Perth Racing Museum celebrates 400 years of races

From the machinations of the Jacobites in the run-up to the 1745 Rising to the performances of a certain Red Rum on the track in the 1970s, nothing appears to have been left out of the Perth Racing Museum which was officially opened yesterday.
Lucy Alexander, Johnny Leech and Sam Morshead opening the Perth Racing Museum  Picture: Craig StephenLucy Alexander, Johnny Leech and Sam Morshead opening the Perth Racing Museum  Picture: Craig Stephen
Lucy Alexander, Johnny Leech and Sam Morshead opening the Perth Racing Museum Picture: Craig Stephen

In a move to celebrate 400 years of racing in and around Perth, racecourse manager Sam Morshead and his team have put together a permanent touring exhibition that chronicles the fascinating history of Perth races.

Cleverly located in a converted truck, the Museum will tour around Scotland to Highland Games and other events to promote racing at Perth. Exhibits range from original documents going back centuries to examples of racing tack donated by families connected with the racecourse, which stands in the grounds of Scone Palace Park.

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The museum shows that it was back in 1613 that racing was first recorded in the city at the North Inch and, in 1621, a bylaw was passed that no person could win more than 100 merks at the races, any surplus being passed to the poor – Ladbrokes and William Hill would have been aghast.

As long ago as 1687, Perth was pioneering Sunday racing, recording that a fixture took place on Palm Sunday in that year. In 1744, evidence shows that Bonnie Prince Charlie’s supporters met in secret during Perth races to plan the ’45.

The foundation of the still extant Perth Hunt in 1784, the collapse of the stand in 1807 which injured the Duke of Atholl and other Highland chiefs, and the move to Scone Palace in 1908 are featured, while the Museum does not shrink from Perth’s lowest point – the allegations of race fixing that put the future of Perth racing in jeopardy.

The museum has clearly been a labour of love for the team led by Morshead, whose enthusiasm was described as “amazing and inspiring” by Perth committee member Fiona Fletcher.

Morshead said: “It has been a very interesting winter looking through the archives that I have discovered from various different sources.

“For instance, I was fascinated to find out that much of the planning of the 1745 rebellion took place the previous year at the Perth meeting – there are a lot of good stories like that.

“The move to the South Inch from the North Inch in 1784 came about because there was too much rowdiness and drunkenness, so thereby hangs a tale.

“The Perth Hunt was formed at the same time and, from then on, the races were all about entertaining the lords and ladies coming to the Perth Ball. Racing at Perth has flourished in many different ways ever since.”

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The man who cut the ribbon to inaugurate the Museum was Johnny Leech, who for many years dropped the flag as the official starter at Perth and other Scottish tracks, although his main claim to fame is to have been the first man to win the Scottish Grand National after it transferred to Ayr in 1966 – the year after Leech rode the winner of the last-ever race at the Scottish National’s former home, Bogside. Leech said: “It’s been a great effort and the fact that it is going to travel around to various places will make it a good advert for the racecourse.

“Perth is a lovely place to visit, and, for anybody who hasn’t been to Perth races, I’d say this is definitely the place to come.”

Leech’s wife Catherine was equally enthusiastic: “It is always a great treat to come to Perth, and having looked round all the dates from 1613, it is quite incredible to realise that it has been going for 400 years.”

Grand National winning jockey Tony Dobbin features in the exhibition and the Irishman thinks Perth is on a winner: “It’s great, it’s lovely, and clearly a lot of work has gone into it.”

The 2013 national winner, Scotland’s own Ryan Mania, had been due to perform the opening but was instead sent to Sedgefield by trainer Sue Smith. Any disappointment he may have felt, though, was dispelled by his three winners.

Perth racecourse’s own Hall of Fame is also featured, and member Raymond Anderson Green said: “It is a terrific educational thing and it will be wonderful to have something that reminds people of the history associated with Perth. I don’t think people realise that racing has been going on in Scotland for hundreds of years. When I mentioned that I was coming here today to celebrate 400 years of 
racing at Perth, no one would believe me.”