The year is 1809. Take a walk around the Earl of Derby’s Knowsley Stud in Lancashire. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch a peak of Sir Peter Teazle, an imperious old brown stallion, a former champion. He is in his fifth consecutive year of leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland, and his ninth overall. Just two years later, Sir Peter will leave this world, dead at the age of 27, his work as a Thoroughbred patriarch completed.
More than 200 years later, Sir Peter’s direct male line has not brought its success to the present day. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, like someone skipping ahead to the last page of a book. Let’s start over.
The year is 1784. A new foal has been born for the 12th Earl of Derby, the man whose title gave the name to England’s Derby Stakes, and every other Derby after that one, too. The colt’s blood is as blue as it comes; all three foundation sires are represented in his pedigree, as well as the undefeated champions Regulus and Flying Childers. His sire, Highflyer, was also undefeated and the apple of his owner’s eye, a notable racing man named Richard Tattersalls. The dam of the colt, Papillon, is a daughter of the speedy leading sire Snap, who descends directly from Flying Childers.
Big plans are in store for this colt. Derby names him Sir Peter Teazle, after a character in a play in which his lover, Elizabeth Farren, has acted in.
Sir Peter first races in 1787, in a race at Epsom named for his owner – the Derby Stakes itself. Legend has it that seven years previous, Derby and Sir Charles Bunbury, a leading member of the first Jockey Club organisation, flipped a coin for the rights to the name of this new sweepstakes for 3-year-old colts. The fillies would race in the Oaks, a race named for Derby’s estate near Epsom. The coin landed in favor of the Earl. The Derby Stakes was what it would be, and what it still is today. Ironically, Bunbury’s colt Diomed went on to win the very first edition.
Derby has not won his namesake race yet. This year, however, he will send out Sir Peter Teazle and come out victorious. Sir Peter finishes his three year-old season undefeated. In fact, the brown colt seems unbeatable until the late autumn of his four year-old season, in which he is defeated by a colt named Dash. Never mind that Dash raced with 32 less pounds to deal with on his back than the Derby champion; Sir Peter has still only lost once in his career.
1790: 10 years after the first Derby Stakes was run, Sir Peter Teazle is standing his first year at stud. He wasn’t quite the same horse in his five year-old season, only winning once. This is also the year that Waxy, another Derby-winning leading sire, is born to Sir Ferdinando Poole. Waxy is a grandson of the great Eclipse and out of a mare by Herod, the grandsire of Sir Peter. Waxy got started a little later, but eventually, his offspring would knock heads with Sir Peter’s.
In 1795, a colt named Sir Harry is born during the reign of Highflyer’s long reign as leading stallion. Sir Harry is by Sir Peter Teazle, who is now more than a decade old. Three years later, Sir Harry will go to post in the Derby and win the race. This event is significant because no other Derby winner has gone on to sire another Derby winner. Sir Peter is the first.
The success doesn’t stop there. In 1799, another son of Sir Peter takes the Derby Stakes – Archduke, out of a mare named Horatia. This also happens to be the first year that Sir Peter is crowned champion sire in England and Ireland, snagging that distinction from his own sire, Highflyer. Two more Derby winners follow, though much later – Ditto in 1803 and Paris, a full brother to Archduke, in 1806. Three years after Paris, Waxy, who won the Derby Stakes himself as well, sires his first winner of the prestigious race – Waxy Pope.
Waxy and Sir Peter Teazle are the first sires to produce four Derby winners. In the future, they will be joined only by Cyllene, Blandford, and Montjeu.
Waxy gives us Whalebone, a Derby winner who will become one of the most important names in the majority of Thoroughbred sirelines. Sir Peter’s sons, while winners, will fail to carry on the male tradition. Herod’s sireline will not continue through one of his greatest grandsons.
But great 19th century sires like Stockwell, Glencoe, and Lexington each carry Sir Peter Teazle blood in their veins. 20th century champions Man O’ War, Citation, and Secretariat trace back to Sir Peter Teazle, several times over. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a modern pedigree devoid of his blood.
The year is 1811. Two months before Sir Peter Teazle dies, a bay colt with several crosses to the great Herod goes to post for the Derby Stakes. His name is Phantom, and he is a grandson of Sir Peter Teazle through stakes winner Walton. Phantom wins. He will later sire two Derby winners himself, before the Waxy line really takes hold of the race’s history.
But while Eclipse and his descendants get the tail-male glory these days, in every Derby winner’s pedigree, you can find Sir Peter Teazle, lending his blood to the race named for his owner, a race he once commanded himself.