In this very fine equestrian portrait, Wootton, the most accomplished British sporting painter of the first half of the 18th century, has taken as his subject the first truly great racehourse in the history of the thoroughbred.
Flying Childers was bred by Colonel Leonard Childers of Cantley Hall, Doncaster, foaled in 1715 by the Darley Arabian (imported from Aleppo, circa 1704) out of Betty Leedes. He was sold as a yearling to William, 2nd Duke of Devonshire, in whose livery three of the figures in the present picture are shown. As Childers' reputation grew, the Duke is said to have turned down an offer for the horse of its weight in gold crowns. After an exceptional racing career, during which he was never beaten, he retired to stud at Chatsworth. The prefix 'Flying' was a soubriquet added later as his racing performances grew into legend. He is said to have covered nearly a mile in a minute during a match with Almanzor and Brown Betty, and to have covered the Beacon Course with each stride covering 25 feet. The caption Childers, the Fleetest Horse that ever ran at Newmarket is lettered under a portrait of him by Seymour engraved by Houston and published in 1755.
Another version of the present picture was sold from the Mellon Collection in 1976 as a portrait of Match'em. Subsequently acquired by Richard Green, it was discovered through the course of cleaning that the picture had been partly overpainted, and beneath lay a portrait of Flying Childers.