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THE DIRTY DERBY; The infamous Classic in which a woman died after throwing herself in front of the King's colt.

As part of a week of features celebrating the Queen and the Derby, Steve Dennis recounts the facts behind arguably Britain's most eventful horserace IT WAS Wednesday, June 4, 1913, and Emily Wilding Davison went to Victoria station in London to buy a return ticket to Epsom. It was Derby day.

Anmer was already in the racecourse stables. Owned by King George V and trained in Newmarket by Richard Marsh, he was a 50-1 outsider in the 15-runner Classic, in which he was to be ridden by 28-yearold Herbert Jones. The paths of Anmer, Jones and Davison were soon to cross in tragic circumstances.

The 1913 Derby was arguably the most eventful race ever run in Britain, certainly one of the most notorious. It came to be known as the Dirty Derby; the winning favourite was sensationally disqualified, the promoted runner-up was a 100-1 no-hoper, the third horse home was not seen by the judge and eventually placed fifth, and the King's horse was brought down at the top of the straight when a woman dashed under the rail and tried to stop the colt.

Davison, 40, was a leading light in the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), the members of which were known as suffragettes. The purpose of the Suffragist movement was to force changes to the voting laws; at the time, all women and around 40 per cent of men were denied the vote - which number included, incidentally, Herbert Jones.

Davison was a militant suffragette and had served time and sustained serious injuries for the cause. When committed to Strangeways prison for the crime of stone-throwing she went on hunger-strike and was force-fed. She set fire to pillarboxes, smashed windows in the House of Commons, chained herself to railings and planted a bomb at the home of chancellor of the exchequer David Lloyd George.

She was a brave and intelligent woman - she earned a BA in English language and literature from St Hugh's College, Oxford - fighting an injustice and was prepared to stop at nothing to promote the cause.

There was, obviously, an opposing point of view that held that she and her comrades were mindless hooligans bent upon anarchy. Women were supposed to know their place, which was to make tea and to have babies, not to worry about things that didn't concern them, and not bother the men too much. That was what passed for English society at the beginning of the new century.

A week before Derby day, she was sent a telegram instructing her to go to Epsom. On her way to Victoria that morning she visited the WSPU offices in London and collected two flags in the WSPU colours of purple, white and green stripes. She also bought a ticket for the Suffragette Summer Festival, to be held in Kensington that evening, and put it in her purse with her return railway ticket.

At Epsom, she took up a position on the infield at Tattenham Corner, near the rails. As the runners for the Derby went to post she wriggled through the crowd until she was next to the running rail.

The 100-1 no-hoper Aboyeur made the running in the Derby and as he started down the hill he was three lengths clear of the 6-4 favourite Craganour, Day Comet and the rest of the chasing pack. By this point Anmer was already struggling and had become detached from the group.

Aboyeur and his pursuers swept around Tattenham Corner and up the straight. Davison slipped under the rail as Anmer and the stragglers came past and stepped in front of the King's horse with her hands in the air as though trying to grab the reins.

Anmer was travelling at more than 30 miles an hour and slammed into her, knocking her over. The horse was brought down, Jones thrown to the floor. Davison's hat rolled in the grass.

Half a mile down the course, Craganour and Aboyeur literally fought their way to the finish, Craganour prevailing by a head. Louvois was placed third, although photographic evidence suggests that Day Comet was actually third. The stewards themselves objected to the winner, and after a bitter and controversial inquiry Craganour was disqualified for 'jostling' and placed last, Aboyeur being awarded the race.

BACK at Tattenham Corner, police and officials were swiftly on the scene to attend to the stricken Davison, who was unconscious. Anmer was unhurt, and although Jones was knocked out for a short period he sustained only minor injuries. Davison was identified from the name-tag on her handkerchief, was taken to Epsom Cottage Hospital with a fractured skull and severe internal injuries, and died four days later.

Did she mean to kill herself and become a martyr for the cause? It seems unlikely. She had a return train ticket, plans for the evening.

Theories at the time involved Davison merely wishing to cross the course, thinking all the horses had passed. Eyewitness reports are unreliable, but there can be little doubt her actions were deliberate.

It seems her intention was to disrupt the race by stopping a horse and attaching one of her WSPU banners to it, thus 'flying the flag' for the cause. She could not have known of Anmer's position in the race and the fact that she emerged on to the course as the King's horse was passing must be put down to coincidence.

However, she was clearly unaware of the speed at which even the also-rans were travelling and she stepped out from under the rail with no time to put her plan into operation or to take evasive action. Given the circumstances, her actions were doomed to failure from the very start.

Her death divided opinion in the same way as had her militant actions. Queen Mary sent Jones a telegram in which she commented on the 'abominable conduct of a brutal lunatic woman'. A letter sent to her as she lay dying in hospital included the words 'I hope you suffer torture until you die, you idiot'. But more helpful messages from supporters flooded in.

Jones - who later confessed to being "haunted by that woman's face" - rode on until his retirement in 1923. Five years later, at the funeral of WSPU founder Emmeline Pankhurst, he laid a wreath honouring both Pankhurst and Davison.

Davison was buried in Morpeth, Northumberland, whence her family came. On her gravestone was inscribed the motto of the WSPU, a sentiment that had cost Davison her life - Deeds Not Words.

Five years later, women over the age of 30 were granted the vote (with restrictions based on property ownership). In 1928, the Representation of the People Act enfranchised all women and all men over the age of 21.

Royal Derby winners THE following six Derby winners were owned by members of the British royal family. In addition, King George III was the breeder of Gustavus, who won the race in 1821, and Queen Victoria bred Sainfoin, who triumphed in 1890.

Sir Thomas 1788 King George IV was still Prince of Wales when scoring his only Classic victory with Sir Thomas; at the time his London residence was Carlton House, Pall Mall. The odds-on favourite collected a prize of pounds 918.

Prince Leopold 1816 Frederick Duke of York, brother of George IV, was, according to the nursery rhyme, the grand old Duke of York who had 10,000 men. He also had two Derby winners and the first of them, Prince Leopold, triumphed at Epsom on his racecourse debut at odds of 20-1. This was the year after the Battle of Waterloo; the Duke was the army's commander-in-chief.

Moses 1822 The Duke of York's second Derby winner, Moses, just got the better of a sustained duel with Figaro by a head. Like Prince Leopold, he was bred by his owner and trained by William Butler.

Persimmon 1896 King Edward VII, great-grandfather of the present Queen, owned three Derby winners - all trained by Richard Marsh at Newmarket and two of them when he was still Prince of Wales. The Derby was the biggest sporting event of the year and there were scenes of euphoria as he led in each of his winners. Persimmon was a great champion and beat odds-on St Frusquin by a neck at Epsom before winning the St Leger, Ascot Gold Cup and Eclipse.

Diamond Jubilee 1900 The Prince of Wales's second Derby winner, the bad-tempered Diamond Jubilee, was inferior to his brother Persimmon (both were home-bred) but did win the Triple Crown. In the same year the Prince landed the Grand National with Ambush.

Minoru 1909 The owner of Persimmon and Diamond Jubilee became King Edward VII in 1901, so Minoru was the only Derby winner so far to be owned by a reigning monarch. The colt won the 2,0 Guineas and beat Louviers by a short head at Epsom, with the great Bayardo only fifth. There will always be a suspicion that, without the benefit of a photo-finish camera, the judge gave a verdict that was conveniently patriotic.

John Randall Emily Davison: prepared to stop at nothing for her cause


at nothing for her cause
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2011
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