Racing: Fallon pursues place on podium with Twenties idol

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The Independent Online

In 225 years only one man has achieved what Kieren Fallon aims to do today: win three consecutive Derbys. That was Steve Donoghue, who scored on Humorist in 1921, followed by Captain Cuttle and Papyrus. Champion jockey for 10 consecutive years from 1914, the charming little man from Warrington was the people's champion, too; the racecourse cry of "Come on, Steve!" became part of the social lexicon and testified to his status as Britain's greatest sporting idol of the 1920s.

In 225 years only one man has achieved what Kieren Fallon aims to do today: win three consecutive Derbys. That was Steve Donoghue, who scored on Humorist in 1921, followed by Captain Cuttle and Papyrus. Champion jockey for 10 consecutive years from 1914, the charming little man from Warrington was the people's champion, too; the racecourse cry of "Come on, Steve!" became part of the social lexicon and testified to his status as Britain's greatest sporting idol of the 1920s.

Donoghue, born the son of an iron-worker in 1884, ran away from home to become a stable lad at 15. The first top-class horse he rode was the brilliant 1913 juvenile The Tetrarch and he was also memorably associated with the great stayer Brown Jack, winner of the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot for six successive years from 1929.

He rode six Derby winners in all, the others being Pommern (1915) and Gay Crusader (1918), who took wartime Newmarket Triple Crowns, and Manna (1925).

His three consecutive Derby victors all had different owners and trainers; despite retainers, Donoghue's engaging personality enabled him to juggle people and horses without giving offence. He was a genius at Epsom; the ride he gave Humorist was of the finest, biding his time and nipping through a gap on the rails, nicking and holding a precious neck advantage over Craig An Eran. Gallant Humorist had a tragic, untimely end; 18 days after the Derby he suffered a lung haemorrhage and bled to death alone in his box.

Drama attended Captain Cuttle before his Derby. The morning of the race he got loose and headed briskly towards a main road. But he was an unusually amiable colt who had developed a deep affection for his trainer, Fred Darling, and when his master called him by name he stopped, turned and trotted back. Then he had to be re-shod in the parade ring, and seemed lame for a short while afterwards, resulting in his price going out to 10-1. His four-length romp at unexpectedly long odds made his jockey even more popular with punters.

Papyrus, who beat Pharos a length after a stirring battle, became the first Epsom hero to race in the United States, sent to Belmont Park for a match against the Kentucky Derby winner Zev. But on rain-soaked dirt, in his ordinary British plates instead of special American shoes with calkins to grip the undersurface, even Donoghue's talents were not enough and he suffered an infamous defeat.

After his third in a row at Epsom, Donoghue described it thus: "You can never get used to the thrill of riding a Derby winner, even if you make a hobby of it! But I would ask my friends who gave me such a splendid reception to remember this was a victory for Papyrus and not for Donoghue. My part indeed was a modest one compared with his. My brave horse battled on with indomitable courage and I never want to ride a nobler or more gallant creature.

"I am not given to getting excited but I am going to admit that for a long time after the roar of cheering had died away I was still thrilling to the joy of that battling finish."

As a jockey, Donoghue was a superb horseman and tactician and in 33 years was never before the stewards. His courage was unmatched; in the 1920 Derby, run on rock-hard ground, his mount Abbot's Trace fell in the straight and rolled over him. An hour later Donoghue drove Prince Herod to win a handicap by a short-head from two dead-heaters.

As a man, he was irresponsible in many ways, but kind, courtly, generous and warm-hearted, and very much loved. A nation mourned when he died suddenly in March 1945; his passing was announced as the lead item on the wireless news.

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