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The Prince of Wales’s Derby Winner Persimmon with Jack Watts Up, 1897
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The Prince of Wales’s Derby Winner Persimmon with Jack Watts Up, 1897

Measurements: Overall: 46cm (18in) x 56cm (22in)

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Oil on canvas. Portrait of the thoroughbred Persimmon and jockey John Watts in royal racing colours of a purple jacket and scarlet sleeves with gold braiding, with black cap. Signed and dated lower left ‘George Leftwich / Newmarket 1896’.

In early 1897 ‘The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News' reported that George Leftwich ‘has had the honour of sending to Sandringham his portrait of Persimmon with Jack Watts up. We have had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Leftwich’s painting, which is capital.’ Whether the present painting is that same work or a preliminary thereof is the subject of conjecture, but what is certain is the royal win over St. Frusquin in the final furlong of the 1896 Epsom Derby was immensely popular with the general public, and that it inspired a number of equestrian portraits of the three year old colt and his victorious jockey. It was the first royal Derby win since 1788 when the then Prince of Wales (later George IV) triumphed. The 1896 Derby was also notable as the first to be filmed. The Prince of Wales who was not only Persimmon’s owner but also his breeder, was cheered for a full quarter of an hour as he led his winning colt through the crowd after the race.

Persimmon (1893-1908) was foaled by St. Simon out of Perdita, the full brother to Diamond Jubilee, another of the Prince's successful racehorses. In 1896 Persimmon additionally won the St. Leger at Doncaster over the Duke of Westminster’s colt Labrador, and the Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket, beating the Prime Minister’s Sir Visto by two lengths to take the £10,000 prize. Persimmon was trained throughout his career by Richard Marsh at his Egerton House Stable at Newmarket.

 John ‘Jack’ Watts (1861-1902) joined to Marsh’s successful yard as an 16-year old in 1876 and rode his first winner two years later. Marsh’s patrons provided Watts with a string of top class rides including two other Derby winners. Persimmon however remained his best horse. Watts was less fortunate with the Prince’s second Derby winner, Diamond Jubilee, who tried to attack him in the paddock before the 1899 Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot. Watts subsequently gave up the ride on the temperamental Diamond Jubilee. Watts retired in 1900 and set himself up as a trainer at Newmarket but died only two years later at the age of forty-one.

George Robert Leftwich (1846-1929) was the son of a London tea merchant and made his living as an artist specialising in animal subjects.

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