Excerpts from ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’ ….. 20 – Was ‘super-horse’ Colombo unlucky?

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It was hard to find one expert before the 1934 Derby who thought any other horse but Colombo would triumph. The unbeaten ‘super-horse’ was deemed well nigh unbeatable. And why not? As a two-year-old the previous year Lord Glanely’s colt had won all seven of his races, and two in 1934. Trained by Captain Thomas Hogg, he had been ridden to victory by several leading jockeys of the day. His was indeed an impressive record.

1933

20 April           Newmarket Stakes                                         Arthur Wragg

17 May            Scarborough Stakes, York                            Gordon Richards

15 June            New Stakes, Ascot                                       Gordon Richards

30 June            Fulbourne Stakes, Newmarket                    Steve Donoghue

15 July             N.B. Produce Stakes, Sandown                  Gordon Richards

25 July             Richmond Stakes, Goodwood                     Steve Donoghue

30 Sept            Imperial Produce Stakes, Kempton Park  Steve Donoghue

1934

19 April           Craven Stakes, Newmarket                         William Johnstone

2 May              2000 Guineas, Newmarket                          William Johnstone

This was certainly not a record to be scoffed at, and it was obvious to those who followed the record book and the form book that there was no other horse that would claim the Derby. Colombo was the superstar and all eyes were on him. He was not stabled at the Epsom course either but at the adjoining Durdans plantation and guarded like an emperor.

The knowledgeable handful had, however, neither reckoned with the law of averages, nor with the fact that Colombo had not won a long race. The Derby distance of 1 ½ miles or 12 furlongs was sure to test the favourite. Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla was quick to spot this chink in his armour and was not at all apprehensive of him. His own horse Windsor Lad, on the other hand, had already proved himself over this distance.

No one could, obviously, forsee the quirks of fate either. Colombo ran into a roadblock behind the pace-setter Medieval Knight, and ultimately when it mattered he failed to live up to his fabled status. His stamina was found wanting just before the finishing post. The myth was shattered as Windsor Lad sped to glory.

This was to prove a shattering blow. Colombo was thereafter beaten to second place by Flamenco in the St. James Palace Stakes at the Royal Ascot, ridden once more by Johnstone. The colt was never to race again and retired to stud in 1935.

Colombo’s reverse in the Derby drew sharp reactions on both sides of the spectrum. Some said he was unlucky, others averred that he lacked stamina. A few attributed the humiliation to both factors. Still others blamed Johnstone, a few even questioned the strategy, many were full of admiration for Windsor Lad and his splendid team. Whatever view anyone took, it was one of the most debated and thrilling Derbys in history.

The Star: “It was a good race. Colombo was a raging favourite. It was his tenth race. He had won nine. Before to-day he had never been beaten. Lord Glanely bought him. Generally he breeds his horses. He only buys a few. Colombo was the cheapest horse he ever bought. Colombo was well drawn on the inside. He was second after a quarter of a mile had been covered. Medieval Knight was leading at that point. At Tattenham Corner he had fallen back, for here Tiberius was in front, with Windsor Lad and Medieval Knight third. Then Colombo came along with a rush.”

Stafford Sentinel: “The favourite, Colombo, was not brought out on to the course at morning exercise. He was taken into the paddock through the gate which leads into it from The Durdans and was then walked and trotted up and down for a while. His jockey (W. Johnstone) was not present. His trainer (Capt. Hogg) walked down the course and carefully examined the going. He found that although it was very hard the turf was wearing well. Everyone who went into the paddock to see the Derby horses appeared to be asking the same question – Where is Colombo? Most of them quickly found out that Colombo would appear from the entrance to the plantation which leads to the grounds of the Durdans, and there they assembled. At twenty minutes to three, Lord Lonsdale and Lord Rosebery came through the pathway, and that was taken as an indication that Colombo was about to appear. Lord Lonsdale immediately set about making a clearance through the crowd, and as he requested the people to move back, remarked, ‘He may kick out, you know.’ Then Colombo came into view led by a stable companion, and there was not the slightest sign of the colt having become excited during the saddling operation. He was as cool as the proverbial cucumber, and walked along quite unconcerned of the throng that made a pathway for him to the parading ring. Colombo’s companion had been taken out after the colt had been led into the ring and the favourite took his place with the others still walking round quietly. In the parade there was not the slightest sign of excitement as he walked past the stands.”

Leicester Evening Mail: “There was no excuse for the defeat of Colombo in the Derby. He got off well, being led only by Medieval Knight from the gate. He dropped back a bit on the top of the hill, but with every chance in the straight he failed to catch Windsor Lad and Easton. Apparently Colombo was beaten through inability to stay, for though Johnstone rode hard the colt was unable to produce the necessary speed in the last two furlongs. Easton, who had been second to him in the 2,000 Guineas, reversed positions, though only by a neck.”

The Times: “Colombo was saddled in the Durdans, and both in the Paddock and in the parade he was cool and collected. He is without any doubt a really magnificent specimen of a thoroughbred. I do not know where he can be faulted. His ears are certainly slightly lopped, but there was a time in the history of the thoroughbred when such ears were very highly esteemed. I must still admit that I did not think that Colombo could have been beaten. I have no regrets for his defeat, for if the race were run again I would once more select him. After the race there were the usual number of visitors who thought that Johnstone rode a bad race. I must admit that at the time I thought that he had lost unnecessary ground at the top of the hill, but he explained that he had to check Colombo there on account of Medieval Knight’s stopping. That was probably the case. After all he was following the lead of the best rider that I have ever seen on the Epsom course, Donoghue. If any of us went out hunting and had the chance to follow the best man in the country where we were hunting we should be justified in doing what Johnstone did.”

Manchester Dispatch: “The Derby has been the graveyard of many unbeaten horses in the past. Lord Glanely’s colt, Colombo, has joined them and once again a hot favourite has failed to rise to an important occasion. Excuses are being made for Colombo on the grounds that he was interfered with and began to drop back at the seven furlongs starting-gate. Colombo certainly lost his place after he pursued the leader, Medieval Knight to that point, but in my opinion Windsor Lad was a winner on merit, thanks to the superb way in which he was ridden. Smirke saw to it that Windsor Lad came the shortest way round Tattenham Corner, and, once in line for home, it was not long before the son of Blandford had taken the lead from Tiberius. Having accomplished this much, Smirke hugged the rails all the way down the hill pursued by Tiberius and Easton. Smirke has ridden in the Derby six times, and this was his first success. As the winner was being led to the unsaddling enclosure there was a shout of ‘Well done, Charlie’. Smirke told me afterwards that he had a beautiful ride. ‘Once I went in front of Tiberius in the straight my horse ran on gallantly,’ he said. A quarter of a mile from the finish Colombo began to raise the hopes of his supporters once more, for he could be seen picking up ground in the centre of the course. I thought his speed would carry him up to the leaders, but after closing the gap he began to hang to the left. Meantime Windsor Lad was consolidating his position, and in the end Easton beat Colombo by a neck for second place. I am one of those who were inclined to the opinion that Colombo had not a smooth passage. When Medieval Knight fell back suddenly five furlongs from the finish Colombo was lying at the heels of the Beckhampton colt, and Johnstone had to pull him out to the right. Smirke, however, decided to take Windsor Lad on the inside, which, as matters turned out, was the wisest move, for whereas for the rest of the journey Windsor Lad had an uninterrupted passage Colombo had to come the longest way round Tattenham Corner.”

Stable Boy in Birmingham Gazette: “Unbeaten in nine races Colombo met his Waterloo gallantly. He had every chance apparently, but just failed to stay on when he appeared to have won the race. Few critics ventured to oppose Colombo, and it was pleasing to note that his temperament, concerning which so much had been written, was entirely non-existent. He was a model of exemplary behaviour at all stages of the proceedings, in the paddock, on parade, and at the post. He had everything in his favour, therefore, and his defeat can only be fairly attributed to lack of the necessary stamina to complete his task. Some of the jockeys considered that Colombo was unlucky not to have won as he was baulked when Medieval Knight ‘cracked’. Colombo had to come on the outside and apparently lost a little ground. Johnstone, however, did not subscribe to the view. In any case Colombo had every chance to make up his ground in the straight. In the words of Johnstone, ‘I had a clear run throughout, and Colombo had every chance but he weakened in the last furlong’.”

Cardiff Western Mail: “Colombo, hottest Derby favourite since the War, disappointed his owner (Lord Glanely) and that large body of Welsh sportsmen which supported the hitherto unbeaten horse. I do not suppose that any Derby candidate had so much Welsh backing, and there is genuine regret among Welsh sportsmen not so much that they lost their money but that the Cardiff peer failed to bring off his second Derby honour. Colombo did his best in conditions of ill-luck which his jockey tried desperately to avoid, but had to be content with third place, a length behind Windsor Lad and a neck between him and Easton.”

Bombay Sentinel: “Epsom Downs were buzzing with excitement at dawn, but early arrivals were disappointed. Colombo had no public exercise but had a spin at the private grounds at Durdans, where he slept guarded like an emperor. Police, trainers, stable-hands and even bloodhounds formed a cordon around him. Johnstone, Colombo’s jockey, said that Colombo had every chance, but weakened at the last half furlong.”

The Daily Mirror: “Even when the horses were within yards of the winning post the leading three were so close that it seemed any one might win. ‘Come on Colombo’ cried the favourite’s backers and it seemed that the unbeaten Colombo was making a last terrific effort to make up leeway. But it was too late. Not for the first time in Derby history the favourite had come in third. But everyone agreed it had been a gallant race with a climax superbly dramatic. Colombo is certainly the best-looking horse, but the backers of the others remember that ‘looks are not everything’.”

Liverpool Post: “Lord Glanely’s famous colt Colombo met with its first defeat yesterday in the Derby. Colombo was well placed throughout, but weakened in the last half furlong. There was no excuse for the defeat of Colombo. He was well placed throughout, and the only inference possible is that he was beaten by his inability to stay a mile and a half in a fast run race. As the favourite came up with its run there were shouts of ‘Colombo wins’, but as the post was neared it became apparent that Lord Glanely’s colt was about to meet the first defeat of his career.”

Hannen Swaffer in Daily Herald: “Colombo, the ‘unbeatable’ favourite for the Derby, came out from the Durdans into the paddock yesterday afternoon, like a film star. An excited crowd surrounded him. Lord Lonsdale and Lord Rosebery led the way. Half an hour later – he was beaten. Windsor Lad won in time that equalled the record. Easton was a close-up second, and Colombo was only third. The race finished almost in silence. All the ‘clever ones’ were on Colombo. They lost large sums. ‘By the time the others finish, Colombo will be on his way to Doncaster for the St. Leger,’ said one. Another, one of the shrewdest judges in racing, implored me to put all the money I had on Colombo. ‘They’re laying 7 to 41,’ he said. ‘Backing him is like taking money from a bank with no one to arrest you!’ No one who ‘knew’ would think of any other horse. Johnstone, the Australian jockey, who rode Colombo, had no excuses. He made to me the strange remark, ‘Anyway! No lives were lost!’ ‘Medieval Knight, Colombo and Bondsman,’ were the first words of a man ‘reading the race,’ and then he shouted ‘Medieval Knight, Colombo, Bondsman, Easton, Windsor Lad.’ This, more or less, was the story of the race until Tattenham Corner. There, in the scramble, Johnstone got out of the way of two horses – ‘They were falling back’ he said – by getting into the middle of the course. He lost, perhaps four lengths. Meanwhile, Windsor Lad, on the rails, and Easton, next to him, fought it out for the finish. ‘Colombo was weakening,’ said Johnstone, ‘I could not catch up.’ And so Colombo went the way of Sceptre, Town Guard, Orwell, all ‘unbeatable’. Epsom has upset many ‘certainties’. Colombo was such a certainty that – well, the public was merely waiting to see him win.”

Bouverie in The Daily Mirror – “Everything still looked rosy for Colombo when he jumped off second to Medieval Knight – how many times has Donoghue made the running in the Derby? – and stayed there until they were nearly at the top of the hill. Then Colombo lost his place and by the time they had gone half-way down the hill to the corner, there were quite half a dozen in front of him, with Fleetfoot, of all horses, in front. Approaching the straight Johnstone decided that his best path would be to the outside, and having to pass ‘fading’ horses Colombo went rather wide. Just for a moment, when they were well in a line for home, it looked as if he would overhaul the leaders, but Windsor Lad had too much in reserve.”

Hotspur in The Daily Telegraph: Colombo appeared in the paddock already saddled. He had been prepared for the race in the quietude of the Durdans Plantation. When he came into public view he was cool and contented. There was no sign of any temperamental outbreak. He proceeded to the parade ring, and from that moment there was never any question about his nerves failing him. He looked strong and in perfect trim for the race. He had had to cover more ground, probably by several lengths, than any other horse from the time the turn to the straight had been reached. Even if Colombo had not done so he might never have beaten the winner, but one is left in some doubt. He was running on at the finish, which makes me think he was not beaten because he could not stay the mile and a half. The luck was not with him and his jockey. He was pocketed at a most vital stage of the race while others were getting a free and open first run on him. We must accept the result as it stands and admit that for the moment Colombo has failed to live up to the expectations entertained of him. I am far from satisfied about him. It is not possible to go much further than that, except to say that one is left with the feeling that if things had gone more his way he might have maintained his unbeaten reputation and be the Derby winner to-day.

Meyrick Good in The Sporting Life: “Colombo’s first defeat will be the subject of many heated discussions. That he did not have the best of luck in running admits of no argument, but there will be a difference of opinion as to whether he would have beaten Windsor Lad in any circumstances. Lord Glanely and Capt. Hogg took the defeat of Colombo in philosophical fashion. The trainer would not make excuses for his charge though I think that the result might have been different had Colombo got a clear run on the rails round Tattenham Corner, and had not been forced to the centre of the course. My reading of the Derby is that Colombo might have got at the first and second sooner had the beaten heroes, Fleetfoot and Medieval Knight, dropped out a little earlier. We shall never know whether the result would have been different had he kept his position on the rails. It is not my position that he failed because he lacked stamina.”

Sir John Foster Fraser in Manchester Dispatch: “So the horse that had never been beaten was well beaten in the world’s greatest race this afternoon. This morning the talk was not what would win the Derby, but what could beat Colombo, and the answer was a fairly unanimous ‘nothing’. This evening it is surprising the number of folk I’ve met who knew all along that Lord Glanely’s horse had never done a mile and a half, and never could hold out for a mile and a half. The last time a cast-iron favourite was beaten was in 1932 when Orwell lost, and the time before a cast-iron favourite disappointed the crowd was The Panther in 1919. The moral is obvious. The jockey Smirke, smirked indeed. Gordon Richards, who rode Easton, took the result as all in the day’s work. Rea Johnstone, the Australian and the champion jockey of France, who had reckoned to bring Colombo home the winner, was pale. ‘Hard lines,’ I said as I stood near when he unsaddled the blowing Colombo before going into the weighing-room. He made a laughing grimace. A delightful scene was the paddock when the Derby runners were walked round the ring. Colombo had been spending the night at Lord Rosebery’s place adjoining the Durdans in stable 13, as many people now regret. When he was brought out there was a rush to see Colombo; he seemed restless and behaved as though he did not like being stared at. Except that one knew he was the favourite, there was little to distinguish him from other horses led round and round.”

Gary Owen in Manchester Dispatch: “A quarter of a mile from the finish, Colombo began to raise the hopes of his supporters once more, for he could be seen picking up ground in the centre of the course. I thought his speed would carry him up to the leaders, but after closing the gap he began to hang to the left, and the fate of the favourite was then sealed. Meantime, Windsor Lad was consolidating his position, and in the end Easton beat Colombo by a neck for second place. Stamina pulled the winner through. The ‘Colombo-itis’ Derby is now over. Lord Glanely’s colt seemed to mesmerise all classes of racegoers. Orwell’s year was almost the same, but one has really to go back to The Panther’s Derby for similar symptoms and never since then has there been a greater flop. The ‘unbeatable’ Colombo’s great record is now tarnished, but he lives to fight another day. The most discussed Derby of recent years, which was run before a crowd of at least a quarter of a million, ended, as I anticipated, in a victory for the Maharaja of Rajpipla’s Windsor Lad. The favourite, concerning whose temperament so much had been written and said, was a perfect model of exemplary behaviour at all stages of the proceedings, while his fine action was displayed in perfection during the canter past the stand. He had everything in his favour, therefore, and his defeat can only be fairly attributed to lack of the necessary stamina. There was no excuse for the defeat of Colombo. He was well placed throughout and the only inference possible is that he was beaten by his inability to stay a mile and a half in a fast run race, as although Johnstone rode him vigorously, he was unable to produce the necessary speed in the last two furlongs. Thus those of us who have always had doubts concerning his stamina have been vindicated. Some of the jockeys considered that Colombo was unlucky not to have won as he was baulked when Medieval Knight ‘cracked’ and had to come on the outside, but Johnstone, his rider, did not subscribe to that view. In any case Colombo had every chance to make up his ground in the straight. Johnstone summed up the race by saying, ‘I had a clear run throughout and Colombo had every chance but he weakened in the last half furlong’.”

The Morning Post: “The defeat of the hitherto unbeaten Colombo caused universal surprise – how Johnstone, the Australian jockey, on Colombo, followed Donoghue, who set the pace on Medieval Knight, and how, when Medieval Knight cracked, Colombo had to be checked and pulled to the outside of the field as they came into the straight, and how Windsor Lad slipped in on the inside to win in time which equalled the record. After the race the jockey said: ‘I was not unlucky. I had every chance.’ Whether Colombo was unlucky to have been beaten in the Derby was warmly discussed after the race, and will long remain a matter for differences of opinion. I mentioned yesterday that there were two things to be feared in connection with Colombo. One was that he might unduly upset himself before the race, the other was that the jockey might be handicapped by his comparative inexperience of the Epsom course. Let it be said at once that the favourite gave not the slightest trouble in the paddock. After being saddled in the grounds of The Durdans, he was one of the first of the nineteen competitors to come into the parade ring. He behaved with perfect composure during the quarter of an hour in which he was led round the enclosure, and when he went on to the course there was no fault to find with his demeanour. I stood with his trainer as the colt cantered past the stands with a long, sweeping stride. ‘A fine actioned colt,’ remarked Captain Hogg with a note of pride and it was clear that he had little fear of the result of the race.”

Corsair in Sheffield Independent: “Many horses have entered the Derby with unbeaten records and as warm favourites and failed to rise to the great occasion, and to-day Lord Glanely’s Colombo joined the list. It would not be true to say that Colombo had a smooth passage. All might have been different but for Medieval Knight falling back suddenly five furlongs from the finish. Colombo was lying at the heels of the Beckhampton colt at the time and Johnstone had to pull him out to the right. Smirke, however, decided to take Windsor Lad on the inside, which as matters turned out was the wisest move, for whereas for the rest of the journey Windsor Lad had an uninterrupted passage, Colombo had to come the longest way round Tattenham Corner. Approaching the last bend there was only Tiberius and Fleetfoot in front of Windsor Lad and as I have indicated Windsor Lad’s stamina pulled him through.”

Liverpool Post: “Colombo has come off his pedestal. He suffered his first defeat yesterday in the Derby at Epsom, being able to finish only third to Windsor Lad and Easton. There was no fluke about Windsor Lad’s victory, which was gained on merit. Colombo showed no signs of the temperament that overtook him in the Guineas, being perfectly cool, both in the paddock and in the parade. Umidwar was inclined to be restive before the ‘off’, but the start was a good one. Colombo did not appear to be running balanced in the last furlong. He is undoubtedly a good horse, but has still to show that he can stay.”

Gimcrack in Daily Sketch “Colombo, the great unbeaten idol, crashed from his lofty pedestal in the Derby when after a gallant fight, he was beaten into third place by Windsor Lad and Easton. The race itself was full of drama. I consider Colombo lost the race a mile from the post, when, no doubt acting to orders, his jockey gave him a ‘breather’. After that he was never going as well as I would have liked. True, he made up ground approaching the Corner, but here he ran into a spot.”

Captain Heath in News Chronicle: “The plain fact is that the inexperience of the colt’s jockey cost Colombo the race. Johnstone is doubtless a fine horseman, but just ask yourself how you’d feel if called upon to tackle seasoned experts in a task they had accomplished many times and you had done rarely yourself? In these cases an old head beats a young ‘un. After the race somebody said to me that Colombo had had ‘the race pinched off him.’ Not elegant language, I know, but adequately descriptive in its summary of the facts. What happened was that Steve, on Medieval Knight, out-jockeyed Johnstone at a very critical point, and the fact that Medieval Knight cracked soon after, makes no matter. But it was the turning point, and probably made all the difference between Johnstone losing or getting home on the best horse he has ever ridden. While this crisis was developing, Charlie Smirke on Windsor Lad, was pursuing a determined and prosperous-looking course. Yesterday I referred to Colombo as an equine aristocrat, and well did he prove himself as such. He came into the paddock cool and calm enough to run for his life, and he behaved like a lamb in all the preliminaries of the race.”

The Picquet in News Chronicle: “Colombo gave the lie to all the moonshine that has been talked about his temperament. He was saddled in the Durdans, but his trainer was made to understand that he must be in the paddock 25 minutes before the race. From the moment he came in he was completely undisturbed, and the slight sweat that broke out behind his girths dried up as quickly as it came. He went through the parade, turning his head repeatedly to look at the crowd and taking a most intelligent interest in everything. At the post there was no colt better behaved, but he lost the Derby and the circumstance seemed to stun his owner and trainer.”

The Scout in Daily Express: “When memories of the 1934 Derby get mellowed by time, I wonder if independent critics will talk of the ‘race which Windsor Lad rightly and worthily won’ or the ‘Derby which Colombo would have won, but -’ Donoghue’s mount, Medieval Knight, put the dampner on Johnstone’s chance when he began suddenly to crack coming down the hill towards Tattenham Corner. The leaders were about halfway down the hill at the time, and if Colombo had been following on the outside and not the inside of the leader the situation might have been saved at once. But the long-striding favourite, whose action was already not quite so perfect on the descent, had to be checked at the ‘Knight’s’ heels; others came up on his right and he began to go further back until the harassed man in the saddle could only eventually pull out and take the turn wide.”

Trevor Wignall in Daily ExpresHow Colombo lost the Derby: ‘Unbeatable’. Horse Checked By ‘The Knight’s’ Failure. Tattenham Corner tangle. Smirke’s win after 5-year ban. Windsor Lad ‘like a machine’: “When the congratulations were over Steve took me over to Johnstone, the Australian. On Tuesday night I had heard a pretty story about him. Somebody asked him why he kept a secretary, a valet and a chauffeur to drive his high-powered car. ‘This is why,’ answered Johnstone, ‘When I was in my own country I had a pretty hard time, but now that I am in the money I am all for comfort.’ Johnstone was not so depressed as I expected him to be, but disappointment was shining out of his eyes. ‘I have no excuse,’ he said to me, ‘but perhaps I might say that Colombo couldn’t stand the pressure.’ In the room at the moment men were saying – as were others all over the course – that if Colombo had been ridden by a British jockey who knew the course he would have won by ten lengths, but surely that is unfair to the little man from Australia. It is true that he had to pull out at one stage of the race, and it is also true that he had been bumped, but in the last few hundred yards he made an effort that was magnificent to watch. Other jockeys in the race told me that the trouble with the favourite was that he failed to stay. And that, I fancy, is the whole story of the 151st Derby.”

Yorkshire Post: “Some of the jockeys considered that Colombo was unlucky not to have won, as he was baulked when Medieval Knight ‘cracked’ and had to come on the outside, but Johnstone, his rider, did not subscribe to that view. In any case Colombo had every chance to make up his ground in the straight. Johnstone summed up the race by saying: ‘I had a clear run throughout, and Colombo had every chance, but he weakened in the last half-furlong’.”

Daily Mail: “The Derby has come as an emphatic reminder that favourites are fallible. Colombo was said by his admirers as the best horse of all time. There was nothing whatever the matter with him yesterday. He gave no sign of ‘temperament’. Yet he was beaten, though, it is true, only after a magnificent race, by Windsor Lad and Easton. The failure of such a firm favourite was certainly a big surprise to his countless supporters. But during the last 86 years – excepting the war years, when conditions were quite abnormal – the horse against which the odds were lowest has won only on 30 occasions. Colombo’s defeat, in fact, drives home the point made by Robin Goodfellow in our columns yesterday that there are manifold unforseeable causes that might bring about the failure of any but a super-horse.”

The Times of India: “From early dawn thousands of race goers began to gather on the Epsom Downs, hoping to see the great Colombo at exercise. They were disappointed, however, as the Derby favourite was given a spin in the private grounds of Durdans, where he had been stabled overnight with a mighty cordon to protect him. No racehorse has ever had such a guard. Police, trainers, stablehands and bloodhounds were requisitioned to see that Colombo was not got at before the great event. Prior to the race several of the jockeys intimated their intention of forcing the pace in the hope that they would run the favourite off his feet and not give him any chance of settling down. After the race Togo Johnstone, the jockey of Colombo, stated that his mount had every chance, but weakened in the last half furlong. The general impression is that Colombo failed to stay.”

The Field: “And now what can I say of Colombo? That he was fit and well was soon apparent when he came on parade, and he was given every chance that a colt can have of winning Lord Glanely his second Derby. He was saddled in the Durdans, he was escorted in the parade by three men and his trainer, and he surprised me by behaving very much better than I imagined he would. It was lucky, perhaps, that the weather was cold, or else we might have had another display upon his part as we had at Newmarket. In the race itself it certainly proved that many of us had been misled by his two- and three-year-old performances. It might perhaps be true that he was not too well ridden in the Derby. Perhaps in the hands of a Donoghue, a Wragg, or a Fox he might have won, though I very much doubt it. These four legs of his and his sweeping stride were never meant for galloping up and down hill. That has been my opinion ever since I saw Colombo win the Two Thousand Guineas.”

Observer: “The question of whether Colombo and not Windsor Lad should have won the Derby will never be satisfactorily settled because, while the two colts will meet again, the exact conditions under which the race was run can never be reproduced. It cannot be denied that before the Epsom meeting a good deal of doubt existed in the public mind whether Johnstone was the right jockey for the favourite. It is a point to which I had drawn attention in these notes more than once. Unhappily, the jockey has now received the bulk of the blame for the downfall of this supposed certainty. Never has the Derby been better ridden – from the stands. Never have we been told more plainly what the rider of the favourite should or should not have done in the circumstances which occurred in running. The tumult and the shouting of Epsom have passed, and we can now view the great race in perspective, calmly and analytically. It was impossible to see every incident of the race even from the top-most tier of the stands, but the pictures taken of the race in its midway stages tell their incontrovertible story. They show Colombo at one moment penned in a pocket from which it was impossible to extricate him without loss of valuable ground. Nobody can properly say how far his jockey was at fault in allowing the colt to get into that unfortunate position. Would Colombo have won had he enjoyed as clear a path as Windsor Lad? The plain fact is that he was several lengths behind the leaders when he began his run in the straight, and then by a supreme effort got to within half a length of the leader, only to weaken a little in the last few strides. He was beaten by less than the distance he gave away at the bend into the line for home. One wishes earnestly to be quite fair to Johnstone, but it would be a stretch of imagination to say that his riding was in a sense inspired. To put it mildly, the luck of the race did not favour the favourite, and a day later Capt. T. Hogg, the most level-headed of trainers, gave me his considered opinion in the following words: ‘I firmly believe that Colombo is still 7 lb. the best of the three-year-olds.’ Colombo’s reputation is not shattered but only slightly clouded by his defeat at Epsom. We can continue to regard him as an exceptionally good thoroughbred without getting all worked up about him.”

Sunday Sportsman – “The writer has no excuse for Colombo. He is not the super horse he was supposed to be, though undoubtedly he is a good one. He did not stay the mile and a half as well as Easton, and there is no more to be said. He finished only a length in front of Easton in the Guineas, and there could have been nothing wrong with that form. Some people were inclined to blame Johnstone for the horse’s defeat on Wednesday; he was certain to be criticised if he did not win. He was blamed for being baulked coming down the hill to Tattenham Corner and for making his effort in the straight on a wide outside. Medieval Knight, who was making the running just in front of him stopped quickly after seven furlongs had been covered and dropped back on Colombo. Johnstone had to check his horse for a moment. That was unfortunate, but had he escaped this slight interference, he would not have beaten Windsor Lad. This course which Johnstone took in the straight was a wise one; he came on the outside, so as to be certain of no further interference. If there was one horse in the race who might have done better if he had been differently ridden, it was Tiberius, the hope of Manton. He was last, or nearly so, in the early stages, and his jockey seemed to improve his position much more quickly than he need have done. He was in front before the field reached Tattenham Corner, and stayed on to finish fourth. Colombo is a brilliant horse up to a mile and a quarter. Though Colombo was defeated, he was far from disgraced, for he ran a gallant race and was only beaten a length and a neck. The result of the Derby has given rise to as much controversy as did the Two Thousand. After the Guineas the racing world was split in twain. The Colombo faction held that the son of Manna had always had the race at his mercy and could have gone away from Easton had there been any necessity for so doing. The opposition contended that Colombo was tiring in the last half furlong, could have found nothing more, and that Easton was holding him. Wednesday’s great race has made the disputants even more clamorous. Colombo’s friends hold that the falling back of Medieval Knight coming down the hill, and the fact that Johnstone had momentarily to snatch up the favourite, cost Lord Glanely’s colt the race. It is contended by many excellent judges, however, that Colombo was so positioned when fairly in the straight that if he had been a real smasher, instead of merely a very good colt, he could and would have won. We must confess that that is our own view of the matter. It is these differences of opinion which give to the Turf its extraordinary fascination.”

Keystone in Sunday Dispatch: “It can rightly be said that Colombo had no luck in running, but I refuse to endorse the widespread notion that his jockey, Johnstone, was entirely responsible for the trouble in which the colt was involved. Some people seem to think that the horses fighting for Derby honours ought to behave like merry-go-rounds on a fair-ground – devoid of animation or fire. They are reminded of the hundred and one things that can happen in a race decided on a course like Epsom. Up to a point pre-conceived plans may, of course, be carried to fruition. Donoghue, for instance, played his part to perfection on Medieval Knight. He made the pace a cracker right from the start. Gordon Richards on Easton would be aware of the mission on which Steve was bent. Other jockeys had no real knowledge of Beckhampton plans and were, therefore, bound to rely on their own resource. So it came to pass that when Medieval Knight came to tire, the field quickly closed on him. Colombo, who had so far trailed the leader, got hemmed in by the oncoming rush. The anxious eyes of several clever riders were watching Johnstone at this point – for Colombo was the one they all had to beat.  Now pause and look at my picture – which is one every jockey included in it will desire to have since it shows the most vital stage of the race. You see G. Nicoll slipping Tiberius ahead down the hill. Colombo directly behind Medieval Knight, the alert Smirke and Richards ready to come through at any moment. Nicoll stormed into the straight without let or hindrance. Fleetwood and Medieval Knight died away without leaving the rails – Colombo’s jockey had perforce to pull round them. Windsor Lad met with the merest interference. His jockey was soon drawing up to the leader, who failed just where he was expected to shine – stamina. He was done with a quarter of a mile from home. Once out of trouble Colombo made a gallant effort to go forward. Johnstone thinks he actually headed Windsor Lad and Easton for a moment. Aye or nay, the colt could not go through with it, and was in fact ‘all in’ nearing the winning post. I have seen no reference to the admirable riding of Richards on Easton and put it on record that the champion lived up to his reputation from start to finish. I know there is a tendency to blame Johnstone for falling into a trap but at the same time let me remind you that Nicoll might – if it suited one’s purpose – be taken to task for calling upon Tiberius so early. Everything goes to prove that big issues often depend on incidental happenings which cannot be forseen, let alone anticipated. Nicoll and Johnstone were both intent on doing their utmost to win, and in their efforts to do so adopted totally different tactics. The former, like Smirke, is a dashing type of rider, whereas Johnstone sits a horse with unobtrusive quietness. Maybe this latter style is not the ideal one for Epsom. At any rate, in this instance it led to Johnstone finding himself at the heels of a beaten horse, with the consequent loss of ground inevitable in such a circumstance. Had he been riding his horse into the ground in order to slip by Medieval Knight down the hill he might still have been criticised for making too much use of the favourite. Nicoll indeed has been condemned for his impetuous shock tactics on Tiberius. All the senior jockeys were incensed at the unfortunate suggestion that the rules of fair play might be transgressed in order to ensure the defeat of Colombo. Knowing Johnstone as I do, I feel safe in saying that he would rather have had his own ability questioned than be told that his fellow riders were intent on robbing him of his chance of victory – by hook or crook.”

Reynold’s Illustrated News: “Once again the unexpected happened in the Derby, and the horse whom the majority of experts expected to walk away with the greatest race of the year was beaten into third place after having carried all before him as a two-year-old and in his two races as a three-year-old. I was one of those who thought the race was as good as over before it started; but the best-laid plans of mice and men ‘gang aft agley’, and so it was with Lord Glanely’s champion. It must not be thought that I am belittling the meritorious victory of Windsor Lad when I say Colombo was really unlucky to lose. It was apparent to all who witnessed the event that had it not been for an unexpected happening when the field was nearing Tattenham Corner, Captain Hogg’s charge would probably have won. W. Johnstone, his jockey was following closely in the footsteps of Medieval Knight, the mount of Steve Donoghue, who is admittedly the greatest Derby rider living. Steve, so to speak, knows better than any other knight of the pigskin the nearest way home on the tricky Epsom course, and was doing his best to get there. His horse, however, failed him at the crucial moment, and fell back suddenly. Unfortunately, Colombo was close behind him at the time, and Johnstone had to take a quick pull at his mount to avoid a collision. The result of this was that Johnstone, to get going properly again, had to pull his horse right on the outside. While he was doing this others shot past him, and instead of Colombo showing his heels to the rest of the field he had to make up a lot of ground to catch them up. He nearly succeeded; but the effort took too much out of him, and he had to be content with third place. It was a gallant attempt by a gallant horse, and deserved success. Colombo was defeated, but by no means disgraced. There are some who think his jockey was to blame for getting shut in at the crucial moment. I am not one of those. Billy Johnstone knew what he was about in keeping close to Steve Donoghue, the course specialist, and it was the totally unforeseen falling back of Medieval Knight that lost him valuable ground and placed several of his opponents in a position he ought to have been in had luck come his way. The misfortune made all the difference.”

Lincolnshire Echo: “But I am left wondering what would have happened had a jockey like Donoghue been on the back of Colombo. Then most probably Lord Glanely and not the Maharaja would have triumphed. It was undoubtedly Johnstone’s lack of experience of the Epsom course that caused him for being so badly pocketed at Tattenham Corner, a contretemps that forced him to check his mount and pull right round on the outside. He must have lost lengths in making that wide detour to the straight. Colombo, once in line for home, closed the gap in a truly lion-hearted way, and actually caught Windsor Lad a furlong from the post. But then when it came to riding out the finish Johnstone and his mount seemed to get out of harmony, and both Smirke and Gordon Richards clearly outrode the Australian. Jockeyship rather than any deficiency on the part of the horse cost Colombo the race.”

Taffyrus in Birmingham News: “I see Johnstone, the rider of Colombo, is coming in for a lot of wild talk for checking his mount just as they were entering on the mile. I have no doubt he was riding to orders, and that he was steadying the colt for that final dash up the hill. Whether he made a mistake time will show, but one must nevertheless realise that similar tactics in previous years have paid. Steve Donoghue won on Manna in like fashion, as did Fox on Cameronian.”

Truth: “Nineteen colts lined up at the start to race for the Derby Stakes last week, and it is already a matter of history that the best of them turned out to be The Maharajah of Rajpipla’s Windsor Lad, Lord Woolovington’s Easton, and Lord Glanely’s Colombo. That was the order in which they finished, and the verdict of the Judge was that Windsor Lad had beaten Easton by a length, Colombo losing second place by a neck. The time credited to the winner, 2 mins. 34 ½ secs., was practically the same as that in which Lord Derby’s beautiful colt Hyperion covered the same mile and a half in the corresponding race last year. That is what the bare records of the race have to tell us. It remains to add that seldom has there been such furious controversy as to whether, eliminating what may be called the luck of the race, the winner ought to have won, or to have been soundly beaten by Colombo. And as far as one can see the point will continue to be keenly disputed unless settled once and for all by another meeting between the two colts, possibly in the St. Leger on Doncaster Town Moor. For the time being I am inclined to think that supposing the two colts do meet in the last of the classic races of the year there might not be much between them. It is at all events fairly certain that last week Colombo got into difficulties avoided by Windsor Lad, and in getting clear of the trouble in which he had become involved he lost, not only his place on the rails, but, as near as I can make it, at least three or more lengths in addition – possibly more. Now if that be so, believers in Lord Glanely’s colt seem to have reason on their side when they urge that ultimately, Colombo was only beaten by a length and a neck. On the other hand believers in Windsor Lad point out that the son of Blandford and Resplendent was staying on and could if necessary have pulled out a bit more. That must remain for the future to decide, but it is at least certain that at no point of the race did the rider of Windsor Lad (C. Smirke) lose an inch of ground, or fail to profit by every opportunity that presented itself in the maddening rush of such a race.”

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email singh_iv@hotmail.com).

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