The story of Eaton Stud
Champion thoroughbreds sired in Cheshire

Few horse-racing enthusiasts may realise it, but one of the great stud establishments in the country was just a mile or two from Chester’s Roodee in the 19th century. This was the famous Eaton Stud, established at Eaton Hall by the first Earl Grosvenor, shortly after he had registered his famous racing orange colours in 1762.

Sir Richard’s first major purchase was -Pot-8-0s, a -son of Eclipse whom he bought from Lord Abingdon. The price was 1,500 guineas and -Pot-8-os went on to sire 165 winners and become the tap root of fourteen famous descendants on the male line, including Waxy and two of the a greatest racehorses of all time, Ormonde and Flying Fox.

The Earl spent lavishly on his racing with huge investment in horses, and unbelievable heavy gambling. He was reputed to have lost in excess of £250,000 during his lifetime and when he was raised to the peerage in 1861, Horace Walpole was moved to write: “Sir Richard Grosvenor is made a Lord Viscount, or baron - I do not know which, nor does he, for yesterday when he should have kissed hands he was gone to Newmarket to see the trial of a racehorse.”

Following the Earl's death in l802 (he had won three Derbys and six Oaks classics in his lifetime) Eaton Stud went through some lean years although Touchstone was winner of the St Leger, two Ascot and two Doncaster Gold.

Another member of the family, General Grosvenor ran both Briseis and Wings to land the Oaks and he was also the breeder of Copenhagen, ridden by Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo.It was the first Duke of Westminster who revived the family’s racing fortunes and with them, Eaton Stud.

In 1875 he purchased Doncaster, winner of the Derby (at 45-1), Ascot and Goodwood Cups, from a Scottish ironmaster, James Murray, The price for Doncaster £14,000, a record at the time for a racehorse and he went to stud at Eaton in 1876. The following year he sired Bend 'Or (named after the Grosvenor coat of arms, 'azure a bend or') and in 1880 the Duke won the Derby with the great Fred Archer up, Bend Or was trained by Robert Peck, at Newmarket, and got up in the last stride to beat Robert the Devil. Peck later described Bend Or as the "best horse in the world".

The same year, the Duke bought a yearling filly called Shotover, a great-granddaughter incidentally of Touchstone which had been bred at Eaton Hall.

The most remarkable story of all concerns Ormonde which was sired at Eaton by Bend Or out of Lily Agnes. The mare Lily Agnes was said to have been a light-fleshed, lop-eared and miserable individual, but she had won twenty-one races and the Duke was persuaded to buy her for £2,500. She carried Bend Or’s foal for twelve months and when it was born it was described as “an extraordinary looking creature.” Indeed, there were doubts that it would ever grow up properly, let alone race.

As it turned out, the foal, Ormonde, was sent to John Porter, at Kingsclere, and after a troublesome period he won three races as a two-year-old. At three, he swept the board by winning the St James Palace Stakes, the Hardwicke Stakes, and the Triple Crown. He ran fifteen races in his career and won them all.

Back at Eton he sired Orme, but because of wind problems (and the Duke's fears that he might introduce a line of "roarers" into British bloodstock) Ormonde was sold to Argentina. Later he went to the USA but was not a success at stud and when found to be impotent he was chloroformed and destroyed in 1904... an unfitting end for what many believed was the "Racehorse of the Century”.

His son Orme had a truly sensational career. An attempted poisoning prevented him contesting the Two Thousand Guineas and the Derby, but he went on to win the Eclipse twice, the Rouse Memorial Stakes and the Goodwood Stakes In total Orme collected prize money of £32,526 from fourteen winning races.

The line continued with Orme siring Flying Fox out of Vampire and more honour was to come the way of the ageing Duke who had been made Master of the Queen’s Horse in 1880.

In 1897 Flying Fox emulated his grandfather, Ormonde, by winning the Triple Crown, making the Duke the only man to have twice bred and owned two winners of the coveted title.

The Duke died in 1899 as one of the most remarkable and successful patrons of the British turf..