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Never Say Die

Never Say Die: A Kentucky Colt, the Epsom Derby, and the Rise of the Modern Thoroughbred Industry

James C. Nicholson
Foreword by Pete Best
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Never Say Die
    Book Description:

    A quarter of a million people braved miserable conditions at Epsom Downs on June 2, 1954, to see the 175th running of the prestigious Derby Stakes. Queen Elizabeth II and Sir Winston Churchill were in attendance, along with thousands of Britons who were all convinced of the unfailing superiority of English bloodstock and eager to see a British colt take the victory. They were shocked when a Kentucky-born chestnut named Never Say Die galloped to a two-length triumph at odds of 33--1, winning Britain's greatest race and beginning an important shift in the world of Thoroughbred racing.

    Never Say Die traces the history of this extraordinary colt, beginning with his foaling in Lexington, Kentucky, when a shot of bourbon whiskey revived him and earned him his name. Author James C. Nicholson also tells the stories of the influential individuals brought together by the horse and his victory -- from the heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune to the Aga Khan. Most fascinating is the tale of Mona Best of Liverpool, England, whose well-placed bet on the long-shot Derby contender allowed her to open the Casbah Coffee Club. There, her son met musicians John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison and later joined their band.

    Featuring a foreword by the original drummer for the Beatles, Pete Best, this remarkable book reveals how an underdog's surprise victory played a part in the formation of the most successful and influential rock band in history and made the Bluegrass region of Kentucky the center of the international Thoroughbred industry.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4201-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Pete Best

    A Victorian house . . . a racehorse . . . jewelry . . . a rock band. Sounds like the basic ingredients for a good book. Interested? Read on. Who would have thought that a bet placed on a racehorse would influence the course of popular music and the sport of Thoroughbred racing? You don’t believe it? Well, it’s true. I was there.

    My mother, Mona Best, pawned all her jewelry and bet on a horse called Never Say Die, ridden by a young jockey named Lester Piggott, to win the 1954 English Derby. The horse won at the...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Chapter 1 A Historic Derby Triumph and a Wager That Changed History
    (pp. 1-12)

    A quarter million people braved the cold and damp conditions at Epsom Downs on June 2, 1954, to witness the 175th running of the Derby Stakes, one of grandest scenes in all of sport. Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, bicycles and motorcycles brought Britons from every background to the racecourse, less than fifteen miles south of central London. Among the throng was Queen Elizabeth II, who hoped her colt Landau could improve on his stablemate Aureole’s second-place finish in the previous year’s Derby. Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill adjourned a cabinet meeting early so he could attend the festivities. With the surrounding...

  7. Chapter 2 The Unusual Origins of a Sewing Machine Fortune
    (pp. 13-32)

    Robert Sterling Clark could afford to breed and race Thoroughbreds at the world’s highest levels because of his immense inherited fortune. That fortune had its roots in the Singer Manufacturing Company, which had introduced the sewing machine to the far reaches of the globe and revolutionized international commerce during the late-nineteenth-century industrial boom that followed the American Civil War. The remarkable success of the Singer brand was due in large part to Clark’s grandfather, Edward Clark, whose vision and leadership made the company the first prosperous American multinational corporation. While it was the discipline and business acumen of Edward Clark...

  8. Chapter 3 Robert Sterling Clark
    (pp. 33-48)

    In addition to reaching the very apex of the sport of Thoroughbred racing with Never Say Die’s Epsom Derby win in 1954, Robert Sterling Clark would travel the world, build one of the finest collections of Impressionist paintings, battle his siblings in a high-profile inheritance dispute, and be accused of involvement in a plot to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But with the possible exception of the art museum he built in Williamstown, Massachusetts, Clark’s most lasting legacy would be his victory in the Epsom Derby and the example he set for future globe-trotting horsemen. Clark showed the world that...

  9. Chapter 4 The Aga Khan
    (pp. 49-60)

    Sultan Mohammed Shah, the third Aga Khan, had been drawn to horses as long as he could remember. His earliest childhood memory was watching the horses of his grandfather, the first Aga Khan, participate in morning training while servants held him astride a pony in a saddle.¹ Eventually, the racehorses the Aga Khan bred and raced would leave a lasting impact on European record books and the Thoroughbred breed around the world.

    As spiritual leaders of the roughly 15 million Nizari Ismaili Muslims—constituting the second-largest branch of Shia Islam—the Aga Khans trace their lineage directly back to the...

  10. Chapter 5 Robber Barons Robbing Barons
    (pp. 61-86)

    In 1922 the Doncaster sales grounds in South Yorkshire, England, were abuzz with talk of an impeccably bred filly whose looks matched her regal pedigree. Agents of all the top owners were in attendance, including trainer George Lambton, who had agreed to purchase a few young racehorses for the Aga Khan to help him fill his nascent racing stable. The filly that was catching everyone’s eye shared the coloring of her sire, The Tetrarch, whose gray coat had looked like it had been speckled with whitewash. Though his unusual color and gangly appearance had garnered snickers in the saddling paddock...

  11. Chapter 6 An Unlikely Horsemans
    (pp. 87-110)

    On November 27, 1950, John A. Bell III and his wife returned home to their leased property at Hamburg Place outside Lexington. They were coming from Knoxville, Tennessee, where they had watched the Kentucky Wildcats football team eke out a one-point victory over their archrivals, the Tennessee Volunteers. What was normally a four-hour car trip took much longer that day, as the couple encountered an unusual early-season snowstorm that left the bluegrass blanketed in knee-deep snow. The following day Bell received a phone call from Lexington’s Southern Railway station, letting him know that six of Robert Sterling Clark’s mares had...

  12. Chapter 7 A Derby-less Trainer
    (pp. 111-118)

    Upon arrival in England, Never Say Die was sent to Carlburg Stables, the Newmarket training yard of seventy-two-year-old Joe Lawson. At that time, Sterling Clark split his horses between Lawson and another trainer named Harry Peacock. Peacock had won a coin flip to determine which man would receive first choice of Clark’s horses that year. Though he liked the look of Never Say Die, Peacock was not interested in training a son of Nasrullah. Nasrullah was well on his way to having one of the most outstanding stud careers in history, but the memory of the stallion’s inability to reach...

  13. Chapter 8 The First Kentucky-Bred Champion of the Epsom Derby
    (pp. 119-134)

    Never Say Die had been a large, spindly foal, but by the time he arrived at Newmarket, he had filled out to become a strapping young colt with a slightly better temperament than that of his notorious sire. Though he never displayed Nasrullah’s mental peculiarities on the racetrack, Never Say Die did develop a reputation for moodiness and difficulty among the humans who cared for him. One British publication described Never Say Die as “a fine-looking chestnut, strong, tough and deep-bodied with powerful quarters and good limbs.”¹ A turf writer for theDaily Expresswho called himself “The Scout” observed...

  14. Chapter 9 An American Invasion at Epsom
    (pp. 135-152)

    Never Say Die’s progeny had only mixed success as runners overall, but he was the leading sire in Great Britain in 1962. That year, his son Larkspur won the Epsom Derby for Irish trainer Vincent O’Brien (the first of six Derby wins in his legendary career) and American owner Raymond R. Guest.¹ With Larkspur’s victory, Never Say Die became the first Epsom Derby winner to sire an Epsom Derby winner since Blenheim II’s son Mahmoud won the 1936 Derby for the Aga Khan. The results of the 1962 Derby made headlines around the world, and not only because it was...

  15. Chapter 10 A Global Sport and Industry
    (pp. 153-176)

    Robert Sangster grew up in suburban Liverpool and was the sole heir to a family fortune that included a quasi-national lottery based on the scores of English soccer matches called Vernons Pools. He was first introduced to horse racing in 1960 when a friend gave him a tip on a horse owned by the friend’s grandfather that was entered in a traditional English early-spring fixture, the Lincolnshire Handicap. Sangster lost a 50-pound bet on the horse named Chalk Stream but became hopelessly hooked on the sport in the process. He then bought Chalk Stream for 1,000 pounds as a gift...

  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 177-178)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 179-198)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-210)
  19. Index
    (pp. 211-218)