Gentlemen and Blackguards: Gambling Mania and the Plot to Steal the Derby of 1844 Paperback – 26 May 2011
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Foulkes tells the murky story with characteristic panache. (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)
Fascinating (CATHOLIC HERALD)
The book not only concerns itself with the Derby ... along the way, there are murky tales of illegal gaming houses, prize fighting, murder, suicide and duelling. (SOUTH WALES ARGUS)
Men, money, duelling and murder: welcome to the infamous Derby race of 1844 and the gambling mania that gripped early 19th century Britain.See all Product description
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The cast of characters in the book is wide and varied - from the gentlemen to the blackguards. There is nothing more zealous than a convert and George Bentinck was determined to stamp out corruption in horse-racing. The plot in the 1844 Derby has been repeated often over the years - substituting horses - and on this occasion was not successful.
A fascinating insight into changing society and how fortunes were won and lost.
Among all sporting scandals, the 1844 Derby stands out because it involved several apparently unrelated scandals. There was cheating to try and ensure victory; the race was for three-year-old horses, but two older horses ran in the race, these being Running Rein and Leander. There was also cheating to stop at least one horse winning; Ratan, who was very likely the best horse in the race, was drugged up to his eyeballs and ridden by a jockey who had bet against him, yet still finished seventh of 29 as they crossed the line. Ratan`s main rival, had the race been cleanly run, was expected to be that year`s 2,000 Guineas winner, The Ugly Buck, who crossed the line in fifth place. It may just be that, like so many 2,000 Guineas winners, he lacked the stamina needed for the extra half mile of the Derby.
Although the 1844 Derby was the inspiration for this book and is ultimately its focal point, much of the book discusses gambling and the English aristocracy as they were in the early nineteenth century. Indeed, the author only gets round to covering Derby Day in chapter 13 (of 20) so this book may appeal to those interested in nineteenth century history as much as it does to horseracing fans. That said, there is much here to interest those horseracing fans who are interested in how the sport developed.
Prior to the nineteenth century, aristocrats had gambled among themselves, whether they were betting on horses, cards or anything else. The early nineteenth century brought about changes that were eventually to transform gambling. Outsiders came into the gambling world with people like John Gully, one of the pioneering racecourse bookmakers (but they weren't called bookmakers then) and William Crockford, one of the men who managed gambling of other types in the West End. Both of these men are discussed extensively.
The central character in this book is Lord George Bentinck, the aristocrat who exposed the 1844 Derby fraud. In his younger days, he had been party to a lot of the cheating that went on in the world of horseracing. He was a racehorse owner too, and sometimes stooped to dirty tricks to achieve success, but it seems that at some point he decided that things were getting out of hand and it was time to clean up the sport. Often accused of hypocrisy because of his earlier cheating, perhaps it is a case of there being much joy in one sinner who repents. He came to be regarded as a hero and his murky past was forgotten - except that enough information was on record somewhere for the author-historian to be able to write about.
Throughout the book, one is reminded that truth is invariably stranger than fiction, which merely reinforces my long-held belief that the 1844 Epsom Derby was the most notorious sporting contest in history.
When the 1844 Derby ended in chaos, with the two favourite horses doped and the result challenged, the subsequent court case threw a light into this murky world. And this forced changes throughout society as the hedonistic free-wheeling spirit of the time gave way to Victorian values and codes of respectable behaviour.
But the book not only concerns itself with the Derby, as historian Nicholas Foulkes also examines the way that gambling had affected all sections of society. Along the way there are murky tales of illegal gaming houses, prize fighting, murder, suicide and dueling.
Gentleman and Blackguards, with its cast of colourful characters, is a very readable account of a fascinating point in British history - the dawning of the Victorian age.