Donovan (horse)

Donovan, by Harrington Bird
Sire Galopin
Grandsire Vedette
Dam Mowerina
Damsire Scottish Chief
Sex Stallion
Foaled 1886
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Colour Bay
Breeder William Cavendish-Bentinck, 6th Duke of Portland
Owner William Cavendish-Bentinck, 6th Duke of Portland
Trainer George Dawson
Record 21: 18-2-1
Earnings £55,443
Major wins
New Stakes (1888)
July Stakes (1888)
Middle Park Plate (1888)
Dewhurst Stakes (1888)
Newmarket Stakes (1889)
Epsom Derby (1889)
Prince of Wales's Stakes (1889)
St Leger (1889)
Lancashire Plate (1889)

Donovan (1886–1905) was a British Thoroughbred racehorse and sire. In a career that lasted from 1888 to 1889 he ran twenty-one times and won eighteen races. He was the leading British two-year-old of 1888 when he won eleven of his thirteen starts. At three Donovan won the Epsom Derby and the St Leger: he failed to win the English Triple Crown owing to a narrow and probably unlucky defeat in the 2000 Guineas. He set a world record[1] by earning a total of £55,443 in win prize money. Donovan was a modest success as a stallion. He died after being injured in an accident in 1905.


Donovan was a dark-coated bay bred by his owner William Cavendish-Bentinck, 6th Duke of Portland[2] a Conservative politician and landowner. Among the Duke’s other horses were the undefeated St. Simon and the 1888 Derby winner Ayrshire. He was sent into training with George Dawson at his Heath House Stable in Newmarket, Suffolk.[3]

Donovan’s sire Galopin was an outstanding racehorse who won the Derby in 1872 and went on to be a successful and influential stallion, being Champion sire on three occasions. Mowerina, Donovan’s dam, won sixteen races and produced several winners including the 1000 Guineas winner Semolina and the colt Raeburn, the only horse ever to defeat Isinglass.[4]

Racing career

1888: two-year-old season

6th Duke of Portland, Donovan's owner and breeder

Donovan appeared in the first week of the flat season to win the Brocklesby Stakes at Lincoln Racecourse "a bit cleverly"[5] by two lengths from the filly Poem. He then took the Portland Stakes at Leicester, winning by three lengths from a field of twenty-four opponents for a prize of £6,000,[6] making the race more valuable than the Derby.[7] In the £5,000 Whitsuntide Plate at Manchester Racecourse, Donovan was set to carry 136 pounds and suffered his first defeat when four lengths second to the well-fancied Chitabob.[8]

In the summer of 1888 Donovan was sent to Royal Ascot where he won the New Stakes from weak opposition. He then won the Home-bred Foal Stakes at Stockbridge and the Hurstbourne Stakes at the same venue on 28 June, winning easily by two lengths.[9] On 3 July at Newmarket he won the July Stakes by half a length from Gold, the only other runner,.[10] At Goodwood later in the month he took the Ham Stakes, but then finished third to El Dorado and Gold in the "Prince of Wales’s Stakes" on "fearfully heavy going."[11]

At Newmarket in autumn, Donovan proved himself the year's best two-year-old with four more wins. He won the Buckenham Stakes and the Hopeful Stakes, before running in the season's most prestigious two-year-old race, the Middle Park Plate on October 10. Carrying top weight of 129 pounds he started 11/8 favourite in a field of fourteen and won in a race record time of 1:15.2,[12] beating Gulliver by two lengths.[13] The unplaced horses included the colt Enthusiast and the filly Minthe, who went on to win the 2000 Guineas and the 1000 Guineas respectively. Up to this point, all his races had been over five or six furlongs but on his final start of the year he moved up to seven furlongs for the first time and added the Dewhurst Stakes, giving ten pounds to Enthusiast and winning "in a canter".[14]

He ended the season as the "acknowledged Champion" having won eleven of his thirteen starts against the best available opposition and earning a record £16,487. He was compared in the press to previous outstanding two-year-olds such as Thormanby and The Bard.[11] It was also pointed out that in easily winning the Dewhurst Stakes, he had emulated the achievement of Ormonde and Kisber, both of whom went on to win the Derby.[15] Donovan went into the winter as 3/1 favourite for the Epsom race, despite concerns about a perceived lack of stamina in his pedigree.[16]

1889: three-year-old season


On his three-year-old debut, Donovan won a "monster" prize of £12,000[17] in the "Prince of Wales's Stakes" at Leicester on April 6. He started at odds of 8/13 and took the lead two furlongs out to win "in the commonest of canters"[18] by two lengths from Pioneer with Minthe four lengths further back in third. The Duke of Portland donated £1,000 of his winnings to the local hospital.[19] The Prince of Wales himself was in attendance, despite a reported assassination threat.[20]

In the 2000 Guineas on May 1 Donovan started 20/85 favourite in a field of nine. Ridden by Fred Barrett, he raced prominently and took the lead soon after half way and turned back a challenge from Pioneer, but was overtaken by Enthusiast who raced down the centre of the course. Donovan ran on again and almost caught Enthusiast but failed by a head after a "magnificent race'" with Pioneer third.[21] It was suggested that Barrett had regarded Pioneer as his only danger and had ignored the challenge of Enthusiast until it was too late for an effective response.[22] Despite his defeat he remained a strong favourite for the Derby, being offered at odds of 2/1.[23]

In the Newmarket Stakes over ten furlongs on 22 May Donovan "very easily"[24] defeated his stable companion The Turcophone, with Laureate third and Enthusiast fourth, leading to his price for the Derby shortening to 4/5.[25]


At Epsom on June 5, Donovan (who arrived at the course with a security entourage of detectives and police constables)[26] started 8/11 against twelve opponents, including The Turcophone who was running as a pacemaker. The race took place in "glorious weather" in front of a very large crowd which included the Prince and Princess of Wales.[27] As in his previous races in 1889, Donovan was taken directly to the start to be saddled instead of appearing in the paddock and parading with the other runners: the Duke explained that this was because of the colt's nervous or "fidgetty"[28] temperament. After a short delay caused by false starts, the race got under way with The Turcophone setting a strong pace, while Tommy Loates settled Donovan in fourth place. Loates sent the favourite into the lead early in the straight as the pacemaker dropped away, and it became clear that Miguel was his only real challenger. Donovan, however, was never in danger of defeat and won easily by one and a half lengths from Miguel, with El Dorado six lengths back in third.[29] The "lucky"[30] Duke's memorable summer continued when he was married to Winifred Dallas-Yorke six days later.[31]

Donovan was then sent to Royal Ascot for the Prince of Wales's Stakes over thirteen furlongs in which he started at odds of 2/9 despite carrying top weight of 131 pounds. He took the lead in the straight and won easily by one and a half lengths from Royal Star with Enthusiast third.[32]


Donovan returned on September 11 for the St Leger at Doncaster. He started 8/13 in a field of thirteen with his main rival expected to be the Yorkshire-trained Chitabob[33] the colt who had defeated Donovan in June 1888, and who had recently returned after training problems. Ridden by Barrett, Donovan was always prominent and moved into the lead early in the straight. Chitabob emerged as a challenger, but quickly dropped back, leaving Donovan to win by three lengths with Miguel, as at Epsom, finishing second.[34]

Having proved himself over an extended fourteen furlongs at Doncaster, Donovan was brought back to seven furlongs ten days later for the £12,000 Lancashire Plate at Manchester Racecourse. On this occasion, his main danger was expected to come from the outstanding two-year-old Alicante who had won the Prix de la Salamandre and the Prix de la Forêt, although the field also included the Classic-winning fillies Minthe and Seabreeze as well as Chitabob and Enthusiast. Chitabob attempted to make all the running, but Barrett was always prominent on Donovan before taking the lead inside the final furlong and winning by two lengths.[35] The win took the lifetime earnings of "Duke Donovan" as he was being called, to £54,694, and those of his owner to almost £100,000 for the season.[36] On his final start of the year he returned to Newmarket in October and won the Royal Stakes from Minthe, the only horse to oppose him.[37]

Donovan was kept in training at four with the Ascot Gold Cup as his target,[38] but he broke down and was retired in June without running another race.[39]

Assessment and earnings

Donovan was considered by some to be a fortunate horse who had emerged in a generation with few other top class performers,[40] but by the end of the three-year-old season he was acknowledged by others as "a really great racehorse."[41]

Donovan in 1903.

Having earned £16,487 as a two-year-old, Donovan added a further £38,666[42] in 1889, to give a career total of £55,153, by far the largest up to that time.

Stud career

Donovan retired to the Rufford Abbey stud where he stood at a fee of 200 guineas before moving to the Worksop Manor Stud. Although he sired some good horses he failed to live up to expectations and his fee eventually dropped to 25 guineas.[43] His best offspring was the colt Velasquez who ran second to Galtee More in the Derby and won the Eclipse Stakes. Donovan was euthanized at Worksop Manor on February 1905 after sustaining serious injuries when he collided with a tree in his paddock. He was buried at the Duke of Portland’s Welbeck Abbey Stud.[4]


Pedigree of Donovan (GB), bay, 1886[44]
Galopin (GB)
Voltigeur Voltaire
Martha Lynn
Mrs Ridgway Birdcatcher
Nan Darrell
Flying Duchess
The Flying Dutchman Bay Middleton
Merope Voltaire
Juniper mare
Mowerina (GB)
Scottish Chief
Lord of the Isles Touchstone
Fair Helen
Miss Ann The Little Known
Bay Missy
Stockwell The Baron
Go-Ahead Melbourne
Mowerina (1843)(Family: 7)


  1. ^
  2. ^ "6th Duke of Portland". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  3. ^ "George Dawson". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  4. ^ a b "Donovan". 1905-02-01. Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  5. ^ "LINCOLN SPRING MEETING". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  6. ^ "LEICESTER SPRING". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  7. ^ "A TREASURE OF A HORSE". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  8. ^ "TOPICS OF THE DAY. (From Our Special Correspondent.)". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  9. ^ "STOCKBRIDGE". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  10. ^ "SPORTING NOTES FROM AUSTRALIA". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  11. ^ a b "THE CRACK ENGLISH TWO-YEAR-OLD". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  12. ^ "IN A NUTSHELL". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  13. ^ "MIDDLE PARK PLATE". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  14. ^ "RACING IN ENGLAND". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  15. ^ "TURF GOSSIP". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  16. ^ "Gossip from the Great Village". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  17. ^ "Sporting". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  18. ^ "OUR AUCKLAND SPORTING LETTER". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  19. ^ "Papers Past — Otago Witness — 27 June 1889 — IN A NUTSHELL". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  20. ^ "LEICESTER SPRING MEETING". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  21. ^ "RACING IN ENGLAND". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  22. ^ "TALK OF THE DAY". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  23. ^ "ENGLAND". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  24. ^ "NEWMARKET SECOND SPRING. Tuesday, May 21. THE NEW MARKETS". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  25. ^ "DERBY BETTING". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  26. ^ "THE EPSOM DERBY". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  27. ^ "THE RACE FOR THE DERBY". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  28. ^ "IN A NUTSHELL". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  29. ^ "RACING IN ENGLAND". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  30. ^ "ENGLISH SPORTING NOTES". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  31. ^ "A SPORTING PEER'S WEDDING". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  32. ^ "RACING IN ENGLAND". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  33. ^ "THE DONCASTER ST. LEGER". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  34. ^ "RACING IN ENGLAND". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  35. ^ "RACING IN ENGLAND". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  36. ^ "DUKE DONOVAN". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  37. ^ Sydenham Dixon. "From Gladiateur to Persimmon : turf memories of thirty years". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  38. ^ "ENGLISH RACING ITEMS". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  39. ^ "Papers Past — Thames Star — 14 June 1890 — SPORTING". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  40. ^ "TALK OF THE DAY". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  41. ^ "A Wonderful Racer". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  42. ^ "ENGLISH STATISTICS". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  43. ^ "SPORT AND PASTIME. The Turf". 1905-02-11. Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  44. ^ "DONOVAN, THE EPSOM DEEBY WINNER". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.