The recent Charlie McBride cock-up at Yarmouth though not a direct comparison to the 1844 Derby Scandal did at least revive my interest in the subject. McBride could not distinguish between a 2-year-old from his stable and a three-year-old, whereas the Derby scandal involved a four-year-old running as a three-year-old.
The difficulty in understanding the racing scene in 1844 is that both society and the sport of horse racing is so different today. In those days it was not unknown for classic winners to subsequently run in races like the City and Suburban Handicap or the Cambridgeshire, a highly unlikely occurrence today. Back then Match races were still being arranged, with betting between individual owners a key focus of the sport, with dirty tricks and foul practice commonplace.
From today’s perspective the Running Rein Scandal is rather implausible, reading like the plot of a Sherlock Holmes adventure. At the heart of the fraud is the mind of a cunning and unscrupulous genius by the name of Abraham Levi Goodman, a man whose expertise in turf skulduggery is said to be without parallel. He was variously described as head of a gang of criminals, a nightclub owner, a gentleman and farm-owner. But his greatest occupation was that of professional gambler.
The Running Rein Scandal is a convoluted business involving any number of people, locations and even horses. The term tangled web does not do the story justice and for anyone wishing to gain a full insight into the greatest fraud ever perpetrated in turf history I suggest Tony Byles’ excellent book ‘In Search of Running Rein’, though to follow with any degree of clarity the chapter devoted to the subsequent trial a working knowledge of British law in the Victorian era is required.
In short Goodman began the fraud in 1842, and it is the longevity of the germination of the fraud that perplexes me. No one can foretell who will win the following year’s Derby yet we are asked to believe that Goodman attempted to orchestrate the winner of the 1844 race fully eighteen-months beforehand.
Three horses, or perhaps four – as I said it is a convoluted business – were involved in the fraud. Goneaway, Maccabeus, Running Rein and possibly Leander, a runner in the 1844 race and who was also subject to objection as he too was thought to be older than three-years. Goodman leased Goneaway, though a year younger than Maccabeus, as in size and colour he matched Maccabeus, and ran under the name of the older horse as a two-year-old.
As I previously said Goodman began his chicanery in 1842 when he had Running Rein, who was really Maccabeus, entered for what was then the important Clearwell Stakes at the 2nd October meeting at Newmarket in 1843 and for the 1844 Two-Thousand Guineas. To complicate any possible ‘paper trail’ Goodman, it seems, deliberately had Running Rein (Maccabeus) moved from stable to stable until finally reaching trainer Henry Higgins. Later, perhaps in a calculated strategy to distance himself from the unfolding fraud, he sold the horse to an acquaintance, Alexander Woods.
Quite where the real Running Rein was during this time is speculation. Certainly the owner of Goneaway wanted nothing to do with Goodman’s plan and once the lease on the horse expired returned him to Ireland, though sadly the horse suffered an atrocious sea-crossing and died. One suspects if Goodman did not have a hand in inducing sickness in the horse Goneaway’s death was at the very least convenient.
When researching this story the aspect I find difficult to understand is where the evidence could be found to suggest that Running Rein (Maccabeus), other than age, was a certainty for the Derby. Surely certainty was what was required to reap the rewards of such meticulous planning. Running Rein ‘won’ the Epsom Derby on May 22nd. He had not run as a ‘three-year-old’ and twice as a two-year-old, winning a sweepstake at Newmarket in October and the following day ran 2nd in the Clearwell Stakes. Nowhere in the storyline is it stated that Maccabeus, the real Running Rein, was catching pigeons on the gallops.
To further make hazardous Goodman’s large investment The Derby of 1844 consisted of 29 runners and even if you assume the plan involved Running Rein being up with the pace from the get-go and due to his age being stronger than the opposition, unless Goodman had circumvented the security that surrounded the favourite Ratan and nobbled him – the horse did run poorly – it remains hard to understand how Goodman and his confederates could be confident of victory.
To add to their apprehension Lord George Bentinck and others were suspicious Running Rein was a ringer from the previous season and many objections were made to the horse’s entry for the Derby. As the certificates for Running Rein and Leander were seemingly correct the Jockey Club ruled that both horses could run but if either won the stakes would be withheld until after an investigation.
My suspicion is that the Jockey Club wanted rid of Goodman and people like him from the sport and when Bentinck’s original objection failed it was decided to allow Running Rein to fulfil his Derby entry as any result would be a defeat for Goodman. If Running Rein won the Jockey Club could hold an investigation and in time bring a case against Goodman, or Wood, in a court of law. If Running Rein did not win Goodman would lose his substantial bets and would lose face, though as things unfolded Goodman never did stand trial.
Running Rein (Maccabeus) was certainly no certainty to win, and why was the saga allowed to continue when for months previously the Jockey Club might have stepped in and refused the Derby entry? I suspect a good deal of myth has enveloped the story and no little invention. What is certain is that in time Running Rein will appear as a film or drama series. It has all the right ingredients: an unscrupulous villain, skulduggery, a shady hero (Bentinck) and a trial. All it is missing is a Demelza.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.