January 1, 1970

In 1951, Clementine Churchill wrote to an old friend, remarking on her husband’s peculiar new interest: “Have you seen his horse Colonist 11?...I do think this is a queer new facet in Winston’s variegated life. Before he bought the horse (I can’t think why) he had hardly been on a racecourse in his life. Imust say Idon’t find it madly amusing.”1Clementine could not have been more wrong. Before their mar­ riage, Winston had not only been on racecourses but had ridden  round them, with some success. As Chancellor of che Ex­ chequer, he had presided over a revolutionary change in racecourse bet­ ting. And in the next thir­ teen years he would go on to become one of the most successful racehorse owners and breeders in England

Given Sir Winston’s background, it would have been more surprising if he had not been interested in racing. His maternal grand­ father, Leonard Jerome, was a great supporter of the turf in America, building his own racecourse, while be­ tween 1889 and 1893 Lord Randolph Churchill, Win­ston’s father, was a leading English owner. Lord Ran­dolph only really became interested  in  horses  after his withdrawal from politics in 1886, buying a black filly, ”L’Abbesse de Jourrare.” (The  public promptly  labelled her ”Abscess on uhe Jaw.”) Nobody had any great hopes for che Abbesse, and although Lord Randolph  did enter her for the Oaks (a classic race for fillies), he did not bother to back her or even to watch the race, disappearing instead on a fishing holiday. Possibly the Abbesse felt she had a point to prove, for she amazed everybody by winning. Her owner (in between remarks on the fishing) wrote to Lady Randolph: “Just a few lines to tell you how overjoyed was to hear of the Abbesse winning the Oaks. I hope you were there to see her win….What a surprise!…We must not any longer talk of ‘worthless animals.'”2  

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The Abbesse went on to win over £10,000 in her career, and 16-year-old Winston was as enthusias­ tic about her as his father. From Harrow he ex­ plained, have been con­ gratulated on all quarters on account of the flukey filly.’ After another success he wrote:“I drank the Abbesse’s health in lemon squash and we eat [sicher luck in strawberry mash.3 Even before this, young Churchill had been fond of horses; at school in Brighton  he liked  riding better  than anything else.He took co-horseracing as a cavalry subaltern at Sand­hurst, and his delight in the  sport comes across 
years later, in this passage from My Early Life:

My dearest Father….The Riding Examination took place on Friday….all the cadets were examined who pass out this term 127 in all. Then 15 were picked to compete together for the prize. I was one of those….Well we rode jumped with & without stirrups & without reins hands behind back and various other tricks. Then 5 were weeded out leaving only ten of us. Then we went in the field & rode over the numerous fences several times more were weeded out leaving only 4 in. I was wild with excitement and rodI  think better than I have ever done before but failed to win the prize by 1 mark being 2nd with 199 out of 200 marks. I am awfully pleased with the result I hope you will be pleased.6

A few months later, in  March  1895, Churchill experimented with steeple­ chasing, and rashly told his mother about a misunderstanding with his horse:

“The animal re­ fused and swerved....Very nearly did he break my leg, but as it is I am only bruised and very stiff.7 Lady Randolph seems to have taken a

poor view of her son’s hazardous exploits. In his letter of 15 March, Churchill tried to be reassuring:

I think if you will let me say that you take rather an extreme view of steeplechasing when you call it at once idiotic’ and fatal.  

Everybody here rides one or other of their chargers in the different military Races which are constantly held. Of course for this year I cannot ride, but I hope

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