Racing: Sceptre, the horse of the century

The mighty filly who won four of the 1902 Classics was born 100 years ago this week. By Sue Montgomery
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The Independent Online
THIS WEEK marks the centenary of the birth of one of the most remarkable figures in racing's pantheon. Sceptre, the only horse in history to win four Classics outright, was foaled on 9 April 1899. Her story is extraordinary from beginning to end and the pattern of her racing career would have defied even the boldest imaginings of the Godolphin operation.

Sceptre was born with a silver bit in her elegant mouth and under normal circumstances would have attained high, but probably not legendary, status. She was bred by the 1st Duke of Westminster at his Eaton Stud in Cheshire, a daughter of Persimmon, a top-class stallion, and Ornament, a sister to Triple Crown hero Ormonde.

But the old Duke died when she was still a foal and his stock had to be sold. She was sent as a yearling to the Tattersalls July sales in Newmarket and made an unprecedented 10,000gns, a record that was to stand for 19 years. Her new owner was Robert Sievier, a reprobate sometime journalist and full-time gambler whose financial status seesawed wildly but at that time was well in the black. Sievier was not ashamed to admit that he lost his heart at first sight to the beautiful, regal bay filly.

Sceptre's first season in training, with Charlie Morton at Wantage, was reasonably normal. She was deemed a certainty for the Woodcote Stakes at Epsom and followed up in the July Stakes at Newmarket. She was already wearing her winter woollies when only third in Doncaster's Champagne Stakes.

Sievier boldly decided to train Sceptre himself, at Shrewton in Wiltshire, in her Classic season but distinct doubts were cast on his sanity when he announced that her prep race would be the Lincoln Handicap, for which he backed her heavily ante-post. His faith in his own and his filly's ability might have been justified had not his assistant erroneously given her four severe gallops over a mile on successive days just before the race. She was beaten a head in the last stride by St Maclou.

Sievier's reaction to the defeat was to announce that Sceptre's next target was not one Guineas, but both. Racing's establishment threw up its collective hands at the effrontery of this pro gambler who styled himself a trainer. But Sievier knew his filly's mettle and her iron constitution. In the 2,000 Guineas she beat the colts as she liked in a record time and repeated the feat against her own sex in the 1,000 two days later.

The Derby proved her downfall but, arguably, she might have won had she not missed three days' work with a bruised foot and then been incompetently ridden. She came in fourth behind Ard Patrick but won the Oaks in a canter.

After an abortive trip to France for the Grand Prix de Paris, Sceptre turned out on successive days at Royal Ascot to run fifth in the Coronation Stakes and trounce the Derby second, Rising Glass, in the St James's Palace. At Goodwood she dead-heated for second in the Sussex and won the Nassau, and at Doncaster beat Rising Glass again in the St Leger.

By the following spring Sievier was broke, and after his beloved filly failed to land a last-ditch punt in the Lincoln (she was fifth under 9st 1lb) to save him from his creditors he was forced to sell her, for 25,000gns to William Bass.

She transferred to Alec Taylor at Manton and her five victories included the Hardwicke, Jockey Club and Champion Stakes. But her neck defeat by old rival Ard Patrick in the Eclipse, after a no-quarter battle down the straight, was almost as glorious. Languishing in third was the three-year- old Rock Sand, a Triple Crown winner by the end of the season.

At five she was retired after only placing in the Coronation Cup, Ascot Gold Gup and Hardwicke Stakes. Her eight foals included Maid Of The Mist (Cheveley Park) and Maid Of Corinth (2nd 1,000 Guineas), she became grand- dam of Craig-an-Eran (2,000) and Sunny Jane (Oaks) and direct ancestress of 1963 Derby winner Relko.

As an old mare she changed hands several times, lastly when she was auctioned, with a filly foal, for 2,500gns in aid of the Red Cross wartime fund in 1917. Her buyer, Lord Glaneley, threatened to sell her as a barrener to Brazil five years later but there was such a public outcry that the sale was cancelled.

On the book, Sceptre was not the greatest racemare of all time, but no horse will match her feats and when the great mare died, aged 27, in February 1926, she was already a true legend in her own lifetime.