Excerpts from ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’ ….. 22 – Why Lady Oxford backed Windsor Lad to win the 1934 Derby

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Sunday Dispatch                                                                  June 10, 1934

WHY I BACKED THE DERBY WINNER

By Lady Oxford

I have been to the Derby several times, but always regretted not being able to see Spion Kop win, as it was the only time my husband was ever asked to give a racing tip. He was staying at the Durdans, where the house party was composed of the fashionable racing world.

Some member of the party – Lady de Trafford, I think – asked him to give her his advice as to the most likely winner on the morning of the race. He said if she would allow him half an hour he would examine the Press prophesies, the runners, owners, jockeys and trainers and give her his opinion.

He Was Right!

He returned after sitting alone in the garden and told the company he thought they should back Spion Kop. They were too polite to laugh, but they all said they were certain to lose his money if that was the horse he fancied. He replied that he had never had a bet in his life. I was indisposed at the time, or would certainly have backed the horse, as novices are often as lucky and wise as old racing hands.

Spion Kop won, and the consequences of my husband’s prognostication brought us no money, but merely a false reputation. Both he and I received masses of letters congratulating us upon our newly acquired fortune and asking us for future Turf tips.

This year’s Derby puzzled a good many reliable racing people. No one can doubt that Colombo is a remarkable horse – beautiful to look at with a long and easy stride, and when he galloped past the grand stand I felt that it would take a horse and a half to beat him. I do not remember a favourite of greater reputation. He has never been beaten but he has never run for a mile and a half, and this fact may have made a difference.

As I am not in the racing world, I do not know exactly what happened, but there are always excuses for the failure of a favourite – closed in, or closed out at Tattenham Corner or something wrong somewhere; but as I had backed Windsor Lad I was delighted that Colombo was beaten. I was also delighted that the youngest trainer – Marcus Marsh – and Smirke, who returned to the saddle after a long absence, should have both been successful.

I only caught a glimpse of Windsor Lad as a large lady in front of me – with faults on both sides of the bust, and bustle – obscured my vision, but from what I could see he looked more like a good hunter than a great winner, and I was thrilled with excitement when purple and cream sash won by a length from Easton. The reason I backed Windsor Lad was because I saw in one of the sporting papers that he was a gallant and unexcitable horse, who, with a turn more speed, might prove a dangerous rival to Colombo. Also Mr. Evelyn FitzGerald and Mr. George Lambton both thought well of him.

“Gallant and unexcitable” are great qualities, whether in men or in horses.

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

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