Lily Agnes was nothing much to look at as a racehorse, but then neither was her dam Polly Agnes. Indeed, Polly Agnes was so unprepossessing that her owner, Sir Tatton Sykes, gave her away to his stud groom, James Snarry. Fortunately, that didn’t prevent a mating with the 1863 2000 Guineas and Derby winner Macaroni, which subsequently gave birth to Lily Agnes.
The horse is commemorated in the opening race of the Chester May meeting, the Lily Agnes Stakes. She was described as a “light-fleshed, ragged- hipped, lop-eared filly”, but had a highly successful career, winning 19 races over four years. She was a sprinter who developed into a stayer, as she won at distances ranging from five furlongs to three miles, taking the Northumberland Plate, the Ebor and the Doncaster Cup.
The connection with Chester comes from breeding rather than racing. Lily Agnes proved her worth in racing, and Snarry had ambitious ideas when it came to breeding from her. He sent her to the Duke of Westminster’s stud at Eaton Hall, just four miles south of Chester, where, like her own dam, she was covered by Doncaster, also a Derby winner. The product of this mating was a colt named Rossington (Yorkshire readers will immediately understand what was going on the naming), but he didn’t achieve much on the racetrack.
But Lily Agnes had caught the eye of the Duke’s stud manager, Richard Chapman, who later recorded, “Lily Agnes, when the property of Mr Snarry, of Malton, came here on a visit to Doncaster. I liked her so much that I urged the Duke to buy her. His grace had not, however, made up his mind to adapt my suggestion by the time the mare was ready to go back home.” And so nearly slipped one of the major bloodlines of the past 100 years.
Chapman was subsequently dispatched to Malton and recalled, “Eventually the Duke decided to buy her. But he made the stipulation with Snarry that nobody, apart from themselves, should know how much he paid.”
The price remained a secret for several years, but it proved to be a real bargain, as many Classic and what are now Group 1 winners were bred from Lily Agnes. These include Farewell, winner of the 1000 Guineas, Ossory, twice successful at Royal Ascot, and Ormonde, winner of the Triple Crown in 1886, and, of course, himself recalled in the Ormonde Stakes later in the week.
It was only after Ormonde had won the St Leger that it emerged the Duke had paid £2500 and two foals from Bend Or. But it was the Duke who owned the most successful of the couplings between Lily Agnes and Bend Or - and that was Ormonde.