Dec 092011

It is interesting to see how many of the key names and traditions of modern horse racing date back to the second half of the eighteenth century. Think Jockey Club (founded 1750); think Tattersall’s (bloodstock auctioneers, founded by Richard Tattersall with headquarters off Hyde Park in 1766) ; think thoroughbred stud books (John Weatherby produced the first one in 1791 and it has been maintained ever since by the Weatherby family/company, meticulously recording every thoroughbred birth in England and Ireland). Add to these the fact that the Oaks was first raced in 1779 and the Derby in 1780.

The period also saw the introduction of racing colours, known now as silks, in 1762. Their use was adopted by the Jockey Club with the record as follows:

“For the greater conveniency of distinguishing the horses running, as also for the prevention of disputes
arising from not knowing the colours worn by each rider, the underwritten gentlemen have come to the resolution and agreement of having the colours annexed to the following names, worn by their respective riders: The stewards therefore hope, in the name of the Jockey Club, that the named gentlemen will take care that the riders be provided with dresses accordingly

Nineteen owners were listed: seven Dukes, one Marquis, four Earls. one Viscount, one Lord, two Baronets, and three commoners.
The Duke of Cumberland chose: “purple”
The Duke of Grafton chose: “sky blue”
The Duke of Devonshire chose: “straw”
The Duke of Northumberland chose: “yellow”
The Duke of Kingston chose “crimson”
The Duke of Ancaster chose: “buff”
The Duke of Bridgewater chose: “garter blue”
The Earl of Waldegrave chose: “deep red”
The Earl of Oxford chose: “purple and white”
The Earl of March chose: “white”
The Earl of Gower chose: “blue”
Viscount Bolingbroke chose: “black”
Lord Grosvenor chose: “orange”
Sir John Moore chose: “darkest green”
Sir James Lowther chose: “orange”
Mr. R. Vernon chose: “white”
The Hon. Mr. Greville chose “brown trimmed with yellow”
Mr. Jenison Shafto chose: “pink”

Sir J Lowther proved indecisive and failed to make his mind up in  time…

Originally, a black velvet huntsman’s cap was the only type used by the riders and was more or less associated with the colours listed above, but this gave way to caps varied in colour as we know them today.  Of those listed, one family have kept the same set of colours throughout the ensuing two and a half centuries – the Duke of Devonshire with his straw colours.

Both William Douglas (1725-1810) who later became known as ‘Old Q’ once he became the 4th Duke of Queensbury, and the Honourable Richard Vernon of Newmarket chose White. In fact ‘Old Q’ reverted to using his black and red racing colours for an astonishing 57 consecutive years of racing between 1748 and 1805. He was an infamous old roué but a great supporter of Racing and a devoted gambler. No mean amateur jockey himself, on one occasion his chosen jockey informed him that bookmakers were offering him money to throw a race. The Duke advised him to take the money – and then on the day of the race inspected his horse in the parade ring before announcing that it was such a fine horse that he would ride it himself – and promptly removed his great coat to reveal his red and black silks underneath. He won the race.

An all-black strip has been associated with some of the great names of the horse racing world – first with Viscount Bolingbroke. Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke (1732-1787) kept a stable of some twenty racehorses. He owned several famous horses including Gimcrack, who was painted by George Stubbs with the jockey in black colours. He also owned the great racehorse (and later great stud) Highflyer – who was undefeated in fourteen race starts. Highflyer had to be sold during his racing career because Lord Bolingbroke had racked up a huge gambling debt. The purchaser, paying £2,500, was Richard Tattersall, who made at least £15,000 a year out of stud fees for the heroic animal (enough to pay for the building of a fine mansion for Tattersall, appropriately  called Highflyer Hall

File:George Stubbs 010.jpg
Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, painted by Stubbs in 1765

The black colours then passed to the Duke of Grafton before being adopted by the 9th Duke of Hamilton (1740 – 1819). Jockeys wearing his famous black silks won seven St Leger wins in the period between 1786 and 1814. A later all-black owner, John Bowes, won the Derby on no fewer than four occasions between 1835 and 1853.

In 1787 the then Lord Derby changed his colours from “green and white stripes” to the famous “black with white cap” which is still used by his successors today. Due to a superstition which followed Lord Derby’s Sansovino win in the 1924 Derby the jacket always has one white button amongst the black.

In 1799 the Grosvenor family dropped the all-orange and adopted “yellow with a black cap” colours which have been used by the Dukes of Westminster ever since.

For many years there was a free-for-all with horse owners choosing all manner of colours and combinations. Finally in 1971 the Jockey Club laid down a list of just 18 permitted colours. This means that in accordance with the rules of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities there are 18 colours, 25 body designs, and 12 sleeve designs. This gives a huge number of permutations (Weatherby’s have over 19,000 combinations registered).Oddly you do not even have to own a horse to own a set of colours – some are bought as an investment – yes, there are people who buy ‘cherished’ colours as an alternative investment particularly if these have a particular historical connection. If any of the original ‘pure’ colours comes up for auction, expect to pay tens of thousands of pounds as with the plain emerald green strip sold in Ireland (for charity) in 1995. For a time these cherished colours were sold “under the counter” and so in 1996 the British Horseracing Board introduced a sale of currently unregistered colours. There were a dozen of them, and the sale fetched just under £130,000 with the highest figure (£28,750 ) going to a plain dark-blue set of silks. That is dwarfed by the £69,000 paid by stable owner John Fretwell for his plain lime-green colours or by the plain pink set bought by Mrs Sue Magnier. Mr Shafto, who had the registration for plain pink back in 1762, would have been amazed (and no, his jockeys didn’t wear silver buckles at their knees – that’s a different Shafto altogether…).

The Battenberg   PINK and YELLOW sponge cake           The Chocolatier         BEIGE apron, CHOCOLATE dunked sleeves

The Obama        RED and WHITE stripes, BLUE cap, WHITE stars             The Traffic Cone        ORANGE plastic, WHITE reflective strip

The Cruella de Vil  BLACK spots, WHITE fur               The Lighthouse   RED and WHITE paint, YELLOW revolving light

Pictures courtesy of the British Horse Racing  Authority site at  showing racing silks supplied by Allerton & Co.

  8 Responses to “18th Century horse racing.”


    The pink of the day was a darker shade than we think of today as pink and not perhaps quite such a ‘baby girl’ colour in the semiotic language of the time.
    Good job they didn’t pick colours that were fashionable like ‘stifled sigh’. [if you were wondering it’s a washed out lavender colour].
    Interesting to consider that had the race that gave the Derby its name gone to the other contestant’s horse we should now watch the Bunbury.


    Other colours given in JB Muir’s Raciana during the period from 1764 to 1820 are:
    Lord Abingdon 1774 Blue & white stripe
    Mr A Annesley 1796 Skyblue black cap
    Sir G Armytage B 1790 Yellow with black velvet spots black cap with yellow spots
    Sir Willoughby Aston B 1789 Black & white stripe
    M Ayrton 1790 Green & white stripe
    Sir C Bamfylde B 1777 Purple with green stripe
    Hn JS Barry 1792 Lilac straw coloured cap
    Earl of Barrymore 1792 Broad blue & yellow stripe
    Duke of Bedford 1792 Purple with white stripe
    Earl of Belfast 1794 Red black cap
    Lo Edw Bentinck 1779 Orange maroon cap
    Duke of Bolton 1777 Light orange
    Lord Baringdon 1783 Green black cap
    Mr Thos Brand 1775 Purple & buff
    Mr Thos Bullock 1783 Straw trimmed with purple
    The Earl of Burford 1800 a White black cap
    Mr Burlton 1780 Yellow with purple & yellow cap
    Lord Carteret 1784 Black & white paned
    Lord Cavendish 1789 Straw black cap


    From ‘Eclipse and O’Kelly’ by Sir Theodore Andrea Cook”
    Colonel Whaley 1817 White cambric body right sleeve coquelicot satin white cap tied with coquelicot
    Mr W Whaley 1800 White cambric body with satin coquelicot sleeves coquelicot velvet cap
    Colonel Dennis O Kelly’s colours were as we have seen scarlet with a black cap and no others are correct for a picture of Eclipse when racing though even contemporary authorities like JN Sartorius are occasionally wrong. In 1792 Andrew O Kelly had scarlet with a light blue cap.
    The Prince of Wales used in 1783 Crimson waistcoat purple sleeves black cap
    1790 Purple white striped waistcoat with scarlet and white striped sleeves black cap
    1792 Purple waistcoat scarlet sleeves trimmed with gold black cap
    1801 Crimson waistcoat with purple sleeves black cap
    1806 Purple waistcoat with scarlet sleeves trimmed with gold black cap
    George IV in 1827 Crimson body gold lace purple sleeves black cap
    Earl of Wilton 1810 Mazarine blue black cap
    Earl of Winchilsea 1792 Yellow black cap
    Sir Roland Winn B 1802 Straw
    Hon C Wyndham 1782 Yellow blue cap
    Sir WW Wynn B 1802 Green & red waistcoat

    So it looks as if they were always chopping and changing their colours.


    Many of the early colours were quite pale – pastel colours which would not nowadays have been approved (eg the straw colour kept throughout by the Duke of Devonshire). I find it fascinating that people pay for ´cherished silks’ – there is a whole world out there I know (or rather, knew) nothing about!


    A new Geo Arnull painting found in America , has the colours of the tunic in pale blue with a pink sash from the right shoulder to the waist,with a pink cap. Do you know who had these colours Please.


    I suggest that you try the Jockey Club website


    Whilst this site is correct to refer to the Jockey Club listing of specific silks for members of the Club in 1762 the actual use of colours predates this by many decades. Most earlier paintings show grooms riding out on the Heath in their employers’ colours. What the Jockey Club was doing, as you will see if you look at the actual reference quoted in the Racing Calendar, is wanting its members to be more consistent in their use of it would be helpful at Newmarket, which was their main concern during this period. .


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