Paladin’s War, Old Gold & British Racing in the 1930’s & 1940’s

Below is an extract from Old Gold Racing’s free e-book, Paladin’s War.

‘Paladin’s War’ is a brief snapshot of British horseracing in the 1930s and 1940s and the story of one brewer, landowner and racehorse owner who, against the odds, came within a hair’s breadth of winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup during those troubled war years.

Written by our CEO and Co-Founder, Ed Seyfried, it is the story from which the mission and vision of Old Gold Racing flows.

Ed’s great grandfather, Ronald Holbech (pictured in his wheelchair, below) of Farnborough Hall in Warwickshire, owned Paladin, who was third in the 1945 Cheltenham Gold Cup as an 11 year old.

The family was left to rue fate as the preceding three Gold Cups, when Paladin would have been in his prime, were abandoned on account of the war. Holbech was a director of local Banbury brewers, Hunt Edmonds and his racing colours were designed to look like a frothing pint of beer: old gold with a white belt and cap to symbolise the froth fizzing up the glass and down the sleeves; the same old gold from which Old Gold Racing takes name.

If you have as much fun reading the extract below as we did writing it, then please head over to www.oldgoldracing.com and pre-register to download the free e-book today.

Paladin’s War – Chapter 1

Dorothy Paget was the preeminent owner of the pre-war era. A compulsive gambler and obsessive eater who lived almost exclusively by night, a cursory glance across any 1930s or 1940s race card yields at least one Paget entry in most races. After a very expensive but highly inauspicious start she paid a further £12,000 (about £¾m in today’s money) for two geldings, Insurance and Golden Miller; at the time the Cheltenham Gold Cup was worth less than £750.  Golden Miller’s record of five consecutive Gold Cup victories has never been bettered.

Today’s racing press would refer to her operation as the “Paget juggernaut” in the same way as contemporary hacks refer to Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown operation. Whereas now Gigginstown’s maroon or JP McManus’s green and gold silks dominate jump racing (especially in Ireland), then it was Paget’s blue and yellow colours that were ubiquitous in almost every jump race; certainly of any value.  She was a formidable force in National Hunt with almost limitless resources.

As a consequence then, as now, more modest owners, with far tighter resources had to think and work hard to give themselves the best chance to beat the endless supply of quality Paget, or RyanAir, horses.

One such owner was Ronnie Holbech, of Farnborough Hall in Warwickshire; in the 1930s he was also trying is luck in the dank green fields of National Hunt and Gold Cup dreams.  Holbech was a director of Banbury brewers Hunt Edmunds and his racing silks (old gold with a white belt and cap) were designed to symbolise the gilded beery froth effervescing up and over a pint of Hunt Edmunds Supreme Pale Ale.

The Holbechs had been in the county for 700 years or so but a family gambler had put paid to most of the money, the Canalettos and a Panini – thus any racing activity had to be carefully budgeted.  A boyhood polio victim, Holbech spent much of his time in a wheelchair though this in no way dampened his enthusiasm for life or life’s responsibilities: he was an alderman for the County of Warwick and very active on the board of Banbury Hospital where the Children’s section is still called “The Holbech Ward”.

And he had a passion for jump racing. Accordingly he stewarded at Towcester, Stratford, Warwick, Worcester and Cheltenham.   At each course disabled members of the public could sit alongside him as he stewarded and thus his legacy to all five racecourses was unrivalled wheelchair viewing years in advance of its time.

In this milieu, Holbech with his trainer Mr J “Sunny” Hall, operating from Lord Rothschild’s former yard at Russley Park near Lambourn, had some decent successes and clearly a lot of fun: Zadig won a couple of times for him at Birmingham Races in 1930 and 1931 whilst at the April meeting at Warwick, also in 1931, the curiously named Virgin’s Tangle ran in his colours.  At the beginning of January, Pirton ran against Miss Paget’s King Louis in a 100 sovereign selling handicap chase over the stiff fences at Haydock.

As the decade progressed Ronnie’s string of racehorses, which only ever numbered two or three at any one time, gradually improved: he had a runner at the 1935 Cheltenham Festival with the notoriously badly behaved and riotous Banned, ridden Jerry Wilson, albeit unplaced in the County Hurdle. In the previous race Wilson had ridden Golden Miller to his fourth consecutive Gold Cup victory and Paget famously kissed her champion on the nose, reputedly the only man she ever did kiss; the gelding not the jockey.

In October 1936 the local press was set ablaze when ‘a local Warwickshire farmer and racehorse owner’ landed a touch at Stratford with a 171/1 double when Banned, in a rare moment of co-operative behaviour, stormed over the line at 20/1 and then in the following race Chesterton 7/1 got up too, both winning to thunderous local support.  Chesterton, a good Cheltenham type who later also won at Newbury and Wetherby, was later sold to Sir Allan Gordon Smith, chairman of Smiths Instruments, whose clocks and gauges were being bought in their thousands for RAF bombers and fighters as war loomed…

Pre-register here to get your hands on the full story in our free 22-page Paladin’s War e-book

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