Rivers of gold – excerpts: part 16


(When I was asked by Thoroughbred Times to write about Canada’s contribution to the gene pool all those years ago, my research took me back several generations.  The article, serialized over 4 issues, was the inspiration for Rivers of Gold.  It also altered my perspective on the Canadian Thoroughbred.   For starters, I had become more curious.  Was it really possible that here in Canada we had quietly been building a better racehorse?  To find answers I travelled even further back in time: indeed, to the 1700’s and the winner of the first English Derby.  Here I stumbled upon the most extraordinary story: one that would impact horses to this day.)


“… In the early years in North America not too many people were interested in Thoroughbred breeding and bloodlines.  Samuel Ogle, governor of Maryland, was an exception.  In the mid-1700s he brought the stallion Sparke and the mare, Queen Mab from England and began breeding horses for speed.  Then in 1798 Colonel John Hoomes of Bowling Green, Virginia imported Diomed, winner of the inaugural English Derby at Epsom in 1780.

Diomed was, appropriately, named for the Ancient Greek hero, Diomedes.  A formidable warrior, Diomedes was among those inside the belly of the giant wooden horse the Greeks presented to the Trojans in the guise of a gift to the goddess.  Diomed, the horse, also proved that things are not always as they appear to be, and in the process showed his detractors that it’s inside that counts.

Initially Diomed, a lanky glistening chestnut, was considered by many to be the best colt the British had seen since Eclipse.  No small praise since Eclipse won 18 races, including 11 King’s Plates, all the while proving himself to be far superior to all competition.  In fact Eclipse was so superior he was retired from racing because no one would bet against him.

When Diomed won the English Derby it marked his 10th consecutive victory.  Following the big race Diomed’s owner, Sir Charles Bunbury, opted to give the horse a well-deserved rest.  When Diomed returned to racing the expectations riding on his narrow withers were enormous.  The British were anticipating that he would be the next Eclipse.  He wasn’t.  Sometimes he won.  Sometimes he didn’t.  Still Diomed was only once out of the top three finishers.  Was there something wrong?  Noone knew, but clearly he had either physically or mentally lost the fire to win at all cost…”  to be continued

Rivers of Gold


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