(Enlarged Photo)

Mr R.Holmes Esq’s ‘Vulcan’, John Day Jnr up. Signed, and dated 1843

William Tasker 1808-52

William Tasker’s paintings record the sporting scene of the North West of the 1840s with great charm and authenticity. Described by the Grosvenor Museum in Chester as “the City’s greatest sporting artist”, Tasker was much in demand among the aristocracy (Stubbs’s patrons, the Grosvenors of Eaton Hall, were among his clients) as well as the rich merchant class of Cheshire and Liverpool. Perhaps Tasker’s most enduring image is his huge panorama of horses streaming over a brick wall in the 1843 Grand National (now housed in Paul Mellon’s Yale Centre for British Art). Our picture dates from the same year and shows a somewhat wry-looking John Day Jnr – very much a personality, with his raised eyebrow and studiedly coiffed locks – atop Vulcan, an archetypal gambling tool of the rakish, bookmaker-dominated world of 1840s horse racing.

Vulcan was a famous staying handicapper of the early 1840s. Bred in Ireland by his owner, Mr R.Holmes Esq (Scarlet, white cap), he raced a few times in his homeland at three before making the journey to England, where a quiet campaign made him well handicapped for a notable betting coup in the 1841 Cambridgeshire – only the third running of that illustrious handicap. Vulcan’s annus mirabilis, however, was the 1842 season when – in a prolific four month period between May and September – the five year old entire won an extraordinary six races, including the prestigious Tradesmen’s Cup at Liverpool and other valuable prizes at Goodwood, Shrewsbury, Warwick, Hereford and Gloucester. He also managed to finish third in the Tradesmen’s Cup at Chester and fourth in the Cambridgeshire. As a stallion, Vulcan was a notable influence for stamina, whose line included Irish and British Grand National winners.

John Day Jnr (1819-83) was the third generation of an extraordinary racing dynasty that stretches from the early 18th century right through to the current day; the diminutive jockey in our painting is none other than the great, great grandfather of one Lester Piggott. Day Jnr was so called to distinguish him from his famous father, John Barham Day, who achieved the notable feat of riding a dozen Classic winners and then training seven more. Amazingly, Day Jnr repeated the feat himself, riding the St Leger winner of 1844 (for his father) and then managing to outdo his father as a trainer, by handling no less than 12 Classic winners.

“the diminutive jockey is none other than the great, great grandfather of one Lester Piggott!”


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