Attributed to John Frederick Herring , 1820 - 1907
La Fleche beating Sir Hugo, St Leger 1892
La Fleche beating Sir Hugo, St Leger

"La Fleche beating Sir Hugo, St Leger 1892"

oil on board
27.50 x 59 cm. (10.3/4 x 23.1/4 in.)


La Fleche (1889–1916) was a British Thoroughbred racehorse and broodmare. After being sold for a world record price as a yearling in 1890, she was undefeated as a two-year-old in 1891, winning races against her own sex and defeating some of the year's leading colts. She went on to become the dominant British three-year-old of 1892, claiming the Fillies’ Triple Crown by winning the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, the Oaks at Epsom and the St Leger at Doncaster. Her only defeat of the year came when she was beaten when starting favourite for the Epsom Derby.

La Fleche remained in training for a further two seasons, winning important races such as the 1893 Liverpool Autumn Cup, the 1894 Ascot Gold Cup, and the Champion Stakes on her final appearance. In all, she won sixteen times in twenty-four racecourse appearances. After her retirement from racing she became a successful and influential broodmare.

La Fleche (French for The Arrow), a brown mare standing just under 16 hands high was bred by the Royal Studs at Hampton Court and was foaled on 10 March 1889. She was an exceptionally well-bred and "beautiful" filly and attracted much attention when she was sent to be auctioned as a yearling on 28 June 1890 at the Bushey Paddocks. She was bought by Lord Marcus Beresford on behalf of the financier Baron Maurice de Hirsch for a sum of 5,500 guineas, outbidding the Duke of Portland and John Porter and breaking the record for a yearling sold at auction, which had stood since 1876.

Her sire, St. Simon was an unbeaten racehorse who was beginning to prove himself as an outstanding sire. By the time La Fleche was sold in 1890 he was on the way to the first of his nine sires’ championships, having sired the first two of his ten Classic winners. Her dam, Quiver produced La Fleche’s full-sister Memoir, who won the Epsom Oaks and the St Leger as well as the influential broodmares Maid Marian and Satchel. La Fleche was trained for her first two seasons by John Porter at Kingsclere. At the end of her three-year-old season she was moved to the Egerton House stable of Richard Marsh at Newmarket, Suffolk. Attempts by anglophone writers to spell her name resulted in variations including La Fléche, Lafleche, La Flèche (the "correct" version), and La Flêche.

La Fleche won all four of her races as a two-year-old. She made her first appearance on July 16 at Newmarket in the Chesterfield Stakes, for which she started 6/4 favourite. Although she had not grown as much as might have been expected from her yearling days, she was reported to be deceptively powerful, being described by one observer as "all wire and whipcord."Ridden by George Barrett, she led from the start and shook off he rivals "without an effort" to win by two lengths, in an impressive time of 1:04.2. The third placed finisher, a colt called Bonavista (or Bona Vista), went on to win the following year's 2000 Guineas. On 29 July, La Fleche was sent to Goodwood for the five furlong Lavant Stakes in which she met Priestess, another filly whose sale price (£4,000) had attracted comment. La Fleche tracked Priestess, who set a strong pace, before moving ahead in the final furlong to win "very cleverly" by a length. Two days later, she reappeared at the same course for the Molecomb Stakes and recorded another easy win, beating Adoration by one and a half lengths. At Doncaster in September she won the Champagne Stakes to take her earnings for the year to £3,415.

La Fleche's stable companion, Orme, was regarded as the best of the year's two-year-old colts, and there was speculation as to which of the two was the better. It was also generally believed that La Fleche would have the Derby as her principal target for the following year. 1892 began with a scare for La Fleche's owners as the filly slipped and injured her knees at her stable. Initial fears that her career could be over however, proved to be unfounded as the damage was superficial. Confidence in the filly grew steadily over the winter and early spring, and by late April she had supplanted Orme as Derby favourite. Her position at the head of the market was strengthened when Orme was poisoned– unsubstantiated rumours blamed the filly's supporters– and ruled out for the first half of the season.

On 6 May 1892 La Fleche started 1/2 favourite in a field of seven for the 1000 Guineas. Her price might have been even shorter but for fears that she too could have been "got at". Ridden by George Barrett she raced in second place as Adoration set the pace before moving easily into the lead a furlong out. She won by a length from The Smew and Adoration in a time of 1:52.4, which was 1.6 seconds faster than the time recorded by Bona Vista in winning the 2000 Guineas over the same course.

At Epsom on 1 June La Fleche started 11/10 favourite for the Derby on a "gloriously fine" day. She was saddled and paraded separately from the colts for reasons that correspondents chose not to particularise. The French-trained colt Bucentaur led the field into the straight where he was overtaken by the 40/1 outsider Sir Hugo. La Fleche then produced her challenge but after a "splendid finish" in which she was cheered on by the crowd, she failed to overhaul the colt and finished second, beaten three quarters of a length. There were later claims that La Fleche’s defeat had been a fluke and Barrett was criticised for giving her a "most erratic ride".This version of events is not supported by contemporary accounts, which state that the filly was in a "capital position" throughout the race.

Two days after her defeat in the Derby, La Fleche ran against fillies in the Oaks. Although some regarded her as a certainty, her odds drifted from 2/5 to 8/11 before the start. In the race she tracked the leader Broad Corrie before taking the lead in the straight apparently poised for an easy victory. In the final furlong however, she was closely pressed by The Smew, a filly she had dealt with easily in the 1000 Guineas, and Barrett had to ride a vigorous finish to win the race by a short head.On 29 July at Goodwood, La Fleche won the Nassau Stakes in which, despite looking less than fully fit, she quickened impressively to bear Broad Corrie by a length and a half.

On September 7 La Fleche ran in the St Leger on a wet day at Doncaster. Orme, who had returned from his problems to win the Eclipse Stakes started favourite, with La Fleche, ridden on this occasion by John Watts, strongly supported at 7/2. Watts settled the filly in the eary stages as Orme set off in front. Just after the turn into the straight, La Fleche, travelling strongly, moved alongside her stable companion and then pulled clear. She won easily by two lengths from the fast-finishing Sir Hugo, with Orme fading into fifth. On 24 September, La Fleche ran against older and younger horses in the £10,000 Lancashire Plate over one mile at Manchester Racecourse. Ridden by Barrett, she tracked the leaders until the straight, where she accelerated impressively to win by three lengths from Orvieto, with Sir Hugo unplaced.

At Newmarket five days later she faced only one opponent, a colt called Dunure, in the Grand Duke Michael Stakes. She started at odds of 1/40 and won the £1,000 prize in a predictable canter In the Newmarket Oaks on October 11 she ran lazily but won very easily by a length from Golconda, to whom she was conceding nineteen pounds.

She was then sent for the Cambridgeshire Handicap 26 October, for which she was assigned a weight of 122 pounds. La Fleche started 7/2 favourite in a field of thirty runners and was ridden by Barrett. The closing stages of the nine furlong race developed into a contest between La Fleche and Pensioner, a colt who was carrying only 88 pounds. The filly showed "fire and resolution" at the finish to pull away from the colt and win by one and a half lengths. The win took her earnings for the season to £23,848, all of which was donated to charity by Hirsch.

At the end of the season La Fleche, and all of Maurice de Hirsch’s other horses were moved from the yard of John Porter to that of Richard Marsh. The move followed a disagreement between Hirsch's racing manager, Marcus Beresford, and another of Porter's important patrons, the Duke of Westminster.

After her win in the St Leger, La Fleche was described as "one of the best fillies that ever raced in England." Her earnings of £25,635 were by far the highest for any horse in 1892 and by the end of her second season, she had already earned more in prize money than any other filly. On her retirement it was said that she had been "nothing short of an Idol" with the public.

As noted above, La Fleche was already in foal when racing in 1894 and produced her first foal, a filly called La Veine in 1895. In 1896 Maurice de Hirsch died and all his bloodstock, including La Fleche and La Veine were put up for auction. She was sold for £12,600 to Marcus Beresford, acting on this occasion on behalf the Sykes family and was sent to their Sledmere Stud in Yorkshire. Sir Tatton Sykes, who was reportedly horrified by the price, initially refused to acknowledge the mare’s arrival, and left her in a railway box for two weeks before he was persuaded to accept the deal. La Fleche’s best runner was John O’Gaunt, who finished second in the Derby and sired Swynford. Her daughter Baroness La Fleche produced the 1000 Guineas winner Cinna and the successful stallion Beau Pere. La Fleche was retired from breeding in 1911, and she died at Sledmere in late April 1916 at the age of twenty-seven.

Sir Hugo (1889–1910) was a British Thoroughbred racehorse and sire. In a career that lasted from 1891 to 1894 he ran eight times and won three races. As a three-year-old in 1892 he won the Epsom Derby at odds of 40/1. He was a consistent performer in top class races, but certainly inferior to his contemporaries Orme and La Fleche. Sir Hugo was a big, "very-finely made"chestnut horse with a white blaze, bred by his owner Orlando Bridgeman, 3rd Earl of Bradford. The colt was sent to the Earl’s private establishment at Weston Park in Shropshire where he was trained by Tom Wadlow.

Sir Hugo’s sire Wisdom, who died in 1893, was a failure as a racehorse but became a highly successful stallion, siring good horses such as Love Wisely (Ascot Gold Cup), La Sagesse (Oaks) and Surefoot (2000 Guineas, Eclipse Stakes). His dam Manouevre was a good stayer who was placed in the St Leger. Apart from Sir Hugo, the best of her progeny was the mare Flying Column, a leading steeplechaser.

Artist biography

Sporting painter, is generally thought to have been born in the parish of St George's, Doncaster, on 21 June 1815, the eldest son of John Frederick Herring senior and Ann Harris, and to have been baptized on 22 October 1815. However, another baptism is recorded: of John Frederick Herring junior and his sister Sarah Herring on 22 May 1821; the date of birth of the former is undecipherable. It seems probable that the first child baptized John Frederick Herring junior died and that the second was born between 1816 and 1821. Herring junior was still with his parents when they left Doncaster for Newmarket; he lived in Cambridgeshire for the rest of his life. He married Catherine Augusta (Kate) Rolfe (1828–1928), herself an artist and sister of A. F. Rolfe, who collaborated with Herring senior. She exhibited one picture at the Royal Academy and a second at the British Institution. He was not on good terms with his father; of all his surviving children, J. F. Herring junior was the only one not to be mentioned in his father's will.

Herring painted the same subjects and very much in the style of his father, in both oil and watercolour. His pictures were, however, inferior; they lacked the firmness and confidence of his father's composition and contained too much finicky detail. Of all sporting artists the problem of attribution is probably greater with the Herrings than any others. Herring senior often made a number of copies of a popular painting, some unsigned; there were many forgeries of his work, both in his lifetime and in the twentieth century, and signatures of father and son are often confused. Herring junior sometimes signed his work J. Fred. Herring, sometimes J. F. Herring, and less often J. F. Herring junior. He exhibited fifteen paintings at the Royal Academy and thirty-five of his works were reproduced in the Sporting Magazine. Herring junior died on 6 March 1907. Examples of his work are in the British Sporting Art Trust Gallery, Newmarket.

It has been stated in a number of recent reference books that Herring, Sr.’s first child was named John Frederick Herring, Jr. and was born on June 21, 1815 and baptized on October 22, 1815. However another child was born in 1820 and also named John Frederick Herring, Jr. (baptized in 1821). The assumption is that the first Herring child died and the second, born in 1820, is the artist we know of today. 

It is no surprise that Herring, Jr. developed a love for painting – a passion that was also shared by his brothers Charles and Benjamin. Three of Herring, Sr.’s four sons became artists and painted in the same style as their father – often collaborating on a single painting. In the years after 1836, Herring, Sr., feeling threatened by Herring, Jr.’s abilities and growing popularity, began incorporating the ‘SR’ at the end of his signature. Herring, Jr. continued to paint, in the tradition of his father, sporting and animal pictures, however as his artistic prowess developed his style changed – loosening his brushwork and widening his views. The placement of farm animals at the banks of a stream or in a farmyard were characteristic of his work. Herring, Jr. married Kate Rolfe, an artist herself and the daughter of Alexander Rolfe, the English angling and sporting artist. Herring, Jr. would, at times, collaborate with his father-in-law, as well as other artists - painting the animals in their works. During his lifetime Herring exhibited at all the major exhibition halls including the Royal Academy, where he exhibited: The Farm – Autumn (1863), Farm-yard (1864), Watering the Team (1869), The Homestead (1871) and A Farm yard (1872) among others.

Robert Fountain  DNB