Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Churchill Series - Dec. 10, 2008

(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Most people know horses were an important part of Churchill's life. He rode pony's as a child; trained in horsemanship at Sandhurst; was commissioned as a cavalry officer; rode as a lancer in the famous charge at Omdurman; played polo into his fifties; and kept and bred horses at Chartwell and other properties.

But most people don't know that for many years Churchill owned a racing stable. And he wasn't one of those celebrity owners who preen and eye the cameras while putting their feet in - oops - the wrong places. As with everything else he cared about, Churchill the race horse owner was informed and "hands on."

Churchill's most successful horse was a grey, Colonist II. He bought him against the advice of many racing experts. Churchill thought he saw something - a special determination - in Colonist that would make the horse "a winner."

Colonist proved Churchill right. "This tough and indomitable grey horse has performed miracles," said one racing writer in 1950. "No horse in living memory has put up such a sequence of wins in good-class races in one season." Among the prestigious races Colonist won were The Winston Churchill Stakes and The Jockey Club Stakes.

As Colonist's racing days came to a close, his trainer reminded Churchill that Colonist would be very valuable as a stud horse. The trainer offered to arrange matters.

Churchill pondered a moment, then laughed and replied,

"To stud? And have it said that the Prime Minister of Great Britain is living on the immoral earnings of a horse?"
Churchill's official biographer, Martin Gilbert, does not say what ultimately happened to Colonist. We can wish the horse had a green old age.

Martin Gilbert,
Never Despair. (pgs. 488, 522, 524, 528, 563)