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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Redcar celebrate the Whitsun Bank Holiday on Monday with one of their oldest established races – the Zetland Gold Cup.

This £50,000 heritage handicap carries the name of a family who have done much, not only for the racecourse and for Northern racing, but also for the region as a whole and in all walks of life.

The race first came about at around the turn of the 19th century when the then Earl of Zetland took over as Chairman of the race company following the death of Squire Newcomen of Kirkleathem in 1884.

It was the Squire who had gathered a group of racing enthusiasts together to set up the new races on the present site in 1872, taking a 21 year lease to ensure that Redcar races survived. Before than they had been held on Coatham sands, but a new edict from the Jockey Club required that the minimum prize for any race be £50.

Only enclosed courses who could charge entrance money and make a profit from spectators could afford that sort of level and so Redcar races moved inland.

There were five races held that first day - the main events being the Redcar Handicap and the Zetland Welter Handicap Plate. It cost just two pence for entry onto the course, although the grandstand was a hefty 6/-.

By 1875 they had raised £4,000 to build a permanent grandstand, other meetings were staged – including hurdles and steeple chasing at the October fixture - and by 1878 a second stand and permanent stables had also been built.

Lord Zetland and the Honourable James Lowther were great supporters, along with other local gentry. Great house parties were held at Upleathem Hall and Wilton Castle and both would instruct their Newmarket trainers to send plenty of runners North to run at Redcar.

By now the town had become a seaside holiday spot – a Victorian tourist destination – and the races were seen as an integral part of the attraction. So with the need to attract good horses and top jockeys, prize money was increased and new races staged.

The first running of the Great National breeders Foal Stakes in 1880 carried a massive £500 and was won by a horse called Experiment. The following year it was worth £900 and it was in this sort of climate that the first Zetland Cup would have been staged.

By the 1920’s as many as 24,000 spectators were flocking to Redcar’s Whitsuntide meeting even though it fell directly between major fixtures at top tracks like York and Manchester, but then fashions changed and the big races melted away.

It was local lad Leslie Petch who rejuvenated things in the years just after the Second World War. He soon had the races up and running again and in 1950 reintroduced the race as we know it now.

Ironically Petch’s maternal grandfather was John Hikeley, who was landlord of the Lobster Hotel in Coathem – which had been the headquarters for the races on the beach. Hikeley had done much for Redcar races in those early days and Petch was to follow hugely in his footsteps.

Named simply the Zetland Cup, the 1950 race was a handicap with £2,000 in prizemoney and Near Way was ridden to victory by Willie Nevett. It proved a roaring success and the “Gold” was added to the title in 1953 when victory went to HVC (name of the horse!)

The new race coincided with the start of Edward Hide’s career as a jockey, but he was not to land the prize until partnering Henry V11 to victory in 1962 – the first of three wins in the event for this hugely popular rider.

That doyen of Yorkshire trainers, Sam Hall, got on the score sheet in the early years with Cash and Courage in 1958 and there was a Royal success a decade later when Castle Yard – trained by Captain Boyd-Rochfort and ridden by Stan Smith – scored in the colours of Her Majesty The Queen.

George Duffield had far and away the best record in the race, collecting the prize on five occasions and all for different trainers. ‘Gentleman’ George steered Side Track to victory in 1980 and later scored on Forward Rally (1986), Nayland (1991), Rose Alto (1992) and Flight Sequence in 2001.

Some good horses have won the Zetland Gold Cup, including Move Off – dual winner in 1976 and 77 and also the Ebor hero at York that year too. But Peleid was undoubtedly the best.

Trained at Malton by Bill Elsey, the three-year-old began the 1973 season with a win at Liverpool just an hour or two before the first of Red Rum’s famous three Grand National victories.

Peleid was then third in the Thirsk Classic Trial before winning the Zetland Gold Cup under top lightweight rider Ernie Johnson. He then took on the best at Royal Ascot, finishing third in the King George V Stakes before annexing the Magnet Cup at York where he beat 1972 Zetland Gold Cup winner Happy Hunter by half a length.

A narrow defeat then followed in France when he was beaten a neck at Deauville before taking fourth place in the Ebor back on York’s Knavesmire and ending the year in a blaze of glory with victory in the final Classic – the St Leger at Doncaster.

Denys Smith had a wonderful record at Redcar where he was top trainer for several years. He saddled Happy Hunter and had won it two years earlier with Foggy Bell – ridden by stable apprentice Willie McCaskill.

Foggy Bell had won the Lincoln at Doncaster and the William Hill Gold Cup at Redcar the previous year and went on to become a successful stallion.

When Clive Brittain saddled Miramar Reef to win in 1984, he collected a brand new trophy given by the Zetland family to commemorate their acting for 100 consecutive years as Chairmen of the race company.

Penny A Day was a real local winner in 1995. He was trained near Saltburn by Mary Reveley and ridden by Kevin Darley while 2004 victor Blue Spinnaker may well bid for a repeat next week. He was ninth last year, but won a competitive race at the big York meeting recently.

The race has been good for punters with eight favourites in the past three decades and only seven winners returned at double figure odds. The Whistling Teal was favourite when scoring in 2001 and is still winning in Pattern race company.

Last year’s victor, Blue Monday, also headed the betting and later went on to take the Cambridgeshire at Newmarket, just to underline that fact that a good horse is needed to collect this particular pot of gold.

Copyright © Redcar Racecourse 2006 | Last Update: Friday, December 15, 2006