LINKS between boxing and horse racing go back centuries. In racing’s early days, Newmarket’s movers and shakers had a predilection for pugilism. In 1790, two of Britain’s top jockeys, Sam Chifney and Dick Goodison, settled a dispute over “dirty riding” with a fight for 100 guineas aside on the insistence of their patrons, respectively the Duke of Bedford and the Duke of Queensberry. In 1867, Queensberry’s relative John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry, would lend the name to boxing’s most famous set of rules. Boxing has long been popular among jockeys and stable staff, so much so that by the early 20th century the annual stable lads’ boxing championship had become an unmissable staple in the racing calendar and remained so for decades. There were big rivalries between racing stables with the finals held at prestigious venues such as the National Sporting Club, the Holborn Stadium, the Royal Albert Hall and the London Hilton Hotel.
It’s been said jockeys make good boxers and this is demonstrably true. Poplar’s Teddy Baldock [pictured above], who won the British bantamweight title and a version of the world crown in the 1920s, had a stint at Epsom as an apprentice jockey before trading the turf for the ring. Three decades later, fellow East Ender Terry Spinks of Canning Town made the same move with similar success. In the early 1950s, Spinks was an apprentice jockey at Newmarket, winning every possible honour in the stable lads’ boxing events. After that Terry won the ABA flyweight crown, gold at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and the British featherweight title as a pro.
Just after Spinks’ pro ring career had ended another ex-apprentice jockey was beginning his. Colin Lake (known as Lakey), who hailed from Holloway in north London, was a keen amateur boxer before becoming an apprentice jockey under the famous trainer and former jockey Harry Wragg. Lakey won stable lads’ boxing titles two years running and as a rider clocked up 28 races with seven wins. This included a photo finish against renowned jockey Scobie Breasley. “Winning a race was like winning a fight,” Lakey told boxing writer Melanie Lloyd, “but winning a fight was better.”
So, Colin swapped racing for boxing. He had a few senior amateur contests before turning over in October 1963, at age 21. In a 30-fight pro career he boxed his way to a British junior-lightweight (now super-featherweight) title fight. Lakey had beaten reigning champ Jimmy Anderson by disqualification in a non-title bout in January 1969, but he was stopped in seven rounds in his title bid a month later.
After retiring, Lakey became a boxing trainer and set up his own amateur club in Newmarket. The decision paid dividends as he found an abundance of would-be boxers among the stable lads. One of them, Ivor “The Engine” Jones, won three consecutive stable lads’ titles and fought for the Southern Area bantamweight crown as a pro. But Lakey’s greatest success as a coach came in the 1990s with another former Newmarket stable lad, Colin Dunne. “Dynamo” Dunne won three stable lads’ championships, plus schoolboy and junior ABA titles before turning pro with Lakey as his trainer and winning Southern Area and WBU lightweight honours.
A final mention must go to Nottingham’s Jimmy Gill, who managed the improbable feat of simultaneously juggling horse racing and pro boxing careers. The “Fighting Jockey”, as he was known, amassed 123 contests between 1931 and 1950, winning 76 of them along with an Area title. Throughout that time he was also a successful jockey, riding regular winners both in Britain and in India as a rider for the Maharaja of Cooch-Behar. How he fitted all that in is a mystery.