Daley, John

1846 - 1912

Newmarket-born jockey Johnny Daley, the son of a waiter, takes his place in racing history as the man who rode Hermit in the Epsom Derby (run on Wednesday, 22nd May 1867 - a piercingly raw and cold day).

A week before the race, Hermit suffered a broken blood vessel running in a trial at Newmarket. His owner, Henry Chaplin, knew he should sensibly withdraw the horse from the Derby, but such was the rivalry between him and the Marquis of Hastings – who stood to lose £120,000 (if Hermit won) that Chaplin allowed the colt to take its place in the line-up.

Henry Custance had originally been booked to ride Hermit, but begged to be allowed to switch mounts because of the uncertainty.

Unseasonal snow swept across the Downs as the jockeys prepared to mount. Captain Machell, Chaplin’s confederate, offered Johnny Daley £300 if he could get Hermit into the first three and £1,000 if he should win. Henry Chaplin promised to give the jockey a further £6,000 if he won.

Chaplin also bet £50,000 that Hermit would beat The Palmer in the race and a further £10,000 that Hermit would beat Marksman. Given the year, the stakes were astronomical.

As the runners thundered round Tattenham Corner, Hermit trailed the field, and his pre-race odds of 66/1 looked miserly. Then Johnny Daley got to work. Under his urgent driving, Hermit suddenly took off. Marksman, under a frantic ride from Jem Grimshaw, seemed sure to win but Hermit stuck his neck out on the line to win.

The Marquis of Hastings was said to have turned ‘whiter than the day’s snow’. In the 2 minutes and 49 seconds in which the race had been run, men had lost and won fortunes. Chaplin won at least £140,000 on the race – his friend Captain Machell a further £63,000.

Later that week, the jockey went on to win the Oaks, riding Hippia.

Returning from Epsom to London, he stayed overnight at Anderton’s Hotel where he told reporters that he had earned £6,000 from his Derby win.

Johnny Daley was born on 7 June, 1846. His father trained on Newmarket Heath for Sir Robert Clifton and young Johnny was riding before he could walk. He got a good education at the local grammar school, but horses were his life.

At the Newmarket Spring meeting in April 1857 Johnny, aged just ten, rode his first winner aboard the 3-y-o Renown who had previously won the Queen’s Plate.

Johnny rode in the Cesarewitch at 4 stone ten pounds and won a race on The Beacon for Harry Hill carrying only 4 stone 7 pounds: thereafter he was in regular demand for lightly weighted runners throughout 1859.

His first Classic ride came on Allington in the Oaks. The filly went on to win the Coronation Stakes at Ascot a week later.

In the same year he won the Stewards Cup by a short head, riding Maid of Kent in a field of 33.

He won the Two Thousand Guineas in 1870 riding Mr Merry’s MacGregor. The horse won by five lengths but the outcome could have been so different: Daley, by then one of the tallest jockeys riding, was struggling with his rocketing weight and was so weak that he could not have ridden a finish had a challenge been forthcoming. MacGregor, starting at 2/5, was unplaced in the Derby.

He often used to boast of the large sums he had been offered to pull MacGregor and of his virtue in declining.

On his retirement as jockey, he went across to Germany to train, and enjoyed great success at the Hoppengarten, Berlin. In 1897, he trained Geranium to win the German St Leger.

John Daley died at his home in Anerley, South London on April 9, 1912.

John had his first ride in public at the age of ten when partnering Renown; later that year at Newmarket, in April, he rode his first winner, Beacon.

John had a younger bother, Robert, who was also a jockey, Robert died of consumption on October 13th, 1874.


Henry Chaplin went on to live life to the full but a dwindling income and mounting debts forced him to sell his home. He was raised to the peerage in 1916 and died in 1923 aged 82.


Hermit went on to be an outstanding success at stud.

John Daley’s classic wins:

The Derby: Hermit (1867)

Two Thousand Guineas: MacGregor (1870)

Free Vintage racing cards here