In 1840 an English folk hero was born. Little Wonder, a rank outsider of diminutive, nearly pony-like proportions, was entered in Britain’s most prestigious flat race, The Epsom Derby. Ridden by a little-known jockey named Macdonald, Little Wonder worked his way up the field, running in third at the final turn. Then history was made. Little Wonder hit the gas with “one tremendous rush” along the inside rail to pass the favorites in the final furlong and win by a length. Starting at odds of 50/1, Little Wonder’s victory was a huge upset. Immediately after the race, Prince Albert presented Little Wonder’s inexperienced jockey his gold-tipped riding whip in admiration for the performance.
Fortunes were made. Little Wonder’s owner, David Robertson, won £3,775 ($555,000 in today’s money), and his trainer, John Forth, reportedly took home £18,000 ($2.6 million, which led to much speculation about Little Wonder’s true age and identity). At least two pubs were named in his honor, hoping to ride his coattails to popularity. This strategy must have been a success, as The Little Wonder in Northfleet closed in 1968, and The Little Wonder in Harrogate was finally demolished in 2016. In eight starts over four years, The Derby was his only win. Little Wonder died of colic as a six-year-old in 1843.
George Tattersall documented Little Wonder’s racing career in The Cracks of the Day, Edited by Wildrake (Rudolph Ackermann, 191 Regent St.,1841), concluding: ““Little Wonder in colour is a peculiarly brilliant bay. He stands 14 hands, 3 ½ inches high; and when in the stable, stands over very little ground. It was with most people, not a “Little Wonder” how he managed to win the Derby, but the truth is, that whilst Launcelot and Melody were fighting for the bone, our little Lurcher crept in quietly and carried it off.”
Lot 2239 is covered in a darkened varnish. Relined, the partially legible inscription on the stretcher: LITTLE ____ER / WITH /___ _ ___ / OF / MR ROBERTSON / ___ / MACDONALD / JOCKEY .
One of the many sporting lots in our February 9th and 10th Online Only Decorative Arts sale. Take home a winner.
by: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
Lot 2239 Little Wonder, School of John Frederick Herring Senior, oil on canvas horse and jockey, 12” x 15”.