashgill claims on his services
that he became so closely and directly identified with a
powerful stable. Tupgill had now become a strong force
in the North, backed up, as it was, by men of great
wealth like Mr. Jardine and Mr. Johnstone, the latter
of whom did not long survive the Pretender triumph,
though the septuagenarian, nay, fast approaching
octogenarian, now Sir Robert Jardine, Bart, (who for
a considerable period was a great breeder, and whose
horses were trained for years by Fred Bates at Middle-
ham), is yet to the fore enjoying a ripe and dignified
old age on his magnificent Scottish estate at Castlemilk,
Lockerbie, N.B.

One can plainly trace the present decay of
Middleham as a once great centre of training to the
withdrawal of that support and influence accorded
to it by men of the stamp of Lord Eglinton, the
Earl of Glasgow, and Admiral Harcourt in the distant
days, and to others of opulence. The trend of money, so
far as regards the breeding, rearing, racing, and training
of thoroughbreds in our days is towards Newmarket.
Richmond, which could send forth a Voltigeur, a
Vedette, a Van Tromp, and a Fandango, is also on the
same line of deterioration. To the blandishments of life
in town, the quick transit of trains from the Metropolis
to Newmarket and back, and the more luxurious habits
and tastes of the modern owners, who prefer the
surroundings of Sandown, Kempton, or of Gatwick to



AND TIMES OF JOHN OSBORNE 209

those of Doncaster, York, or even a place like Richmond,
where some of the greatest horses of the past have run
for fifty and hundred pound plates, may be ascribed the
decline in the North. Were the sinews of war forth-
coming now as they were in the days of " The Flying
Dutchman " Earl, or of the Dundases at Richmond, or
of John Scott at Whitewall, proof would not be wanting
that good horses could yet be brought out in the North
as well as in the South. Truly enough the old adage that
" money makes the mare to go " comes in here. The
Dawsons, in the far north at Gullane ; Old Croft, who
could train the first four in Theodore's St. Leger; and
Tom Dawson, at Middleham ; together with " The
Wizard," and old William I'Anson, at Malton, demon-
strated that, with wealth behind them, they were indeed
" Masters of the Horse." Sic transit gloria mundi !

Quarter of a century is a big span in a jockey's
lifetime. But ours is yet the pleasant task to show that
John Osborne had only got half through his professional
pilgrimage; that there were yet other great triumphs
in store for one who is yet hale and hearty in 1900 still
up with the lark in the morning, looking after his
Brecongill team, riding not only at exercise in his sixty-
eighth year, morning after morning, but actually taking
part in trials with his " feathers," not one of whom yet
can give him an ounce either over a half-mile sprint
with a yearling, or over the pumping two miles from
the foot to the top of Middleham Moor.

But to our moutons again, with John loquitur

"Agility was a two-year-old in '69, and
belonged to Mr. ' Launde,' and won several good
races, including the Park Hill at Doncaster, and
ran a dead heat with Enterprise for the
Doncaster Stakes. She ran until she was five



210 ASHGILL; OR, THE LIFE

years old, breaking down in the autumn. Mr.

Clare Vyner gave 3000 for her as a brood

mare, but there was not much out of her, Lizzie

Lindsay, the dam of Crowberry, being the best."

Agility's career extended over four seasons, and her

record was winning twenty-one out of the fifty-three

races in which she started, the aggregate of her winnings

being 6382. After four years' stud life, the sister to

Apology died, Mr. Vyner, who had purchased her at

Mr. Gee's sale, having the comparative satisfaction for

his outlay in her daughter, Lizzie Lindsay, who never

could race much, but left Crowberry as her best son,

he distinguishing himself by siring that smart horse,

King Crow.

By no means a good-looking mare, her common
quarters and drooping tail being redeemed by well-
placed shoulders and great depth of girth, Agility made
a name for herself on the Turf. In her two-year-old
season she w T on the Seaton Delaval Stakes at Newcastle,
beating a goodly field, which included Falkland, who
defeated her by a neck the next year on the old New-
castle Town Moor, but she turned the tables upon him
at Stockton, when she beat him in a canter, La Kisle
sandwiching the pair. Then, after a desperate pinch,
she beat Rosicrucian by a head for the York Cup. Wells
objected to her on the ground of a jostle. Singularly
enough, Billy Platt, the then middle-weight Ashgill
jockey, lodged an objection against her, which was
sustained. At the following Doncaster Meeting
she easily defeated Gamos (winner of the Oaks)
in the Park Hill Stakes, and at a later period
of the afternoon dead-heated with Enterprise in
the Doncaster Stakes, winding up the season well
by conceding Falkland 6 Ibs., and beating him



AND TIMES OF JOHN OSBORNE 211

by a length and a half in a Free Handicap at New-
market Houghton Meeting, this performance clearly
proving that his victory over her in the spring
was quite untrustworthy. Three "brackets" was her
record as a three-year-old in 71, supplementing these
the next season by taking several Queen's Plates the
following year, in addition to the York Cup, in which
she triumphed over Albert Victor by a head, upsetting
the odds of 4 to 1 laid on him. Her short but useful
career ended in the Queen's Plate at Edinburgh. She
broke down so badly in this race that it was impossible
to train her thereafter.

Continuing the tete-a-tete, our hero relates

" Passing over 70 and 71 as uneventful for
the stable, we come to 72, when we had Thorn,
Mendip, and Grand Flaneur as two-year-olds.
Arthur Briggs, who trained for Mr. R. N. Batt,
the owner of Thorn, died in the spring of this
year, and Mr. Batt's horses came to Ashgill. We
tried Mendip and Grand Flaneur, both good
horses. They began coughing before getting to
Newcastle, and both were beaten. Grand
Flaneur was bred by Mr. 'Sandy' Young, of
Richmond, and was got by Saunterer out of Miss
Digby, by Touchstone. He belonged to a
Scottish gentleman, who died in July, and the
horse was sent up for sale at Newmarket. It took
five of us to buy him, viz., Mr. Thomas Dawson,
my brothers William and Robert, Mr. Harry
Bragg, and myself. You ask, ' How was that? '
Well, we all had a fancy for him, and we all joined
in buying him, and got him for 50 gs. ! So we
each had a ' tenner ' share. We ran him in a
race that autumn, the winner to be sold for



212 ASHGILL; OR, THE LIFE

300 sovereigns at Shrewsbury; he won it, and
was bought in. The following year, as a three-
year-old, he won the Portland Plate at
Doncaster, and won it a second time two years
later. We put him in the Trial Stakes at
Stockton, which he won, and Mr. Bragg bought
him, so that the partnership of five of us was
dissolved. He was cut in the autumn as a four-
year-old, owing to showing a lot of temper. He
was a peculiar horse. He often used to beat
himself before he started. If there was not a
big field of starters he couldn't beat anything.
Often enough he had to be whipped away from
the starting post. He was Mr. Bragg's property
for the whole of his racing career after Stockton.
He ran for about eleven seasons, winning many
races in the North. I believe the small ' punters '
nicknamed him the ' Relieving Officer/ as he
often got them out of a bad day. He was a horse
with a tremendous fine turn of speed to finish
with in a five or six furlongs' race.

" Thorn was a very good-looking horse, with
rather weak, curby hocks. His first race was in
the ' Gimcrack ' at York, and he was second to
Kaiser for the Doncaster Champagne Stakes.
Then he won at Ayr and a weight for age race
at Shrewsbury, but was disqualified. As a three-
year-old he won the Lambton Stakes at Durham,
the York Cup, beating Uhlan, the Bradgate Park
Stakes at Doncaster, and was beaten in the
Doncaster Cup by Uhlan, but he was running
out of his distance then two miles and five
furlongs. I rode Thorn in the great majority of
his races. He was a very generous horse, but



AND TIMES OF JOHN OSBORNE 213

you couldn't make him do his best in a trial,
especially in the latter part of his time."
Truly enough, as our hero remarks, Thorn was a
handsome horse, showing all the truth of mould and
power of his Alice Hawthorn descent. He was got in
1870 by King of Trumps out of Lady Alice Hawthorn
(bred by Mr. T. Hewitt in 1859), got by Newminster;
her dam Lady Hawthorn by Windbound, out of Alice
Hawthorn by Muley Muloch out of Rebecca. Mr.
R. N. Batt's connection with Ashgill and the Osbornes
lasted over several seasons; Thorn, without doubt,
being the best horse he ever owned, more than paying
his way during an active career. He ran eleven times
as a two-year-old, making his first appearance at
Newcastle in 72, when with 6 to 4 on him he was
unexpectedly beaten by a filly by Lambton out of
Eapparee's dam. Unsuccessful at Pontefract, he ran
second to the smart Cceur de Lion for the Prince of
Wales Stakes at York, but gave " Johnnie " a winning
mount in the Gimcrack Stakes that same meeting on
Knavesmire; Agility that same day also scoring
for him a bracket in the York Cup, the Ashgill
filly, then more than useful, defeating Albert Victor
in a desperate finish by a head. Reappearing for the
Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, Thorn was second
to Kaiser, but captured the Bradgate Park Stakes
next day, ridden by Busby, one of the Ashgill jockeys
at that period. As a three-year-old he came out in
stronger colours, winning seven out of his twelve essays.
Beginning in the spring, he took the Tyro Stakes at
Durham; the Derby Trial at Newmarket, beating
Bertram by a head; then went to Ascot, Busby
winning the Gold Vase on him, with smart animals
like Hannah, Struan, Dutch Skater, Lilian, and others



i



ASHGILL; OR, THE LIFE

in his wake. At Newcastle he gave Osborne two
successful rides in the Stephenson Biennial and the
North Derby, Lily Agnes making her first appear-
ance at this meeting with John on her back, and
winning by six lengths, " Lily " thus at the very outset
foreshadowing a brilliant career as a racer, apart from
her renown as the dam of Ormonde when her racing:

o

days were ended.

Thorn beat Uhlan by half a length for the York
Cup, upsetting the odds of 100 to 30 laid on him;
won the Eglinton Stakes at Doncaster, where he
also finished third to Uhlan and Lilian, in Busby's
hands, for the Doncaster Cup. His attempt in
the Cambridgeshire won by Montargis was a failure
under the weight, and with an eight-lengths defeat
from Flageolet, he went into winter quarters. His
four-year-old career was not so conspicuous, the French
horse Boulet, by Monarque, beating him a head at
24 Ibs. for the year between them. Lowlander was
his conqueror at Ascot, this fixture being memorable
for its great race for the Gold Cup, in which that
great horse Boiard delighted the Frenchmen by
defeating such equine constellations as Flageolet and
Doncaster, who, three parts of a length away, dead-
heated for second place, with Gang Forward, Marie
Stuart, and Kaiser behind them truly a race worthy
of the gods! But the Frenchman's wings were clipped
the following day in the Alexandra Plate, when King
Lud gave him 1 Ib. and a neck beating in an equally
memorable race over three miles', the Frenchman
splitting Lord Zetland's grand stayer and Flageolet.
The very following race, Thorn, ridden by Chaloner,
was easily beaten by Lowlander for the Ascot Plate.
At Doncaster he won the Cleveland Handicap, steered



AND TIMES OF JOHN OSBORNE 215

by Osborne, beating Thunder, conceding 7 Ibs. The
pair met again at Doncaster in the Alexandra Plate
Thunder at 8 st. 13 Ibs. and Thorn at 8 st. 12 Ibs.
when Jim Goater on the former beat " Johnnie " on
Mr. Batt's four-year-old by a head, Kaiser, Syrian, and
other useful ones being behind the pair, who were
almost one and the same horse.

Success also marked Thorn's five-year-old season;
and as a six-year-old, Apology this year (1876) gave
Osborne a comfortable win in the Ascot Gold Cup,
when she defeated Craigmillar, Balfe, and others of
class, Thorn doing service by taking the Stewards'
Cup at Newcastle. Across the Irish Channel at Down
Royal Meeting, Thorn gave him two brackets in the
Belfast Handicap; also earning the crusher of 11 st.
12 Ibs. in Her Majesty's Guineas. He won the Stockton
Stewards' Handicap by a head from Madge Wildfire,
and had a great finish at Doncaster, beating Kaleido-
scope, then a three-year-old, with Fred Archer up,
and conceding 26 Ibs., by a head, for the Alexandra
Plate. Mrs. Batt was so delighted with " Johnnie's "
magnificent riding of her husband's horse on this
occasion that she could hardly restrain herself from
embracing him after he had passed the scales. The
Caledonian Cup at Kelso, in which he beat Lord
Rosebery's The Snail a Northumberland Plate winner
and a walk over for Her Majesty's Plate were
included in his performance this season, the racecourse
seeing no more of him, as he broke his leg when taking
a gallop on Middleham Moor shortly afterwards. The
loss was a great one to Mr. Batt, as the son of King
of Trumps would have been of great value as a sire
to the generous-hearted Irish sportsman, whose love
for him was only surpassed by that of his wife.



216



ASHGILL; OR, THE LIFE



Mr. R. N. Batt became a patron of Ashgill in the
year 1869. Descended from one of the best and
oldest families in the Green Isle, his estate, which lay
in the neighbourhood of Purdysburn, some six miles
out of Belfast, has been described as " one of the most
beautiful places that lies under the sun." A man of
quiet, unassuming manners, and a good sportsman, he
was a distinct contrast to Mrs. Batt, who was a high-
spirited, dashing Irishwoman, fond of driving, of sport
generally and the Turf in particular. Moreover, during
the period that her husband raced thoroughbreds she
was a heavy speculator, unhappily not with the most
agreeable returns, the result being that the estate
became encumbered and the once beautiful home of the
Batts descended to the purposes of a lunatic asylum.
Mr. Batt went abroad at the end of his racing career,
which extended over about a dozen years. Mrs. Batt
was a fearless coachwoman. Nothing delighted her
more than standing up in her Stanhope phaeton,
driving a pair of spirited, dark brown, exceedingly
high steppers to and from Belfast. Quite a sporting
appearance was given to the turnout by the brass-
ornamented harness, with bright yellow pad cloths in
keeping with the Batt colours, " orange and black
hoops." At the time Mr. Batt owned Thorn he ran a
two-year-old named Meta, both animals being trained
by the Osbornes at Ashgill. For the following
anecdotes connected with the relationship between the
Batts and John Osborne we are indebted to Mr. R.
Greer, the well-known horse dealer, now of Newcastle-
on-Tyne, but formerly a resident on the estate at
Purdysburn, and therefore well-known to and by the
Batts. To one of The Maze Meetings, Belfast, John
Osborne took Thorn and Meta to fulfil their engage-



AND TIMES OF JOHN OSBORNE 217

ments, the former going for the Queen's Plate and
Meta to fulfil her liabilities in the Downshire Stakes
and the Purdysburn Stakes.

Mr. Greer relates " I can well remember Mr. and
Mrs. Batt being at the meeting in great style. The
good lady, who used to bet heavily, had a plunge on
Meta the first day for the Downshire Stakes, which
were so-called after the Marquis of Downshire. There
was a field of fourteen runners. As they came into
what is called ' The Dip,' John Osborne was lying
absolutely last on Meta, and looked hopelessly out of
it. There were but a couple of furlongs yet to cover.
One would have certainly thought, so close was the
finish, that it was going to be a dead heat amongst
three of the others, and that Osborne wasn't in the
race at all. When they came to the bottom of the
rise ' Johnnie ' began to ride gently, and, creeping up
inch by inch, he won, amid great excitement, by a
head. The three next horses were locked together,
''heads,' or little more, separating them from Meta.
After ' Johnnie ' had weighed in, he walked up to the
grand stand with his greatcoat on. As he passed,
Mrs. Batt remarked

' Osborne, you did keep me in suspense there.'
'Yes, ma'am,' replied the jockey, with a merry
twinkle in his eye, ' but after all, there's nothing like
liaving a " bit " up your sleeve.'

' The next day nearly all the same horses ran again
for the Purdysburn Stakes, Meta carrying a 14 Ibs.
penalty for her win in the Downshire Stakes. Thus
penalised, her chance looked a hopeless one against
the three others that had finished so close to her on he
first day, and, as a result, each of them was a better
favourite than Meta, about whom Mrs. Batt was



ASHGILL; OR, THE LIFE

enabled to have another ' plunge ' at the remunerative-
odds of 6 and 7 to 1. Again at the 'Dip' Johnnie
was last, but coming through from that point on Meta,.



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