How to choose your horseracing colours

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Her Majesty the Queen favours a purple jacket with scarlet sleeves and gold braiding topped by a black velvet cap with a gold fringe.

Sir Winston Churchill opted for pink with chocolate sleeves and cap while Lord Astor’s choice was a pale blue jacket with a pink sash and cap.

We are, of course, talking about horse racing silks, the distinctive colours worn by jockeys when representing a particular owner.

Choosing your colours

Choosing a set of silks is a subject that has occupied most racehorse owners’ minds at some point – those, that is, who, unlike the Queen, have not been bequeathed particular colours by their ancestors.

This being the technological age, all British owners need do is go to the British Horseracing Board website and experiment with the 18 available colours on a classic jockey-shaped template… no trial and error scenarios with tailors are required. A search facility then tells you if your chosen colours are available and, if they are, you’re ready to register.

There is another way, however, if you’ve got your mind set on something particularly distinctive. The choice of 18 generally permissible colours may seem fairly extensive, but it would rule out, for example, the ‘straw’ colours worn by jockeys riding for the Duke of Devonshire or the apricot of Lord Howard de Walden.

Decoration on sleeves, caps and bodies is also limited to certain designs such as stars, hoops and stripes. One recent auction of 15 sets of silks at Newmarket included: ‘Pea green, with a mauve cap’, ‘Green, white sash, cuffs and cap’ and ‘Straw with heliotrope sleeves’.

The latter, registered to Mr Gerald Cooper, were are feature at race meetings in the 1960s while the other two sets are deemed historic because neither the colour pea green nor a sash, nor cuffs remain available as design alternatives to new applicants.

Something distinctive

The most coveted racing colours are those of a single shade, with no pattern or design. And silks that comprise of just two shades can often prove saleable. For this reason colours that go under the hammer in any one sale will likely include a combination of ‘Cherished’, ‘Historic’ and ‘Distinctive’ options.

One distinctive set of silks are those belonging to Lord Derby, whose family name is linked with the eponymous Epsom race and whose colours are registered as ‘black, white cap’.

That is not quite the whole story, however. The colours also include one white button among the black. This addition can be traced back to 1924 when Lord Derby’s Sansovino was set to run in the Derby.

Jockey Tommy Weston was getting changed to ride in Lord Derby’s colours when he nervously got part of the white stock he was wearing around his neck caught around the black button on his jacket – so it ended up looking as though he had one white button. The horse duly won and Lord Derby’s silks have unofficially carried the white button ever since.

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