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George Payne (1804-1878)

George Payne was one of the
great Corinthians of the nineteenth
century. As well as his patronage
of the Turf he was Master of the
Pytchley Hunt for three seasons.

An incorrigible gambler he is reputed
to have divested at least two fortunes,
and possibly three, on the Turf and
at the card-table, although his losses
never caused him to lose his composure.

Few people enter into this world endowed with the privileges bestowed on George Payne: affluence, a magnetism that drew men, as well as women, to his company and remarkable talents that would have guaranteed him a successful career in whatever profession he chose. But George Payne sought neither fame nor political ambition: for him there were far better things in life, and instead he devoted his life to the Turf, the Chase and the card-table.

Born in the year before Nelson annihilated the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar, he was orphaned in his infancy under what must have been particularly distressing circumstances, his father having been shot dead in a duel. As the eldest son he inherited Sulby Hall – built by his grandfather, Rene Payne, a partner in the banking firm of Smith, Payne and Lepper – and 300,000 in cash and securities. Financially secure he embarked on a reckless career of gambling on the Turf and at the card-table. The money did not last long; but he certainly enjoyed the journey. A year before his coming of age he lost 33,000 by Jerry’s victory in the St Leger, coolly remarking that it was a pleasure to lose it!

Although his betting was often reckless he was, on occasion, desperately unlucky with some well planned coups. He failed by the shortest of short heads to win 60,000 when Lord Lyon beat Savernake for the Derby in 1866; and in Cremorne’s year, a further 40,000, when Pell Mell failed by a head to get to the winner. And imagine his horror when his own filly, Welfare, on whom he had only a hundred pounds, almost took the shine out of the great Crucifix for the Oaks, on whom he stood to win several thousands. He swore that seeking out the first mirror he came across he fully expected to find that his hair had turned grey.

He was also unlucky with his own horses. From the age of twenty until his death he was never without horses in training. At Sulby Hall he bred Pauline, dam of Gladiator (ch c 1833 Partisan), one of the great sires of the nineteenth century. His one classic success was in the 1847 One Thousand Guineas with the beautifully bred Clementina (Venison – Cobweb), a filly he had reluctantly purchased on a recommendation. He became the owner of the great stayer Musket (b c 1867 Toxophilite), whom he inherited from Lord Glasgow, although in recognition of the bequest, Musket always ran in the latter’s colours.

With Colonel Peel, with whom he had shared the inheritance of Lord Glasgow’s horses, he bred the 1878 Derby winner Sefton (b c 1875 Speculum), on whom he won 20,000, little realising it was to be the last time he was to witness the Blue Riband.

But for all that he was dearly loved for his cheerful nature, his coruscating persona, and delightful wit. And when he died, a few months after Sefton’s Derby, his loss was deeply felt by thousands, from the aristocracy to the humblest Northamptonshire tradesman. As Thormanby tells us the reason is not hard to find: "George Payne was a true English gentleman, large hearted, high-spirited, the pink of chivalry and the soul of honour – a man of a most lovable nature".

A J Byles

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