Charlie Smirke: dashing rider with a point to prove
Whatever debate there might have been about Colombo’s misfortune in the race, there was unanimity that Charles Smirke rode Windsor Lad brilliantly. He had a point to prove, for he had been suspended by the Jockey Club for five years, wrongly it was reckoned, after the favourite Welcome Gift, that he was riding, refused to start in a race at Gatwick. That was in 1928, the year in which he was third on Black Watch when Felstead won the Derby. He was just 22 then, and to his credit kept his body and mind in shape under trying circumstances, unfazed by adversity, often having to sleep at the Brighton beach. When he finally got back his licence in October 1933, the dashing and tranquil rider was raring to go.
A brilliant outfit was forged when the Maharaja of Rajpipla and Marcus Marsh picked him to pilot Windsor Lad. As the colt ran on beautifully, Smirke always kept himself within striking distance of the leaders, and when the opportunity arose he slipped through on the inside and never looked back. To the shock and amazement of the hundreds of thousands present on the Epsom Downs, the apparently unbeatable favourite Colombo was trounced.
It was a tremendous resumption of Charles James William Smirke’s long racing career. He joined the famous trainer Stanley Wootton in 1920 and rode in the Derby for the first time in 1924, at just 18 years of age. Smirke won four Derbys in all, including two for the Aga Khan, on Mahmoud in 1936 and Tulyar in 1952, and the final one on Hard Ridden as late as 1958. He claimed seven other classics besides. Having retired in 1959 after a long career, Smirke cut himself off from the racing world, opting to live a life of anonymity. He died in 1993 at the age of 87, without doubt one of the greatest jockeys of his era,
Charlie Smirke fully deserved all the praise that he got in the press after his stunning maiden triumph in the 1934 Derby.
The Evening Standard: “So Colombo, the unbeaten, has fallen. He lost in a race which provided a triumphant ‘comeback’ for C. Smirke. The result was one full of meaning for the superstitious. Smirke was a successful jockey when, in September, 1928, his licence was suspended following an incident at Gatwick. His licence was restored in October last year after five years of ‘purgatory’, as he himself put it. Since then he has had several rides. To-day he rode Windsor Lad to victory in 2 min. 34 sec. – a time equalling the record set by Hyperion last year. He was all smiles as Windsor Lad was led in. It was his first “classic” victory. He was congratulated on all sides. And Smirke said: ‘I felt that I was always winning after the turn into the straight after the Tattenham Corner. Tiberius was the only horse in front of me then, and I knew I could go to the front when I wished. Once I had taken the lead, my horse ran on wonderfully’.”
Leicester Evening Mail: “Windsor Lad provided Charles Smirke with his first success in a “Classic”, the nearest he had ever been before, having finished third on Black Watch in Felstead’s year. He is the elder brother of A. Smirke, and one of Stanely Wootton’s best pupils. In 1927 he finished third in the winning jockeys’ list and was first jockey to the late P.P. Gilpin at Clarehaven, Newmarket. He won the Grand Prix De Paris in 1925 and is a brother-in-law of George Duller, the ex-jockey and trainer.”
Liverpool Post: “Windsor Lad provided Charles Smirke with his first success in a ‘classic’. Describing his success, he said: ‘I was never out of the first five. I felt I was always winning from the turn at the Tattenham Corner. Tiberius was the only horse in front of me, and I knew I could go to the front when I wanted to. Once I had taken the lead my horse ran on and held its own to the winning post’.”
Bouverie in The Daily Mirror: “Windsor Lad’s success was a great triumph for his jockey, C. Smirke, whose suspension for five years by the Jockey Club in 1928 was only withdrawn last October. ‘It was a fine race,’ he said last night. ‘I felt that I was always winning from the turn at Tattenham Corner. Tiberius was the only horse in front of me, and I knew that I could go to the front when I wanted to.’ Full marks to Windsor Lad and Charles Smirke, for what I heard described by a famous trainer as the best bit of Derby work he had ever seen. Smirke had always been a firm believer in Windsor Lad’s ability to win, and no horse has ever been ridden with more confidence and thrust. In the early stages Smirke played a sort of cat-and-mouse game to seize the position he wanted at the right time. Gradually moving place after place, his great opportunity came soon after they had passed the corner. Tiberius had gone into the lead at this point, with Windsor Lad second. Smirke saw his chance to get the rails; a lightning dash put him in the coveted position and in the lead that was never again surrendered.”
Gary Owen in Manchester Dispatch: “The Derby has been the Waterloo of many unbeaten horses in the past. Lord Glanely’s Colombo has joined them, and once again a hot favourite has failed to rise to an important occasion. All credit is due to C. Smirke, the rider of the winner, Windsor Lad, and I am forcibly reminded of his last words to me yesterday: ‘Whatever you do, don’t leave me out of it.’ It was a memorable moment for Marcus Marsh, the trainer of Windsor Lad, when he saw his charge score. He is the youngest among the trainers with a runner in the Derby, and this is his first year as a public trainer. Excuses are being made for Colombo on the grounds that he was interfered with, and began to drop back at the seven furlong starting gate. Colombo certainly lost his place after he had pursued the leader, Medieval Knight, to that point, but in my opinion, Windsor Lad was a winner on merit, thanks to the superb manner in which he was handled by Smirke. 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 he 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.”
Corsair in Sheffield Independent: “All credit is due to C. Smirke, the rider of the winner, Windsor Lad, and I am forcibly reminded of his words to me yesterday. ‘Whatever you do, don’t leave me out of it.’ For some weeks I have insisted that Windsor Lad would be the most popular each way selection for the Derby, and it must not be thought that all the bookmakers have had a good race because Colombo has had his unbeaten record tarnished. Smirke has ridden in the Derby six times and this was his first success. It was only this season that he returned to the saddle after a long absence. 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’.”
Trevor Wignall in Daily Express: “The said Smirke was in the furthest and darkest corner of the room. And surrounding him were jockeys in mufti and stable boys. He was stripping off his purple upper covering when Steve (Donoghue) did the necessary in the way of introduction. It seemed to me that The Man Who Had Come Back knew me in a prize-fighting capacity, but before he could ask me about Len Harvey’s eye, I beat him to it by requesting him to inform me about the race. ‘Well,’ said Smirke (all the jockeys I know talk in this fashion) ‘it was this way. I was with the crowd at the start, but after two furlongs I was moving up towards the leaders. When we got to the bushes I realized that June 6 was going to be my big day. Windsor Lad was moving like a machine, and I didn’t even have to urge him after we had passed Tattenham Corner. I saw Steve was gone, and I had no fear of Colombo, but I did keep an eye on Gordon on Easton. The truth is that it was one of the easiest rides I have ever had, and I never had a doubt about my colt after we had finished the second furlong’.”
Lincoln Echo: “Any racing writer will tell you that the side of his job that he least likes is making selections. Yet nothing gives him greater pleasure than to see those selections ‘come off’. And the greatest thrill of all is to forecast the winner of the Derby. I hope I may be pardoned, therefore, for drawing attention to the fact that I have found the winner for the second successive year. I must admit that my confidence in Windsor Lad was nothing like what I felt regarding Hyperion’s chance last year. Nevertheless, the result was the same, and I hope my readers benefitted accordingly. It was indeed only after my talk with Smirke a fortnight ago that I decided to row in with the Maharaja of Rajpipla’s colt. He was so emphatic that if there was any weak link in Colombo’s armour he would have a great chance of winning that I there and then decided to make Windsor Lad my choice. And Windsor Lad justified it by winning gallantly and cleverly. And here let me pay tribute to Charlie Smirke. No jockey could have ridden a better-judged race, and the way he snatched the coveted rails position making the bend into the straight, probably made all the difference between winning and losing. Even that great Epsom specialist, Donoghue, could not have ridden a more perfect race.”
(Author Indra Vikram Singh, grandson of Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla, can be contacted on email firstname.lastname@example.org).
A Maharaja’s Turf is available at an attractive price on Amazon: https://www.amazon.in/dp/8190166832
A Maharaja’s Turf
Published in India by Sporting Links, 2011
Hardcover with jacket
Other books of Indra Vikram Singh available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.in/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_7?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=indra+vikram+singh&sprefix=Indra+V%2Caps%2C1039&crid=1PMFPWD8BCRGT