(AFTER J.F. HERRING SNR)
Oil on canvas, 30” x 48”
Signed J. F. Herring Sen, dated 1851
$15,000. – 20,000.
In the modern era of horse racing, the concept of a “match race” — a race between two horses to determine which is superior — has largely been forgotten. In the illustrious history of the international turf, there have been countless contests between prideful owners to solve an age-old dispute — who owns the better racehorse. Match races served as the ultimate measure of one’s conviction in his or her horse’s ability. Enormous sums of money and pride were at stake, and, regardless of one’s financial standing, a loss of pride could be ruinous.
And so it was that on May 13, 1851, in front of 100,000 spectators, two men lacking in neither pride nor wealth met at the Knavesmire in York to decide who had the superior horse: the Earl of Eglinton’s The Flying Dutchman or the Earl of Zetland’s Voltigeur. The race between the two champions, dubbed “The Great Match Race of 1851,” has lived in the annals of racing lore and is still considered by turf aficionados as one of — if not the — greatest races of all time.
The circumstances leading up to the race set the stage for the historic match that was to unfold on York’s Old Course in front of the largest crowd that had ever assembled in the history of the British turf up until that point. In 1850 Lord Zetland decided to run Voltigeur in the Doncaster Cup contested only two days after his colt had won the St Leger (the race was first declared a dead heat and so was run again the same day, with Voltigeur winning by a length). Voltigeur, a 3-year-old, was up against considerable odds in the Doncaster Cup, namely a group of 4-year-olds that included an imposing foe — The Flying Dutchman.
Where Voltigeur might have been a little on the overworked side, The Flying Dutchman was suffering from the opposite affliction — too much time off. In addition to his less-than- peak condition, an extremely drunk jockey, Charles Marlow, rode The Flying Dutchman. Marlow, who had overindulged
before the race, ignored Lord Eglinton’s instruction to lie off the pace and took The Flying Dutchman to the lead, running out as much as 10 lengths in front of the pack. In the end Voltigeur caught the drunken jockey and The Flying Dutchman and won the Doncaster Cup by half a length. The Flying Dutchman’s backers were outraged. The results would have surely been different had their horse been more fit and Marlow not been drunk. The owners, trainers, punters, and just about everyone else in the country argued over which horse was superior. And so it came to pass that a rematch was scheduled for the following spring May 13, 1851, at York and it would be a match race. The stakes were set at 1,000 sovereigns a side.
Both horses were fit, both jockeys sober, and pre-race instructions were given and heeded. Flatman sent Voltigeur into the lead at a sensible pace with Marlow and The Flying Dutchman tracking. Voltigeur gradually increased the pace to try and blunt The Flying Dutchman’s finishing speed, but Marlow kept with him while trying to reserve something for the finish.
On they raced, and eventually they turned into the home straight. The Flying Dutchman eased up on the outside of Voltigeur as the massive crowd started to cheer and shout for the two champions.
With just over a furlong to go, both horses were racing flat out with Voltigeur still in front and seeming as if he might prevail. But The Flying Dutchman’s relentless stride quickly brought them side-by-side. Dutchman finally stretched his head in front of Voltiguer and then the head became a neck, then half a length, and by the time they had passed the judges amid a frenzy of cheering and shouting, The Flying Dutchman was a length ahead in what was widely acclaimed as the greatest match race ever witnessed.