Bend Or – Turf’s Great Debate

Mysteries are everywhere. The sciences such as evolution, hereditary genetics and the man made mysteries that provoke us into the why, where and how consistently intrigue us. A good mystery will arouse our curiosity, causing us to speculate, and compels us to seek the truth. There have been volumes of literature, countless reels of films, and an abundance of popular television programs dedicated to our enjoyment of unravelling a good clever “Who Done It”. Such intrigue entertains as much as a great concert or sporting event. We embrace the notion of interaction and try to solve the mystery as we gather more knowledge of the subject.

The Thoroughbred world has many enticing potboilers. Perhaps the most notable is the actual parentage of one of the important stallions that grace pedigrees around the world. The story of Bend Or encompasses much of the elements that go into a great mystery. Genetics, manmade skullduggery, and decades of unknown truths and innuendo have created one of the more intriguing “Who Done Its” in turf history. To add further fuel to this conundrum of why where and how, modern science has created the technology to go back into history and unearth the proof needed to unravel this particular mystery. And so as the saying goes; “the plot thickens”.

Let’s start with the known, or shall we say official, story of Bend Or.

Bend Or was chestnut colt foaled in 1877 at Eaton Stud, Chesire. The breeder of record is the 1st Duke of Westminster, Hugh Grosvenor. Grosvenor was bestowed the new title by Queen Victoria in 1874. He was previously titled 3rd Marquess of Westminster. Bend Or was sired by Doncaster, winner of the 1873 Epsom Derby. Doncaster was a son of the great sire Stockwell, known as “The Emperor of Stallions” during his historic stud career. The Duke was looking to stand a well pedigreed Derby winner to stand at his inherited famous family breeding farm, and restore the glory of the stud which had waned from years of sub-par production. He purchased Doncaster following the horse’s racing career from his trainer Robert Peck, who in turn made a substantial profit from the sale.

Doncaster became an important sire getting the likes of Farewell (1000 Guineas) and Sandiway (Coronation Stakes, Newmarket Oaks), as well as Bend Or. Doncaster’s son Muncaster sired Saraband, who in turn is the dam sire of the immortal Pretty Polly. The name of Doncaster is close in many elite thoroughbreds at the turn of the previous century. When Empress Elisabeth of Austria visited Eaton Hall she became absolutely smitten with the attractive Doncaster, and in 1884 purchased the Derby winner from The Duke of Westminster to stand at her Kisber Stud, where he lived until 1892.

The dam of Bend Or was Rouge Rose, or so say the stud book. Here is where the mystery of Bend Or’s lineage is questioned.  The Duke of Westminster also bred another chestnut son of Doncaster from a mare named Clemence, a daughter of St. Leger winner Newminster. Although both colts born were similar in colour, there were significant differences. However an identification problem was aroused a couple of years later. We will address that further in this article.

Rouge Rose was from a good family and was sired by 1860 Epsom Derby winner Thormanby. Ellen Horne was the dam of Rouge Rose, and also the grand dam of English Triple Crown winner Lord Lyon. Also in the family are duel classic winners Achievement (1000 Guineas, St. Leger Stakes), and Ladas (2000 Guineas, Derby Stakes), and the great foundation mare Chelandry (1000 Guineas), who is one of the all time elite broodmares in the stud book.

Bend Or became a wonderful racehorse. He started five times as a juvenile, and won them all. At three he started his campaign in the Derby Stakes at Epsom and won by a head over Robert the Devil. Legendary jockey Fred Archer was his partner for this historic race, and many races after. After winning the St. James Palace Stakes, to take his record to a perfect 7 for 7, Robert the Devil defeated Bend Or (who finished sixth) in the St. Leger Stakes to exact some Derby revenge. Bend Or was defeated twice more in succession by Robert the Devil in the Great Foal Stakes, by a head, and then the Champion Stakes by a commanding ten lengths. Bend Or was second in both of these races.

Coming back to the racing scene as a four year old in 1881, Bend Or reeled off three consecutive victories. The City and Suburban Handicap, Epsom Gold Cup (defeating Robert the Devil) and Champion Stakes were all claimed by The Duke of Westminster’s charge. The final race of Bend Or’s career came at Newmarket in the Cambridgeshire Stakes. He failed to stay and finished a well beaten seventh.

Retired to stand stud at Eaton Hall, Bend Or would have a very influential career in this role. Bend Or never became a champion sire during his stud career, although he did win a pair of broodmare sire titles in 1901 and 1902, just before his death. The leading sire title during Bend Or’s time was the domain of at first Hermit, then Galopin and most notably the latter’s son St. Simon. However one of Bend Or’s grandsons, the classy Orme, did manage to squeeze out a sire championship in 1899 during St. Simon’s historic reign at the top of the sire charts.

The best son of Bend Or on the track was undoubtedly Ormonde. Considered by many historians as the “Horse of the Century”, 19th century that is, Ormonde was a perfect 16 for 16. Bred and raced by the Duke of Westminster, Ormonde won the English Triple Crown (fourth horse to accomplish this feat), as well as the St. James Palace, Rous Memorial and Champion Stakes. Later standing at Eaton Hall, Ormonde sired many winners, but as with most superior racehorses, he did not get anything close to his own on track accomplishments. However Orme came close, and did continue the tail male line.

Orme was a very good racehorse. He started 18 times over a three year career and won 14 times. He also finished second three times. Out of a full sister to St. Simon, Orme was bred and raced by the Duke of Westminster. His wins included the Dewhurst, Middle Park, and Richmond Stakes at two. The Eclipse, Sussex and Champion Stakes at three. His four year old campaign included a repeat victory in the Eclipse Stakes and a win in the Rous Memorial. At stud Orme founded a solid branch of the Bend Or line that includes English Triple Crown winner Flying Fox, and dual Derby winner (Epsom, Irish) Orby. Flying Fox stood in France where he sired Ajax, who in turn is the sire of the great influential stallion Teddy. The latter was inbred to Bend Or 5×3.

Other sons of Bend Or that did well at stud include Kendal. This one sired Triple Crown winner Galtee More. Radium sired 2000 Guineas winner Clarissimus. Orbit was sent to Argentina for stud duty where he founded a dynasty, and was known as “The South American Stockwell”.

The most important son to continue the line from Bend Or was Bona Vista. Winner of the classic 2000 Guineas, Bona Vista was bred by the 5th Earl of Roseberry in 1889. Sold to Charles Day Rose when a yearling for 1250 Guineas, Bona Vista won two other stakes before retiring to stud at Hardwicke Stud in Berkshire. His place of pride in pedigrees comes from his son Cyllene and his daughter Vahren (dam of The Tetrarch). Cyllene won two sire championships and got four Derby winners. The Derby winners were Cicero, Minoru, Lemberg, and the filly Tagalie. The son of Cyllene that furthered the line was however Polymelus, a five times leading sire in England/Ireland. Polymelus in turn sired Phalaris, the foundation sire of the twentieth century. From this sire line comes Nearco, Northern Dancer, Mr. Prospector, Nasrullah, Hail To Reason and the many exulted stallions along these lines that dominate today.

Bend Or had much success with his daughters as breed shapers, although his daughters were not among the elite on the track. Remember his two broodmare sire titles. Fairy Gold produced Fair Play (sire of Man O’ War) and Friar Rock. Ornament is the dam of the unbelievable Sceptre, winner of four classics. Ex Voto, Epsom Lad, Helm and Frontier are four more notable winners from daughters of Bend Or. Notable descendants from Bend Or daughters in tail female line include Rose of England, Pearl Cap, The Finn, Colombo, Schwarzgold, Sans Souci, Dante, Sayajiro, Teddy, and Nashua.

Clearly Bend Or had an enormous and notable impact on the future of the breed. His notable moment on the track was his win at Epsom in the Derby Stakes. The race became even more notable because it was after this result when the owners and connections of Robert the Devil raised a protest over the parentage of the Derby winner. Spockian eyebrows were raised from the allegations that Bend Or was not who he claimed to be.

Before all his influence in breeding, and even before his rematch with Robert the Great in the St. Leger, the Jockey Club had a big problem on their hands. Was the Derby winner legit? The controversy came to public light on July 3, 1880; one month after the Derby was run. There seemed to be sufficient information to prove that the Derby winner Bend Or, was in fact a colt named Tadcaster. Both were sons of Doncaster and both were bred at Eaton Hall.

The controversy made for sensational headlines in the newspapers and publications of the day. The genesis of the allegations that Bend Or was not Bend Or originated from a former Eaton Hall groom named Richard Arnull. Arnull had informed the owners of Robert the Devil, Charles Brewer and the horse’s trainer Charles Blanton, that the horse which won the Derby was in fact Tadcaster, sired by Doncaster out of the mare Clemence by Newminster. Brewer and Blanton then informed the Stewards of this information and set off a chain of investigations involving the Epsom Stewards, the Jockey Club, and Weatherbys (keepers of the Stud Book). The investigation included testimony from Arnull and his two sons, inspection of the Eaton Hall stud records, testimony from Major Barlow (Eaton superintendent) and other Eaton employees. Nine days after the allegations surfaced the ruling came down in favour of the Derby winner being the actual Bend Or. That seemed to close the books on the matter as the owners of Robert the Devil accepted the decision.

The public never really did let it go however. The controversy was re-ignited in 1914 by the popular and renowned publication The Bloodstock Breeder’s Review.  New evidence was put forth and the whole thing now turned into a classic mystery. To quote Conan-Doyle’s famous Sherlock Holmes, “The game’s afoot!”

Here are the pros of the evidence supporting the claim of misidentification, and the cons denouncing the allegations, so you can weigh the evidence and come to your own conclusion.

That was not Bend Or:   1) Bend Or and Tadcaster had subtle, but distinct differences in appearance. However the Eaton Hall stud books were not very well kept and somewhat vague in identifying markings. When the two colts left Eaton for Russley Stable, Newmarket, the shoddy identification might have been the cause of the mix up. Testimony from the Jockey Club investigations was based on memories from Major Barlow and staff, which were not always clear. These memories contradicted themselves frequently. Also, since Arnull and his sons were let go from Eaton prior to them pointing the finger at the horse’s parentage, their testimony was taken with a grain of salt from the belief that they were lashing back at their former employer.

2) The people who handled the colts at Russley did not know them well enough to identify which was which. The switch could have taken place, inadvertently.

3) The Duke of Westminster was the richest man in England at the time and held a powerful presence in the turf. The name Bend Or was in reference to his family coat of arms and once the colts began training at Russley, it was decided to give this name to the colt that exhibited more talent. The stewards may have been swayed to let things stand in fear offending him.

4) Clemence was a better producer than Rouge Rose. Although both came from good families, Rouge Rose did not produce anything close to Bend Or from her other foals. Clemence on the other hand produced a filly by Doncaster named Sandiway that did win major stakes races. Also daughters of Clemence produced the likes of Carbine, La Samaritan, Festuca and Hebron. Noted trainer John Porter claimed that Sandiway and Bend Or closely resembled each other. If Clemence was indeed the dam of Bend Or, then these two would have been full siblings.

5) James Lowther, one of the stewards involved in the investigation, obtained information after the ruling was handed down that the Bend Or which won the Derby was out of Clemence and not Rouge Rose. However he never revealed any of the information since the matter was deemed closed.

6) Flash forward to the 21st century. A team of scientists from Cambridge University took samples from the skeleton of Bend Or preserved in the Natural History Museum in order to end the long standing debate. They used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from these samples to determine if Bend Or’s mother was Clemence or Rouge Rose. This method of DNA testing is supposed to be fool proof as to direct female ancestry identification. Using samples from other known descendants of Clemence and Rouge Rose, and the Bruce Lowe principle of tail female families he charted and designated, they proclaimed Bend Or to be a son of Clemence and not Rouge Rose.

That was Bend Or:           1) The groom Arnull, who brought this entire controversy to light, was just as contradictory in his testimony as that of Major Barlow’s testimony. Although he held firm in his conviction for the rest of his life, the underlying belief that he was acting out of spite was always prevalent.

2) The famous dark Bend Or spots, which were passed down frequently to future generations, was also prevalent in Rouge Rose’s sire Thormanby. Bend Or frequently bequeathed not only his class but also his distinct coat markings, which continued down the line to many of his descendants.

3) Rouge Rose was a good natured, somewhat docile creature, who adhered to here handlers in a friendly manner. Bend Or was exactly the same in temperament. He was fondly remembered as a kind and engaging horse, especially for a stallion, to all who worked with him during his stud career. Clemence however was quite the opposite. She was cranky and difficult to deal with. She especially disliked having her feet tended to and gave farriers a difficult time whenever she needed to be re-shod. Clemence passed these traits to her progeny including Tadcaster, who despised have his feet tended to.

4) Also pertaining to feet, Bend Or had well shaped round ones which were in keeping with Rouge Rose and her family.

5) Bend Or passed on another distinct trait from the Rouge Rose Family, that of a cribber. Rouge Rose was such, and although Bend Or was not, many of his get were. This trait is not prevalent in the family of Clemence.

6) The Duke of Westminster bred Clemence to Bend Or in 1882, resulting in a filly named Lenity. Although unraced, Lenity produced five foals, four of which were fillies. Down the tail female line from this mating we find stakes winner Florist, sired by the St. Simon son Florizel, winner of the Newbury Summer Cup and third to Son-In-Law in the Goodwood Cup. If Bend Or was indeed a son of Clemence, would The Duke have bred them together?

So what does this all mean? We have shoddy book keeping records, inconclusive testimony, powerful affiliations that do not want controversy and scientific evidence that points to wrong identification of a horse. On the other hand there are multiple genetic similarities, circumstantial evidence and a possible breeding between son and mother. And should we be absolute that mtDNA is an exact science?

In the end, what does it matter now? Unless we firmly and unequivocally agree 100% that Clemence is the dam of Bend Or, should we now rewrite the Stud Book? Or is it a moot point and should we just go with the status quo, but continue to debate a mystery that will keep us entertained. Besides, he might not be only stallion, or broodmare for that fact, from long ago that has questionable parentage. That is something we may never know.

So for economy’s sake lets wrap this up with the conclusion that the horse we know as Bend Or was one of the key contributors to the wonderful Thoroughbreds we cheer for today. Although his name is far back in pedigrees, the litany of descendants leading to today’s champions is impressive and vital. Bend Or was a Derby winner, and a breed shaping stallion. This was the same horse since the alleged switch took place before his famous victory.

140 years after he was born, Bend Or continues to be discussed. That in itself is a legacy. Remarkable.

(Photo of Bend Or source unknown)


  • Fantastic!!!! What a wonderful article. Thank you so much for an enjoyable read. I love to read about the horses from long ago and your research is so thorough and you make the story so entertaining. Please keep the articles coming.

  • What a great story. I have noticed Bend Or in pedigrees and always wondered about him.

  • An enlightening history and a wonderful mystery story. Wherever the truth lies, “blood will tell.” Bend Or it shall be. What an incredible legacy of beauty and talent.

  • Magnifica nota, para aprender mas del caballo de carrera y su historia.

  • Such a great story. So much to think about but as you say does it really matter now! Bend Or which ever his mother is was still a great horse and is in so many powerful pedigrees. But still I love a good mystery and this qualifies as a good mystery.

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