Eclipse by Nicholas Clee Read Free Book Online

Book: Eclipse by Nicholas Clee Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nicholas Clee
as citizens, attending the sport: and then adding to the beauty of the sight, the racers flying over the course, as if they either touched not or felt the ground they run upon; I think no sight, except that of a victorious army, under the command of a Protestant King of Great Britain, could exceed it.’ 55
    Epsom had horseracing, gambling and whoring, as well as incursions during race meetings by pleasure-seeking Londoners;what, Dennis might have reflected if he had used twenty-firstcentury idioms, was not to like? He took lodgings in the town, and looked round for a house to buy.
    It would not be his first property. For unclear motives, in 1766 Dennis had bought a house about six miles from the centre of London, in the village of Willesden, paying £110 to a Mr Benjamin Browne. He found his Epsom house, on Clay Hill, 56 some time in 1769, and that year he borrowed £1, 500 against three properties: Clay Hill; a house in Clarges Street, Mayfair, where a Mr Robert Tilson Jean was living; and a house in Marlborough Street, Soho, where Dennis was living, conveniently next door to Charlotte’s brothel. Dennis arranged this loan from Mr John Shadwell, giving him in return an annuity of £100; he repaid the sum in 1775. The evidence suggests that he was constantly exposing himself, financially, and that bloodstock purchases and gambling setbacks would occasionally leave him naked. Charlotte, too, was apt throughout her life to get into financial difficulty, although by the end of the 1760s her affairs were thriving. She had opened up a new establishment at a prestigious address off Pall Mall, and she was turning it into the most celebrated serail in London.
    Dennis was buying horses as well as property. His name appeared for the first time, as subscriber and owner (and as ‘Dennis Kelly’), in the 1768 Racing Calendar , the book recording the Turf results of that year. The entry gave no hint of the triumphs to come. Dennis owned a single horse, Whitenose, who ran in a single race (the previously mentioned one at Abingdon), and came last. The winner of the £50 prize was Goldfinder, later to play a small role at the end of Eclipse’s career; third was the chestnut filly belonging to William Wildman.
    By the time of publication of the 1769 Calendar , however, Dennis, now sporting his ‘O’, owned Whitenose, Caliban,Moynealta and Milksop – the horse rejected by her mother and nurtured by hand at Cumberland’s stud. Milksop, formerly owned by a Mr Payne, was little, and specialized in ‘give-and-take’ races, in which weight was allocated on the basis of height. He proved to be a money-spinning purchase. In 1769, he won £50 races at Brentwood, Maidenhead and Abingdon, meeting his only defeat on his home turf at Epsom. He won at Epsom in 1770, and also at Ascot, Wantage and Egham. But by then Dennis owned another horse, who, living up to his name, put the others in the shade.
    Eclipse ran his trial against the opponent supplied by Dennis a few days before he was due to contest his first public race. Such trials were common, as a means of getting horses fit and of assessing their abilities. They were popular with the touts – gamblers and their associates who would invade gallops and racecourses in search of intelligence. Sir Charles Bunbury, first head of the Jockey Club and owner of horses who competed against Eclipse, disliked the practice. ‘I have no notion of trying my horses for other people’s information, ’ he grumbled.
    Trials have gone out of fashion, but the acquisition of inside information never has. Nowadays, journalists and other ‘workwatchers’ scrutinize horses on the gallops, and stable staff earn a few bob to add to their ungenerous incomes by disclosing news about their charges. This horse is so speedy that he is catching pigeons in exercise, they might report; this one has suffered a setback and will not be fully fit on the day; this

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