Tarporley Races

THE definitive history of Tarporley Hunt Races can be found in Gordon Fergusson’s painstakingly researched book, “The Green Collars”, published in 1993. This charts the long history of the Tarporley Hunt Club.

The Club was established in 1762 and one of its earliest acts was to stage a horse race over George Wilbraham’s land at Crabtree Green, near Delamere.

It came about on Tuesday, November 5, 1776, as the result of seven club members challenging each other for a sweepstake of 10 guineas each. All the horses were hunters, carrying 13 stones, and the race was run in one four-mile heat. It was won by Mr Kyffin Heron’s bay gelding Allegro, beating Mr Wilbraham’s Sultan and Sir Thomas Broughton’s Romeo, with Sir Peter Warburton’s Molly-long-legs fourth. Three days later, the latter pair took part in a match for 100 guineas, with Molly-long-legs reversing the form to beat Romeo.

These contests continued for a few years, with more or less the same conditions. The Racing Calendar shows that the 1782 race produced five runners, being won by the Earl of Stamford’s chestnut mare, Diana. The losing quartet then had their own consolation race over two miles, with Sir Robert S Cotton’s Merry Cupid, having finished last in the main event, showing his rivals a clean pair of heels.

A Silver Cup was presented in 1805 for a farmers’ race and a handicap was introduced in the 1812 programme.

Meetings at Crabtree Green came to an end in November 1815, owing to the Act of Enclosure of Delamere Forest. For the next two years, the races took place at Billington’s Training Ground, near Oulton, before being located to Cotebrook, a small hamlet on a turnpike road, which is now the A49. The runners started with their backs to the road and finished in front of Stand House.

Racing continued at Cotebrook for many years, with a hurdle race over six flights being included in the programme for the first time in 1848. The following year’s results are the last to appear in the Racing Calendar, but meetings still took place each year, the results being published in the Steeple Chases Past. The hurdle race reverted to a flat race in 1856 and by 1860 it was an event for hunters carrying 14 stones.

The Farmers’ Cup was still a feature race and in 1864 it was won by Mr W.C. ‘Billy’ Baldwin on Get Away, this being not only his first ride in public, but the first of many victories Baldwin, nicknamed ‘The Lion’, was to have at Tarporley over the next few years.

Racing at Cotebrook came to an end in the 1870s and in April 1875, the first Tarporley Hunt Steeplechase meeting was held in fields behind the Swan Hotel at Saighton Farm. Major Charles Rivers Bulkeley won the big four-mile chase, riding Frank Cotton’s Lady Barbara. Writing in “Gentlemen Riders Past and Present”, he tells: “I had to get down to ten stone; my only nourishment for four days being three eggs and a spoonful of vinegar with each. They say that when I got back to Chester, I ordered tea for nine and drank as many cups right off the reel.”

The Saighton Farm course lasted only two years, for in 1877 Tarporley Hunt Steeplechases were moved to their final site on the Arderne Estate , near Rode Street on the Chester to Tarporley Road.

Gordon Fergusson writes in “The Green Collars”: “A right handed circular course was made and in time stands were built, behind which was a small railed parade ring with the weighing room and changing room alongside. With its long climb up to an exceptionally short run-in of 200 yards from the last fence and often tenacious going, Tarporley was considered as good a test as any for a true ‘chaser’ and many good horses and great horsemen did battle over the birch and gorse fences on the Cheshire grassland.

It became a most fashionable and popular event in the county’s social and sporting calendar. The Members’ Steeplechase was for many years ridden in hunting costume and was popularly known as ‘the red coat race’.”

The 1884 Tarporley fixture saw Gamecock, trained locally at Sandy Brow by Jimmy Jordan, score the first victory of his career in the Foxhunters’ Open Steeplechase. After finishing third in the 1886 Grand National, he won the race the following year, then turned out again the next day to win the Champion Chase with 12st 12lbs.

By 1892, the Tarporley Green Open Chase was worth a healthy £410, the winner being the great Cloister who, despite a crushing 13st 3lbs burden, was made the evens favourite and “won easily by 10 lengths” in the hands of Bill Dollery. Just two days earlier, Cloister had shouldered 13st to victory by a distance in the Great Staffordshire Chase at Wolverhampton. The next year saw Cloister win the Grand National in record time, 9 mins 32.4 secs., with a record weight 12st 7lbs, by a record distance, 40 lengths.

Under the patronage of the Duke and Duchess of Westminster, who entertained lavishly on the course and at Eaton Hall, the annual Tarporley Hunt Steeplechases, always held on a Wednesday in April, attracted large crowds. Many arrived by special train at Beeston Castle station on the London and North-Western line, then were conveyed to the course in a variety of horse-drawn vehicles.

Gordon Fergusson reveals that: “For the 1914 meeting, a cinder track had been constructed to accomm odate motor cars. The never-ending steam of cars, carriages and pedestrians that year formed what was thought to be a record crowd”. It was to be the last meeting there for seven years.

There was supposed to have been a come-back fixture on April 7, 1920, but this was abandoned due to floods. So it was not until 1921 that racing returned to Tarporley, when the £215 Handicap Chase went to All White, ridden by Bob Chadwick. On his previous start, he had led the Grand National field on the second circuit, until being distracted at an open ditch by a heap of newspapers blowing around the fence and unseating his rider, who remounted to finish third to Shaun Spadah.

There were Aintree heroes aplenty at Tarporley - Major Cyril Dewhurst’s Conjuror II, winner of the Hunt Cup in 1922, had won Cheltenham’s National Hunt Chase on his previous run and was destined to finish third behind Sergeant Murphy in the next year’s National. Tipperary Tim won the Open Chase four years before his astonishing 100 to 1 Aintree Triumph.

It was in 1926 that the Hunt Club formed a limited company to run the race meetings, with the directors each holding shares in trust for the club. So it was that Tarporley Steeplechases Ltd came into being.

Zain, trained by George Goswell, won the Tarporley Hunt Cup on April 11, 1928, to give Noel Murless his first riding success. In his biography, ‘The Guv’nor’, Sir Noel admits that he should have won the Liverpool Foxhunters on him.

Though the course was over natural country, about two miles in circumference, the facilities were perfectly acceptable. There was a private stand for Tarporley Hunt Club members and friends, capable of accommodating 500 and a public stand in the Paddock which could hold 1,500.

The Totalisator was introduced in 1930, making Tarporley one of the first courses in the North of England to have this facility. A veteran racegoer who used to attend Tarporley, once told me that the bookmakers stood in a type of trench about two feet below ground level and punters used to bend down when placing their bets. What that was all about, I really could not say.

A new stand to accommodate 2,000 spectators was erected in 1937 and, judging by the Tote’s attendance figures for that year, it was definitely needed. Over 10,000 paying customers thronged the course; 8,202 in the two bob Cheap Ring and 1,805 in the 12 shilling Paddock Enclosure.

A crowd of over 8,000 was present on what was to be the final day’s racing at Tarporley, on Wednesday, April 26, 1939. The last evert race, a Novices Chase, went to Benjamin Bunny, ridden by Mr Luke Lillingston.

During World War Two, the course was used as a prisoner of war camp, after which it reverted to open fields. Various attempts were made to resurrect the meeting, but these all hit stumbling blocks, the main one being the need to provide secure racecourse stabling. The idea was eventually abandoned and Tarporley Steeplechases Ltd was finally wound up in 1963.

What remained of the stands, ancillary buildings and iron railings were taken down and sold. The grandstand was bought by a bidder from Stoke-on-Trent for £490. The eight turnstiles, which fetched less than £4 each, were given a new lease of life when put into use at the Cheshire Show. The jockeys’ name boards were purchased by Mr J.S.Furnival, Managing Director of Woore Racecourse.

The Tarporley Hunt Club continued to prosper however, and now presents a silver challenge cup for the race that bears its name at Bangor-on-Dee.