AGATHA Christie can rest easily. The Mysterious Horseshoe won’t be topping any best-selling book lists anytime soon.
It’s not much to look at. We don’t know how it got there, or even why it was there, but what we do know - about the small horseshoe and plaque that was unearthed in an attic search at my mother-in-law’s house - is who it was about.
And the tale of Wheel Of Fortune is one worth telling.
The horseshoe was barely the size of my hand. It was inscribed simply, in a fading type: Wheel Of Fortune, Winner of The Oaks, May 30th, 1879. But that Classic win is only half of the story and it is a racing legend that climaxed, dramatically, right here in York.
Wheel Of Fortune’s career was brief but brilliant.
She was the daughter of Queen Bertha, a homebred winner of The Oaks in 1863 who helped her owner, Evelyn Boscawen, 6th Viscount Falmouth, establish a production line of winning racehorses.
From the start, Wheel Of Fortune had the best.
Falmouth sent her to the Newmarket yard of Mathew Dawson, who in a near 60-year career trained the winners of 28 British Classic races, and she was ridden in most of her contests by the 13- time champion jockey Fred Archer.
In many ways, she was an unlikely champion.
Standing at a shade over 15 hands high, Wheel Of Fortune’s passion for winning would only be matched by her huge appetite.
Oranges, nuts, even meat-pies, she would devour them all.
She ate up her rivals in the same hungry manner. She won the Richmond Stakes on her debut in 1878, dominating her 11 opponents, and would later defy a seven pound penalty in beating Flavius by a length in “magnificent style” to win the Dewhurst Stakes.
The following year, however, would bring even greater glories.
It began in the 1,000 Guineas, where she belied her 8-13 odds to effortlessly beat Abbaye by four lengths after taking the lead a furlong from the finish.
The Oaks, the victory which our horseshoe commemorates, came next. Backed as if defeat was out of the question, and going off at prohibitive odds of 1-3, she came home the “easiest of winners”
- three lengths too good for the Yorkshire-trained Coromandel.
When the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot was won in a few short strides, Wheel Of Fortune was suddenly the favourite for the St Leger at Doncaster.
She must have been the Frankel of her day.
Newspapers said Yorkshire was “on the tiptoe of excitement” when she was sent to York in August for the Yorkshire Oaks.
Here, she would experience yet another glorious high - followed by an equally subduing low. The Yorkshire Oaks was her tenth appearance on a racecourse and another easy victory was expected.
“3-1 was freely put down,” reporters wrote, “and 10-1 was offered against anything else.
Wheel Of Fortune occupied a good position throughout the race and cantered in a very easy winner.
“She was followed to the paddock by admiring crowds, and the hope that she might go through her three-year-old career without being beaten were loudly expressed.”
All were to be disappointed. She had won the Yorkshire Oaks with an injury, showing signs of swelling in her foreleg. But Dawson had her quickly back on the track, only two days later in fact, in the Great Yorkshire Stakes.
That she failed to win, beaten by a length by Ruperra, was the “surprise of the week”. “The regret was very great, and much expressed by everybody”.
She had galloped well enough, but when Archer asked her to pick up “she seemed to stop”. Wheel Of Fortune never raced again. At the time, she was considered one of the best fillies of her era.
So what became of her? Though her racing career ended sharply, Falmouth retired her to stud. She later came into the possession of the Duke of Portland - bought for 5,500 guineas when Falmouth sold off all his horses in 1884.
Though she was a modest broodmare, she lived until November 1903, dying at the age of 27.
* The horsehoe has been donated to York Racecourse.
Doncaster chiefs have cap-ital idea
THE Flat is back - cap that is.
Doncaster Racecourse is ringing in the new turf season by championing the flat cap when the famous William Hill Lincoln Handicap is staged on Town Moor at the end of the month.
Track chiefs are encouraging racegoers to get their hands on one of 1,000 limited edition flat caps - the headgear synonymous with Yorkshire gents - on Saturday, March 29.
The William Hill hat squad will be doling out the hat, pictured atop the statue of Double Trigger, during the meeting’s opening day and those lucky enough to get their hands on one are being invited to upload pictures of themselves wearing their caps to the William Hill Twitter page using the designated hashtag #TheFlatIsBack.
The best ones will get retweeted and punters could win an iPad mini.
Mark Spincer, managing director of Doncaster Racecourse, said: “The start of the Flat season is about to get underway with the prestigious William Hill Lincoln, so we thought we’d have a bit of fun and start a campaign to encourage people to embrace the flat cap trend and celebrate all things Yorkshire.
“The Lincoln, which officially marks the start of the flat season, is always a hugely popular meeting, and this year’s raceday looks set to be no exception.”
Tickets are available from £7.50. To buy tickets, visit www.doncasterracecourse.co.uk