Caractacus by Samuel Spode
See also photographs in Gallery - Holywell Farm
About James Parsons, the Jockey
James 'Charlie' Parsons’ spell in the sun lasted for just the three minutes it took to run the 1862 Derby.
Aged 16 years and six months, James Parsons, was legged-up on the 66/1 outsider Caractacus with no chance, so everyone thought, of getting in the first ten, let alone disposing of the favourite, The Marquis.
Several leading jockeys had turned down the ride: on the morning of the race connections were still trying to find a professional jockey to take the mount. With options exhausted, they turned to Parsons who knew the horse well. So well, in fact, that – wearing the blue cap and white jacket of owner Mr Snewing - the pale-faced youngster brought the horse home a shock winner amid total silence from the stands. The favourite was second.
But the drama had only just started. When Parsons sat on the scales to weigh-in, he was slightly light and in very real danger of losing the race. Then a stable lad rushed in with the bridle and Parsons just tipped the scales.
Then someone objected to winner, claiming that he had not taken the proper course. Again, an awful moment of suspense – until it was realized that the objection had been made five minutes too late.
Caractacus had been trained by Bob Smith, based at Harpenden, just outside Watford. Smith won £10,000 and, that night, a bullock was roasted whole in Watford market-place to celebrate the local triumph. Mr Snewing, a publican, threw his doors open to the poor so they, too, could join in the festivities.
James Parsons - known to his mates as Charlie - was born in Cranbourne, Dorset in 1845, and was apprenticed to Bob Smith.
The Derby was his third and final win as a jockey. He unsuccessfully advertised in 'Bell's Life' for further rides.
After the Derby, Caractacus became a stallion at a stud in Tyttenhanger, St Albans. John moved with the horse and lived at St Pancras between 1891 and 1901.
His finished up as a cab washer in London and died somewhat impoverished in a University Hospital on May 4, 1907, aged 61.
He is remembered as the youngest jockey ever to win the Derby.
James Parsons married, and became the great-grandfather of Susan Tardley, an amateur lady rider of the 1980s.
The owner of Caractacus, Mr Snelling, had attended the Exhibition of 1951 and had seen a magnificent piece of statuary representing Caractacus in chains being led captive to Rome. He turned to a companion and said. ‘If ever I own a good enough horse, I’ll call him Caractacus and try to win the Derby with him.’
Ten years later he bought himself a colt from Mr Blenkiron’s sale for 270 guineas. Given the name Caractacus, the colt did not distinguish itself as a two-year-old but, next season, ran a cracking race at the Great Metropolitan Spring Meeting at Epsom and was immediately installed as one of the favourites for that year’s Derby. Then the horse turned in three dreadful performances and was driven out to 100/1 in the betting.
At this point, James Goater, Snewing’s chief jockey, was offered the mount, but he turned it down in order to ride an animal belonging to his brother. Goater was later said to be mortified when finishing last. Not only had he missed out on riding a Derby winner, but had also lost an annuity of £100 a year for life which Snewing had promised to him if he should win on Caractacus.
Young James Parsons was well looked after instead.
Snewing’s trainer, after those three defeats, changed the horse’s training routine and Caractacus immediately returned to form.
Caractacus is often quoted as having won the Derby at odds of 40-1. This is incorrect as its exact starting price was 1,000-15 i.e. 66⅔-1. He broke down on both forelegs after the Derby and never ran again.
The old Saxon name for Epsom was Ebbesheim, relating to Ebba’s palace and immediate neighbourhood, the name Epsom being derived from this. (Ebbda was a Queen of England.) After a time, the place was pronounced Ebbisham, then Eb’s-ham before the name finally emerged into Epsom.
At about the time of the Stuarts, a member of the Tottenham family bought a strip of land in the parish of Barnstead which came to a point at the spot where the present five-furlong course joins the Derby course.
This corner of land became known as Tottenham Corner which, over the years, was corrupted to Tattenham Corner. Before the race, Mr Snewing sprinkled the track with paper for the horse to follow round Tattenham Corner into the straight.
James Parsons' classic win:
The Derby: Caractacus (1862)