Whilst it is known that the jockey aboard Old Joe was Thomas Skelton, there is debate about the true identity of the man.
On the one hand, some (including most racing historians) identify him as Tommy Skelton, born in Lichfield on 21st November 1856, who served his apprenticeship in Tom Stevens yard at Chilton, Oxfordshire. He was a very lightweight flat race jockey who also rode some National Hunt horses. He is thought to have ridden in 6 Grand Nationals, finishing third on Black Prince in 1885, winning on Old Joe in 1886, he was then runner-up on Savoyard the next year, and was fourth on Ringlet in 1888. He went on to contest the race on two more occasions, being unplaced both times. He would have been 31 when he rode Old Joe and continued to ride until a shooting accident ended his career prematurely, although he did later train for a short period, he died aged just 44 in Kentford, near Newmarket.
However, there is a strongly held family belief, supported by a variety of newspapers on numerous occasions, that the real identity of Tommy Skelton was Tom Tagg, whose professional riding name was Tommy Skelton. He was born in 1868 and rode his first winner at Lichfield racecourse aged just 11. If he was indeed the pilot aboard Old Joe he would have been 18 years old, which is feasible given that Bruce Hobbs later won the 1838 Grand National aboard Battleship aged just 17. Tom Tagg went on to ride in a circus to a ripe old age, and died in 1946 aged 78.
Without making a judgement on who the real Tommy Skelton was, the evidence to support each case is shown below.

Pos. Horse Jockey Owner

This was run on average going and the weather was clear. It took place on 26th March and the time was 10 mins 14 3/5 secs. When Old Joe won the National in record time for owner Johnstone Douglas he is reported to have made his owner £14000, the equivalent in today's terms of just under £1 million. It is further believed that Tommy Skelton received £1000 (equivalent to £70000 in todays money) as a gift from the grateful owner. Indeed Tom was lucky to have picked up the chance ride when his owner could not make the weight of 10st 9 lb.

Old Joe.JPG (146385 bytes)

The picture shown above is of Old Joe, but with owner Johnstone Douglas in the saddle. It was left to professional rider Tom Skelton to guide the winner home. Some believe that Tom Skelton was his professional riding name, but that his real name was Tom Tagg. Thomas Cheshire Tagg was born in 1868 at Newhall, South Derbyshire, son of Thomas Tagg and Elizabeth Cheshire. He rode his first winner in 1879, a flat race at Lichfield, but it was in steeplechasing that he was to make his name. He rode in the Grand National 7 times and, remarkably, he was placed third, first, second and fourth in his first 4 attempts before being unplaced on 3 subsequent attempts. Burgh trainer George Mulcaster acknowledged after the race that Old Joe had shown signs of lameness before the race and that he had considered withdrawing him. Rumour has it that, at one stage in his career, Old Joe had pulled a milkcart.

I am indebted to Angie Heape, a distant relation of Tom Tagg, for the pictures on this page, and to her daughter Francesca who has inherited racing blood from her famous relation.

1 OLD JOE T Skelton Mr Douglas
2 TOO GOOD Mr H Beasley Count Erdody
3 GAMECOCK W E Stephens Mr E Jay
4 MAGPIE Mr W Woodland Mr E Woodland
also THE BADGER A Nightingale Baron C de Tuyll
also CORONET Captain Lee-Barber Mr J G Muir
also CORTOLVIN W Dollery Mr Abington
also LADY TEMPEST Mr W Beasley Mr P M V Saurin
also ROQUEFORT Mr E P Wilson Mr A Cooper
also FRIGATE Mr J Jones Mr Broadwood
also REDPATH Mr G Lambton Mr P J Zigomala
also JOLLY SIR JOHN Mr C N Waller Mr F Gibhard
also BLACK PRINCE Mr Nightingall Captain Machell
also BILLET DOUX J Behan M Zborowski
also THE LIBERATOR Mr S Woodland jnr Mr E Woodland
also BELMONT Westlake Mr J Daly
also HARRISTOWN Mr J Purcell Mr J Purcell
also FONTENOY J Page Mr Iquique
also SINBAD A Hall Mr L de Rothschild
also SAVOYARD G Kirby Baron W Schroeder
also LIMEKILN W Brockwell M Zborowski
also AMICIA F W Cotton Mr H Wood
also CONSCRIPT H Escott Captain Child

I am indebted to John Davis, the Great Grandson of Thomas Cheshire Tagg. Tom Tagg rode, and won, his first race on the flat at Lichfield aged 11. As well as purporting to have ridden the 1886 Grand National winner,Tom is thought to have won several other big races such as the Grand Sefton and the Lancashire Chase on Savoyard in 1887. By 1891 he was on the road coaches and competing in tournaments against the likes of The Fownes Brothers, Alfred Vanderbilt and Bertram Mills. He drove the Perseverance, Londo to Dorking 1897 to 1911 and the Raynard and Red Rover coaches from 1911 to 1914. He trained racehorses from about 1919 to 1936 at his own stables at Woodlands Road Stables in Barnes, Surrey. Later he went to work for Bertram Mills the owner and creator of the famous Bertram Mills Circus. Mr Mills was a friend of Toms for over 40 years and in 1938 Tom became Master of the Horse for Mills until his death in 1946.

3/1 Coronet
5/1 Roquefort
7/1 Too Good
9/1 Frigate
100/6 Redpath
22/1 Lady Tempest
22/1 Savoyard
25/1 Sinbad
25/1 Old Joe
25/1 Amicia
25/1 The Badger
33/1 Belmont
40/1 Jolly Sir John
50/1 Gamecock
50/1 Black Prince
50/1 Cortolvin
66/1 Harristown
100/1 The Liberator
100/1 Conscript
100/1 Billet Doux
200/1 Magpie
200/1 Fontenoy
  Over-round 110%
tom tagg 1886.JPG (556683 bytes)



ISBN 978-0-9957632-0-3

652 pages

774 former courses

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352 pages

400 former courses

ISBN 978-0-9957632-2-7

180 pages

140 former courses

ISBN 978-0-9957632-3-4

264 pages

235 former courses

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