Conolly, Patrick

1806- 1842


The date: Wednesday May 26th 1841. The weather – warm and sunny, attracting a huge crowd to the Epsom Downs to watch the 62nd Derby. For one unlucky spectator, however, it was to be his last.


Irishman Patrick Conolly had been entrusted to ride the much-fancied Coronation. Backed down from 10/1 to 4/1 just before the off, the horse was expected to run well. Conolly - an even-tempered individual  who was known to be a safe rider who wouldn’t take chances - was just the man to land the gamble.

Shortly after entering the straight, Conolly sent the favourite on to draw away for an easy three-length victory. Then, disaster. An excited crowd mobbed the winner in the unsaddling enclosure. The horse panicked and kicked out. A by-stander took the full force to the face and fell dead.


It was not Conolly’s first visit to the Derby winner’s enclosure – he had taken the race before in 1834 on the highly rated Plenipotentiary. This colt was then widely expected to win that year’s St Leger but when it appeared at Doncaster, people were aghast at its appearance. Conolly reported that that colt felt dead beneath him – security was unacceptably lax at the racecourse stables and rumours quickly spread that the horse had been got at.  And so it proved.  Plenipotentiary could hardly raise a gallop on the way to the start and professional backers rushed to salvage their bets. Despite Conolly’s best efforts, the horse ran abysmally, and Touchstone swept passed it for an easy win.

Though no baptismal entry has been found,  information suggests that Patrick was born in Co. Kildare in 1806, possibly in Naas. His nephew, John Conolly (1858-1896) achieved some fame as a jockey in Ireland.

Around 1817, Patrick was apprenticed to William Cleary who trained horses for the MP Michael Prendergast. Patrick made his debut at the Curragh in 1819, riding Jemmy Gay.

Conolly was rated a better jockey than his brother-in-law Arthur Pavis and, in 1821, he was brought to England from Ireland by a Mr Prendergast. Soon, thanks to Prendergast’s influence, Conolly found himself enjoying the patronage of the Lords Exeter, Chesterfield and Verulam (Hertfordshire) and other prominent men of the turf. Prendergast’s own horses were trained by Henry Neale. Conolly’s career took off when Neale invited him to ride Vaurien For Lord Verulam in the Chelmsford Gold Cup. The horse won, and the foundation of a lasting association between Neale, Verulam and Conolly was formed.


Lord Verulam owned the brilliant Albert, the scintillating winner of its first five races – but the fact that the colt had run so few times boded ominously. In the fashion of the day, horses could be expected to run at least a dozen times per season, yet here was the four-year-old Albert with so few races behind him. The suggestion was that all was not well with the horse - and so it proved.

On the morning of Monday March 7th, 1831, Conolly saddled up Albert to take part in a trial gallop at Newmarket

Heath. Lord Verulam had left his bed early to attend. Hopes were high and all appeared well as Albert led its stable companions at a good pace, then – without warning, and in the words of Conolly – ‘the life of the horse became instantaneously extinct’. Albert suffered a catastrophic and fatal burst blood vessel and died whilst in its stride. Lord Verulam was so moved by this tragedy that he had a memorial plaque (right) erected as a lasting tribute to the horse.


Patrick’s star continued to ascend as between 1831 and 1841 he rode the winners of six Classics. 

In an article dated 1835, the Sporting Magazine said of Patrick….`he has a smile that relates the history of his heart. Long as he has been absent from his country, his accent still adheres to him…and he is not ashamed of it…’

He was destined for greatness, but in the winter of 1841 he fell violently sick. Suffering from what was described as a ‘long and painful illness’, Patrick died at Newmarket on Saturday afternoon, 9th April, 1842. Patrick was buried on the east side of All Saint’s Church close by the east entrance to the church. The headstone of his grave has – like Albert’s plaque – suffered from the effects of time. It is virtually illegible and lies flat.


Patrick Conolly won the 1830 2,000 Guineas (Augustus), the 1830 St Leger (Birmingham), the 1831 1,000 Guineas (Galatine), the 1832 Oaks (Galata), the 1834 Derby (Plenipotentiary and the 1841 Derby on Coronation.