‘THIS was a splendid colt; he had retired into winter quarters the favourite two-year-old, winner of the Woodcote Stakes at Epsom the first time out, and having won three other high-class races, once suffering defeat, when second in the Middle Park.
‘He was genuinely fancied for the classics this year. Unfortunately during the winter recess some trouble had developed in one of his eyes, and it was diagnosed as cataract. This, in spite of treatment, rapidly got worse, and though intermittent so far, it could be seen to affect the horse very seriously when he was asked to gallop, out at exercise
‘He used to do his work with another three-year-old, Prince San, and he also often went with Bachelors Double, then a five-year-old. The bad eye seemed to yield somewhat to treatment; the horse was persevered with and got ready to run in the Union Jack Stakes, a mile race at the Liverpool Spring Meeting.
‘I rode him in the race, and odds of 11 to 4 were laid on him, in a field of four runners.
‘We jumped off together and Seaforth was going well, full of running, until about half-way through the race I suddenly felt him falter, and then he began to “climb”, bringing his knees up to his chin at every stride instead of stretching out, and all at once I realised that in the excitement and exertion of the race his defective eye must have affected the sight of the good one, which had also clouded right over, and my horse had literally gone totally blind in the middle of the race.
‘It was the worst predicament I was ever in.
‘It took me all my time to hold him up and save him from falling on his head. Fortunately I was just alongside another horse and I quickly decided that my only chance of escaping disaster was to try to keep Seaforth exactly where he was, lying by the other so that he could at least hear the galloping hoofs of the animal beside him and gain some little confidence from that. I sat as still as a mouse, not daring to move, and straining every muscle to keep the poor horse on his feet; it was sheer instinct that told me the winning-post was reached, and we actually won the race by a short head.
‘As quickly as I dared I pulled him up and remained there in one spot, not moving till his attendant came and took hold of him to lead him in. The owner and his mother came hurrying towards me, both looking white and upset; they were wondering what could have been the cause of the obviously narrow escape from defeat of their champion.
‘“What happened?” they asked me breathlessly.
‘I still felt rather shaky myself, as I knew it had been a very close shave, and I could hardly reply for a minute or two, but as I got off the horse in the unsaddling enclosure I told them, “He went stone blind during the race.”
‘It was an experience in race-riding that I hope never to have again. Seaforth never really recovered, though after skilled veterinary treatment his sight seemed to improve again, and he ran once more, in the Two Thousand Guineas, when he was ridden by Frank O’Neill, but though no mishap occurred on this occasion during the race, he finished down to course, and was after that retired to the stud.
‘The premature ending to his career was a tragedy, as this was a really great horse, fully worthy of his position as favourite for the classics. As an early three-year-old I often saw him out at exercise literally slam Bachelor’s Double, that was then a very high-class handicap performer – the winner, too, as a three-year-old of the Irish Derby.’
You’ve been reading an extract from the great Steve Donoghue’s first autobiography, written in the latter part of the 1923 season. It describes an extraordinary incident in 1911. Seaforth was owned by Dermot McCalmont and bred by his future mother-in-law, the Marchioness of Conyngham. He was trained by HS ‘Atty’ Persse. Owner, trainer and jockey were to become legends of the Turf through their association with The Tetrarch, unbeaten in seven races in 1913 and hailed as the fastest racehorse ever to grace the Turf. As for the unfortunate Seaforth, he was retired to Greenfields Stud in Tipperary. Seaforth went permanently blind as a six-year-old and was shot in July 1914.