Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Trained the Tetrarch, the Greatest Thoroughbred of the 20th Century: Henry Seymour “Atty” Persse (1869-1960)

The foal was chestnut with black patches, and his owner, Edward Kennedy of County Kildare, hoped that the newborn horse he had named The Tetrarch would bring back the Herod line of thoroughbred champions.  As months went by the foal’s black patches turned grey with white splotches, and the young horse did not seem to be living up to the hopes of his owner.  The Tetrarch had unusual coloring, an unusual build, and an unorthodox running style.  Several horsemen dismissed him before he was discovered by Atty Perrse.

Henry Seymour “Atty” Persse had trained The Tetrarch’s half-sister Nicola and decided to buy the chestnut colt from Kennedy for 1,300 guineas.  Over the months The Tetrarch’s long legs, which had first been seen by many as a liability, had become the source of speed that the Irish trainers had never before seen. The famous jockey Stephen Donghue would say, “To be on him was like riding a creature that combined the power of an elephant with the speed of a greyhound.”  The horse that had been previously been called “The Rocking Horse” was now referred to as “The Spotted Wonder.”

The Tetrarch’s racing success as a two year old was unprecedented and has never been matched.  As a two-year old he won the Maiden Plate at Newmarket, the Woodcote Stakes, the Coventry Stakes, the National Breeders Produce Stakes, the Rous Memorial Stakes, the Champion Breeders Foal Stakes and the Champagne Stakes.  He won all seven races in which he was entered.   The Tetrarch won six of those races easily, simply blowing away the competition.  The only challenge came at the National Breeders Produce Stakes where, despite a mix-up at the start that left him four or five lengths back, he managed to win by a nose.   Atty Persse said “I don’t think that he would ever have been beaten, over any distance.  He was a freak and there will never be another like him.”  After the Champagne Stakes The Tetrarch rapped himself badly on his off-fore fetlock joint, and he spent the winter that spanned 1913 and 1914 recovering.    Early in the spring of 1914 he rapped the joint again, and his racing career was over.

The Tetrarch ended his racing career undefeated and began a stud career that was marked by quality rather than quantity.  The champion expressed very little interest in mares and only sired 130 foals.  To his progeny he transmitted both stamina and speed, although not necessarily at the same time. Out of the 130 foals, 80 were winners, and The Tetrarch was named Champion Sire of 1919.    The Tetrarch died at Ballylinch in 1935 at the age of twenty-four.

The Tetrarch was lauded for his greatness during his time, and after his death his legend continued to grow.  Although there are questions whether he would have continued to dominate the competition as a three-year-old or over longer distances, the United Kingdom’s National Horseracing Museum called the Tetrarch a “phenomenon” and named him Britain’s two-year-old of the century.  The American National Sporting Library’s Thoroughbred Heritage website says he was “probably the greatest two-year-old of all time” and “possibly the greatest runner ever.”  He is an ancestor of both Seattle Slew and Secretariat, and countless other legendary thoroughbreds.

Atty Persse was in his early forties, an experienced rider and trainer, when he bought The Tetrarch in 1911.  He had been a very successful amateur rider under National Hunt rules and a Master of Foxhounds in Ireland.  As a horse trainer he was known as a stern man, and it was said that “woe betide the stable lad who ‘blabbed’ about a horse’s prospects."   The fact that he was able to keep a horse’s potential a secret is proven by the fact that The Tetrarch, maybe the greatest runner ever, entered his first race at 5 to 1 odds.

Henry Seymour Persse, the second son of Henry Sadlier Persse, was born at County Rahoon, Ireland, on the 17th of June, 1869.  Although he came from a long and distinguished line of equestrians, it was widely thought that he would one day devote his attentions and efforts to running the Persse distillery, which at the time was the largest whiskey manufacturer in the west of Ireland.  At the age of 20 he matriculated to Brasenose College, Oxford.  After leaving the university, he embarked on a career that would take him to America, where he found success as a cross-country rider, and then to England where his exploits would make him a legendary figure in the history of Irish and British horseracing.

Persse would stay active in the horse racing game until his retirement in 1953, when he was eighty-four years old.    He lived until 1960, and is still regarded in Irish and Britsh horseracing circles as an icon of a golden age.


Adam Lowe Martin (son of) - Allen Lowe Martin - Margaret Persse (daughter of) - Edwin Theophilus Persse (son of) - Dudley Persse - Theophilus Blakeney Persse - Henry Stratford Persse (father of) - Matilda "Mattie" Persse (mother of ) - Henry Sadleir Persse (father of) - Henry Seymour "Atty" Persse


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  17. Jean Cooper MoranJuly 11, 2015 at 7:49 AM

    Dear Adam

    I am in the UK, and am writing a play "A Stockbridge Scandal" which will be played in 2016 in Hampshire and will feature Atty Pearse and will also have mention of "Tetrarch". Your blog is informative, clear and has an attractive style. May I have your permission to use some of the information in your blog for my playscript? You would be credited of course. I am based in Houghton, near Stockbridge, Hants.

    Many thanks for a superb piece of history
    Yours sincerely
    Jean Cooper Moran