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
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
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
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)