With the Cheltenham Festival fast approaching, I thought I would take a look at one of the earliest stars and his eccentric owner.
Dorothy Paget purchased Golden Miller in 1931 along with a potentially decent hurdler named Insurance for close to £10,000. Paget was the daughter of Lord Queenborough and Pauline Payne Whitney. The Whitney family were famed in America for their association with the thoroughbred racing industry.
She was an aristocrat, born into a privileged lifestyle with a love of all things fast. She’d been a fair rider in her youth, but issues with her weight meant she became a spectator rather than a participator. Fast cars and racehorses became her passion and she threw plenty of money at both pastimes.
In 1930 she financed the construction of supercharged Bentleys in a business venture with racing driver Tim Birkin. A three year spell failed to deliver a single victory on the track, but the same could not be said for Paget’s involvement in horse racing.
In the 1930’s and 40s she became champion owner both on the Flat and over the Jumps. Her horse Straight Deal won the Epsom Derby and she owned seven Cheltenham Gold Cup winners. She also won the Champion Hurdle on four occasions and the outstanding Golden Miller took the Grand National for her in 1934.
She became a notorious character within the sport and was renowned for her eccentricity. A complete disregard for men in a sport dominated by them was always likely to create a story or two. She constantly moved her horses from one owner to another after numerous clashes, famously falling out with Golden Miller’s trainer Basil Briscoe despite the horse having won numerous Gold Cups and a Grand National under his guidance.
Paget became a notorious gambler spending thousands at a time. Her largest bet was said to be £160,000 to win just £20,000, and although that particular bet was successful many were not. Bookies stayed open at night to receive her phone-calls and late night punts, often on races that had already taken place.
She ate to excess and smoked non-stop during every waking hour, and it was therefore no surprise that a heart attack took her at the relatively young age of 55. Books have been written on the legendary owner and her unconventional and often belligerent lifestyle.
But what of that fortuitous purchase back in 1931? The two horses went on to win the Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle. Insurance repeated his Champion Hurdle triumph in 1932, whilst Golden Miller became one of the all-time greats, going on to win the Gold Cup five times between 1932 and 1936. He also completed the Gold Cup and Grand National double in 1934.
He was bred in Ireland by Barry Geraghty’s grandfather Laurence. The horse was trained by Basil Briscoe in Cambridgeshire. He had told Paget that she was purchasing a future Gold Cup winner. He proved to be a terrific judge. He won his first Gold Cup at the age of five and went on to dominate the race for half a decade. Fluid over his fences rather than spectacular, the horse fell in love with Cheltenham and saved his best for the course.
His most thrilling success came in 1934 when taking on the excellent Thomond II. The pair had met on several occasions with Golden Miller coming off second best at Kempton. Only five horses made the starting line, with the two favourites settled at the back. With less than a mile to go the pair stepped on the gas and in a thrilling head to head it was Golden Miller that clung on to his crown by less than a length.
Despite years of success, Paget moved all of her horses from Briscoe placing her Gold Cup winner with Owen Anthony. The horse won again at Cheltenham completing his incredible five-timer. His record has never been matched, and Paget remains the most successful owner in the history of the Gold Cup. Both were exceptional in their own inimitable way.