| 17°C Dublin

Close

Premium

The remarkable rags-to-riches story of Dennis O'Kelly

Close

Eclipse finished his career unbeaten,
and rarely extended, in 18 races. By
the end he was running at odds of 1/70
despite carrying a weight of 12 stone’

Eclipse finished his career unbeaten, and rarely extended, in 18 races. By the end he was running at odds of 1/70 despite carrying a weight of 12 stone’

Getty Images

Eclipse finished his career unbeaten, and rarely extended, in 18 races. By the end he was running at odds of 1/70 despite carrying a weight of 12 stone’

Two hundred and fifty years ago this month one of the greatest horses of all-time recorded his most famous victory. His owner, one of the greatest Irish blackguards ever to seek his fortune on a foreign shore, had just completed the purchase of the horse. Together they made a team which became legendary in their lifetimes.

The horse, Eclipse, is remembered today not only because of the race which takes place in his honour every year at Sandown Park, but also because 95 per cent of present-day thoroughbreds are descended from him. The owner, Dennis O'Kelly, is a largely forgotten figure, though his was one of the most remarkable rags-to-riches stories of the 18th century.

According to the Dictionary of Irish Biography, O'Kelly was born in 1728 in Tullow, Carlow. The O'Kellys may have had money at one stage, but by that time were impoverished smallholders. With neither money nor prospects, Dennis resolved to try his luck in London.