For weeks before the race, trade papers and the racing media in general had us bombarded with the notion that had the Ballydoyle trained ‘Camelot’ won this month’s Doncaster St Ledger to complete the Triple Crown (winner of the English 2000 Guineas, Derby and St Ledger) then something historic would have taken place. Significant yes but hardly historic seeing that since 1853 ‘South Australia’ and ‘Nijinsky’ 1970 the last, fifteen horses have completed the feat. While delving into the records one truly historic achievement becomes evident the winning of four English Classics (1000 and 2000 Guineas, Oaks and St Ledger) by the filly ‘Sceptre’ in 1902 and but for bad luck, being left at the start of the Derby (no stalls in those days) and finishing a close up fourth it is likely she would have completed the clean sweep.
For readers with a interest in the sport of kings printed below is a brief history of the life and racing achievements of this amazing racehorse.
Sceptre was bought by Robert Sievier as a yearling in July 1900 for £10,000 (€940,000 today), a record price for a yearling at the time. She made her debut at Epsom as a two year old in the Woodcote Stakes which she won easily. This success was quickly followed up by a victory in the July Stakes at Newmarket. By the time she lined up for her final start as a juvenile in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster she’d already grown her winter coat and she ran listlessly to finish third behind fillies she’d beaten easily in previous races.
With mounting debts, Sievier put his horses up for sale but having sold all the others, changed his mind when it came to parting with Sceptre. In an astonishing move he decided to train her himself and so it was that Sceptre was entered in every major race of the 1902 season including all five Classics. Sievier worked her hard and raced her harder still, running her every few days at all the big meetings throughout her three year old season. It was to this end that she won both the 2000 Gunieas and 1000 Guineas a feat few fillies every achieve. As a prep race for these prestigious races she made her seasonal debut in the Lincoln Handicap, just failing by a head to land a gamble for her ambitious owner/trainer.
Next came the Derby Meeting at Epsom. Sadly she was left at the start in the Derby and had to be ridden hard to catch up with the rest of the field so in the end she tired to finish 4th. Two days later however she trotted up in the Oaks. It was a shame she didn’t carry off the unprecedented feat of winning all five Classics as its nothing less than she deserved. Following this win she was shipped to Paris for the Grand Prix de Paris but during the race she had a terrible trip and ended up running wide turning into the homestretch. She rallied gamely but finished unplaced a mere two lengths behind the “Sceptre of France”, Kizil Kovigan.
Once back in England Royal Ascot was next on the agenda. Beaten into 5th in the Coronation Stakes she bounced back the next day to win the St James’ Palace Stakes. At the Goodwood Festival she was beaten onto 2nd in the Sussex Stakes but won the Nassau easily. As Autumn loomed, so did the St Leger which Sceptre won effortlessly against the colts despite her gruelling season. She became the first horse to ever win four English Classics.
As a four year old her season started in the Lincoln H’cap once again in which she place 5th. Sievier was in debt again and he’d placed a large bet on Sceptre to win the Lincoln. When she failed he had no choice but to sell her for £25,000 to Sir William Bass. Now, finally she got the high class understanding trainer she deserved in Alec Taylor.
When she arrived at Alec’s yard she looked tired and worn out and unsure what to do with her Alec contacted Sievier to ask how to train her. His reply was “treat her like a selling plater” so Alec promptly did the opposite and gave her a long overdue four months off. The break did her good for she won the Hardwick Stakes with usual aplomb. She followed uo with a fine 2nd place in the Eclipse after a titanic battle with Ard Patrick winner of the previous years Derby.
Four more victories followed which prompted Sir William to keep her in training as a five year old but she never won another race, although she did finish 2nd in the Coronation Cup at Epsom, 3rd in the Ascot Gold Cup and 3rd in the Hardwick Stakes.
At stud Sceptre had eight foals, although mediocre on the track they directly went on to produce a 2000 Guineas winner, an Oaks winner, an Eclipse winner and two English Derby runner ups. However it was their daughters (Sceptre’s grand daughters) that made their mark in the breeding world, producing top class horses such as Petition (sire of Petite Etoile), Crepuscule who’s progeny produced Northern Light and Midnight Sun, Noor who beat American star, Citation on no less than four occasions and Zucchero, a champion colt in England.
In 1923 after unsuccessful attempts to get her in foal her then owner Lord Ganley tried to sell her to a Brazillian stud despite promising never to sell her when he originally bought her in 1911. He sold her for a pitiful £500 - an insult to such a grand mare. However her adoring public caused such an outcry that Lord Ganely was forced to cancel the sale.
Sceptre lived out the rest of her life peacefully in England until she died at the age of 27.