Tristan (GB)

A Hero of Newmarket

Tristan and Lucerne run a dead heat for the
1884 Champion Stakes. Painting by John Sturgess





Sire Line





Tristan ch c 1878 (Hermit - Thrift, by Stockwell). Sire Line Camel. Family 10-d.

On this one-hundred-and-twenty-fifth anniversary of the Champion Stakes perhaps we could recall the achievements of one of the great winners of this historic race. One of the unsung heroes of the turf, you will find his name time and again, locked away in the fading pages of the ancient Racing Calendar. His record of twenty-nine victories from fifty-three starts, going unplaced only six times (one of these on account of a disqualification owing to his jockey failing to weigh-in), is likely to be equalled or bettered by few in our time.

Tristan was bred near Dunmow at the Easton stud of Francis Erskine, 4th Earl of Rosslyn, who was also the breeder of St. Serf. Later owned by Monsieur C J Lefevre of Haras de Chamant, and trained by Tom Jennings at Phantom Cottage, Newmarket, the high-spirited, bad-tempered, Tristan was indeed a giant among racehorses. A son of the sensational 66-1, 1867 Derby winner, Hermit, who was himself one of the great sires of the nineteenth century, Tristan was as durable and tough as his sire was delicate. And whilst he had inherited what could only have been described as a vicious temper, he also inherited great courage from his sire.

His two-year-old career was promising enough: four wins from eight starts, and only once unplaced. In Ascot’s New Stakes he finished second, with Iroquois, who was to win the Derby the following year, behind him.

Owing to a severe injury, sustained in his last race of the season, he was not seen on a racecourse in his three-year-old year until the Two Thousand Guineas, and without the benefit of a proper preparation, he ran unplaced. He was also unplaced in the Derby, and it appeared to be another sorry tale of a promising two-year-old failing to train on.

But if this was disappointing, we had reckoned without the mettle of Tristan, and possibly the skill of Tom Jennings, who somehow cajoled the very best out of his tempermental child. He captured the Prix de Deauville at Longchamp, and three days later went down by only a neck in the Grand Prix de Paris to the great American horse, Foxhall, reckoned by many an astute observer to be a far better horse than Iroquois. He did after all win both the Cambridgeshire and Cesarewitch that year.

It was as a four-year-old that Tristan blossomed, winning eleven races, including the Epsom Gold Cup, the Ascot Gold Vase, the Hardwicke Stakes and the July Cup, under the massive weight of 9st 13lbs (139 lbs). It was then off to France again, and a resounding success in the Grand Prix de Deauville under the back-breaking weight of 10st 6 lbs (146 lbs). He then shared a victory in the Champion Stakes with the superb filly, Thebais, who was of similar breeding to Tristan, being by Hermit out of a mare by Stockwell, and who had won the One Thousand Guineas and the Oaks. His performances earned him top weight in the Cambridgeshire, but after a hard season he ran unplaced. This was no disgrace – Tristan had redeemed himself.

These days, approaching five years of age, Tristan would have been considered to be past his best. He may have been summoned to give one final performance, perhaps at Ascot or Longchamp, and then, almost certainly, hustled off to stud. But in those far off days Monsieur Lefevre knew better. As far as he was concerned Tristan was not finished, yet. He opened his account with a win in a Royal Plate at Epsom, and then under 10st 6lbs (146 lbs) failed by only a length to give three pounds to the great Barcaldine in the Westminster Cup at Kempton Park. This would have broken the heart of many a good horse – but not Tristan. He came back to win the Epsom Gold Cup for a second time, and then in his finest hour, defeated the St Leger winner, Dutch Oven, in the Ascot Gold Cup, when it was the zenith of a great stayer's career. Two days later he won the Hardwicke Stakes for a second time, and then it was off again across the Channel for a second win in the Grand Prix de Deauville, this time carrying 10st 11lbs (151 lbs). Despite his malevolent behaviour his appetite for racing never waned. Before the season’s end he ran three more times, adding another Champion Stakes to his record.

Surprisingly, he was called upon to turn out again the next season – in his sixth year. And what a start, in what was beyond the autumn of his racing career. His first race would not be a race, officially, but a trial held at Newmarket’s Second Spring Meeting. A trial against a three-year-old whipper-snapper, to whom he was set to concede 23 lbs. A reasonable difference. After all, you didn't want to give the young'un too hard a time against a fellow of Tristan’s ability.

Who was this whipper-snapper who was to put six lengths into the mighty Tristan, at the post? Ah, yes. Whipper-snapper, indeed. When they met again a few weeks later, in the Ascot Gold Cup, on the same terms, the whipper-snapper increased this more than three-fold, to twenty lengths. Was St. Simon the greatest racehorse the world had ever seen? Well, certainly one of them – and certainly one of the greatest sires.

This thrashing in no way diminished Tristan’s record – more an elevation of the amazing ability of St.Simon. But to Tristan it did not matter. Two days later his reputation was restored, with a third win in the Hardwicke Stakes, followed by a third win in the Grand Prix de Deauville, again carrying 10st 11 lbs (151 lbs). His farewell to the racecourse (you can imagine the cheering on Newmarket Heath) was in the Champion Stakes, again sharing a victory, this time with Lucerne.

His racing days finally over he was retired to stud at Chamant in France. According to a scribe of the period he was a racehorse all over, and perhaps one of the best models ever seen. By his build, his quality, his staying powers, and his pedigree, the French had a very valuable stallion. Standing a shade under 15.3 he had a tremendously powerful build, an enormous depth of chest and very strong loins; his bone and muscular system were developed in an extraordinary way that gave the impression of great strength. He had splendid shoulders, and superb hocks, large, solid bone and good feet. There was undoubtedly something of the wild animal about him. When walking in the paddock, he would often stop and look round like a lion, in a way that did not show a kindly temper.

He was re-imported to England in 1891 by Caroline, Duchess of Montrose, to replace Isonomy who had died that year, and stood at the Sefton Stud where he got the Oaks winner, Canterbury Pilgrim, herself possessing the self-same churlish behaviour. She became one of the influential brood-mares of the twentieth century, being the dam of Chaucer and Swynford. It is through her that his name lives on. If you look far enough back into the pedigree of Sadler's Wells, you will see seventeen crosses of Tristan.

Surprisingly, perhaps because of his bad temper, he was unfavoured by English breeders and shortly after the birth of his famous daughter he was sold to Austria. Tragically, after only three years in Austria, he became a victim of his own malevolence. In a fit of violent temper, for no apparent reason, he smashed his head against the wall of his box, killing himself.

When it came to racing he was possessed of all the great qualities that are admired in the thoroughbred. Even in an age of non-specialisation his versatility was exceptional; he possessed remarkable stamina, being able to sprint, and carry back-breaking weights. His courage was beyond question. Never did he give anything but his all. Although the record books may prove otherwise, he would appear to be the only horse ever to win three major races in three consecutive seasons, and certainly the only horse to have won the Champion Stakes on three occasions.

He was, no doubt, one of the greatest of his kind since Lord Salisbury and the Marquis of Buckingham raced their horses on Newmarket Heath almost four hundred years ago, and is deservedly woven into the Heath’s rich tapestry. Perhaps if one has enough imagination, as the field is summoned to the starting gate, you will see Tristan with Archer, or possibly Webb, in the blue, white and red of Monsieur Lefevre passing in the parade. As the runners make their way into the distance, somewhere down there, where the Iceni wheeled their chariots against the Romans, the fading vision finally dies, leaving but the memory of the mighty Tristan – truly a hero of Newmarket.

Anthony Byles

Tristan Hermit Newminster Touchstone
Seclusion Tadmor
Miss Sellon
Thrift Stockwell The Baron
Braxey Moss Trooper
Queen Mary
Notable Offspring
Arouya (b f 1891), 3rd dam of Ratibor-Rennen winner Mischief (br c 1911 Saphir), 4th dam of Henckel-Rennen winner Monfalcone (br c 1921 Ariel), and 5th dam of Oesterreichisches Derby winner Pfalzer Wald (b c 1946 Cirano).
Catherine (br f 1888), 6th dam of Gran Premio Nacional winner Anacoreta (br c 1947 Tandem).
Fine Mouche (ch f 1889), 2nd dam of Prix du Jockey Club winner Finasseur (ch c 1902 Winkfield's Pride), 2nd dam of Prix de Diane winner Marsa (ch f 1907 Adam) and Prix la Rochette winner Marka (b f 1910 Ajax), as well as ancestress of numerous other good winners in central and eastern Europe.
Fortuna (ch f 1889), sent to South America and there ancestress of Premio Ignacio Correas (twice) winner Emilunga (ch f 1904 Millenium), Gran Premio Nacional winner Tamesis (ch c 1930 Le Coeur), Grande Premio Derby Paulista winner Vatapa (ch 1939 Violator), Gran Premio Nacional winner Zumbador (b c 1957 Hidalgo), and others.
Ma Belle (ch f 1895), 3rd dam of Phonix (ch c 1927 Pazman), winner of Graf Hugo Henckel Memorial, Oesterreichisches Derby and Millennium dij, 5th dam of Matador (b c 1949 Brancas), winner of Derby Roman, and ancestress of many other good winners in central and eastern Europe.
La Nievre (ch f 8191), 4th dam of Polla de Potrillos winner De Bono (b 1935 Omer Emeth).
Le Nicham (bbl c 1890), won Champion Stakes, Woodcote Stakes and Poule d'Essai des Poulains.
Le Nord (ch c 1887), won Dewhurst Stakes, Prix de la Foret.
Mary Hamilton (ch f 1893) dam of Irish Oaks winner Mary Lester (ch f 1900 Lesterlin).
Regina (ch f 1889), sent to South America where she was ancestress of numerous winners, including Premio General Belgrano winners La Natita (b f 1911 Old Man) and Respingo (b c 1941 Alan Breck) as well as the good stallion Pipiolo (b c 1907 Orange).

Canterbury Pilgrim (GB) ch f 1893 (Tristan - Pilgrimage, by The Palmer). Sire Line Camel. Family 1-g