The Colonel was a chestnut colt bred by Mr Wyvill of Burton Constable, foaled in 1825 by Whisker out of an unnamed mare by Delphini, and was bought by the Hon. Edward Petre as a yearling. He won the Champagne Stakes (so called because the winner had to give the Club six dozen bottles of champagne) at Doncaster in 1827 and ran a dead heat with the Duke of Rutland's Cadland for the Derby in 1828. They re-ran the dead heat after the next race but Cadland won by half a length. Later that year he won the St. Leger Stakes ridden by William Scott. In 1829 he was bought by King George IV for 4,000 guineas, and won the Craven Stakes for him in 1830 and 1831, before being retired to stud at Hampton Court. He was moved when King William IV died in 1837, and was then sold to Germany. Repurchased in 1843, he died in 1847.
Edward Petre lived at Stapleton Park near Pontefract, and owned several classic winners, including four winners of the St. Leger, three in successive years (Theodore, 1822; Matilda, 1827; The Colonel, 1828; and Rowton, 1829). Stapleton Park was demolished circa 1930.
Herring Senior is most celebrated for his accurate depictions of the history of the turf in the first half of the 19th Century, and during his career he painted twenty-one Derby winners, thirty-four of the St. Leger, and eleven winners of the Oaks. Engravings of this composition were available almost immediately as part of the sequence of St. Leger winners executed after Herring stretching from 1815-1840, and carried on by others to 1845, such were their popularity. It was also produced as a woodcut in Bell's Life on 21 September 1828, 'expressly taken by Mr Herring, the celebrated animal-painter, with the permission of the Honble. E. Petre'. According to James Gilbert, the artist's contemporary, a Herring portrait was considered 'the crowning honour to the high mettled winner' (James Gilbert, Memoir of J.F. Herring, Esq., Sheffield, 1848, p. 9).
The jockey William Scott (1797-1848) was the younger brother of John Scott (1797-1871), who was arguably the most successful trainer of classic winners of all time. They were born at Chippenham, Newmarket, and their father was a former jockey and trainer, who kept an inn called The Ship at Oxford. Both John and William entered their father's stables at an early age, and at thirteen John won a £50 plate at Blandford. Although he began as a lightweight jockey, he soon gave up riding races after having to lose 2½ stone to ride in a £70 plate. In 1815, he and William moved north to the stable of James Croft at Middleham, Yorkshire, where John had charge of Filho da Puta, who won the St. Leger Stakes that year. Shortly after this the brothers were employed by Thomas Houldsworth of Rockhill in Sherwood Forest until 1823.
In 1825 they went into partnership, and John bought Whitewall House, Malton, Yorkshire, whose ample training stables steadily expanded with their success. There, William had the opportunity to ride numerous good horses, and was soon known as one of the best jockeys of his day, while John was acclaimed the 'Wizard of the North', training in total forty classic winners, including sixteen winners of the St. Leger, eight Oaks and six Derbys. The Colonel was one of the brothers' early triumphs, and Herring's painting is a record of the success of their relationship before it went sour in later years when William developed a problem with drink, setting up training stables at his own home, Highfield House, near Malton, with little success. William's final classic win was in 1846 with Sir Tatton Sykes, but he stopped riding soon after and died within two years. A version of the present composition was sold in these Rooms, 22 November 2006, lot 96 (£500,800).