A brief history of jockey’s colours

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A brief history of jockey’s colours

It is undeniable that the jockey’s jacket or blouse, worn only during horseracing, is an inseparable part of the mystique of this Sport of Kings, and indeed it is most picturesque. Evolution has been slow from the first appearance of the racing blouse, but a beautiful tradition has developed at the same time – workmanship, materials, forms and colours, even things whimsical adorning it.

At first, owners’ horses ran without any special decoration appearing in their riders’ clothes. Most wore the classic red or blue ‘chemise’, along with a black cap on the head. Eventually, coinciding with the arrival of rules about the amount of weight to be carried on the horse’s back,, and the increasing number of participants, it was found necessary to insist on recognizable ‘colours’ being worn while racing.

The material used had to be light and comfortable, enabling the rider to move in it freely. It had to be of virtually no weight, because of the new rules. It should be flexible because of a jockey’s need to lean forward encouraging his mount; he must be able to use the whip etc., so among the materials chosen were silk (for the richer owners) which gave distinction as much to the owner’s colours as to the jockey himself: Nylon (after it had been invented), is economical and widely used, and fine wool, used more in races with obstacles such as jumps, where jockey weight was less important and where temperatures might be lower, especially in England and France.

In addition, horse and rider should be distinguishable from the rest, in full view of the owner, judges and the public, at the Finishing Post just as much as the Start. Owners therefore began to give riders jackets with easily indentifiable colours.

Thus, in the last stages of the eighteenth century, racing colours emerged, for both blouse and cap, their their use was not yet an obligation. It was not until 1762 that, by means of the second order made by the newly formed Jockey Club, racing colours were regularized. This order literally says: ‘For the better convenience of distinguishing each horse during a race, and also to avoid disputes that may arise from non-recognition of colours worn by each rider, the gentlemen named below have resolved to ascribe the following colours to the appropriate name, and they will be worn as follows.
‘The Duke of Cumberland: purple
The Duke of Grafton: blue
The Duke of Devonshire: straw colour
The Duke of Ancaster: buff
The Duke of Bridgewater: garter blue
The Marquess of Rockingham: green
Earl Waldegrave: dark red
The Earl of Oxford: purple and white
The Earl of March & Mr. Vernon: white
The Earl of Northumberland: tan (Note from translator; this should be ‘Duke of’ as the Northumberland title was ‘Duke’ from the XV century)
Earl Gower: blue with blue cap
The Viscount Bolingbroke: black
Mr. J. Moore: dark green
Mr. Greville: brown with yellow facings
Mr.Shafto: pink
Lord Grosvenor: orange (Note from translator; the Grosvenors, family name of the Dukes of Westminster), used Orange with a diagonal blue stripe, known as “Bendor”, but the Dukedom was awarded well after the XVIII century)

‘This regulation shall come into force on the second Meeting in October, to be held soon. The Commissioners therefore trust on behalf of the Jockey Club that the above-mentioned gentlemen shall provide their riders on that date with the right clothing.’

Distinction between colours became difficult as more and more owners appeared on the courses with their horses, each needing different colours. To solve the problem different designs were produced though different colours were few and far between. Confusion was therefore still rife despite the initiative, so it was necessary to submit the rules to a more stringent scrutiny. Originally, small details such as the jacket’s collar, sleeves, button and hem had not been considered important enough when the owner came to register his colours. Now these decorative details were accepted as long as sufficient notice was given of their proposed use.

So for the first time the ‘Registry of Racing Colours’ appeared around 1780, though in fact actual racing colours were not properly registered until 1870. These continued to be published in hand-bound books until the last appeared in 1931. Then in 1958, everything was transferred to classified files and kept in registered containers. All colours in the spectrum from black to yellow appeared.

When an owner had chosen and declared a jacket of a particular colour, it became his property, and no-one else could run under it; nor could that owner run under different colours than his own. However, if two to five years passed (the number of years changed according to different regional rules), ownership of the colours could cease, and another owner could obtain those colours as their own.

The Hose Breeding Development Society of Spain was founded in 1841, though it was not properly organised uuntil 1916. Thereafter it published the ‘Guide for Horseracing’, an equestrian year book reflecting Spanish events, as well as statistical data, partners, horse performance etc. From them we can get the only references to the declared colours of the owners. The Official Registry is updated annually, though the data to be found in it is only partial.

Libro Bose de los ColoresWith the departure into exile of King Alfonso XIII and the establishment of the Republic, racing ostensibly declined which forced the Society to start virtually from scratch again after the Civil War, Obviously the number of owners fell dramatically, and almost all the regiments were eliminated, very few remaining in 1940. Following transfer of land to La Zarzuela in the time of General Franco, the Society started to function again slowly and there was a small number of horses/owners. Traditional colours were of Albuquerque, Covarrubias, Figueroa, Ruiz de Castilla, Valderas or Villamejor, together with Villapadierna, Beamonte, Sastrústegui, Blasco, Fierro, Marquis de la Florida and others. In the 1970s appeared the racing colours of Mendoza and Asturias, and other groups also presented themselves.

The Registry reached its peak in 1984 with the development of the Horse Racing Pools.

For those interested in this topic, essential reading is The Bosé Book of Spanish Colours and their History printed in 1985, written by Andrés Ramos and Fernando Zuleta. It can be bought at www.lupaiberica.com

By | 2012-11-19T11:50:05+00:00 November 19th, 2012|World History|0 Comments

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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