Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1926. One of the measures he undertook was to introduce a new betting tax, which did nothing to endear him to racing folk. Bookmakers at Windsor racecourse showed their anger by joining the General Strike, though their participation lasted for just two days. The Government did reconsider, though, and in time the tax was rescinded.
In his later years, Churchill became an owner, though he didn’t obtain his first horse until 1949, by when he had reached the grand age of 75. This was Colonist II. Churchill bought him from France as a three year old. He was a high class stayer, and in 1951 won the Winston Churchill Stakes and the White Rose Stakes at Hurst Park, finished second in the Ascot Gold Cup and fourth in the inaugural King George
In September that year Colonist II went to Ascot for the Ribblesdale Stakes. He was up against an outstanding rival in Sardonyx II, ridden by Gordon Richards, who was expected to win the race. Geoffrey Gilbey, who 20 years earlier had broadcast the first BBC commentary on The Derby, described the finish of the race. “As Colonist came into the straight I was very frightened Gordon Richards might be able to overhaul him. Gordon got to work, but Hawcroft, on Colonist II, called for extra effort, and he left Sardonyx II standing still.”
He was sold to stud two years later after winning 13 races and around £12,000 in prize money.
Churchill had his horses in training with Walter Nightingall at Epsom, rarely more than half a dozen at any one time. Over the years there were 36 in total, though some 12 of these never raced. Whilst most horses ran on the flat, Churchill had a few hurdlers, and seemed to have particularly enjoyed watching them run. Nightingall commented that “if the weather was good enough for one of his horses to run and jump hurdles it was good enough for him to go and see him do it.”
This was never more evident than on Boxing Day 1952 when Pol Roger, like Columnist II, sired by Rienzo, became the first ever jump race winner for a Prime Minister in the history of racing. Gilbey ended his newspaper article for the following day’s papers, “A racing crowd loves to shout, ‘Good old Winnie.’”
The last link to Churchill’s racing days came only five years ago. Tommy Gosling wore Churchill’s colours of pink with chocolate sleeves and cap many times, and was on board for those early victories on Colonist II. He died at his home outside Paris in 2008.
Until December last year, Winston Churchill had raced only in Ireland, running 10 times whilst under the care of Henry de Bromhead. His style of racing in his first attempts might have well have matched the great politician’s early career. It was regularly a case of “chasing leaders” before fading in the closing stages. Subsequently, Bromhead had the jockeys trying to make all on the horse, but this proved no more beneficial. A veritable Cabinet of jockeys tried, with Nina Carberry, Davy Russell and Ruby Walsh amongst those trying to find the key to success. In all, Winston Churchill managed just two second placed finishes in Ireland.
A change of owner brought Winston Churchill to the Cotswolds and the yard run by Sophie Leech. Still just a seven year old, he has yet to find his feet in the two runs he has had since crossing the Irish Sea. But there’s plenty of time. After all his alter ego was a late developer.
Winston Churchill had been due to run in the novices handicap chase at Doncaster tomorrow, but the weather has put paid to that, denying the Yorkshire crowd the opportunity to revive the cry of “Good old Winnie.”