Graham Buddry looks at the overworked but brilliant Sceptre
TThere are five English Classics which resonate throughout the racing world. Their standing is such that a winner of any one of them increases its value at stud far more than the actual prize money won.
The Derby, the most famous Flat race in the world, has had its name added as a suffix to the top race in many countries as a mark of the prestige the race carries.
The oldest of the Classics is the St Leger, first run on 24 September 1776 for 25 guineas, having been devised by the MP for Grimsby, Major-General Anthony St Leger.
In 1779 The Oaks was run for the first time as the result of a dinner party where the 12th Earl of Derby and his guests came up with the race named after his estate.
A year later, in 1780, another new race came into being following another dinner party where legend has it that the Earl of Derby and Sir Charles Bunbury decided on whose name it should carry by the toss of a coin.
Most racing connoisseurs know he holds his own place in the history of the turf through the Bunbury Cup, but how many know that Sir Charles was the driving force who devised both the Two Thousand Guineas, first run in 1809, and the One Thousand Guineas of 1814.
Until the present day quite a number of horses have won two of these races, all of which are open to fillies while only three of them are open to the colts. The “Triple Crown” is deemed to be the Two Thousand Guineas, Derby and St Leger, while the “Fillies Triple Crown” consists of the One Thousand Guineas, Oaks and St Leger.
There have been a round dozen horses who have won the Triple Crown, or 15 if you count the three years of 1915, ’17 and ’18 when Newmarket played host to the Epsom races. The first of these was Gladiateur in 1865 with other notables being Ormonde in 1886, Bahram, 1935, and Nijinsky in 1970.
Eight fillies have won their own version of the Triple Crown, the most recent being Oh So Sharp in 1985.
Holding her own place in the history of triple Classic winners is Crucifix, who in 1840 won the One Thousand Guineas, Two Thousand Guineas and the Oaks.
Going back to 1868 we find a threeand-a-half time Classic winner in Formosa whose victories in the One Thousand Guineas, Oaks and St Leger were interspersed with an admirable performance in the Two Thousand Guineas where she was accorded a dead heat with Moslem. In those farflung days before a photo finish system races were determined as a dead heat if the judge could not visually separate the protagonists at the line. To decide the winner the inseparable pair would then race again over the full distance. In 1868, the race was officially awarded to Moslem after the connections of Formosa declined to have their horse participate in the race-off.
And so it would seem the history of the English Classics is covered. Except for one thing. A filly, considered as one of the greatest racehorses of all time, who went by the name of Sceptre.
Bred by the 1st Duke of Westminster on 9 April 1899 the bay filly was by the 1896 Derby and St Leger winner, Persimmon, who also won the Eclipse and Ascot Gold Cup the following year. Good things were expected by her breeding but the Duke would never see her race as he died barely two months after her birth.
With all his bloodstock auctioned off, the 2nd Duke lost out on the bidding at 10,000 guineas to Robert Sievier, who eventually trained the filly himself as a three-year-old and became champion trainer in 1902 due almost entirely to her. Sievier was also perpetually short of funds and ran his charge far more than was sensible as he desperately needed the prize money as well as the profits from some heavy gambles on his star turn.
With two good victories from three races as a two-year-old, Sceptre started the next season running in the Lincoln Handicap. Carrying just
6st 7lbs, Sievier backed her to win £30,000. She came second by a
Her next race was against the colts in the Two Thousand Guineas for which she started as joint favourite and she beat them all comfortably in a record time to become only the sixth filly to win this race since its inception (the seventh, and most recent, was Garden Path in 1944.) Third that day, beaten by three lengths, was the well-fancied Ard Patrick.
Incredibly she turned out for the
One Thousand Guineas only two days later and won that as well.
Despite the winning stakes money and landing some heavy bets on these two Classic victories, Sievier (who was declared bankrupt on three occasions) was soon short of cash again so he bet well beyond his means on Sceptre winning her next race which was no less than the Derby. Her public standing as well as Siever’s money ensured she went off at evens in the field of 18; the bookies reporting liabilities of over £500,000 on the filly.
In all truth she should have won this as well but heavily bruised a foot only ten days before the race. At the start Sceptre missed the break and lost a dozen lengths before setting off in pursuit, catching the others and storming through to such an extent that by half way she was on the heels of the leader, Ard Patrick. This 100/14 shot pulled three easy lengths clear in the home straight to claim the spoils while Sceptre took a highly creditable fourth place, just losing third spot close home.
The prize money didn’t come close to covering Sievier’s liabilities so Sceptre turned out again two days later in the Oaks. Winning this race with supreme ease, Sievier immediately made arrangements for the prize money to be paid in cash so he could settle his outstanding Derby losses with the bookies.
With a hard season already under her belt and Sievier still looking to cash in on his golden goose, she ran unplaced in the Grand Prix de Paris before lining up at Royal Ascot. Twice.
Fourth place in the Coronation Stakes was followed a day later by a comfortable win in the St James’ Palace Stakes.
Running twice in the space of a few days was then repeated at Goodwood where our heroine ran in both the Sussex Stakes and the Nassau Stakes, winning the latter having been galloped hard during the intervening three days.
After what amounted to a short break, Sceptre was back for the
“In terms of English Classics, the incredible Sceptre stands in a league of her own ”
St Leger at Doncaster which she won pulling away, thus becoming the only horse to win four English Classics outright. A truly remarkable feat.
Needless to say Sievier was still wanting money so ran her two days later in the Park Hill Stakes over the same distance and when she didn’t win he sent her to auction but she failed to reach the extortionate reserve which had been set.
By the time the 1903 Flat season began Sievier was broke again so Sceptre lined up in the Lincoln for the second time but carrying 9st 1lb this time. Over Norton made full use of his 23lb weight advantage to win while three others, all carrying between 15 and 30 pounds less, pushed Sceptre back to fifth place.
Perhaps fortunately Sievier had to sell his only asset and for £25,000 she became the property of Sir William Bass, heir to the Bass brewing company. (The family name was later changed to Hastings-Bass, for whom the present incumbent, also named William, is known better as the 17th Earl of Huntingdon, who as a raceneck, horse trainer in his own right, won many races including the Ascot Gold Cup on two occasions.)
After winning the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, Sceptre next lined up in what was termed at the time as the “Race of the Century” for the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown.
Sceptre, a 7/4 chance, would meet her old adversary, Ard Patrick, a 5/1 shot this time, who had won his only other race of the season, the Princess of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot in a canter. The 5/4 favourite, Rock Sand, had won virtually everything of note as a two-year-old and had already captured the Two Thousand Guineas and Derby, among others, in the present campaign. He would later land the Triple Crown by adding the St Leger to his impressive résumé.
Rock Sand was prominent early on before leading into the home turn. Ard Patrick now challenged strongly and went past him, pulling away only for Sceptre to swoop powerfully down the outside, looking certain to win. Inside the final furlong Ard Patrick started to fight back, the half length becoming a the neck becoming a head, a short head, a nose. Locked together they battled for all their worth, Ard Patrick just getting up on the line with Rock Sand three lengths back in third place.
The incredibly resilient Sceptre ran four more times that season, winning them all, including the Champion Stakes and the 1¾ mile Jockey Club Stakes. Here she again accounted for Rock Sand, by four lengths this time while giving the Triple Crown winner a massive 18 pounds, double the weightfor-age requirement. The race result at the time records Sceptre winning with “consummate ease”.
As a five-year-old Sceptre ran just three times placing second in the Coronation Cup and third in both the Hardwicke Stakes and Ascot Gold
After a modest career at stud, Sceptre died of old age in February 1926 at the age of 27.
An incredibly tough and durable filly, in the terms of English Classics, the incredible Sceptre deservedly stands in a league of her own.