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Paget did as she pleased - to the frequent displeasure of others; others David Ashforth's week-long series of profiles begins with Golden Miller's infamous owner Dorothy Paget.

Byline: Golden Miller

MORE than 20 years ago, I drove along Nightingales Lane, between Chalfont St Giles and Little Chalfont, in Buckinghamshire, until I reached a lodge at the entrance to a sweeping drive. It was almost 30 years since Dorothy Wyndham Paget had lived at Hermit's Wood, but the owner kindly agreed to show me the rooms that the extraordinary Miss Paget, the owner of Golden Miller, once occupied.

We examined the shed fitted with a heated floor for the comfort of Paget's great danes, then stood on the balcony at the rear of the house, overlooking the neat garden. "It was in a dreadful state when we arrived," the lady told me. That was because Mr Hall, the gardener and odd-job man, was rarely allowed to cut the lawn during the day, when Paget was asleep, and it was difficult to cut the grass at night, when it was dark.

In Little Chalfont, Hall was known as "the eunuch", because locals could not believe that Paget, a dedicated spinster, would tolerate an 'entire' on the premises. There were no other men on her staff, both racing manager and chauffeur being women and, when Hall received his instructions, they arrived from one of a team of secretaries, each allotted a colour, blue, yellow or pink, but not green, which Paget regarded as unlucky. "Tell Hall to grow gladioli", and a message, in duplicate, would be issued, to join countless others. Messages announcing Paget's visit to the toilet, messages instructing a trainer to load a horse into a horsebox, followed by a message instructing the same trainer to unload the same horse.

Paget did as she pleased, to the frequent displeasure of others. It was a reward for having been born, in 1905, the second daughter of Almeric Paget, the first and last Lord Queenborough, and Pauline Payne Whitney, a wealthy American heiress. Whitney died in 1916, leaving Dorothy a fortune large enough to make any skill beyond that of signing a cheque superfluous. Later, Paget employed a secretary to sign the cheques for her, while she prepared for adult life by getting expelled from six schools in England by the age of 15, at which point she turned her inattention to the French education system. In Paris, she was tutored by the Russian Princess Vera Meshchersky, emerging sufficiently accomplished as a singer to perform, at Christmas 1924, before 400 inmates of Wormwood Scrubs prison.

Whitney's family belonged to the elite of American racing society while, in 1922, Lord Queenborough won the 2,000 Guineas with St Louis. Paget became an accomplished horsewoman, riding side-saddle to hunts and in point-to-points, an achievement hard to imagine in later life, when Paget appeared to have eaten a horse rather than ridden one.

Hunting foxes was certainly more to her taste than chasing men, for whom she had a strong aversion, confiding in a cousin that the worst experience of her life was being kissed by a drunken Frenchman.

Sober Englishmen were barely more welcome and, when forced to travel by train during the Second World War, Paget appealed to the Minister of Transport for special dispensation to reserve a carriage to herself, on the ground that sitting next to a strange man was liable to make her vomit. The danger of unwelcome contact was reduced by booking more than one seat for herself at Wimbledon and the theatre, the spare seat being occupied by Paget's handbag, a thermos flask and sandwiches, while her visits to the local cinema, in Amersham, were notable for Paget's habit of booking the entire auditorium.

In her twenties, Paget developed an enthusiasm for motor racing so strong that, on occasion, she shared a car with the charming Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin, bankrolling his failed attempt to win the 1930 Le Mans 24 hours race with a supercharged Bentley. The engine blew, Paget withdrew her support, and Birkin went on to burn his arm on an exhaust pipe, contract blood poisoning and die, aged 36, in 1933.

Paget switched her passion, and cheque book, to racehorses, slower than Bentleys but easier to bet on. In 1931, after a series of expensive failures, she paid a reputed pounds 12,000 for two geldings, Insurance and Golden Miller. At the time, the Cheltenham Gold Cup was worth less than pounds 700.

Insurance had recently completed an impressive hat-trick over hurdles and went on to win the 1932 and 1933 Champion Hurdles, but Golden Miller's future success was less predictable. When trainer Basil Briscoe's pounds 500 acquisition first arrived from Ireland, Briscoe complained, "I wanted a likely chaser, not a threeyear-old cart horse". Sent hunting, his rider reported, "We went through the roots of every fence we jumped". Things gradually got better and, when Paget bought Golden Miller, as a four-year-old, he had won two hurdle races and finished second in his only chase.

Paget and Golden Miller had little in common, although Golden Miller also ate like a horse. Both out of the ordinary, their names became inextricably linked. Paget's cousin Jock Whitney owned Easter Hero, winner of the 1929 and 1930 Cheltenham Gold Cups, but Golden Miller soon outshone him, rapidly establishing himself as the greatest steeplechaser of his era. A relentless galloper with a devouring stride, who jumped quickly and economically, Golden Miller won his first Cheltenham Gold Cup as a five-year-old in 1932 on only his sixth race over fences. He won the Gold Cup again in 1933 and 1934, when, uniquely, Golden Miller also won the Grand National, carrying 12st 2lb and knocking eight seconds off the course record. He is still the only horse to have won the Gold Cup and Grand National in the same year. Golden Miller won the Gold Cup again in 1935, narrowly beating Whitney's Thomond II.

HREE different jockeys had partnered Golden Miller in This first three Gold Cups and, following an argument after the 1935 Grand National, Paget's horses were moved from Briscoe to Owen Anthony's yard at Letcombe Bassett, where Tim Forster later trained. "Training horses is child's play," Briscoe remarked, "but it's a hell of a bloody job trying to train Miss Paget." Under Anthony's care, Golden Miller won the Gold Cup for the fifth successive time in 1936 and finished second on unsuitably firm ground in 1938, the 1937 race having been abandoned because of flooding.

Following the 1934 National, Paget declared herself "terribly pleased" with her champion's performance and presented Briscoe and jockey Gerry Wilson with large chocolate effigies of Golden Miller, who received an appreciative kiss. It was, one wag remarked, the first time she had ever kissed a member of the opposite sex.

To be fair, no others had won a Gold Cup and Grand National.

Briscoe and Wilson thoroughly deserved their chocolate, for dealing with Paget was a trying and exhausting ordeal. Her daily routine followed an unconventional pattern, with dinner at seven in the morning, followed by bedtime. Meals were substantial - "there were an awful lot of larders here when we first arrived," I was told during my 1989 visit - with breakfast at 8.30pm. As well as fish and chips, Paget had an insatiable appetite for discussing her horses with her trainers, with a tendency to open the discussion at midnight, while taking a break from all-night card sessions with her staff. When Briscoe attempted to escape her tyranny by taking his telephone off the hook, Paget dispatched a messenger at 2.30 in the morning, with instructions to replace it.

Paget's unusual timetable resulted in a correspondingly curious arrangement with her bookmaker, William Hill. Since she was usually asleep during racing hours, it was agreed that she would be allowed to bet, as it were, posthumously, after the racing was over. It was testimony to Paget's honesty, if not to her betting prowess, that the arrangement did more for Hill's bank balance than for Paget's. She bet on a gargantuan scale. At a time when the average price of a house was less than pounds 1,000, Paget regularly bet several houses at a time. Sometimes choosing to strike a bet to win pounds 20,000, she once put pounds 160,000 on a 1-8 shot.

Fortunately, it won. Many did not and, in 1948 alone, Paget lost over pounds 100,000, equivalent to about pounds 3 million today.

The choice of Hermit's Wood was particularly appropriate because, before Paget moved in, in 1939, the estate was occupied by Sir Reginald Blair, a Conservative MP and founder director and later chairman of the Racecourse Betting Control Board, which ran the Tote.

For Paget, outings from Hermit's Wood to the racecourse were not straightforward. Her choice of clothes was easy enough, since she invariably confined herself to a shapeless tweed coat and dark beret. According to Alice Wilson, who lived nearby, Hermit's Wood was one of the few places boasting stockings during the Second World War but when asked if Paget wore them, Wilson exclaimed, "No, she'd never have got into them, she had the most enormous legs". This may have been malicious local gossip, for Paget discouraged visits from strangers and did not encourage them from relatives. When I approached Paget's nephew, Sir Gawaine George Hope Baillie, busy in Leeds Castle amassing one of the world's largest stamp collections, he told me that he had met his aunt only twice, and gave the impression that twice was sufficient.

ATRIP to the races was preceded by a flurry of notes and instructions, including one to Hall, the gardener, to stand in the middle of Nightingales Lane to ensure that Paget's chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce made an unobstructed exit. Watches were synchronised, a precaution that failed to guarantee Paget's arrival at the races on time. Once, when her car broke down, she promptly bought the local butcher's delivery van to get her to the races and, subsequently, insisted that a 'spare' Rolls-Royce form part of the convoy.

In June 1939, Paget, still only 34, set off for Royal Ascot, buoyed by trainer Fred Darling's glowing reports of Colonel Payne's prospects in the Cork and Orrery Stakes. Colonel Payne had cost Paget 15,000gns as a yearling, and was about to cost her a great deal more. After having one of the biggest bets of her life, Paget watched Colonel Payne finish well beaten, then rushed into the unsaddling enclosure to confront her trainer. "Where's Mr Darling?" she demanded of jockey Gordon Richards. "I wouldn't be quite sure, Miss Paget," Richards replied, "but I've a pretty shrewd idea he's on the top of the stand, cutting his throat."

In that year, Golden Miller joined Insurance in retirement at Paget's Elsenham Stud, in Essex, where her 1943 Derby winner, Straight Deal, was bred. Three years earlier, Solford and Roman Hackle had given Paget a Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double at Cheltenham and she would win both races again, the Champion Hurdle with Distel in 1946 and the Gold Cup with Mont Tremblant in 1952. The following year, carrying 12st 5lb, Mont Tremblant finished runner-up in the Grand National.

Fulke Walwyn, Mont Tremblant's trainer, was responsible for 365 of Paget's grand total of 1,532 winners but, despite imposing a 'no phone calls after 9pm' rule, Walwyn found it an exasperating experience. "She was," he told me, kindly, "so trying." One day, when Walwyn won five races at Folkestone, Paget complained that he should have won six, an episode that may have contributed to a lengthy spell when trainer and owner were not on speaking terms. Instead, Paget used Peggy Whitehead, a huntswoman and international showjumping rider, as an intermediary. On one occasion, with Walwyn in a nearby room, Paget gave Whitehead her instructions, then added, "kick him in the balls if you've got the guts".

After eight years, Walwyn resigned and Paget's body, subjected to up to 100 cigarettes a day, soon followed his example. Paget died at Hermit's Wood of heart failure in 1960, aged 54. She did not leave a will, only "The Heaps," rooms full of messages and old copies of The Sporting Life. The lodge at the entrance is still there but, in 2006, Hermit's Wood was demolished, to be replaced by a block of luxury apartments, called Ellwood Hall. Paget Hall would have been more fitting, and more fun.

QUESTION OF THE DAY Who's your favourite racing eccentric? Present-day eccentric has got to be Big Mac. Bloke's a 100% loony and apparently proud of it to boot! He sits there in his outlandish gear, more rings than Liberace, arguing the toss, most times with those who know better. The-Templar In a sometimes staid world, it has to be McCririck. He's a bass among the baritones and quite often worth listening to. adrianhu Has to be the great Matt Chapman of At The Races. Watching racing without Matt passing comment is just not the same.

pathackett Mark 'Couch' Winstanley, as he is miserable when he's happy and suicidal when he's miserable. winchester123 Harchibald - the way he 'downed tools' when he looked certain to win a hurdling crown was priceless. Love his attitude. georgiofran Matt Chapman YeeeeHaa. His energy and enthusiasm makes racing worth watching. p.c.79 Today on Which Flat stars of the past decade would you have particularly liked to see race for longer?


Dorothy Paget, seen leading in Golden Miller after the 1934 Cheltenham Gold Cup, has a fan in Martin Pipe, whose collection of memorabilia includes a slip for three bets in 1933 totalling pounds 2,100 - all losers
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jan 18, 2010
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