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Never Say Die

A Kentucky Colt, the Epsom Derby, and the Rise of the Modern Thoroughbred Industry

James C. Nicholson. foreword by Pete Best

Publication Year: 2013

A quarter of a million people braved miserable conditions at Epsom Downs on June 2, 1954, to see the 175th running of the prestigious Derby Stakes. Queen Elizabeth II and Sir Winston Churchill were in attendance, along with thousands of Britons who were all convinced of the unfailing superiority of English bloodstock and eager to see a British colt take the victory. They were shocked when a Kentucky-born chestnut named Never Say Die galloped to a two-length triumph at odds of 33--1, winning Britain's greatest race and beginning an important shift in the world of Thoroughbred racing. Never Say Die traces the history of this extraordinary colt, beginning with his foaling in Lexington, Kentucky, when a shot of bourbon whiskey revived him and earned him his name. Author James C. Nicholson also tells the stories of the influential individuals brought together by the horse and his victory -- from the heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune to the Aga Khan. Most fascinating is the tale of Mona Best of Liverpool, England, whose well-placed bet on the long-shot Derby contender allowed her to open the Casbah Coffee Club. There, her son met musicians John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison and later joined their band. Featuring a foreword by the original drummer for the Beatles, Pete Best, this remarkable book reveals how an underdog's surprise victory played a part in the formation of the most successful and influential rock band in history and made the Bluegrass region of Kentucky the center of the international Thoroughbred industry.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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p. 5-5


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pp. 6-7


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pp. vii-8

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii-x

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pp. xi-xii

A Victorian house . . . a racehorse . . . jewelry . . . a rock band. Sounds like the basic ingredients for a good book. Interested? Read on. Who would have thought that a bet placed on a racehorse would influence the course of popular music and the sport of Thoroughbred racing? You don’t believe it? Well, it’s true. I was there...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Within Thoroughbred racing literature, the “outstanding racehorse biography” is a familiar subgenre. The 1954 Epsom Derby champion Never Say Die was a very good racehorse, but, depending on one’s definition of greatness, he was arguably not historically great. His exploits on the racecourse would not, in...

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Chapter 1: A Historic Derby Triumph and a Wager That Changed History

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pp. 1-12

A quarter million people braved the cold and damp conditions at Epsom Downs on June 2, 1954, to witness the 175th running of the Derby Stakes, one of grandest scenes in all of sport. Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, bicycles and motorcycles brought Britons from every background to the racecourse, less than fifteen miles...

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Chapter 2: The Unusual Origins of a Sewing Machine Fortune

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pp. 13-32

Robert Sterling Clark could afford to breed and race Thoroughbreds at the world’s highest levels because of his immense inherited fortune. That fortune had its roots in the Singer Manufacturing Company, which had introduced the sewing machine to the far reaches of the globe and revolutionized international...

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Chapter 3: Robert Sterling Clark

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pp. 33-48

In addition to reaching the very apex of the sport of Thoroughbred racing with Never Say Die’s Epsom Derby win in 1954, Robert Sterling Clark would travel the world, build one of the finest collections of Impressionist paintings, battle his siblings in a high-profile inheritance dispute, and be accused of involvement...

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Chapter 4: The Aga Khan

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pp. 49-60

Sultan Mohammed Shah, the third Aga Khan, had been drawn to horses as long as he could remember. His earliest childhood memory was watching the horses of his grandfather, the first Aga Khan, participate in morning training while servants held him astride a pony in a saddle.1 Eventually, the racehorses the Aga...

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Chapter 5: Robber Barons Robbing Barons

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pp. 61-86

In 1922 the Doncaster sales grounds in South Yorkshire, England, were abuzz with talk of an impeccably bred filly whose looks matched her regal pedigree. Agents of all the top owners were in attendance, including trainer George Lambton, who had agreed to purchase a few young racehorses for the Aga Khan to...

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Chapter 6: An Unlikely Horseman

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pp. 87-110

On November 27, 1950, John A. Bell III and his wife returned home to their leased property at Hamburg Place outside Lexington. They were coming from Knoxville, Tennessee, where they had watched the Kentucky Wildcats football team eke out a one-point victory over their archrivals, the Tennessee Volunteers...

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Chapter 7: A Derby-less Trainer

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pp. 111-118

Upon arrival in England, Never Say Die was sent to Carlburg Stables, the Newmarket training yard of seventy-two-year-old Joe Lawson. At that time, Sterling Clark split his horses between Lawson and another trainer named Harry Peacock. Peacock had won a coin flip to determine which man would receive first choice...

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Chapter 8: The First Kentucky-Bred Champion of the Epsom Derby

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pp. 119-134

Never Say Die had been a large, spindly foal, but by the time he arrived at Newmarket, he had filled out to become a strapping young colt with a slightly better temperament than that of his notorious sire. Though he never displayed Nasrullah’s mental peculiarities on the racetrack, Never Say Die did develop a...

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Chapter 9: An American Invasion at Epsom

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pp. 135-152

Never Say Die’s progeny had only mixed success as runners overall, but he was the leading sire in Great Britain in 1962. That year, his son Larkspur won the Epsom Derby for Irish trainer Vincent O’Brien (the first of six Derby wins in his legendary career) and American owner Raymond R. Guest.1 With Larkspur’s...

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Chapter 10: A Global Sport and Industry

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pp. 153-176

Robert Sangster grew up in suburban Liverpool and was the sole heir to a family fortune that included a quasi-national lottery based on the scores of English soccer matches called Vernons Pools. He was first introduced to horse racing in 1960 when a friend gave him a tip on a horse owned by the friend’s grandfather that was entered in a traditional English early-spring...


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pp. 177-178


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pp. 179-198


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pp. 199-210


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pp. 211-218

E-ISBN-13: 9780813142012
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813141671

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2013