A Magnificent Victorian 18ct gold Racing Trophy Centrepiece: The 1877 Ascot Gold Cup, won by Lord Lonsdale’s ‘Petrarch’, by Charles Frederick Hancock, London 1876, the 18ct gold cup and cover of vase-shaped baluster design, the cover of wrythen lobed form, with cast finial of a rearing stallion attended by a classical youth, the twin handles both modelled as figures of Winged Victory, the rim fitting inscribed ‘RIDDEN BY T. CANNON 6 STARTED’, the knopped stem within a surround of four young male figures, kneeling, two holding wreaths, two holding shields engraved: ‘ASCOT GOLD CUP 1877 WON BY EARL OF LONSDALE’S ‘PETRARCH’ 4YRS’, on stepped foot, the trophy placed on circular stand chased with a border of amorini and horses, spaced by female masks, the centre engraved with the Royal Arms and inscribed: ‘ASCOT GOLD CUP 1877. WON BY EARL OF LONSDALE’S PETRARCH’ 4YRS, contained in a shaped and fitted dark green velvet case, within outer conical wooden carrying case, stencilled to the exterior ‘THE EARL OF LONSDALES TRUSTEES, PLATE CASE NO.1, trophy height 47.5cm, diameter of stand 36cm.
Sotheby’s, Country Pursuits Sale, 9 March 2000, Lot 14.
The Ascot Gold Cup: “The most prestigious prize in flat racing since 1807”
Gold has traditionally been associated with sporting glory and there is no more famous race at the Royal Meeting than the Ascot Cup. First staged in 1807, the inaugural race took place in the presence of King George III and Queen Charlotte. Originally open to horses aged three years and older, and taking place in June each year, the race was run over 2 miles 3 furlongs and 210 yards. The winner of the first race, Master Jackey, was awarded prize money of 100 guineas.
In 1844, the race was attended by Emperor Nicholas I of Russia, who was making a state visit to England. That year's winner was unnamed at the time of his victory, but he was given the name ‘The Emperor’ in honour of the visiting monarch. In return Nicholas offered a new trophy for the race — the Emperor's Plate — and this became the title of the event for a short period. Its original name was however restored after nine years, in 1853.
Today the race is the first leg of Britain’s Stayers’ Triple Crown followed by the Goodwood Cup and the Doncaster Cup, the last horse winning all three prestigious races in the same year being ‘Stradivarius’ in 2019.
The 1877 race numbered six runners including the four-year-old bay Petrarch, ridden by Tom Cannon, trained by Joe Cannon, and owned by Lord Lonsdale.
A contemporary account gives commentary on the race itself:
“Considerable interest was occasioned on Cup Day by the presence of the Princes Albert Victor and George, it being their first appearance at a race meeting.
Cannon rode a fine race for the Gold Cup on Lord Lonsdale’s Petrarch. When passing the Hotel turn, Petrarch attempted to stop, and made as if he would go to the stables, but Cannon managed him splendidly; and although at Swinley Bottom he was six lengths behind, fortune favoured him. At this point, Sugar Loaf bolted and jumped the ditch, and Petrarch slipped into third place, increasing his advantage until at the bend into the straight, he took the lead from Skylark and Coomassie and won easily by four lengths”.
Regarding the winning owner’s trophy cup, The Auckland Star (6 September 1877) enthused:
“This year the cup is of real gold, and a most magnificent piece of plate, worth, with the stakes, £2,070”.
The magnificent gold trophy was one of only three Royal Ascot races where the winner’s cup was retained in perpetuity by the winning owners (the Royal Hunt Cup and the Queen’s Vase being the other two).
Petrarch was foaled in 1873, his sire Lord Clifden was the St Leger winner of 1863, his dam Laura was a successful brood mare whose other foals included the Doncaster Cup winner Fraulein and the Craven Stakes winner Laureate.
Petrarch was described as an extremely handsome rich bay horse. Alexander Scott, author of Turf Memories of Sixty Years, remarked, "Whenever I am asked to give my opinion of the grandest looking Thoroughbred of the past sixty years, I always declare unhesitatingly for Petrarch."
Petrarch was bred by J. E Gosden at Midhurst, West Sussex, and as a three-year-old, stood 15.3 hands high. The colt was sent into training with John Dawson, the younger brother of Mathew Dawson, at Warren House stables at Newmarket, Suffolk. Dawson was best known as the private trainer of Prince Batthyany, for whom he trained the 1875 Epsom Derby winner Galopin.
Between October 1875 - October 1878 Petrarch ran sixteen times and won eight races. In 1875, Petrarch won the Middle Park Stakes on his only appearance of the season. In 1876 he won two of the three races which comprise the Triple Crown, taking the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and the St Leger at Doncaster. During the winter of 1876, he was purchased by Lord Lonsdale and as a four-year-old in 1877, he won three races including the two and a half mile Ascot Gold Cup which at that time was regarded as the most important weight-for-age race in the world.
Petrarch was troubled with recurring kidney ailments, making his health precarious at times. Dawson, his trainer, remarked on his successful four-year career competing at the highest levels of racing, as being “testament to his courage and quality”.
Petrarch retired to stud in 1878, where he became a successful sire of winners.
St George Henry Lowther, 4th Earl of Lonsdale (1855 – 1882) was the eldest son of Henry Lowther, 3rd Earl of Lonsdale, and had a keen interest in travel, science and racing. During the winter of 1876, Lord Lonsdale purchased Petrarch from Viscount Dupplin, and lost no time in securing successes for the four-year old in 1877, winning at Newmarket, at Epsom in the High Level Handicap, and easily taking the Ascot Gold Cup. Petrarch finished just a head behind Snail in the Liverpool Summer Cup.
In 1878 at the age of just 23, after the death of his father, St George inherited the earldom and the Lowther Estates in Westmorland. He died just a few years later in 1882, and was succeeded to the earldom by his younger brother Hugh.