Paul Clarke reveals how Mayo tenants were saved from starvation by a famous Chester Cup victory


The logistical challenge of transporting a horse from Mayo to England 178 years ago is difficult to comprehend, but to follow the arduous journey with victory in one of the major long-distance flat handicaps in the British racing calendar gives added significance to the undertaking.

Coranna’s win in the 1846 Chester Cup garnered rich pickings for the winner’s connections through prizemoney and the hefty pay-out from the bookmakers, but there was much more to the success than the average triumph enjoyed by an Irish raider across the water.

The Great Famine had started to inflict its brutality on millions of people who couldn’t afford to put food on the table and the benevolence of Coranna’s owner helped to alleviate the suffering of a fortunate few.
George Henry Moore was among the privileged people who were never likely to go hungry, but his own comfort didn’t insulate him from a genuine feeling of empathy for those deprived of the most basic requirement for life. He was part of a family which wanted for nothing, yet he possessed a certain vulnerability which had the potential to create untold difficulties.

Moore Hall estate covered 12,000 acres and George Henry and his brother Augustus developed a passionate interest in horses there. George Henry was active in politics too and served as an MP for Mayo on occasions. He was a founder of the Independent Irish Party and, indicative of his caring nature, he was also a co-founder of the Tenant Right League of the Catholic Defence Association.
George Henry also travelled widely, but his thoughts were never far from race horses and the gambling they attract. He built up debts which needed settling and all the land in the world won’t pay the bills instantly. He required cash and that’s where the raid on Chester came to his rescue and also saved lives back in Mayo.

The brothers established a successful breeding and training establishment at Moore Hall, but tragedy struck in 1845 when Augustus died following a fall while riding in a race. It has been widely reported that the race in question was the Aintree Grand National, but it wasn’t.

Nearby Hooton Park was the venue, it was two days after the National and the horse from which Augustus fell was ‘Mickey Free’.

George Henry’s appetite for racing diminished subsequently and the Moore Hall operation was wound down. However, he was determined to go out on a high and chose the Chester Cup over two miles, two furlongs on Wednesday, May 6, 1846, as the target for the coup.

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