This is the third part of my series on the great 18th century racehorse Flying Childers. You can find the second part here.
Childers – known under a variety of names, including Devonshire Childers, Bay Childers, and, most famously, Flying Childers – was born in 1714, the year that Queen Anne, founder of Ascot Racecourse, died. Born at Cantley Hall, owned by his breeder, Colonel Leonard Childers, he was purchased by the 2nd Duke of Devonshire, who was master of the illustrious Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
The bay colt was flashy, with four white stockings and a blaze, and similarly marked to his handsome sire, the Darley Arabian. Fully grown, it is said that he stood around 15.2 hands – short, by modern Thoroughbred standards, but quite tall as compared to the usual racehorse in those days.
On April 26, 1721, Childers made his first start on the Round Course at Newmarket. Racing at Newmarket was recorded during the reign of James I, who ruled during the first quarter of the 17th century. The Round Course is one of three tracks at Newmarket today, but is used for just one race, the Newmarket Town Plate, which has been run since 1666. Newmarket is most famous for the first two classic races of the season, the 1000 and 2000 Guineas.
His first rival would be Speedwell, a chestnut colt owned by the Duke of Bolton. The previous year, Speedwell had defeated Coneyskins, a talented runner owned by the Duke of Rutland, over a four mile match. 500 guineas was to be Childers’ first prize, and he sailed away from the chestnut colt, winning his debut. He must have defeated Speedwell so effortlessly that in October, when a rematch was scheduled, Speedwell forfeited, leaving Childers to pick up yet another 500 guineas without even having to run.
That same year, Childers also ran a trial against two well-regarded horses. One was Brown Betty, who had ties to Childers and his owner: her sire, Basto, was owned by the Duke, and her owner, the 3rd Duke of Rutland, was a nephew of Devonshire’s wife. The other rival was Almanzor, a fellow son of the Darley Arabian who was described as a “remarkably fine, well-bred horse,” a year older than Childers.
Childers carried 9st 2lbs against these rivals and was said to have covered the Round Course, measured at 3 miles and 6 furlongs, in 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Moving at what was thought to be 82 1/2 feet per second, this clocking by Rutland and Devonshire would lead to the legend that Childers could travel a mile per minute.
A mile in a minute! Considering that the world record time for a mile ran by a Thoroughbred is more than 30 seconds slower, it is safe to assume that this clocking was less than accurate.
But no matter how fast he ran that day at Newmarket, Childers had still thumped some of the best horses in the country, and he wasn’t finished yet. In 1722, he faced the grand racehorse Fox in a trial at York. Fox, from the same female family as Childers, was born in the same year but had begun his career in 1719, winning several great prizes and defeating older, more seasoned horses.
Due to Childers’ recent success, Fox was given a 12 pound weight break. Despite this, Childers could have not been more dominant, defeating Fox by a quarter of a mile. To put this margin of victory in perspective: on your standard mile oval, Childers would be crossing the finish line as Fox was just about to enter the homestretch.
After that impressive performance, Childers would race once more in 1722. In October at Newmarket, he faced Chaunter, a horse four years older than him. Chaunter, who had defeated some of the best in the country, was a half-brother to Childers’ dam, Betty Leedes. Each carrying 10 stone (140 pounds), they raced for six long miles – the test of a champion, indeed. Childers would yet again prevail, taking home the prize of 1000 guineas.
After the grit he showed against Chaunter, the speed he flashed on Newmarket’s Round Course, and the downright superiority he displayed in his match against Fox, no horse or owner in the country was keen to face Devonshire’s Childers. In April, both Stripling and the Lonsdale Mare forfeited from a match against him, allowing Childers to take the prize without any effort on his part. And in November, his final start – if you could call it that – a horse named Bobsey withdrew from the race, giving Childers the walkover victory yet again.
Childers was so dominant on the racetrack that no one would even dare to face him in his final season. And he was coveted by many. The Duke received numerous offers from hopeful buyers; one person, legend has it, offered Childers’ weight in gold crowns for the horse. All offers were turned down.
Undefeated in his six starts, plus his trial against Fox at York, Childers was retired to stud at Chatsworth, never to race again. If he ran more than seven times, it is unrecorded. Surely, there is no doubt that he was never beaten, no matter how many times he raced. If he was ever defeated, it would have been recorded in words of shock and disbelief. Childers was unbeatable; a freak of nature.
A racehorse’s career does not end on the track, unless fertile or gelded. As a private stallion of the Duke’s, Childers would receive some of the finest mares in the country. Could he stamp a foal as great – or even greater – than he was himself?
Thoroughbred Bloodlines: Flying Childers (links to his competitors can also be found here)