Alfred Edward Thomas Watson.

The Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes online

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time, 1880, had bought a horse from the late Sir John Astley, the
popular ** Mate," called Timour ; and wanting a jockey for it at the
Bibury Club Meeting, he asked Arthur Coventry to ride — this being
the first of the innumerable occasions on which my old friend wore
the scarlet and white hoops of the ** Master of Danebury.'* In the
eighties there were probably more animals in training at Danebury
than at any otlier establishment, a formidable string of jumpers as
well as flat-race horses. It was a delightful house to stay at, as I
can record from my own knowledge, having been privileged to be
a frequent guest; and on these glorious downs Arthur Coventry
may be said to have finished his education — there, that is to say,
and at the various meetings at which he rode the horses he had
schooled and galloped at home. Winners were easier to find in
those days than they are now, and if anyone wanted to know what
to back, it was never a bad thing to have a few sovereigns on
Mr. Arthur Coventry. It need scarcely be said that there was
never a question of the Danebury horses being ** out," and when
Mr. Coventry was in the saddle it was perfectly certain that if the
animal were good enough he would win his race. A pleasant recol-
lection of this period is Mr. Arthur Coventry on old Hesper, one of
the very best hurdle jumpers ever known, who, I think it is safe
to say without going into tedious details, won more races than he
lost, for the most part with Mr. Coventry up.

He did not win one, indeed, which would have inflicted a serious
blow on a rash sportsman who had laid 3^10,000 to £100 against the
horse securing the flat-race at Croydon, the big Hurdle Race at
Sandown, and the Lincolnshire Handicap. The first he carried off,
the second likewise fell to him, and the bold layer must have ex-
perienced the severest qualms when he found Hesper with only
7 St. I lb. to carry a good second favourite at 7 to i for the first big
handicap of the season. For this, however, the son of Speculum
and Hesperithusa was not good enough, the race falling to the
Comte de Lagrange's Poulet, who beat Mr. W. S. Crawfurd's
Master Waller a head, the same owner's grey, Buchanan, third.

** Hesper usually won," Mr. Coventry remarked to me, when I
asked him for some details about the horse ; and the Calendar shows

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how well the remark is justified. Other hoops in which the rider
distinguished himself were the primrose and rose of Lord Rose-
bery; for on the Chester Cup winner of 1882 Arthur Coventry
carried off several stakes. And another good jumper whom he often
rode to victory was Beatus.

It was at the Manchester Meeting of 1882 that Mr. Coventry
made the acquaintance of this animal, having been asked to ride
him in a selling race with the information that he was rather shifty
but jumped all right. Mr. Coventry found him, on the other hand
in all respects a charming horse to ride, and won so easily that
seeing he had only 10 st. in a good-class handicap next day he


said in answer to inquiries that it was certainly well worth running.
In hard condition at the time, 10 st. 5 lb. was the lowest he could
do : and to get off the surplus in twenty-four hours was a hard task.
But there was a nice horse to be ridden, and so, by walking hard,
and omitting such little luxuries as dinner and breakfast, on the
smallest of saddles Mr. Coventry just did the weight and won his
race, easily beating Too Good, a notable Irish jumper, ridden by
Mr. H. Beasley.

On one occasion, indeed, Beatus won a race much to Mr.
Coventry's chagrin. This was at Derby in 1883. Notwithstanding

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that Prudhomme had 12 st. 10 lb. to carry, he was supposed to be
fully equal to the task, especially with Mr. Coventry riding, and
the one that seemed chiefly to be feared was Lord Hastings's Zeus,
ridden by James Adams — though really, in sketching these little
chapters of Turf history behind the scenes, I am not sure that I
ought to call " James " Adams anything but "Jimmy." Mr. Arthur
Coventry on Prudhomme, however, and Jimmy Adams on Zeus,
were alike convinced that whichever beat the other would win the
Devonshire Handicap. Both were masters of the business, and
each set out bent on pulling it ofif if possible ; so, never far apart,
they jumped their hurdles and galloped over the ground between
them. Towards the finish each was equally on the alert to seize
that psychological moment when with chances equally balanced
races are lost or won by, as it were, a gleam of inspiration. Which
endeavoured to get first run I do not know ; but whilst the pair of
them had all their thoughts and energies directed to the question,
they suddenly became aware of the fact that something full of run-
ning was flashing up on the off side. It was Beatus, ridden by his
own boy, A. Wood, and not thought worthy of consideration — he
started at 100 to 7 offered — but Wood understood the game a bit
better than had been supposed. His well-timed run had given him
the advantage, and he flashed past the post a neck in advance
of Prudhomme, who was in turn a neck in advance of Zeus.
Mr. Coventry said nothing. "Where the devil did you come
from ? *' was Jimmy Adams's perplexed inquiry to Wood as they
rode back to weigh in.

Beatus was thought good enough to win the big hurdle race at
Auteuil, especially as Arthur Coventry was free to ride. The horse
stayed well, and Golding, who trained him, advised the rider to lay
well up with the leaders, and to come away two hurdles from home.
Mr. Coventry came away much earlier in the struggle, notwith-
standing that he was never unmindful of his instructions ; but after
winning by a great many lengths he rode back to the enclosure and
showed Golding his gloves, torn into ribbons, proof of the fact
that he had done his best to hold the horse.

Often as Mr. Coventry carried the scarlet and white hoops to
success, he sometimes found himself opposed to them ; and one of
these occasions was when the late John Jones, father of Herbert
Jones, the King's jockey, was up on Ubique, who was thought a
certainty, Mr. Coventry having been asked to ride a horse called
Golden Beam. Ubique was one of a trio belonging to an eccentric
owner who had named the horses for the apparent purpose of
puzzling the ring. The other two were called Unique and Utique.
To the man of even very modest education the names presented, of

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course, no difficulty; but it will be perceived how easily such
nomenclature led astray the racegoer whose scholastic attainments
were wanting. Unique was a dissyllable, and if Unique why
not " Ubeek " and " Uteek " ? It was borne in upon the perplexed
student of the card, however, that Ubique was a trisyllable with the
accent on the "bi,"and he not unnaturally failed to understand
why the ancient Romans, or whoever the idiots were who invented
this sort of language, did not say Utlque with the accent on the
" ti'*; or on the other hand, if they wanted to knock the backer ofif
his balance by saying Utlque, with the accent on the U, why they
did not also say Ubique ? No one will be very much surprised to be
told that these horses were often called out of their names, especially


{Photograph by W. A. Rouch)

perhaps as running at the same time was a daughter of Exminster
and Una, called Unice. This, however, is by the way. Ubique,
ridden by John Jones, was supposed to be a Danebury good thing,
whilst Golden Beam was thought to have no chance, his only backer
being Arthur Coventry's brother Aubrey, who always had a tenner
on Arthur's mounts, however remote their chances appeared to be;
and on this occasion the 100 to 8 chance Golden Beam just did
Ubique by a short head. Tom Cannon's disappointment at being
beaten on his 4 to i good thing was mitigated by his pleasure at
seeing his pupiPs brilliant finish. Nothing was said, but, meeting
Mr. Coventry on his return to the paddock, heartily if silently Tom
Cannon shook the winner by the hand. I reminded Mr. Coventry

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of this story the other day, and with characteristic modesty he
begged me to leave it out ; but I am risking his displeasure in
relating the anecdote, because I think it is a very pleasing little tale,
eminently to the credit of all concerned. I may add here that
I lately asked Tom Cannon for details of races at this time, and
he winds up his letter about his old friend with the words, " There
is nothing you can say that is too good for him."

It is only the advertising tipster who knows for a certainty
what will win every race that is run — that is to say, of course, if
one believes his statements, which one may do if sufficiently lacking
in common sense. There was a little tragedy, for instance, when
Mr. Coventry rode Keepaway on one occasion for Lord Rossmore.
This was by way of being a good thing, and the owner was equally
surprised and delighted to find a bookmaker willing to lay him six
monkeys against it. Keepaway did not, indeed, stay for ever, but
he had a nice turn of speed, and, with this judiciously saved, was
thought sure to win. Mr. Coventry- timed his one run to the
second; but Keepaway swerved a little to the right just at the
moment when his opponent swerved to the left, the consequence
being that Mr. Coventry caught the other jockey's arm, lost his
whip, one stroke of which could not have failed to land the six
monkeys, and so, momentarily hampered, was beaten a head.

One of Mr. Coventry's early successes was on The Scot at
Croydon ; the horse, a son of Blair Athol, afterwards passing into
the possession of His Majesty. This was the first animal that
Mr. Coventry ever rode in the National, but he failed, not being a
genuine stayer, and did no better in the following year when, ridden
by John Jones, he started first favourite at 6 to i in the race won
by Voluptuary, who finished his career on the stage of Drury Lane
Theatre, where he was in the cast of a melodrama called The
Prodigal Daughter y and jumped two fences in a representation of the
great steeplechase, the hero riding him. Bellringer, Mr. Coventry's
National Hunt Steeplechase winner, was another of his Liverpool
mounts ; but the horse was knocked over, as horses so often are at
Aintree. On Jolly Sir John, a representative of Danebury, he had
another essay in Zoedone's year, and he also rode Montauban, for
Mr. Baird Hay, winner of a large number of races, but in this
National he was most emphatically not fit. I forget who trained the
horse, and may be doing him an injustice in sharing a belief which
was current at the time that he was disappointed at not having a
jockey of his own selection in the saddle. Montauban, however,
had certainly not done anything like the work that is imperative for
a National winner, and Mr. Coventry discovered this when riding a
gallop a couple of days before the race. When they had gone some-

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thing less than three miles the horse was stone cold, blowing hard

from want of condition, and Mr. Coventry, pulling up, exclaimed

with equal astonishment and disappointment, "Why, this horse is

not nearly fit ! '* " Well, it can't be helped now, sir, can it ? " was

all the satisfaction he got from the trainer.

His fifth and last ride in the National was on Redpath in 1885.
About this time Mr. Coventry was retiring from the saddle, but he
was, of course, eager to win a Liverpool before he gave up. Tom
Cannon was equally anxious to supply him with the opportunity,
and Redpath, lost. 3 lb., certainly seemed to have a tremendous

{Photograph by W. A. Rouch)

chance, notwithstanding that 20 to i was laid against him, Roque-
fort being a hot favourite at 100 to 30, with Zoedone and Frigate
well up in the market. At this time the Grand National finished
over hurdles. If it did so nowadays there would be the loudest
outcry against the decadence of the sport, and the most contemp-
tuous protests that genuine steeplechase horses could not be expected
to jump hurdles ; but one and twenty years ago this was the state of
the case, and as the field approached the penultimate row of sticks
Redpath was going so well that Mr. Harry Beasley, on Frigate,
called out to Mr. Coventry, ** You've won easily enough this time ! '*

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** It's not all over yet/* Mr. Coventry replied; and immediately
afterwards Roquefort forged ahead, Frigate lasted on, and Redpath
tiring, Black Prince passed him and finished third, Mr. Coventry
just missing a place.

Redpath, it may be incidentally observed, had the luck to win
the Grand Steeplechase de Paris in the following June. Roquefort
was favourite for this, followed in the market by Redpath, 6 to i,
and Prince Edward, 7 to i, the last two being both Danebury-
trained ; and the betting was far from representing their chances,
Prince Edward, it was believed when he left home, having something
like 21 lb. the best of it. He, however, fell in the race, knocking
Captain Lee Barber out, and cutting his head badly, Redpath being
good enough to win from a French 50 to i outsider called Mon
Premier, Chancery, Mr. Harry Beasley up, third. Lowe rode the
winner, and it may be remarked that at this time, in contrast to the
present state of the case, more than half the runners were English,
besides those mentioned, Redpath, Chancery, Roquefort, and Prince
Edward, there being Hardware (Count Kinsky), Lioness (Mr. George
Lambton), Captain (Mr. D. Thirlwell), Kilworth (Sly), Donnycarney
(Hatchett), and Buckshot (Kavanagh) ; but this is by the way.

On a good fencer Mr. Coventry subscribes to the general
opinion that there is no course like Liverpool, though it may be
remarked just now, when the fences are being prepared for the next
celebration, that many of those chiefly concerned strongly disapprove
of the jumps being splashed up with green twigs, as they have been
of late years. The horses are used to jumps of this sort elsewhere,
so have an idea that they may chance them, brushing through the
tops as they can with impunity on some other courses ; the conse-
quence being that they get turned over.

One of the best animals Mr. Coventry was accustomed to ride
under National Hunt rules — we shall come to flat racing presently
— was a mare called Boisterous, owned by Tom Cannon ; and for
the Metropolitan Hunters' Flat Race of 1881, 10 sovereigns each,
200 added, at Sandown, she was certainly one of the " best things
ever known racing " — to use the familiar phrase. At this time
Mr. Coventry was winning a number of stakes on a more than use-
ful horse called The Owl, belonging to Mr. Harry Hungerford, who
was then a prominent owner ; and, wanting to try Boisterous, Tom
Cannon asked Mr. Coventry if he thought Mr. Hungerford would
lend them his consistent runner. The son of Blinkhoolie and No
Name was placed at Cannon's disposal, and then the question arose
as to the weights that should be carried. If Boisterous beat The
Owl at evens, would that, Tom Cannon wanted to know, be good
enough for the Sandown race ? and seeing that The Owl, carrying

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13 St. 71b., had just comfortably disposed of a useful animal called
Gimcrack who was receiving precisely two stone, Mr. Coventry was
somewhat amused at the suggestion, convinced that The Owl could
give Boisterous, then at the beginning of her five-year-old career, a
great deal of weight. It was decided, nevertheless, that they should
try at evens, Arthur Coventry riding The Owl, whom he knew well,
Tom Cannon on his own mare, and that they would have a couple
of racehorses in to make a pace. The two latter jumped off,
Boisterous third with The Owl at her girths, and so they went


{Photograph by W. A. Rouch)

for the best part of a mile. ** Come on, Mr. Coventry," Tom
Cannon exclaimed as they galloped along ; and ** I'm coming as fast
as I can, Tom ! " was all that he could urge in reply. Tom Cannon
kept pulling his horse back, Mr. Coventry tried to take advantage
of the fact and get ahead, but never had a look in from first to last,
until, pulling double, Boisterous had passed the real winning post,
leaving The Owl to go on a few hundred yards further for the
benefit of any touts who might happen to be scrutinising the gallop.
" I suppose you know I could have beaten you a quarter of a mile ? "

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Tom Cannon observed as they pulled up. **Just about as near a
quarter of a mile as makes no matter, Tom," was the answer ; and
on Boisterous at Sandown Mr. Coventry naturally achieved one of
the easiest of victories.

I chanced to be at Danebury when Boisterous was schooled
over fences for the first time, and described the incident in a book
published some years ago called '* Racecourse and Covertside."
Boisterous did well ; but perhaps I may be allowed to quote my
description. She had jumped a couple of hurdles in good style, and
Tom Cannon decided that she should have a try at the steeplechase
jumps led by a chestnut horse called Hugo. I hazarded the opinion
that so good a hurdle jumper must prove a flyer at the other game.
** ' Yes, but this is different,' Tom Cannon said ; ' she can see
through the hurdles, but here's a great black thing and she doesn't
know what's on the other side. I shan't be surprised if she refuses,
but if she does jump she will have to clear it or come down — for she
can't brush through ; it won't give. However, she has got to learn
some time or other, and she may as well begin. Here they come ! '
* And she means having it, too ! ' I exclaimed, as the chestnut horse
came on with a vigorous rush, the mare following in his wake."

** Nearing the fence she pricked her ears, and seemed, as it were,
to measure the distance with her eye ; then gathering herself to-
gether, rose at the leap, cleared it in perfect style, and was away
again on the other side after her chestnut leader without a percep-
tible pause. * Capital ! I hardly thought she would have done it
so neatly. There she goes again, too ! ' Cannon said, as the pair
approach and fly over the second obstacle. * Yes, that's first rate.
I like the way she looked at it and took in what she had to do.' "

Boisterous nevertheless proved a disappointment over jumps.
She was a heavy-shouldered mare, and pitched on landing when
going at racing pace, so that it was only on the flat that she dis-
tinguished herself.

I was talking one day to Fred Archer in the weighing-room, I
think it was at Lewes, when he took up a race-card and observed :
** 'Jockeys seven pounds extra,' and Mr. Arthur Coventry riding.
That's a nice treat for the jockeys ! "

** Can't you give him seven pounds ? " I inquired.

** No, nor seven ounces," Archer replied. "Over a mile he's
just as good as any of us. At five furlongs we are more used to
jumping off*, and may perhaps have just a bit the best of riders who
are not always at it ; but over a mile no one is better than
Mr. Coventry."

That was the verdict of one who will be admitted as a com-
petent judge ; and, I may add, it only bore out the general opinion.

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No one, too, appreciated, I should say appreciates, horseman-
ship more than Arthur Coventry. I remember at Epsom standing
next to my friend in the Club Stand to watch a race in which Tom
Cannon rode a horse of his brother's against an Epsom-trained
mare called (I think) Black Duchess. These two were out by them-
selves as they neared the distance, but Black Duchess seemed to have
all the best of it, and someone standing close to us exclaimed, as
he watched them, ** It's lo to i on the mare." ** An even sovereign
on the other," Arthur Coventry replied, taking the offer of odds
as a figure of speech ; and after a desperate finish ** the other " won


a head. '* What made you back it ? " I said to him. " It looked
to me any odds on the mare ? " " Yes, but I knew Tom would do
something extraordinarily wonderful in the last hundred yards ! "
he rejoined ; and Tom certainly did.

It may be said without hesitation that no one has done more
than Mr. Arthur Coventry to maintain the reputation of the genuine
gentleman-rider. Here is a little story with which I chance to be
acquainted, bearing on the subject. A certain personage had some
horses, in which he did not take very much interest, leaving details
as to their running, and so forth, to someone who managed for him.

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This manager, looking for a jockey one day in a gentlemen-riders*
race, naturally went to Mr. Coventry, asked if he were engaged, and
hearing that he was not, begged him to ride.

" I think it's a good thing," the manager said, " I don't see
what's to beat you, and I should advise you to have a pony on."

Mr. Coventry never ventured much on his own mounts, for
some mysterious reason, seeing that when he was in the thick of the
fray he not seldom had a biggish stake on a horse ridden, perhaps,
by an indifferent 5 st. 7 lb. boy ; but on this occasion he ventured
his pony and was beaten. A week or two afterwards the manager
asked him to ride the same horse again.

" He's come on since he ran last, and his race did him good.
We ought to get a good price, too, and you'll get your pony back
with interest," he said.

** I'll ride him with pleasure," Mr. Coventry answered, " but I
can't fancy him. There are two or three that I think ought to beat
him this time. It's not good enough to bet on."

" I don't agree with you," the manager said, "and I shall cer-
tainly put your pony on."

** Please don't do anything of the sort," Mr. Coventry replied.
'* I really won't bet."

" Oh, but you must. I shall put a tenner on for you at any
rate. You must have that."

" No," Mr. Coventry said, emphatically, " I won't back it for a
shilling; please don't do anything for me."

The horse started at 10 to i, won half a length, and on the
Monday Mr. Coventry received a cheque for £100 from the manager.
Telling a friend the story of what had occurred, he added, " I
couldn't take the money, of course ; but I was rather puzzled. You

see, I don't know anything about Lord 's manager. He maybe

the straightest fellow in the world, and very likely he is ; but, on the
other hand, I thought that if I sent him back the cheque I shouldn't
know what became of it ; so — though I wanted the money badly
enough, goodness knows ! — I tore off the signature and returned it

that way. Lord , when he looks at his book, will at any rate

see that I never cashed his cheque."

It is pleasant for a gentleman rider to be able to go into the
weighing-room with a happy confidence that there is no question
about his status, and some years ago when a skilful horseman, who
notoriously made a living out of the game, boldly claimed the 7 lb,
allowed in a certain race for gentlemen riders, Mr. Coventry was .
in a position courteously to inquire whether the claim was justified.

The Steeplechase volume in the Badminton Library appears as
the work of Mr. Coventry and myself. I had a hard task to

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persuade him to undertake the business, he protesting that he was
no penman ; but, of course, his knowledge and experience were
invaluable. The Duke of Beaufort urged him to help, and his
brother-in-law, the late Lord Suffolk, who it is almost needless to
say was one of the most brilliant writers of the period — a large
claim, which, however, may be made without any exaggeration —
promised all possible assistance, and, I may add, gave it. So it was
arranged that we should talk the chapters over together, that I
should do the actual writing, and that Arthur Coventry should come
and hear them read — criticising, commenting, and suggesting until

{Photograph by W. A. Rouch)

we got things into shape ; and thus the book was written.
Mr. Coventry used to come to my house to hear what I had done,
and then if any technical questions arose as to the precise manner

Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 10 of 52)