Riddlesworth, a chestnut colt with a white blaze, was foaled in 1828 out of Fillagree by Emilius, himself a winner of the Derby and Riddlesworth Stakes and Champion sire of Great Britain and Ireland in both 1830 and 1831. Owned by George Child Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey and trained by James Edwards Riddlesworth only raced for one season in 1831, but won four of his five starts, including the aptly named Riddlesworth Stakes and the 2000 Guineas, finishing second in his final race, the Derby. Considered to be the best horse of the year, he was ridden to victory by George Edwards in his first race, the Riddlesworth Stakes, but by his second race James Robinson had taken on the role of jockey. Robinson is shown here in the Earl of Jersey’s colours, on Newmarket Heath, to commemorate Riddlesworth’s victory in one of the great Classics, the 2000 Guineas, a contest which he started as odds-on favourite after the triumphs of his first two races. The Heath, with rubbing-down houses depicted in the background is a celebrated image in British racing and has been depicted by many of the greatest sporting artists: most notably George Stubbs, in Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath with a trainer, a jockey and a stable lad (Private Collection) (fig. 1).
Finishing second out of a field of twenty-three in the Derby, Riddlesworth was sold off the back of this success for 2,500 guineas to Sir Mark Wood, at which time he was favourite for the St Leger. However, by 25 August it was reported that he was ill and sadly he dropped out of the famous Classic at Doncaster, never to race again. By the time of his retirement he’d earned 4,650 guineas in prize money and went on to a successful stud career, first in Germany and then in America.
James Robinson, known as ‘Jem’, was one of the most successful British jockeys of the 19th century. In a career which lasted until he fractured his leg and collar bone in 1852, he won twenty-four Classic races, including an unprecedented six Derby wins, a record which was finally surpassed by Lester Piggott in 1976.
John Ferneley, Sen., was one of the most gifted painters of sporting subjects of his generation. His works are some of the most important records of 19th century Sporting Britain. The sixth son of a Leicestershire wheelwright, Ferneley's precocious talent was spotted at a young age by the Duke of Rutland who, in 1801, is said to have persuaded the artist's father to allow him to become a pupil of Ben Marshall, himself of Leicestershire origin, who was then working in London. Ferneley studied and lodged with Marshall between 1801 and 1804 and was enrolled by him in the Royal Academy Schools. Ferneley's rise to prominence was fast, exhibiting his first picture at the Royal Academy in 1806. By 1814 he had set up his studio in Melton Mowbray, the hub of the fox-hunting scene with three fashionable packs - the Quorn, the Belvoir and the Cottesmore, providing hunting six days a week. Each winter an influx of 250-300 sportsmen, distinguished by birth, profession and intellect and unaccompanied by their wives, entered into a world devoted to the chase. Ferneley flourished with a steady stream of patronage and his work became increasingly desirable. His patrons included many of the famous sportsmen of the day, and members of some of the most prominent aristocratic families.