Before football, there was racing. What started out as the private amusement of a few aristocrats, when two young blades might challenge their best horses to a sprint, had, by the early nineteenth century, become part of a number of rakish activities that characterised the chaotic years of the pre-police age during the Regency. In Gentlemen and Blackguards, Nick Foulkes has taken the Derby of 1844, and the ensuing legal dispute over its outcome, as the focal point of a book that charts how racing spawned a gambling mania that swept through all levels of society.
As soon as the idea was born of pitching more than two horses against each other, each owner chipping in a stake that was pooled to form a prize, money was wedded to racing. When George Stubbs was commissioned to paint Whistlejacket for the Marquess of Rockingham in