The decision of trainer Mark Johnston and owner Sheikh Hamdan to stump up the £85k to supplement Permian for tomorrow's Derby opens the door to a rare event in racing: a Derby winner trained at Middleham, in the heart of Wensleydale. Indeed, so unusual would it be that I can assure you that none of you, your parents, or your grandparents would have been able to remember the previous occasion.
The 1840s was the decade when the first postage stamp, the Penny Black, was issued; the first Morse code transmission took place, and Jane Eyre was published. In 1843 Richard Wagner conducted the premiere of his opera, The Flying Dutchman, and in 1848 a horse of the same name began his racing career. Unbeaten in five races as a two year old, The Flying Dutchman faced a tough task in the Derby the following year, not least because it was his first race of the season and took place at an Epsom racecourse that had been drenched with three days of rain beforehand.
The Flying Dutchman went straight into the lead and continued in front for the first mile. Then he was to be tested. Hotspur was the strongest of his 26 (!) rivals, and appeared to have settled the race as he took over and pulled a length clear. It was time to see what the Dutchman was made of. He had never really been extended in his juvenile races, so when jockey Charlie Marlow picked up his whip, nobody could be sure how the horse would respond. Two taps showed the onlookers, and close to the finish The Flying Dutchman put his nose in front once more.
The most unusual feature of his success was the approach taken by trainer John Fobert. His stables, Spigot Lodge, where Karl Burke now trains, lay midway between the Low and High Moor gallops. Go to the High Moor now and you can see the Rubbing Houses, a block of five stalls, one now fallen down, where horses were subjected to the Yorkshire Sweats. An explanation of them can be seen on a panel close by.
"The main use of the Rubbing Houses was during the training of the horses and the method known as the Yorkshire Sweats. The horses would be well wrapped in blankets and galloped over long distances before returning to the Rubbing House to have sweat removed and blankets replaced.
In the 18th century horses did not run just one race on race day. They ran in heats. Rubbing Houses were used between the heats when the sweat was scrubbed off and horses were kept warm until the next heat.
The Rubbing Houses were used for this purpose for a very short period of time as the Yorkshire Sweats method of training fell into disfavour and was replaced by other more favourable training routines."
Running a horse in more than one race a day continued for many years, and The Flying Dutchman had won two of his juvenile races on the same day.
What of this year's Wensleydale contender, Permian? I have to own up to hoping he wins, as I was staying in Middleham barely 100 yards from Mark Johnston's base when Permian won the Dante the other week. It's a connection of the heart for sure, but there are good racing reasons to support him. He knows the track and has no bother with the expected good ground. It won't bother him if it firms up or if there's rain.
Permian is priced at 11/1, whereas Cracksman, who beat Permian by only a short head in the Epsom Derby Trial in April, is only 4/1. And Cracksman missed the Dante because of the soft ground, and so comes to Epsom after only one race last season and one this. I'm with Permian to join the likes of St Paddy, Shirley Heights, Reference Point and Golden Horn and complete the Dante/Derby double.
Oh, and by the way, if you are at Epsom, you can visit The Rubbing House for yourself. It's the pub on the inside of the track just beyond the winning post. Have one for me.
- Ian Sutherland