Chifney, William

1784 - 1862

William, born in Newmarket, became one of the most celebrated trainers of his time and it is an oddity of the age that so many of the top trainers and best jockeys then operating finished up penniless. This was to be William’s fate, yet it had all started so promisingly.

Quicker and more intelligent than his two-year-younger brother Sam, William  was intensively trained (by his father) on the management of horses  whilst Sam, the more phlegmatic and resolute, was taught the finer arts of race-riding.

The stout, but handsome Prince of Wales, for whom Will’s father rode, often used to come to their parlour and, sitting one on each knee, would give Will and Sam a bright new guinea.  

When teenagers, they both went to work at the Prince’s Stables, earning an annual salary of eight guineas. Whilst Sam quickly established himself, Will fell into the Prince’s black books – he was charged with assault which, given his connections with the Prince – caused a considerable sensation at the time.

The circumstances bear the telling.

Colonel Leigh, then the manager of the Prince Regent’s stud, had accused Will’s father of foul riding. Will, then a boy, had overheard this remark and, feeling great indignation, had walked up to the Colonel and told him to his face that when he was older he would have his revenge. He began taking boxing lessons and, when a lanky stripling of eighteen, he waited outside the Colonel’s club. As the Colonel arrived, Will stepped out and said “I told you one day I would have my revenge for your ill-treatment of my father – and now the time has come.” He immediately struck Leigh full in the face, knocking him down. Will struck him again  as he lay in the road and, but for the intervention of bystanders, would possibly have killed him, such was his controlled rage. 

The Colonel pressed charges and Will was jailed for six months with hard labour. After his release, the Colonel extended a hand of friendship. Wisely, Will accepted and, incredibly, a firm friendship developed between the two, only severed by the Colonel’s death in 1850.

Sam, rode Wings, the 1823 Oaks winner. It was a wonderful piece of riding but he would never have had the mount but for his brother Will. Wings was a common-looking filly, and its owner wanted her to make the running for his other horse in the race, The Brownie, which was to be ridden by Sam. Will told the owner that, in his opinion, Wings was the better horse and that Sam should ride her, not The Brownie. It was agreed, and Sam rode one of his greatest finishes to win by a head. The Brownie was nowhere.

Poor Will – though he survived his brother Sam by eight years – met with considerable hardship and poverty in his declining age, living on his memories, and little else. On the odd occasion when he could muster together the third-class return fare from London to Newmarket, he would revisit the scenes of his greatest triumphs.  Old-timers would point to the feeble old man wrapped in a well-worn blue cloak and say “That’s old Will Chifney. Sad come-down, ain’t it?”

But, beneath his broad-rimmed hat, Will always carried an air of distinction and breeding. He had the unmistakable stamp of a man who had seen better days.

Will was 78 when he collapsed and died in Pancras Square, off St Pancras Road, on 14th October, 1862. At that time he had been living in the Model Lodging-houses in Pentonville.

In 1841, William Chifney’s house and offices were sold for £4,000 to a Mr Connop, the proprietor of the Hippodrome.

His son William received a commission in the Army: a second son rode for a short time before becoming too heavy to continue.