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How Blakeney and Morston came to be internationally famous

Owner and trainer Arthur Budgett looking at and holding racehorse Blakeney
Owner and trainer Arthur Budgett with Derby winner Blakeney (Photo courtesy Chris Budgett )

You are definitely on to a winner when you come to Blakeney and neighbouring village Morston. What are the odds of your home town or village carrying the name of a famous racehorse that won Britain’s senior classic horserace the Epsom Derby?

Three-year-old racehorse Blakeney achieved international fame when the owner and trainer of this English thoroughbred won the Derby in 1969 in a field of 25 runners.

The racehorse Blakeney is paraded around the winner's ring after his win at the Epsom Derby in 1969
Blakeney's proud moment at the Epsom Derby in 1969 (Photo courtesy Chris Budgett )

But having landed the biggest prize in racing, the owner and trainer of Blakeney, Arthur Budgett went on to win the race for a second time in 1973 with Blakeney’s half-brother - a horse named Morston.

And Mr Budgett, who trained in Oxfordshire, had other horses with Norfolk names. He and his wife dreamed up the naming convention because the sire of his foal was called Hethersett – named after a village near Norwich and a character in the 1905 novel The Scarlett Pimpernel - an historical fiction which chronicles the adventures of a daring nobleman who saves people during the French Revolution. The mare or mother of the foal was called Windmill Girl and when it was born Mr Budgett chose the name of the lead character from The Scarlet Pimpernel, Sir Percy Blakeney. Like a clue from a cryptic crossword or Radio 4's Round Britain Quiz, Blakeney  is also a North Norfolk village with a windmill.

The racehorse Morston leads the field at the crowded 1973 Epsom Derby
Morston romps home in the 1973 Epsom Derby (Photo courtesy Chris Budgett )

The connection led to successive horses from Mr Budgett’s stud following the same naming convention and being linked with neighbouring Norfolk villages which had windmills.

Horses were called Cley, Salthouse, Bodham and Castle Rising, a village near Swaffham, and all used to have windmills linking Windmill Girl with Hethersett and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Mr Budgett had no obvious Norfolk links, having been born in London and educated at Eton and Oxford University. He died peacefully aged 94 in 2011 after a career spanning more than 30 years of racing achievement.

It was his son Chris, who runs the Kirtlington Stud in Oxfordshire, who provided this blog with the clues to the novel and the connection with North Norfolk villages with windmills.

Mr Budgett senior was almost unique in racing history for being one of only two owner-breeder-trainers to win two Epsom Derby races. The other was Yorkshire-born William l’Anson who achieved his wins in 1857 and 1864. But what does make Budgett unique in history is that he was the only person ever to have bred, owned and trained Derby-winning half-brothers.

His first Derby winner, Blakeney, was labelled a ‘typical first foal’ and failed to sell at the yearling sales. That failure led Budgett to hang on to the horse and train it himself. That led to the first half of one of the most extraordinary achievements in the history of the Epsom Derby.

Racing experts John Randall and Tony Morris in their book A Century of Champions, rated Blakeney a ‘poor’ Derby winner with Randall rating Blakeney the third worst Derby winner since 1945 when writing in the Racing Post.

But Arthur Budgett always called Blakeney ‘a bloody good horse’.

Mr Budgett’s other famous Derby winner, Morston, was even more spectacular. Morston won the Derby in 1973 as a 25-1 outsider in only the horse’s second-ever race. He then suffered a tendon injury during training and retired undefeated and died in 1993. He had the same mother – Windmill girl – as Blakeney so the two Derby winners were half-brothers.

Morston has been regarded as one of the least distinguished Derby winners. He was rated by racing experts as the worst Derby winner since the Second World War. However, his owner and trainer regarded Morston as superior to his other Derby winner Blakeney, and the best horse he had ever trained.  

Blakeney achieved other wins before going on to a successful career at stud in Newmarket. Blakeney had one rather strange habit. He always refused to go into a horsebox head first in the usual way but had to be reversed in backwards.

Blakeney died in 1992 and is buried at the National Stud in Newmarket, Suffolk.

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