Monolulu, prince of the tipsters


In the 1930s there was a familiar cry that used to be heard against the wind at Lewes Racecourse – “I gotta horse! I gotta horse!”

It came from a gaudily dressed character waving slips of paper in the air and swapping them for cash.

The famous racing tipster Prince Monolulu claimed to be of Abyssinian royalty. In fact he was no prince at all, from Africa or anywhere else.

But flamboyant he certainly was. His flashy jackets were sumptuously embroidered, his idea of a hat was decidedly individual, and when speaking he often used the ‘click’ sound used by some African tribes.

His real name was Peter Carl Mackay and he was an arresting sight when he went shopping in Lewes on race days.

He had to duck down to get through shop doorways, partly because he was a very big man and partly because of his enormous headdress of upright ostrich plumes.

He was polite and kind and would buy bags of sweets and take them down to the children at Southover School.

Prince Monolulu is just one of the fascinating characters recalled by author Cheryl Lutring in her new book Lewes Racecourse – A Legacy Lost? which traces the history and individuals associated with the sporting venue over the 250 years until its closure in 1964.

He was born in 1881 on the Caribbean island of St Croix, now part of the United States Virgin Islands, and became something of an institution on the British racing scene from the 1920s until his death in 1965.

He started out as a sailor but re-invented himself as a prince after being press-ganged aboard a British ship in 1902. He was told princes were important people, and he figured a prince wouldn’t be shanghaied again.

He was soon off round the world, eating fire in a travelling circus, working in Germany as a model, boxing in France, pretending to be an opera singer in Russia and becoming a fortune-teller in Italy.

He rose to prominence as a tipster after picking out the horse Spion Kop in the 1920 Derby at Epsom. It came in at the long odds of 100-6, from which he personally made some £8,000 – a vast amount of money at the time.

Prince Monolulu became the most famous black man in Britain. Between the wars, he was a national icon renowned for his eccentricity and theatricality at racecourses across the land.

In the days when newspapers carried few photographs and television was in its infancy, he was still the most recognisable racing personality other than the top jockeys.