Tribute is paid in a fascinating new book to one of the great sporting heroes of Lewes.
He had four legs ... and a big, big heart. Jockeyed by Lewes’s very own Fred Rees, Shaun Spadah thrilled spectators by overcoming difficulties that took other horses off their feet.
It was on a breezy day in March 1921 that more than 200,000 people watched one of the most historic of Grand Nationals at Aintree.
It had the largest field to startsince the inauguration of the race in 1836, with 35 runners, but was destined to become notorious for another reason. The heavy going managed to bring down every horse with the notable exception of Shaun Spadah, a bay 10-year-old whose betting odds were 100-9 against.
Keeping his balance and footing despite two horses falling directly in front of him, he galloped skilfully through the carnage of jockeys and horses strewn across his path and negotiated the loose horses galloping wildly about with reins and stirrups flapping.
Yet even he nearly came to grief as he ‘pecked’ (stumbled) on landing at the water jump. He managed to regain his balance and run on to victory. Only four other horses finished once their jockeys had remounted (a rule outlawed in 2009).
The story of Shaun Spadah is told in Lewes Racecourse – A Legacy Lost? by local author Cheryl Lutring. As the 50th anniversary of the closure of the sadly missed racecourse in 1964 approaches, she has compiled a highly entertaining story of the downland venue and the racing characters who once abounded in Lewes.
At one time it held almost as important a place in the sport as Newmarket, both as a racecourse and as a training centre, and the book is packed with anecdotes about the cast of personalities, both human and equine, with connections to the town.
After his sensational Grand National win, Shaun Spadah arrived home by train. He was paraded through the streets of Lewes to cheering crowds lining the route from the station to his home yard at Astley House where he was trained by George Poole. Mr Poole was so delighted he distributed a shilling to every elementary school child in the town.
King George V personally congratulated jockey Fred Rees and owner Sir Malcolm McAlpine (son of ‘Concrete Bob’ McAlpine) told a reporter he had won the race “because I had the best horse, the best jockey and the best trainer”.
When Shaun Spadah died in 1940 he was buried up at the racecourse. His fame was such that for a time his name was adopted in Cockney rhyming slang for ‘motor car’.
In 1951 he was reunited with jockey Fred, whose ashes were scattered on the grave.