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The Rothschilds

   In England

   In France

   Meautry: Winners and Bloodlines

History of the Australian Stud Book

  East India Company and Early Breeding in Australia

Racing and Breeding in South Africa

Foundation Breeders

  Notes on Early Running Horses

  Early Running Horses: Helmsley

  The Studmasters of North Yorkshire

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   and Ainsty of York

Related Links

  Trainers: Les Anglais in France

Portrait: Sans Souci

Portrait: Sardanapale


  The Rothschilds

Text prepared by The Rothschild Archive. ©2007; additional material by Patricia Erigero

For over 150 years, generations of the extended Rothschild family have been successfully breeding and racing thoroughbreds in England and on the continent, most notably France. Down through the years many classic winners, noted stallions and important broodmares emerged from the Rothschild studs. This essay, prepared by the Rothschild Archive, provides an overview of the family's racing and breeding activities. A separate essay covers some of the grand horses bred at Haras de Meautry, the principal Rothschild stud in France.

The Rothschilds in England

"Of course the gentlemen, on their return from the far east, talked of the races. You know, in my heart of hearts, I hate racing, convinced as I am, that it is, even far more perilous than the roulette-table, that it ruins hundreds if not thousands of men, body and soul, mind and purse - yet I was sorry that Uncle Mayer did not carry off the laurels of the day."
--Charlotte de Rothschild1

It can perhaps be argued that the interest of the English Rothschild family in horses was in large part due to the actions of Hannah (1783-1850), wife of Nathan Mayer Rothschild, the founder of the London bank. Towards the end of the 1830s she began to complain that her sons were pasty-faced from spending so much time indoors and that their luxurious lifestyles were causing them to put on weight.2 Hannah decided that the best exercise would be to ride to hounds. She bought some land near Aylesbury and thus launched a Rothschild invasion of Buckinghamshire.

Mentmore from its grand garden
Ascott House
Ascott House
Crafton Stud Farm
Crafton Stud with its picturesque thatch roof in the 1890s
Hannah won three classic races
Mayer Rothschild
Leopold Rothschild
Mayer (left) and Leopold (right) Rothschild
All the brothers found hunting an irresistible pastime, particularly Lionel (1808-1879) who set up his own kennels at Hastoe in the woods above Tring. Over the next few decades, the Rothschilds bought adjoining estates and properties in the area: Aston Clinton, Mentmore, Halton, Ascott and Tring. One early commentator on the Rothschilds - Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton - wrote that Nathan Mayer approved of his sons' hobby, indulging their interests and whetting their appetites for fine Arab horses which he was happy to purchase for them.3

In 1840, Nathan's son Anthony (1810-1876) began to own and compete race horses, with one of his horses winning the Champs de Mars in Paris in that year. The move into horse racing was a natural one, demonstrating the family's social pretensions at that period as the pre-eminent owner in Paris was the Duc D'Orléans and in England, the Prince of Wales.

Not all of Nathan's sons were so keen on this alternative sport. Nat (1812-1870) wrote to his brothers in May 1844, warning his youngest sibling, Mayer (affectionately known as Tupus):

Race horses are ticklish things, very pleasant to have a lot when they win, quite the contrary when they lost Dear Tupus, stick to the scarlet coat instead of the silk jacket, it is more beneficial to the health and less expensive.

But Mayer (1818-1874), evidently inspired by Anthony's success, began to race avidly. In 1843 he registered the Rothschild racing colours of dark blue and yellow. As his interests became increasingly concentrated on the turf he set horses to train with John Scott, before establishing his own training quarters at Russley Park in Berkshire in 1853. The training centre was later moved to Newmarket. He also began to breed horses, establishing a stud farm at Crafton, near Mentmore. Considerable success followed. In 1871 Mayer's horses won four out of the five classic races: the Derby (with Favonius), and the Oaks, the Thousand Guineas and the St Leger (all with his mare Hannah). It became known as 'The Baron's Year'. His total winnings in this year were estimated to be £25,000 in stakes alone, for he rarely bet.

Mayer never allowed cost to stand in the way of a good horse and thus was able to improve systematically the breed. It is reported that General Peel once informed the House of Commons that he had just seen a dozen horses in Baron Mayer's stables and that any one of them could carry sixteen stone across any racing country in the world.5 One of Mayer's most successful horses, King Tom, was immortalised in a bronze statue which was erected at Mentmore, his country seat.

After Mayer's death, the stud was supervised by his brother, Anthony, for Mayer's daughter, Hannah. When she married Lord Rosebery in 1878 the Crafton and Durdan stables were united, with notable results for Rosebery.

Mayer's nephew Leopold de Rothschild (1845-1917) was his obvious successor in the field of horse racing. He had become a keen race-goer during his college days at Cambridge, with regular trips to Newmarket. The more desperately his mother urged him to study 'something - drawing, painting, music, languages' - the more his interests turned elsewhere, principally to the turf.6 Leo had inherited several houses and estates - 5 Hamilton Place in London and Gunnersbury to the west of the capital from his father, Lionel, and Ascott in Buckinghamshire from his uncle. He acquired Palace House in Newmarket, possibly from his father, which became his spiritual home. Here, the Prince of Wales often stayed with him along with many prominent figures of the day.

Southcourt Stud
Entrance to Southcourt Stud stables, 1896
Sir Bevys
Sir Bevys won the Derby for Lionel and Leopold
1896 Derby
1896 Derby: St. Frusquin loses by a neck
Leopold took over the running of his father's stud at Gunnersbury in 1879, the year of his father's death, before moving it to his own estate at Ascott. It became the Southcourt Stud farm, near Leighton Buzzard, from where many winners were bred. Leopold bred for his own private stable rather than for the public sale ring and although he won big prizes on the racecourse it is likely that his hobby cost him more than he received in the form of prize money. His trainers included Tom Cannon, his son Tom Cannon jnr, Joseph Hayhoe and John Watson. Hayhoe had previously trained Favonius and Hannah.

Leopold registered the Rothschild colours of dark blue vest and yellow cap in 1879 in his name. He was renowned for his keen participation in the sport and made no pretence of concealing his delights and disappointments. An easily-recognizable figure at the racecourse, his emotions endeared him to the public.

Leopold's racing career began gloriously, even if it was really his father's victory. In 1879, not long before Lionel died, an unknown horse named Sir Bevys won the Epsom Derby. It transpired that the owner, a 'Mr Acton', was actually Leopold de Rothschild who had entered one of his father's horses in the race. Following Lionel's death, Leopold raced the horses in his own name. It was rumoured that Leopold won nearly £50,000 on this particular race, owing to a few bets made at heavy odds.

Leopold's next great hope for the Derby was not until 1896, when his horse, St Frusquin, entered the race as favourite. But after a close race, St Frusquin was beaten by a neck by the Prince of Wales's horse, Persimmon. At their next meeting St Frusquin was the victor; but his nerve failed in training for the St Leger and so there was not to be the eagerly awaited public rematch. In tribute to the horse, Marie, Leopold's wife, had a silver model cast of him by Fabergé for Leopold's 67th birthday. Twelve smaller bronze figures were made for friends. Despite St Frusquin's uneven performance, Leopold headed the list of winning owners in 1896, with some £46,766 to his credit.

Leopold was to win the Derby for a second time in 1904 with St Amant, son of St Frusquin. The race was a memorable one for the terrific thunderstorm which took place during the race. It is reported that Leopold rushed out to meet the winner and "...led him in with beaming face, unconscious of the diluvian rain which in a few seconds drenched him to the skin."7

In a career spanning thirty-eight years, the only classics which eluded Leopold were the Thousand Guineas and the Oaks. At his death, in 1917, it was estimated that his winnings totalled £367,434 with 851 races won. The sporting press devoted pages to his achievements, describing him as a 'munificent turf patron.'

Palace House stableyard
Palace House stableyard, Newmarket, 1890s
Leopold's son, Anthony (1887-1961) inherited Palace House in 1917. Following the Second World War, under an arrangement with the Jockey Club it was used by the Royal family as a racing residence. More recently, the property was acquired by the local District Council who renovated the original 17th-century part of the house. Palace House is now Newmarket's Tourist Information Centre and exhibition rooms.

In the twenty-first century, the Rothschild family is still very much involved in horse-racing and breeding. Southcourt Stud is still owned and run by a direct descendant of Leopold de Rothschild, and training grounds at Newmarket are still retained by other members of the family.

Next: The Rothschilds in France

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