Consistent, honest colt who put Lewes back on the Classic map; TONY MORRIS'S TODAY CHARLOTTOWN GIANTS OF THE TURF.
IWAS 11 years old when I acquired my first book on racing. It was the 1956 News Chronicle annual, it cost me a shilling, and I bought it at Exeter Central station for something to read on the train as I journeyed to stay with an aunt and uncle for the Easter holidays. By the time I arrived at my destination I was finding racing a fascinating subject. What could my relatives tell me about it, I wondered? "We went to the Derby one year, stood at Tattenham Corner, got thoroughly drenched, never saw a horse and never went again," was all my uncle had to offer.
Mum was going to be a better bet, because she was born, brought up and married in Lewes, which I now knew not only had a racecourse but was an important training centre. I could hardly wait to quiz her on the matter.
Yes, she had been to Lewes races in her youth, but she couldn't remember much about them. What she did recall was the Grand National victory of local horse Shaun Spadah, because his trainer, George Poole, gave sixpence to every schoolchild in the town and she was one of the grateful recipients.
If that was the only family connection I had with racing it would do. I promptly took a special interest in the horses trained in Lewes and relished their successes, none more so than Aggressor's victory over Petite Etoile for Towser Gosden in the 1960 King George. A Classic triumph would be even better.
I was not present when Charlottown made his debut at Sandown in September 1965, but I did read rave reviews about his performance. Seven of his eight rivals in the Solario Stakes had previous racing experience and some had shown decent form, but he blew them away, streaking home by eight lengths. Some of my colleagues saw him as a potential Derby winner already.
After his second run at Ascot the notices were not quite so enthusiastic. Yes, he had quickened smartly to take the lead, but he did not go clear this time. He had only half a length to spare at the finish and more had been expected of a 1-3 shot, although he was conceding 10lb to the runner-up. Perhaps he had just idled in front.
Charlottown gave an altogether more convincing display on his third and final start as a juvenile in the Horris Hill Stakes at Newbury, beating a better field than he had encountered at Ascot in pleasing style. On that form he could develop into a legitimate Derby candidate, and the compiler of the Free Handicap acknowledged as much, allotting him 9st 9lb, 5lb below sprint-bred Young Emperor and just 1lb below Pretendre, who ended his first campaign on the same day with a win in the Observer Gold Cup.
Having guided Charlottown through an unbeaten first season, Gosden retired and handed over the reins at Heath House to Gordon Smyth, who made the switch from Arundel, where he had been training for the Norfolks.
Things did not start well for the new regime. Having missed his intended first target at Brighton through lameness, Charlottown reappeared in the Lingfield Derby Trial and it provided his first defeat, albeit an unlucky one. In a slowly run contest on soft ground Ron Hutchinson restrained the colt a long way back, and although he came with a wet sail in the straight Black Prince had by then established an unassailable lead.
That loss did nothing to dent Charlottown's Derby hopes. He had clearly been the victim of a poor ride and with the venerable Scobie Breasley booked for Epsom he remained among the market leaders. In fact, those who kept the faith had nothing to worry about until the big day itself, but then came a potentially serious concern.
No sooner had Breasley been hoisted into the saddle than the colt contrived to tread on his own off-fore and twist his shoe out of shape. A frantic call went out for Smyth's own farrier, George Windless, who was not only present but, well aware that Charlottown had dodgy feet, had brought along his tools in case such an emergency should arise.
The other 24 runners set off for the scheduled 3.30 start, while Windless hurried from stand to paddock to deal with the problem. These were anxious moments indeed for the colt's backers, but even more nerve-racking for the lad who led him up.
Michael Jarvis was Lewes born and bred - his mother had received the George Poole sixpence, too, he told me years later - and here, in charge of the colt who carried the hopes and cash of an entire town, a dream harboured for months was turning into a nightmare. How patient would starter Alec Marsh be? A breathless Windless eventually arrived, fitted the new shoe in record time, and the colt was sent on his way to the start, where the other runners had been circling for what seemed an age in the pouring rain. Marsh was not going to hang about now. It was 3.45 and any semblance of a reasonable line would suffice; they were off almost as soon as the white flag was raised.
Far back in the early stages, Charlottown enjoyed a dream run, reaching a challenging position at Tattenham Corner while still on the rail. Breasley was obliged to switch outside to make further headway, but the fence was soon available again and there he remained until the finish, seeing off Black Prince, then running on stoutly to keep Pretendre at bay.
Lewes at last had a Derby winner - the first since Waxy in 1793.
If there was one behind Charlottown who could claim to have been unlucky at Epsom it was fourth-placed Sodium, and at the Curragh it was that enterprisingly ridden rival who came out on top by a length, his victory convincing enough to make him 8-11 when they renewed hostilities in Newbury's Oxfordshire Stakes, the race now known as the Geoffrey Freer. What happened there was puzzling, to say the least.
With Breasley unavailable after a fall in the first race, Charlottown was reunited with Jimmy Lindley, who had ridden him in all his races at two. The partnership thrived again, winning handsomely by five lengths, but Sodium dropped back abruptly to finish eight lengths behind the 40-1 no-hoper Desert Call.
AFTER that most people assumed that the St Leger was all about the Derby principals, with Charlottown at 11-10 and Pretendre at 3-1. Sodium was easy to back at 7-1 but he rewarded his plucky supporters, turning the tables once again. Pretendre was never a factor and Charlottown looked all over the winner when he assumed command a furlong and a half from home, but Frankie Durr conjured a strong run out of Sodium, who got up close home to win by a head.
There clearly was not much between Charlottown and Sodium when both were at their best, Timeform preferring the latter by just 1lb. But the Horse of the Year title went the other way, also by a narrow margin. The system then in place required voters to allot ten points to their first choice and so on down to one for tenth. Charlottown came out on top because one conspiracy theorist, convinced that Sodium was not meant to win at Newbury, awarded him no points.
The following year Charlottown first battled courageously to thwart Salvo in the John Porter Stakes at Newbury, then took the Coronation Cup impressively from Nelcius, the previous season's Prix du Jockey Club hero, with Sodium only sixth of seven.
But Charlottown turned in the one poor performance of his career when sixth in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and shortly afterwards was taken out of training. There was now a new four-year-old star in Busted, who had come on by leaps and bounds after an indifferent season at three.
Charlottown was never a great horse, nor even a particularly attractive one, being a wiry individual who gave the impression that he could use a square meal. But he was honest, admirably consistent and indifferent to ground conditions. If he did not have the physique that breeders tended to look for in a stallion, he unquestionably had the pedigree, with a Prix du Jockey Club winner as his sire and a Filly Triple Crown heroine as his dam.
Sadly, he failed to cut the mustard at stud, never getting anything nearly as good as himself. Unwanted at home after several crops had run disappointingly, he was sent to Australia in 1976 and was put down there three years later after breaking a leg in a paddock accident.
Charlottown nevertheless retains a special place in my affections for that dramatic Epsom occasion when he put Lewes back on the map, and provided a landmark event in the life of the fellow who led him up and was later to earn the admiration of all in racing as one of the finest horsemen - and gentlemen - of his era.
Your recollections of last week's Giant of the Turf, Pebbles I remember Pebbles being a very excitable, highly strung filly in the lead up to a race. The 1985 Breeders' Cup Turf was her first attempt at 1m4f and she really dug in to beat a very good horse in Strawberry Road by a neck. Great filly! medlocke, United States I can still hear the American commentary - and here comes England's super filly PEBBLES! prompt A true great who has set standards for fillies/mares that have yet to be surpassed. Her 1985 Champion Stakes victory still gives me goose bumps every time I watch it.
dancingbraveforever She was a unique filly who was a real standard-bearer for UK racing and unquestionably one of the biggest stars of the era. shade2424
Derby hero Charlottown with jockey Scobie Breasley, trainer Gordon Smyth (right) and lad Michael Jarvis