The Stanley House Stud and the family’s association with the Turf is steeped in history and can be traced back as far as the 5th Earl of Derby, who was keenly involved in the Sport during the sixteenth century.
The Early years
James, the 7th Earl of Derby, pursued his family’s interest in the Turf by instituting races on the Isle of Man (over which he was “Lord”), during the 17th century, on a piece of land extending rather more than a mile across the peninsula of Langness. A record in the Rolls’ Office states that he gave a cup to be run for at these races, thus establishing the “Manx Derby”, another contender for the claim as the original precursor of The Derby.
Founding of The Oaks and The Derby
Detailed records in the Knowsley archive, relating to the Turf, exist from the early 18th century, during the time of James, the 10th Earl of Derby, including house accounts and the sale and purchase of horses- all of which indicate a great deal of interest in the sport on the part of the 10th Earl.
Amongst the 18th century Earls, it was the 12th Earl who forged the family’s indelible association with the Turf. He formalised his passion for horse racing in 1779 when he established The Oaks, which has survived as one of the classic events of the horseracing year. The race, for three-year-old fillies, was named after his Surrey residence in the village of Woodmansterne, and was won for the first time by Lord Derby’s filly, Bridget. Bridget carried green and white striped colours and these were retained until 1788 when Director gained the first success in the “Black Jacket and White Cap” at Newmarket, which have been the Derby colours ever since.
It was at The Oaks that the idea for The Derby was born. The legend goes that it was during one of the lavish dinner parties, hosted by the 12th Earl, during The Oaks that his guests agreed that Epsom should have a race for three-year-old colts to match The Oaks and would hence also be a race to compare with Yorkshire’s successful venture, called after its founder, General Anthony St Leger, which has been held annually since 1776.
It was the naming of this new race that created a passionate debate. His guests were required to decide whether to name it after their generous host, Lord Derby or after Sir Charles Bunbury- Lord Derby’s friend and an influential figure in the contemporary racing scene. The final decision, so the legend goes, was decided on a toss of a coin. Would it be the “Derby” or the “Bunbury” Stakes? The drop of the coin was decisive, leading the race which was destined to become the most famous in the world, to be called “The Derby”.
Lord Derby never entered a horse in the first Derby (won incidentally by Bunbury’s colt Diomed), but later in the decade he was to race the legendary Sir Peter Teazle, who won The Derby in 1787. Sir Peter Teazle, a big brown colt of sixteen hands with a large white star on his forehead was born at Knowsley. After The Derby, he won a string of victiories and was one of the most celebrated horses of his day.
The stud record of Sir Peter Teazle speaks for itself. He produced four winners of The Derby (Sir Harry, Archduke, Ditto and Paris), two of The Oaks (Hermione and Parissot) and four of the St Leger (Ambrosio, Fyldener, Paulina and Petronius). In his prime he dominated the breeding of high-class horses to a degree that has seldom been equalled. He was responsible for the first and second, Sir Harry and Telegraph, in the The Derby of 1798 and five years later all the placed horses in The Derby – Ditto, Sir Oliver and Archduke –were by him.
The Prime Minister
Edward Geoffrey (the future 14th Earl and three times Prime Minister), reclaimed the family tradition and took a much greater interest in the turf than his father. When his grandfather (the 12th Earl) died in 1834 he took up the subscription to the Racing Calender and was responsible for several significant successes on the Turf, notably his horse, Canezou who won the One Thousand Guineas in 1848. In total the 14th Earl owned the winners of 205 races. His horses were trained at Malton in Yorkshire by the celebrated John Scott, “The Wizard of the North”. He is said to have earned £94,000 in stakes with 54 horses. On his death the stable lapsed again.
The King of Lancashire
The 15th Earl took no interest in the sport or thoroughbred breeding and sold all the bloodstock, which resulted in the Knowsley Stud falling into a state of neglect that continued until 1893. Happily, once the 16th Earl, Frederick Arthur inherited the title, together with his son Edward it was agreed that the fortunes of the Turf should be revived. It was at this time that Newmarket became the centre of training (and remains so to this day). Lord Derby invited Mr George Lambton to be his private trainer in the summer of 1893 and leased Bedford Lodge at Newmarket for Lambton to train his horses. Lambton, feeling that he lacked sufficient experience, was at first reluctant to accept, but was finally persuaded by Lord Stanley (the future 17th Earl) and thus was started a racing partnership that was to last for forty years and be one of the most memorable in the annuls of the British Turf. Lambton was to become one of the greatest trainers of the century.
The 16th Earl was also responsible for reviving the stud farm at Knowsley and employed Mr Griffiths to take charge of the operation and set about revitalising the paddocks, new trees were planted and the new paddocks laid out. The transformation took almost five years to complete and became a monument to his endeavours. Another achievement was his advice that the filly Canterbury Pilgrim should be bought at the dispersal sale when the Duchess of Montrose died in 1894.
Canterbury Pilgrim went on to win The Oaks in 1896 and this triumph was the first classic win for a horse carrying the Derby colours for forty – five years. On her retirement Canterbury Pilgrim was sent to Knowsley stud where she was destined to breed seven winners including Swynford (1910 St. Leger) and Sansovino (1924, Derby). From this major acquisition stemmed the entire success of the Stanley racing empire throughout the next half century. Keystone II was another champion, winning The Oaks in 1906 for the 16th Earl.
The family’s association with the Turf reached its peak during the life of the 17th Earl. He was locally known as the King of Lancashire, a name that was taken up by Churchill for his title of the biography of the 17th Earl. His legacy of wins is unsurpassed and besides his many achievements as a politician and statesman it is perhaps in the field of sport that he achieved his most enduring record. It is said that he was by far the greatest influence in racing, not only in his generation but also in history. He was outstanding as an owner, he won more than 1,000 races, including 20 Classics i.e. 3 Derbys (1924 Sansovino; 1933 Hyperion and 1942 Watling Street), 6 St Legers, 2 Oaks, the 2000 guineas twice and the 1000 guineas seven times – a total worth in those days of nearly £845,000 in prize money. So great was his influence on thoroughbred breeding that most top-ranking stallions today carry the line of Derby blood.
Of all the horses owned by the 17th Earl, it is perhaps Hyperion that stands out as something of a legend (on a par with the 12th Earl’s Sir Peter Teazle). In the three years that he raced, he won nine out of thirteen including the Derby and the St Leger in 1933. Hyperion, a chesnut colt by Gainborough out of Selene, standing just over fifteen hands high, won the Derby by 4 lengths in 1933 with the celebrated jockey Tommy Weston riding. He ran in a record time of two minutes thirty four seconds. The Times’ correspondent wrote ”Never in my time has a Derby been won more easily. There was no doubt about the result half a mile from the finish”. Hyperion went to stud in 1934 in Newmarket to sire a generation of champions.
The famous “lucky white button” became part of the jockey’s colours during the time of the 17th Earl. Just before the 1924 Derby, Tommy Watson caught his white scarf in the top button of his racing top. After winning the Derby that year on Sansovino, he realised it was a lucky sign and it has remained a part of the colours ever since.
The 18th Earl, continued his family’s enthusiasm for the Turf, winning the Ascot Gold Cup in 1949 (Alycidon), the St James’ Palace Stakes in 1961 (Tudor Treasure) and the Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 1984 (Teleprompter). Teleprompter was undoubtedly the 18th Earl’s finest horse and won races in England, France and Ireland before going on to win the Budweiser Arlington Million in America. The total prize money won by Teleprompter was £704,917 (a record for a UK trained gelding for many years).
This exceptional tradition of racing and breeding thoroughbreds continues today at Lord Derby’s Stanley House Stud in Newmarket. The 19th Earl’s success with Ouija Board in The Oaks in 2004 brought Classic success back to Stanley House Stud after 59 years. Not only was she a dual Oaks and Breeder’s Cup winner but she was the most travelled racehorse in history. Astonishingly she has fared even better as a broodmare. She is the dam of five foals and five winners including the Derby winner of 2014, Australia.
This achievement is unique in the annals of racing history as Ouija Board became the first winner of the Oaks in history to produce a Derby winner by a Derby winner.