Old Merlin Match; Frampton (South) v Strickland (North)

In the latter part of the 18th century Tregonwell Frampton, based in the South of the country at Newmarket, and Sir William Strickland, based in Yorkshire, vied for supremacy in the world of horse racing and the two agreed to hold a Match to win bragging rights. Tregonwell Frampton, born in 1641, son of a Lord of the Manor, was Royal Trainer in all but name; Keeper of the Running horses and a trainer who had honed his skills over more than half a century. Sir William Strickland, born March 1665, was 3rd Baronet of Boynton and was based at Boynton Hall, near Scarborough. He was educated at Exeter College, Oxford and married Elizabeth Palmes, daughter and heiress to a great fortune from her father, William Palmes. The two protagonists agreed to a Match to be held at Newmarket, although the exact date, distance of the race, time of the race and even the exact names of the horses involved are not known for certain, although Sir William's horse is thought to be Old Merlin. If that is the case then there is only one officially registered thoroughbred named 'Old Merlin', by Bustler, son of Helmsley Turk, out of Merlins Dam, which died in 1696, so the Match must have been before that date. Legend has it that prior to the actual Match taking place the grooms of the two protagonists got together to arrange a secret trial to give them an insight into the likely outcome of the Match. Strickland's groom, named Hesseltine, secretly added 7lb to Old Merlin's weight saddle with the full support of Strickland, the pair hoping to pull the wool over Frampton's eyes. Frampton, himself a shrewd operator, with long experience in deception, advised his groom to add 7lbs to the weight cloth so, unbeknown to either Strickland or Frampton, the horses were carrying equal weight, and Old Merlin narrowly won the trial.

On the day of the Match both Strickland and Frampton were confident of victory, unaware that they had double-crossed each other, and huge sums of money were bet by both sides, and by all of those watching the trial, whether in the know or not. In the event Old Merlin won by much the same distance as he had won the secret trial, so bragging rights 'went up North', as did most of the betting stakes. Such fortunes had been lost by Frampton, Noblemen and ordinary punters in the South, that many faced ruin. As a consequence, the law was changed to make it illegal to recover gambling debts of more than £10. The incident provided a warning shot to those with ambitions to control racing that Parliament would intervene unless 'would be racing administrators' put their house in order. The rule regarding gambling debts of more than £10 was used by unsuccessful gamblers against Jockey Club Members much later in history.

After the trial a popular ballad was sung, presumably more vocally by those in the North than those in the South;
And now, Little Merlin has won the day,
And all for his master's gain
Guarded him to stable
again, again
Guarded him to stable again,
And as they rode through Newmarket,
Many curses on them did fall,
A curse light on these Yorkshire knights,
And their horses and riders
and all, and all,
and their horses and riders and all.