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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

30,000 flocked to Worcester to watch 77-round bare-knuckle thriller

Return of stable lads' boxing rejoins the noble art and the Sport of Kings

Unowhatimeanharry: former world heavyweight champion Frank Bruno enjoys a day's racing at Doncaster
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1 Stable lads' boxing returns to the sporting arena after an absence of 18 years with a charity event in aid of Racing Welfare to be held at Goffs' Doncaster Sales complex on Saturday, March 17. The William Hill-sponsored bill has been rebranded the Racing Staff Boxing Night, to include "men and women who work in all areas of the racing industry, including stable and stud staff, stalls handlers and racecourse staff as well as jockeys and trainers".

2 Dwindling numbers of fight-minded lads and a rising percentage of female stable staff contributed to the demise of the tournament, but in its heyday the bouts were fiercely contested. Steve 'Yarmy' Dyble and Dickie McCabe, Shergar's groom, landed 19 titles between them, while Colin Dunne, later a world champion, also began his career in lads' bouts. Jockey Franny Norton was an eight-time champion.

Franny Norton: eight-time stable lads boxing champion

3 Sir Mark Prescott, as well as being a Newmarket racehorse trainer and devotee of bullfighting and cock fighting, is also an amateur boxing referee.

4 One of the earliest links between boxing and racing came on January 7, 1824, when a bare-knuckle contest between Tom Spring and Jack Langan drew a crowd of 30,000 people to Worcester racecourse. With pay-per-view not an option in the 19th century, the makeshift grandstands were packed to overflowing and one of them collapsed, killing a spectator. The fight itself was no less brutal, with the contestants fighting amid a bellowing and surging crowd for 77 rounds before Spring finally prevailed over a badly cut and bleeding Langan.

5 The Lowther Stakes, first run in 1946 and contested at York in August by two-year-old fillies, is named after Hugh Lowther, the 5th Earl of Lonsdale, who died in 1944. Lowther, a flamboyant and extravagant Yorkshire racing gentleman who owned the 1922 St Leger winner Royal Lancer, was also known as the Yellow Earl, for his yellow coach and similarly liveried footmen who took him across the course each year at Epsom on Derby day. He was also a founder of the Automobile Association – which explains that organisation's garish branding – and, having been a keen boxer in his youth, was first president of the National Sporting Club in London's Covent Garden and the initiator, in 1909, of the prized Lonsdale belts awarded to British champions to this day. He became a senior steward of the Jockey Club.

6 Jack Dempsey, one of the greatest world heavyweight champions, had his own racing stable and a keen interest in the sport. On October 20, 1920, along with local Olympic rowing champion Jack Kelly, he was photographed with great equine champion Man o' War at Rose Tree Park, Pennsylvania. According to a newspaper report of the time: "Spontaneously as [the] tributes were rendered to the human champions, they were but the overflow from the store of adulation which had been retained for the wonder horse."

7 Many boxing champions have had racehorses named after them, but not all the beasts in question have lived up to the honour. The Brown Bomber (Joe Louis) and Hands Of Stone (Roberto Duran) both failed to register a single win, while Marvellous Marvin (Hagler), The Clones Cyclone (Barry McGuigan) and Hitman Hearns (Tommy Hearns) scored only once in moderate grade, and and the two successes recorded by Louisville Lip (Muhammad Ali) were not in the league of the Thrilla in Manila (the legendary 1975 Ali-Frazier bout that now shares its name with a two-year-old Iffraaj colt trained by Richard Spencer).

8 Pick of the names, though, is Battling Siki, either a French-bred colt who won a Deauville claimer in 1996 under Olivier Peslier, or a light-heavyweight nicknamed the 'Singular Senegalese', who stopped Georges Carpentier in the sixth round in Paris in 1922 to become world champion. Siki – real name Louis Phal – was described as "a boy of the jungle who lived his life as a simple lad, with a savage’s brain, an uncontrollable temper, and a steady thirst for drink . . . whose escapades eventually cost him his life by murder".

9 Rather more up to the task is Teofilo, the dual Group 1-winning champion two-year-old of 2006, now a leading sire, who was named after legendary Cuban amateur boxer Teofilo Stevenson, winner of the heavyweight gold medal at successive Olympics in Munich (1972), Montreal (1976) and Moscow (1980).

Teofilo: two-year-old champion and leading sire is named after three-time Olympic gold medallist Teofilo Stevenson

10 With the Cheltenham Festival in mind, the name of Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle contender Unowhatimeanharry – a son of Sir Harry Lewis – is derived from the catchphrase of former WBC heavyweight champion Frank Bruno, who enjoyed a playful TV relationship with leading boxing commentator and presenter Harry Carpenter.

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He was a boy of the jungle, with a savage’s brain, an uncontrollable temper, and a steady thirst for drink
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