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Regina Jeffers, Horse Racing in the Regency. Introducing Elizabeth Bennet's Gallant Suitor.

By Mariagrazia @SMaryG

In my latest Austen-inspired novel, Elizabeth Bennet’s Gallant Suitor, part of the action centers around a horse race—specifically one with a horse called “Bingley’s T,” owned by Charles Bingley. Yes, I have Bingley take Netherfield not only to satisfy his father’s wish for his son to own property, as would a proper gentleman of the time, but also to satisfy Bingley’s obsession with horses. In my tale, Bingley hopes to develop a line of thoroughbreds. “Bingley’s T” is an Arabian mare and untested and an unknown in her first race.

When someone attempts to sabotage Bingley’s efforts, Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam assist the man, with more than a bit of “interference” on Elizabeth’s part.

What of horse racing in Regency? Like the meets at Ascot, Doncaster, Heath, and Newmarket, the Epsom Derby became an affair that in many ways, was restricted to the rich. In my tale, many from London arrive in St Albans (about 20 northwest of London and a major coaching stop during the Regency). For those of you unaware, St Albans is in Hertfordshire, as in where the fictional Meryton is located. The race I designed is one purely for “fillies” and a “flat” race with gates for the horses to pass through. It is three miles long.

There are several difference type of horse races, each contain its own challenges: flat or steeplechase or harness race or endurance races.

Harness racing requires the horse to pull a cart, called a “sulky,” steered by a driver.


Endurance races test both the rider’s and the horse’s stamina over a long distance, which is much what I envisioned for my fictional race, but one must remember in those early days of racing, the “rules” were not so carved in stone, so to say, as they are now.

Steeplechase horse racing (today) requires horses to jump fences and water jumps. It originated in Ireland and was named for racing from one church steeple to another. It was conducted across open fields that often contained gullies, ditches, etc. Thus, the reason for the modern day water jumps and fences. The Grand National is the most famous steeplechase in the world and has been run every year (with one exception) since 1839.

Flat course racing is what most of us think of when considering horse racing. Horse racing is spoken of as far back as ancient Rome. Those ancient sporting events and those today involved betting and gambling. Such is so in my tale, for Bingley requires the prize purse after several unexpected business losses. The distance for a flat track race is now customarily 5 furlongs (about 1.5 miles) up to 8.5 furlongs (about 3 km or 1.86 miles). In the U.S. we have the Triple Crown consisting of the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes, and the Preakness Stakes.

The 5 English Classic horse races consist of the Derby, the Oaks, the One Thousand Guineas, the Saint Leger, and the Two Thousand Guineas. These are the most important and prestigious horse races in England. They were founded before any other country claimed such flair and unique history.



Elizabeth Bennet will not tolerate her dearest sister Jane being coerced into marriage. Yet, how she will prevent the “inevitable”? Jane, after all, has proven to be the granddaughter of Sir Wesley Belwood, a tyrannical baronet, who means to have his say in Jane’s marriage in order to preserve the family bloodlines. When Colonel Fitzwilliam appears at Stepton Abbey as the prospective groom, Elizabeth must join forces with the colonel’s cousin, a very handsome gentleman named Mr. Darcy, to prevent the unwanted betrothal.

Lacking in fortune and unconventionally handsome, Elizabeth Bennet is willing to risk everything so her beloved sister may have a happily ever after, even if Elizabeth must thwart all of Sir Wesley’s plans, as well as those of Mr. Darcy.

Fitzwilliam Darcy meant to flirt with the newly named Miss Belwood himself to prevent the girl’s marriage to his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, but one glance to Miss Elizabeth Bennet has Darcy considering everything but his cousin’s fate. Miss Elizabeth thought him a wastrel, but when incidents throw them together, they must combine forces to fight for love for the colonel, for Jane, and maybe, even for themselves.

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Miss Kitty still looked puzzled, but she turned her attention to the paddock. “Look,” she pointed. “Is that not Toby speaking to Mr. Bingley? I did not know Toby was working for Mr. Bingley now.”

Not wishing others to know of their manipulation, Miss Elizabeth quieted her sister. “Toby is only assisting Mr. Bingley until Papa returns.”

“Why is he and Bingley’s T wearing crimson and gold?” she asked. “See the blanket on the horse and the shirt Toby wears.”

Darcy leaned around Miss Elizabeth to speak to the girl. “Mr. Bingley has registered his horse with The Jockey Club. Those are the colors associated with the registration. See all Bingley’s men have an armband of the same color, and, earlier, I noted Mr. Bingley wore a gold and red waistcoat under his jacket.”

When Miss Kitty turned to repeat some of what he had just shared to Miss Mary, Miss Elizabeth asked, “Is Toby too young? The other riders appear much older than he is.”

“The other riders did not have the care, the expertise, and the encouragement of Miss Elizabeth Bennet,” he assured privately. “The boy will become a man today.”

Miss Kitty made a totally unrelated observation. “Jane and Lydia and his lordship will miss the race if they do not arrive soon.”

The colonel said in a deadpan manner, “I constantly tell Lindale only Brummell spends more time before a mirror than does he. I have all this regalia to deal with and still manage to be on my second plate at the morning table before my brother makes a showing.”

All three women smothered their laughter behind their gloved hands, but quickly swallowed their mirth when Toby strode across the paddock to where Bingley’s T stood in majestic glory.

“He looks as if he is eager to begin the race,” Miss Mary noted.

One of Mr. Bingley’s grooms caught Toby’s bent knee and tossed the youth into the saddle, where Toby caught the reins from another groom’s hand and tapped Bingley’s T’s sides with his heels to set the horse in motion. Proudly, both the horse and rider moved together in perfect rhythm toward the starting line. Both held their heads high. It was truly a sight to see, and the crowd took note.

Two men dressed in bright red hunting coats stood on opposite sides of the track. Stretched between them, they held a long red ribbon, marking the starting line. Faster than expected, twenty-one fillies claimed places behind the ribbon. Some danced in place in anticipation of the start. Others stood perfectly still. Bingley’s T was one of the latter.

“Is she not magnificent?” Miss Elizabeth whispered.

Instead of the greyish-white Arabian pawing the earth, Darcy studied the myriad of emotions crossing the lady’s countenance. “Yes, truly magnificent,” he said on a poorly disguised sigh.

The moment all the horses had reached the supposed line, the two men dropped the ribbon, which was followed by an echoing “Hi-ya!” filling the air. Toby, as if in a well-practiced dance move mimicked by the rest of the field, brought his knees up higher, leaned forward over Bingley’s T’s neck, and pushed his weight into the stirrups to set the horse in motion.

A shout from the crowd announced the race had begun.

“How long?” Miss Kitty asked.

Darcy checked his pocket watch. “Somewhere between fifteen and twenty minutes at the earliest and, likely, forty minutes before they are all in. They must travel three miles. Some will tire early and may need to be walked back after a mile or two. A well-sprung coach on a toll road can cover seven to ten miles in an hour with multiple horses, but a single horse and rider, in this type of race, will likely spend around five minutes for each mile. Some will be faster. Some slower. The gates may slow some of them down, though.”

The girl glanced to the paddock. “Mr. Bingley stands all alone. He appears quite sad on a day when he should be excited.” She bit her bottom lip in indecision. “Do you suppose he would welcome my company? I do not like seeing him as such. No one should be alone on such an important day.”

Miss Elizabeth glanced to him for an opinion, and Darcy nodded his agreement. He, too, did not like the appearance of failure in the slant of Bingley’s shoulders.

Miss Elizabeth instructed, “Stay where we might see you. After the race, we will all enjoy the entertainments together.”

“I promise,” Miss Kitty said with a large smile as she rose to begin her slow descent to the ground through the crowded viewing stands.

Darcy slid closer to Miss Elizabeth. “Does your sister have designs on Bingley?”

“None of which I am aware,” she admitted, but a frown of doubt crossed her expression. “I would not wish Kitty to be a ‘second choice’ companion for Mr. Bingley, but as they both are sometimes overlooked, despite their amiability, I do not think it harmful for either of them simply to enjoy each other’s company for a few hours. Evidently, Mr. Bingley did not wish to join his sisters to watch the race.”

“I do not imagine Waverley’s sect treats Bingley well, despite the fact it is Bingley’s money which will save Waverley’s family,” Darcy confided. “I know Bingley still struggles with his feelings for Miss Belwood, a brooding for lost hopes, of which his sisters are likely not to be so sympathetic.”

Elizabeth nodded her understanding. “I am sorry Jane has chosen the path she is on: I believe Mr. Bingley would have spent a lifetime worshipping her. Even so, perhaps they both had difficult lessons to learn, and God has other plans for each of them.”

“I pray such is true,” Darcy confided.

They watched as Miss Kitty came up behind Mr. Bingley and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned cautiously, but smiled largely when he saw who awaited him. They spoke privately for a few moments, before Bingley graciously extended his arm to the girl and began to point to different spots along the race course. Within seconds, the pair were laughing together and appeared to be enjoying each other’s company.

“Good for them,” Miss Elizabeth said softly.

Darcy agreed. Bingley was eight years the girl’s senior and possessed more experience in the world than did Miss Kitty, but the idea of being accepted just for being himself would go a long way in healing his friend’s heart.

Darcy checked his watch again. “They should be beyond the halfway mark by now,” he told Elizabeth. “Closer to the two-mile marker.”

“It is time for Toby to take control of the race,” she remarked.

“I hope he remembers what we showed him.”

“He will,” she guaranteed.

It was then they heard loud shouts coming from the area of the two-and-a-half mile marker, behind a tree line.

“Is it too early for the riders?” Fitzwilliam asked.

Darcy again glanced to his watch. “Faster than I would expect,” he said with caution. “Perhaps someone is a bit too inebriated and making a fool of himself.”

Yet, the sound of cheers increased substantially, and it was rolling toward them on a wave of stamping feet and clapping hands. Within the blink of an eye, the lead horse cleared the tree line.

Elizabeth buried her face in the sleeve of Darcy’s arm. “I cannot watch,” she declared.

He smiled knowingly. “I will watch for the two of us,” he assured. Thankfully, they were on the top of the viewing stand, making it easier for him to see. Within a half-dozen heartbeats, the lead horse came into view, and he leaned down to whisper, “On second thought, you, too, should look, my dear, or you will miss history in the making.”

She glanced up to him for assurance as the roar of the crowd increased. Immediately, her head snapped around. He knew the instant she viewed what he did. “Where are the other horses?” she asked. Her question was followed by a combined shout from those at the turn of the homestretch, answering the question on everyone’s lips.


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