Race Histories 11: The Royal Hunt Cup

James Jewitt - top trainer in RHC

James Jewitt - top trainer in RHC

It would be nice to think that the Royal Hunt Cup was named after the Danish prog-rock band, but as the race was started in 1843 and the band more than 150 years later, that’s clearly not the case.

As with so many races, its conditions and distance have changed over the years, although in the case of the RHC, less so than most. It has been run over a distance of a mile since 1956, and the 25 years before that saw it’s shortest distanced of 7 furlongs 150 yards. But 70 yards can make a heck of a difference at the business end of a race. That change in distance in 1956 also saw the race move to the straight course.

We all know it’s a difficult race, and with around 30 horses, often split into three groups. One measure of its challenge is that only one horse has managed to win the race twice, although plenty have tried. The creature with that particular place in the record books is Master Vote, who earned his unique achievement in 1947 and 1948.

The first heat in 1843 marked the race out as one for unusual outcomes, as it featured a triple dead heat for second place between Bourra Tomacha, Epaulette and Garry Owen, something I have never come across in 50 years of watching racing. None of them could catch Knight Of The Whistle. Perhaps he should have been a good horse – take his pedigree back five generations and you come to Eclipse.

No doubt the fact that the race is so competitive is the reason there are few multiple winning trainers and jockeys. To find the most successful trainer, with five winners, you have to go back to James Jewitt, who trained out of Bedford Lodge (not to be confused with Bedford House Stables, home of Luca Cumani) in the late 19th century. The Royal Hunt Cup was not Jewitt’s biggest success; he’s one of the select band to train the winner of both the Derby (Isinglass 1893) and the Grand National (Regal 1876 and Seaman 1882).

As for jockeys, the highest score is four. From the same era as Jewitt there’s Charles Wood, who started his apprenticeship at the tender age of 11. More recently, Lester Piggott notched up four between 1963 and 1976. That record is safe, although three of today’s riders, Jimmy Fortune, Frankie Dettori and Kieren Fallon are all aiming for a third win in the race.

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