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The Amazing 1844 Derby Fraud

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Rounding Epsom’s famous Tattenham Corner, Running Rein established his authority. Muscling his way to the head of the field, none could come past. The roar from the crowd, over a hundred thousand strong, became more and more intense as the horses thundered for the winning post. Running Rein was too strong; it almost looked easy: the 1844 running of the Epsom Derby, the world’s most important horse race, was his.

Only things weren’t as they seemed. Why had Running Rein won so easily? Why had the murmurs of suspicion grown to outcry in the winners’ enclosure? Why had all bets been suspended?

The Epsom Derby was the biggest gambling day of the British year in the 1800s. And wherever gambling went, deception and fraud followed. There was an extremely large amount of money changing hands that day, and to cut even a thin slice would make the common gambler a very rich man: this was the goal of the gang behind the plot, as explained by racing historian Tony Byles in his book, In Search of Running Rein – The Amazing Fraud of the 1844 Derby.

Back in the winners’ enclosure of the 1844 Epsom Derby, things were certainly not as they seemed. To this date, the Derby is open only to three-year-old horses. The conspirators behind the fraud were set into panic when they realised that their plot to substitute a four-year-old horse for a three-year-old, was beginning to unravel. The Epsom Derby, still today the world’s most important horserace, was witnessing its greatest ever scandal and one of history’s most infamous gambling coups.

Although an impossibility in the modern era of horse racing, substituting a four-year-old horse for a three-year-old was a feat of incredible deception even in the 1840’s.

“The plot to steal the 1844 Derby was hatched as early as 1841, with the purchase of a yearling colt by the fraud’s chief conspirator, Abraham Levi Goodman. The colt, it was planned, would run illegally as a four-year-old in the 1844 race,” explains Byles.

The yearling colt, later known as Maccabeus, was chosen because of his fine pedigree: his sire, Gladiator, had finished second in the Derby. The plan was to enter the horse and bet heavily on him, with a very high probability of a win. But it wasn’t a simple matter of entering the horse and arriving on Derby Day.

“Maccabeus was a four-year-old, and he had accompanying pedigree documentation. It was therefore necessary for the fraudsters to obtain a younger, genuine horse, and use his pedigree to support the illegitimate claim of the older horse. A thoroughbred named Running Rein was purchased, and it was under this name that Maccabeus would run.”

Even with a legitimate pedigree, the horse couldn’t simply turn up on Derby Day, previously unknown to the world, and run home in first place: a maiden winner of the Epsom Derby was unlikely and would have courted suspicion. However, it was in a two-year-old race at Newmarket with Maccabeus, posing as Running Rein, which began to generate suspicion of the horse’s credibility, none more so than by Lord George Bentinck. A racehorse owner himself, Bentinck was on a crusade, at least outwardly, to clean up racing’s murky practices.

With suspicion growing towards Derby Day, the fraudsters’ eventual victory and the indignation of defeat for Bentinck and the more established racehorse owners spilled over into anger. A Trial ensued; the winning horse was deemed a four-year-old imposter and the second placed horse, Orlando, was declared the winner.

A subsequent investigation was launched in attempt to clean the tarnished reputation of the world’s greatest race, but Abraham Levi Goodman, the chief conspirator, escaped before justice could catch him, never to be seen again. The investigation surrounding the remainder of the accused dissolved through lack of evidence and reliability of witnesses, not entirely surprising in an arena of such confusion and intrigue.

However, the 1844 Derby fraud is a story that has remained infamous, rather than famous, on account of the relative lack of information. That was until an incredible chance find set racing historian Tony Byles on an eight-year path of research, enabling him to uncover the full extent of the story for the first time.

“My daughter and fellow racing fan, Gina, came upon the once lost case notes from the 1844 Derby Trial while working at Newmarket Racecourse in 2002. Thanks to her awareness of the significance of her find, the decision to piece together the remainder of the story had just been made for me,” says Byles.


Reviews of In Search of Running Rein include that of nine-times Epsom Derby Winner, Lester Piggott.

“I greatly enjoyed Tony Byles’ account of the amazing 1844 Derby,” says Piggott. “How it came to be written in the first place, thanks to Gina, is quite a story in itself and the subsequent eight years of research has resulted in a fascinating read.”

The book will be released on 3 June in time for this year’s Epsom Derby, published by Apex Publishing and available from www.amazon.com and other good bookshops.

Visit: www.1844derbyfraud.com for more information.