Skyscraper (horse)

Skyscraper as painted by George Stubbs, c. 1790.
Sire Highflyer
Grandsire Herod
Dam Everlasting
Damsire Eclipse
Sex Stallion
Foaled 1786
Country Kingdom of Great Britain
Colour Bay
Breeder Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford
Owner Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford
Record 24: 14-7-1
Major wins
Epsom Derby (1789)

Skyscraper (1786–1807) was a British Thoroughbred racehorse. One of many notable offspring of the great Highflyer, Skyscraper is best known for winning the Epsom Derby of 1789. He competed until he was seven, when after losing two races he was retired to stud.


Skyscraper's sire, Highflyer

Skyscraper was bred at Woburn Abbey by the 5th Duke of Bedford, who was only twenty-one when the horse was foaled. Bedford went on to become a notable breeder, producing two other winners of the Derby, Eager (1788), and the nameless Colt by Fidget (1794), as well as two Oaks winners, Portia (1788) and Caelia (1790). The Duke's turf career was ended by his death in 1802.[1]

Skyscraper's sire was Highflyer (1774), an undefeated racehorse who became the greatest stallion of his time. His grandsire was the noble Herod, the foundation sire through whom Skyscraper was in the direct male line of the Byerley Turk, while his granddam was Rachel, whose grandsire was the Godolphin Arabian.[2]

Skyscraper's dam was Everlasting, a mare by the unbeaten Eclipse.[2] He was a half brother to the mare Sister to Goldfinch (1785), the third dam of Hannibal, who won the Derby in 1804.[1]


Skyscraper was given his name, which is thought to refer to his height, by the Duke of Bedford's racing friend Ralph Dutton.[1] The name also echoes that of his sire, Highflyer.

The word 'skyscraper' was first applied to a building when it was used to describe the Home Insurance Building, Chicago, completed in 1884.[3] However, the word had an earlier nautical meaning, referring to an upper sail of a tall ship.[4]

Racing career

1789: three-year-old season

At the Newmarket Craven meeting of 1789, Skyscraper collected 240 guineas in forfeits and also won a five hundred guineas race for colts and fillies, beating Maid of all Work. At the Newmarket Second Spring meeting he won the Prince's Stakes (one hundred guineas each), beating Earl Grosvenor's Brother to Skylark, Lord Clermont's Pipator, and six others.[1]

At Epsom on 28 May he won the Derby, beating a field of ten others, including Sir George, Brother to Skylark, and the Prince of Wales's Soujah ul Dowlah. He was ridden to victory by Sam Chifney the elder.[5] While at Epsom he also collected seventy guineas from the Earl of Egremont's three-year-old filly Tag, on whom Sam Chiffney won that year's Oaks.[1][6]

At Newmarket on 1 October the horse collected a 250 guineas forfeit (for a 500 guineas match) from Magpie as well as sixty guineas from Lord Egremont's Calomel. The next day he won eight hundred guineas, beating Skylark, Competitor, and nine others. Also at Newmarket he gained another £50, beating eight including Egbert, and collected 110 guineas from Sister to Lethe and 130 guineas from Braggadocio.[1]

1790: four-year-old season

At the Newmarket first Spring meeting Skyscraper won the Jockey Stakes (100 guineas each), beating Skylark, Pipator, and Pickle. At the Newmarket second Spring meeting he took on Sir Charles Bunbury's Glaucus in a match for one thousand guineas and was beaten. On 1 October he won the Subscription (140 guineas) at Newmarket, beating Escape (1785), but in a match for seventy guineas at the same meeting he was defeated by Skylark. The next day in a sixty guineas purse he finished fourth, the winner being Seagull.[1]

1791: five-year-old season

Skyscraper again had his first outing at the Newmarket first Spring meeting, with mixed success. He won the 1500 guineas, beating fifteen other horses, but in a Sweepstakes was third and last, being beaten by Spear (1786) and Shovel (1785). At the second Spring meeting he collected a forfeit of 150 guineas (for a 300 guineas each sweepstakes) from four other horses, including the Prince of Wales's Highflyer colt and a Pot-8-os colt. However, in a field of six for a Sweepstakes of fifty guineas each at the same meeting, he was runner-up to the Earl of Clermont's Tally-Ho.[1]

1792: six-year-old season

Skyscraper began the 1792 flat season with disappointments, but finished it strongly. In a handicap of fifty guineas each at the Newmarket Craven meeting, he finished second to his younger half-sister Thalia. At the first Spring meeting he took on Mr Bullock's Buzzard (1787) in a match for 200 guineas and was beaten, but at the meeting he went on to win the King's Plate, beating Coriander, Gustavus (1785) and Toby, the last another of his half-brothers by Highflyer. At Stockbridge he won the Prince of Wales's Plate, again meeting Thalia and beating her in both heats. At Winchester he won the King's Plate, twice beating Cropper. At Lewes he was runner-up for the King's Plate to the Earl of Egremont's Precipitate (1787), and at Derby he walked over in a race for fifty guineas. At Newmarket on 1 October he won yet another King's Plate, beating Skylark, and the next day won a race for sixty guineas, beating Skylark again.[1]

1793: seven-year-old season

The horse won no races in 1793. At the Newmarket first Spring meeting he was runner-up for the King's Plate to Coriander, one of the horses he had beaten in the same race the year before. At the second Spring meeting he finished fifth and last in the Jockey Club Plate. He was then retired to stud.[1]


After his last race Skyscraper was retired to Woburn, where he stood as a stallion priced at five guineas a nomination. After the death of his owner in 1802, he was transferred to a stud at Tytherton, near Chippenham, where his fee was increased to ten guineas.[1]

His offspring included Skyrocket (1797), who won the July Stakes, and Cobbea (1802), the dam, by Sorcerer, of Sorcery (1808), an Oaks winner. Sorcery was the dam of Cadland (1825), who won both the Derby and the Two Thousand Guineas. Skyscraper was also the damsire of Bobadil (1813), who became an important sire in Ireland.[1]


After he won the Derby, Skyscraper's portrait was painted by J. N. Sartorius, and this was later engraved in mezzotint by Houston.[6]


Pedigree of Skyscraper[2]
b. 1774
b. 1758
ch. 1743
br. 1750
b. 1763
Godolphin Arabian
Little Hartley mare
Regulus mare
Regulus (by Godolphin Arabian)
Mare by Soreheels
b. 1764
br. 1750
Ruby mare
b. 1749
Mother Western
Hyaena Snap
Sister to Slipby
Miss Belsea Regulus
Bartlett's Childers mare


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Skyscraper at, accessed 7 February 2012
  2. ^ a b c Staff. "Skyscraper 5x Pedigree". Pedigree Query. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 
  3. ^ Chrysti M. Smith, Verbivore's Feast: Second Course: More Word & Phrase Origins (Farcountry Press, 2006, ISBN 1-56037-402-0, ISBN 978-1560374022) p. 289, accessed 19 January 2012: "The word skyscraper, in its architectural context, was first applied to the Home Insurance Building, completed in Chicago in 1885."
  4. ^ Bill Sherk, 500 Years of New Words (Dundurn Press, 2004, ISBN 1550025252), p. 194
  5. ^ Derby Winners 1780–1851 at, accessed 8 February 2012
  6. ^ a b Country life, vol. 118 (1955), pp. 330–331: "Skyscraper, owned by the Duke of Bedford, won the Derby in 1789, and his jockey was Sam Chiffney the elder, who also won the Oaks the same year on Lord Egremont's Tagg. There is a mezzotint by Houston after a painting of Skycraper by J. N. Sartorius."
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