John Pratt (1740-1829)
John Pratt is best remembered for being painted by George Stubbs on Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath. A younger relative of John Pratt of Askrigg in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire, he was the most successful jockey of his day. While Pratt senior distinguished himself as both breeder and rider, moreover as the first non-aristocratic member of the Jockey Club, Pratt junior excelled above all on the turf. In 1844 John Orton thus wrote:
Mr. John Pratt was many years esteemed, and ranked as the most eminent rider of his day, and enjoyed the patronage of Lord Grosvenor, Sir John Moore, Sir H. Bunbury, Bart., Sir James Lowther, Bart., Mr. Vernon, & c., & c., in whose services his exertions and talents realised a competency, upon which he retired from the turf many years before his death, which took place at Newmarket, on the 5th of February, 1829, at the advanced age of 89, being at that time the oldest man connected with Newmarket.
[J. Orton, Turf Annals of York and Doncaster, 1844]
That Pratt junior rode for different owners is also apparent from the different silks he was depicted in. Shown in a red jacket and black cap in Gimcrack with John Pratt up on Newmarket Heath, he can be identified as having raced for William Wildman, the Smithfield sheep salesman and owner of Gimcrack from late 1764 to April 1765. Indeed, the Historical List of Horse-Matches Run and of Plates and Prizes Run for in Great Britain and Ireland in the Year 1765 duly records Gimcrack’s victory for Wildman on the Round Course at Newmarket on 9 April 1765:
The entry provides us with further details, namely that the prize money was £50, approximately twice the annual salary of a coachman in 1765, and that the race was run by four four-year-olds over one four-mile heat. Recording the names of the owners and horses, we also learn that two of the mounts belonged to titled owners and the other two to non-titled owners. Last but not least, the entry allows us to date Gimcrack with John Pratt up on Newmarket Heath to c. 1765 and to assume that the painting was commissioned by Wildman. The latter is reinforced by the fact that the painting was sold under his name at Christie’s on 21 January 1787.
A later painting by Stubbs, entitled Laura with a Jockey and Stable-Lad and dated to 1771, portrays Pratt junior after yet another Newmarket success. Shown in a pea-green jacket and cap, he can be identified as having raced for John Fitzpatrick, 2nd Earl of Upper Ossory. The painting remains in private ownership today.
A feature common to racecourses since the late eighteenth century, coloured silks were a recent innovation when Gimcrack with John Pratt up on Newmarket Heath and Laura with a Jockey and Stable-Lad were painted. Introduced when an ever larger number of horses came to be raced on English racecourses, their introduction relates both to the democratization and the professionalization of horseracing in eighteenth-century England. Once the preserve of the aristocracy, the sport had came to attract an ever wider public and had come to see an ever wider range of owners enter their horses for races. As the number of horses increased on the turf, races were no longer run in matches, but in larger fields. Soon professional jockeys replaced amateur riders. To help identify the respective competitors on the turf, the recently established Jockey Club stipulated on 4 October 1762 that riders had to wear the colours of their patrons, usually the owners of their mounts, and that these had to be recorded with the Jockey Club. The Historical List of Horse-Matches Run and of Plates and Prizes Run for in Great Britain and Ireland in the Year 1765 thus states:
It was in these years also that the Jockey Club introduced other rules to ensure that races were run as fairly as possible. An ever larger number of people interested and involved in horseracing, it perhaps is not surprising that Michael Huggins observes in Flat Racing and British Society, 1790-1914 that ‘racecourses were perhaps the greatest force for democracy in Georgian England’.
The author expresses her thanks to Alan Grundy and Graham Snelling at the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket for generous assistance with this entry.
H. Bracegirdle, A Concise History of British Horseracing, National Horseracing Museum, 1999
J. Egerton, ‘Racing to Save a Stubbs Masterpiece’ in Country Life, 13 May 1982, pp. 1397-1398, reprinted in National Art Collections Fund Review, 1983, pp. 96-97
J. Egerton, George Stubbs, Painter: Catalogue Raisonné, Yale University Press, 2007
J. Fairfax-Blakeborough, Northern Turf History, vol. 3 (York and Doncaster Races – with full records of Ebor Handicap, Gimcrack Stakes and St. Ledger), Allen & Co, 1950
R. Heber, An Historical List of Horse-Matches Run and of Plates and Prizes Run for in Great Britain and Ireland in the Year 1765, Chandler, 1766
M. Huggins, Flat Racing and British Society, 1790-1914: A Social and Economic History, Frank Cass, 2000
C. Lennox-Boyd, George Stubbs: The Complete Engraved Works, Sotheby’s Publications, 1989
J. Orton, Turf Annals of York and Doncaster, 1844
J. Tyrrel, Running Racing: The Jockey Club Years since 1750, Quiller, 1997
M. Warner and R. Blake (eds.), Stubbs and the Horse, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth and National Gallery, London (exh. cat.) in conjunction with Yale University Press, 2004
R. Woudhuysen-Keller, ‘George Stubbs, Gimcrack with John Pratt up on Newmarket Heath’ in The Hamilton Kerr Institute Bulletin, no. 1, 1988, pp. 126-127
There is also an entry for Stubbs' "Gimcrack with John Pratt..." on the eGuide, the Fitzwilliam's handheld electronic guide covering a range of selected exhibits from the collection available for hire from the Courtyard Entrance to the Museum
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