[From Mona Miscellany second series Manx Soc vol 21]


The hardy race of Manx small horses has been mentioned by various writers on the Isle of Man from an early date. This breed is still to be met with in some of the upland farms, and are renowned for their fleetness, as well as being sure footed, and capable of enduring any amount of hard work. Their mettle was often tried in the race from the church on a bridal morning, in the contest who should arrive first at the bridegroom’s abode, and have the honour of breaking the bridecake over the head of the bride as she entered the house.

James, the 7th Earl of Derby, "The Great Earl," succeeded to the royalty of Man in 1627, instituted races on the island on a piece of land extending rather more than a mile across the peninsula of Langness, and a record in the Rolls’ Office states that he gave a cup to be run for at these races, thus establishing the "Manx Derby," the precursor of that now celebrated race "The Derby," or the " Blue Ribbon" of the turf. These races were continued by the 8th Earl by command as follows
It is my good will and pleasure yt ye 2 prizes formerly granted (by me) for hors runing and shouting, shall continue as they did, to be run, or shot for, and so to continue dureing my good will and pleasure.—Given under my hand att Lathom ye 12 of July 1669.
DERBY (8th Earl).

To my governor’s deputy governor, & ye rest of my officers in my Isle of Man.

The following is a curious record of this early institution, with the rules on which that sport was conducted

Insula Monae.—Articles for the plate which is to be run for in the said island, being of the value of five pounds sterling (the fashion included), given by the Right Honourable William, Earl of Derby, Lord of the said isle, etc. (9th Earl)

1st. The said plate is to be run for upon the 28th day of July in every year, whiles his honour is pleased to allow the same (being the day of the nativity of the Honourable James, Lord Strange), except it happen upon a Sunday, and if soe, the said plate is to be run for upon the day following.

2d. That noe horse, gelding, or mair shall be admitted to run for the said plate, but such as was foaled within the said island, or in Calfe of Mann.

3d. That every horse, gelding, or mair, that is designed to run, shall be entered at or before the viiith day of July, with his master’s name and his owne, if he be generally knowne by any, or els his collour, and whether horse, mair, or gelding, and that to be done at the xcomprs. office, by the cleark of the rolls for the tinie being.

4th. That every person that puts in either horse, mair, or gelding, shall, at the time of their entering, depositt the sume of five shill, a piece into the hands of the said cleark of the rolls, which is to goe towards the augmenting of the plate for the year following, besides one shill, a piece to be given by them to the said cleark of the rolls for entering their names and engrossing these articles.

5th. That every horse, mair, or gelding, shall carry horseman’s weight, that is to say, ten stone weight, at fourteen pounds to each stone, besides sadle and bridle.

6th. That every horse, mair, or gelding, shall have a person for its tryer, to be named by the owner of the said horse, mair, or gelding, which tryers are to have the comand of the scales and weights, and to see that every rider doe carry full weight, according as is mencioned in the foregoeing article, and especially that the wining rider be soe with the usuall allowance of one pound for

7th. That a person be assigned by the tryers to start the runinge horses, who are to run for the said plate, betwixt the howers of one and three of the clock in the afternoon.

8th. That every rider shall leave the two first powles which are sett upp in Macybreas Close in this maner following—that is to say, the first of the said two powles upon his right hand, and the other upon his left hand; and the two powles by the rockes are to be left upon the left hand likewise; and the fifth powle, which is sett tip at the lower end of the Conney-warren, to be left alsoe upon the left hand, and soe the turning powle next to Wm. Looreyes house to be left in like maner upon the left hand, and the other two powles, leading to the ending powle, to be left upon the right hand ; all which powles are to be left by the riders as aforesaid, excepting only the distance powle, which may be rid on either hand, at the discretion of the rider, etc. etc. etc.

July 14th 1687.

The names of the persons who have entered their horses to run for the within plate for this present year 1687.

Ro. Heywood, Esq., governor of this isle, hath entered ane bay-gelding, called by the name of Loggerhead, and hath deposited towards the augmenting of the plate for the next year - - - £00 05 00
Captain Tho. Hudlston hath entred one white gelding, called Snowball, and hath depositted - - - - 00 05 00
Mr. William Faigier hath entred his grey gelding, called the Gray-Carraine, and
depositted - - - - 00 05 00
Mr. Nicho. Williams hath entred one grey stone horse, called The Yorkshire Gray,
and depositted - - - 00 05 00
Mr. Demster Christian hath entred one gelding, called the Dapple-gray, and hath depossitted - - - - 00 05 00
28th July 1687.
That this day the above plate was run for by the foremencioned horse, and the same was fairly won by the right worshipful governor’s horse at the two first heates.
17th August 1688.
Received this day the above which I am to pay to my master to augment ye plate, by me,

The first English "Derby" was run for in 1780, and won by Diomede, belonging to Sir Charles Bunbury, "whose ardour for the turf was conspicuous to his last hour." By this it will be seen that the "Manx Derby" was the senior of its now more renowned namesake, by about a century and a half.*

* An attempt has been made to revive horse races in the Isle of Man by the formation of an excellent new racecourse near Mount-Rule, Kirk Braddan, which was opened on Thursday and Friday, July 14 and 15, 1870.



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Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2001