Sporting War and Sporting Peace 1914-1919 - The Derby of 1919

In the latest piece from Peter Bloor and ahead of the 2024 Derby, Peter looks into the successes of Jockey Steve Donoghue during the Derbys that took place during the First World War and of 1919, alongside reflecting on the popularity of The King due to his enjoyment of sport.

Steve Donoghue, the King and the dismal Derby Day of 1919


Donoghue’s wartime Derbys

By the beginning of September 1914 part of Epsom racecourse had been converted into a military training camp so the Jockey Club, wishing to preserve the continuity of the Derby and the Oaks, arranged for wartime versions of both to be run at Newmarket. This arrangement began in 1915 and ended in 1918; in those four years the jockey Steve Donoghue won two New Derbys, on Pommern in 1915 and Gay Crusader in 1917, and the wartime Triple Crown on both with wins in the Two Thousand Guineas and the wartime St. Leger The September Stakes.

“The King’s Victory” – but not in the Derby

Pommern won the 1915 Guineas easily but behind him, finishing tenth of the twelve runners, was Friar Marcus, the King’s winner at the last pre-war Epsom Derby meeting. Having so obviously failed to stay beyond six furlongs he clearly had no chance in the New Derby and was instead entered in the Three-Year-Old Sweepstakes, only to run lifelessly and unplaced behind another Donoghue-ridden winner, Volta.

In 1914 the King had only to wait a day for Friar Marcus to win after his horse Brakespear had, as expected, done little in the Derby; now he had to wait a year for the horse to win again for him at a Derby meeting, battling Vanitie over the last furlong to take the Chesterfield Handicap by three-quarters of a length – a win he did not witness.

When the Derby returned to Epsom and the King to a racecourse in 1919 he did not have a runner in the race, but he did have an enormously popular winner on Derby Day, Viceroy ridden by Steve Donoghue in the Stewards’ Handicap. Donoghue became well known for riding Tattenham Corner so tightly that it was jokingly said he did so with one leg on the inside of the rails, and he may have done so on this occasion, the rain and mist (in June) making it impossible for the racing correspondents to make out whether he and Viceroy had led round the Corner or soon after it.

“Grand Parade’s Derby”

In the Derby itself Donoghue adopted his usual tactic on Paper Money and led round the Corner, only to lose first place a furlong from the finish when the horse flagged and was unable to hold off the challenges of Grand Parade and Buchan, the former winning by half a length with Paper Money third.

Donoghue was generally unimpressed by the three-year-olds of 1919 and certainly Grand Parade had not impressed his owner Lord Glanely sufficiently to run him in his first colours, nor stable jockey Arthur Smith, who chose to ride His Lordship’s Dominion instead, but he had nonetheless won at 33 to 1.

These odds prompted the inclusion of a rather lighter than usual item in the Daily Globe’s “Notes of the Day” column suggesting that “When Mr. Smillie [a prominent Scottish Miners’ Union leader] and the Social Revolution come in we shall no doubt have a law that only First and Second Favourites may win at Epsom.”

A fear of the spread of Bolshevism following the Russian Revolution had replaced the pre-war fear of suffragette action but the receptions the King had been given when he arrived at Epsom in 1914 and 1919, and the cheering when Friar Marcus and Viceroy had won for him there, demonstrated that his popularity had not waned during the war years, Bolshevik Revolution or not.

The King, “a man who appreciates the power of sport”

This was due, at least in part, to the interest he showed in sport and in those who both played and watched it for, as his Times obituary recorded, ‘he certainly shared one taste with his faithful commons in his enjoyment of Rugby and Association Football.’

In April 1919 he attended the French Army versus New Zealand rugby match at Twickenham, presenting the latter with his Cup for winning the Inter-Services League and requesting that each player be given a medal. Eight months later, in December, he “expressed to the Football Association a hope that this national pastime would soon be in full swing again”, demonstrating in February 1920 that his interest was sincere by attending, without ceremony, the Chelsea versus Leicester City cup-tie.

Before the war he had been cheered and applauded almost wildly when he arrived at the 1914 Cup Final, as he was again at Stamford Bridge. In 1914 he had visited wounded men in hospitals along the Western Front; now he walked over to the other side of the ground to speak individually with every ex-serviceman sitting in his wheelchair along the side of the pitch, difficult as these conversations were made by the volume of cheering for him. By the end of the Great War in which those men had been disabled the King’s cousins the Kaiser and the Tsar had lost their thrones, but George V remained still more secure on his.

The quotes and other information in this article are taken from The Times, the Manchester Guardian, the Daily News, The Globe and other newspapers 1914-1936.

Images – cigarette cards: Steve Donoghue (yellow) Gallaher 1936 and (pink) Gallaher 1934, The start Gallaher 1938, The King and the King at Twickenham Wills 1935, banner image also Gallaher 1938.

Comments: 0 (Add)


We’re always on the lookout for volunteers to help run our clubs all across England, Scotland and Wales – find out more here.

Find a club

Want to know where your nearest Sporting Memories club is? View our Club Finder page here.

Our impact

Reducing Isolation

Bringing older people together to reduce isolation and loneliness

Mental Wellbeing

Supporting older people to improve their mental wellbeing

Physical Wellbeing

Getting older people active to live healthier lifestyles

Sign up to our newsletter