Yorkshire Jockeys Horse Racing

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Fred Archer double at Thirsk, April 24, 1884

Fred Archer double at Thirsk, April 24, 1884


To today’s sporting audience, it would be difficult to explain the mystique that surrounded the Victorian jockey Fred Archer during his career or the excitement that his one and only visit to Thirsk races created in 1884.

Archer was based in Newmarket and rode principally for Matthew Dawson, who was one of the first public trainers in the sport, which, until then, had seen wealthy owners appoint their own private trainers.

Dawson, a Scotsman, originally worked as assistant to his eldest brother Thomas at Tupgill, Middleham before returning to Scotland to set up in his own right. By the spring of 1884, he was well established at Newmarket and had already won 17 of the 28 Classics he would amass throughout his career.

Key to these successes was the brilliant Fred Archer, the first man to ride more than 200 winners in a British Flat season, a feat he achieved eight times and in an age when travel was far from easy, despite the burgeoning railway network and when there was no all-weather or Sunday racing.

In London, ask any worker how they were and, if all was good, you would probably get the answer ‘Archer’s Up!’ Little wonder he was synonymous with success when you consider that in 17 seasons riding, Archer was champion jockey 13 times, rode 21 Classic winners and in total had 2,748 winners from 8,084 mounts – a career strike rate of better than 33%.

So news that the great man was to ride at Thirsk caused immense excitement in the town. After riding three winners at Epsom’s Spring meeting on the Tuesday, Archer made the journey North, going by train to Marske in Swaledale to stay overnight at Marske Hall, home of John Hutton and his family.

Hutton, whose ancestors included an Archbishop of Canterbury, was descended from John Hutton breeder of the stallion Marske, whose son Eclipse was one of the greatest racehorses of all time and who is remembered to this day by the group one race at Sandown Park.

And so, on the morning of Thursday, April 24, after presenting his host with a whip as a thank you gift for his accommodation, Archer caught the train for the relatively short trip from Marske down to Thirsk.

When he arrived, the town band had turned out to greet him at the station, along with a huge crowd of well-wishers who needed no second invitation to carry him shoulder high from the station down to the racecourse.

In the town itself, the Town Crier was out with the news that ‘the wonder of the world’ Fred Archer had arrived and would be riding that day.

He had just two rides. He was there principally to ride Laverock in the Sixth Great Yorkshire Foal Stakes, a colt owned and trained by Dawson, but he had also been booked by Tom Green for Jovial in the High-weight Selling Handicap.

As the Sporting Gazette recorded “Yorkshiremen are quite alive to the value of Archer’s riding” so both his rides went off favourite, Jovial was 6-4 for the seller and Laverock 2-1 on for the Foal Stakes. They both duly obliged.

Jovial came home one-and-a-half lengths to the good from second favourite Blue Beau, but did not attract a bid at the auction, while Laverock won by the same margin when beating Mint Lozenge, who was owned, trained and bred by the great Yorkshire horseman John Osborne.

After completing his double by the third race, Archer left to catch a train south so that he could be at Sandown Park on the Saturday where he had two rides. Almost needless to say, they both won.

At the end of the year, while riding at Liverpool, Archer received a telegram to say that his wife Nell, niece of trainer Matthew Dawson, had given birth to a baby daughter, but that there had been complications. He raced back to Newmarket to find his wife dying.

Little more than two years later, while suffering from a fever after being taken ill at Lewes races, he shot himself in a fit of delirium. Archer died on November 8, 1886 aged just 29.