Page 25 - Chiron Spring/Summer 2023
P. 25

Tuppy Bennet and Sergeant Murphy
by Mr A Roach
This year sees the centenary
of one of the RAVC’s greatest individual sporting successes. On March 23rd, 1923, Captain Geoffrey “Tuppy” Bennet won the Grand National at Aintree, riding one of the oldest winners of the event, a 13-year-old chestnut gelding called Sergeant Murphy.
Tuppy was born in 1894 at the Bennet home in Suffolk, Rougham Hall. It was then a fine 19th century country house on the site of a former Jacobean mansion. Now it is a stately ruin, overtaken by trees, shrubs, and ivy, with the clock in the tower still showing the time of its destruction. It was used by the army in World War II and was hit by a stray German bomb during a night Luftwaffe raid in 1944. Almost certainly the bomb was intended for the ammunition dump at a nearby airfield, although some say the target was another local country mansion where the Rothschild family housed Jewish refugees. Either way, Rougham Hall was largely destroyed at 1:05 a.m. that night. Now it is regarded by connoisseurs of such things as one of the most beautiful and romantic ruins in
England. It can
only be visited
by permission
of the estate
but there is a
evocative drone
tour available
to win 32 regimental flat and hurdle races. When he returned to his practice after the war he continued to race and was soon considered “one of the foremost gentleman riders and leading amateur jockeys of his time”.
Winning the Grand National was an obvious ambition and he first competed in 1920 when his mount fell. The next year he finished
fourth - and last - on Turkey Buzzard, having fallen and remounted three times. Afterwards he was famously chased round the enclosure by
the lady owner, who regaled him with curses and tried to beat him with her umbrella. It is not clear
if this is because he came last or because he had put her horse at risk by remounting three times when
all hope of winning was gone. He next came
in a steeplechase at Dunstall Park. Tuppy received a kick to the head while he was on the ground. He was subsequently diagnosed as having
a blood clot on the brain and these days he may well have survived. Unfortunately, despite surgery, he died seventeen days later without ever regaining consciousness... At the time of his accident, he was joint leader in the jockey’s championship with 52 winners. He was buried at Newmarket and his funeral was
the best-attended in the racing world since that of the famous Fred Archer. The Cheltenham Chronicle reported that he was “one of the most brilliant and dashing riders of his own and any other time”. He was also the last of the three jockeys who had ridden Sergeant Murphy in the Grand National to be later killed on the racecourse in two years.
Only one good thing came of
his early death, and that was that
as a direct result of his accident protective hard hats were made compulsory for jockeys. Sadly, he left a young widow, having been married only the previous July, and she subsequently gave birth to a daughter whom he would never see.
Sergeant Murphy was as popular as his rider, having gained the public’s affections much like Arkle, Red Rum and Desert Orchid did in later years. The Victoria & Albert Museum have a statuette of him
as one of Britain’s Twenty Animal Champions. More significantly he was painted by the most prestigious artists of the day, including Sir
 After training
as a veterinary
surgeon Tuppy returned to Suffolk to practise in Newmarket but very soon afterwards the country was at war, and he joined what is now the RAVC. He served throughout the conflict
in France and Egypt. I suspect that Egypt was the less harrowing service because while there he found time
“I see now, and always shall do, the beautiful leap made at Valentine’s by Captain Tuppy Bennet and Sergeant Murphy, the perfect seat and horsemanship of the rider”
fifth and then in 1923, at his fourth attempt, he steered Sergeant Murphy
to victory.
A leading commentator later said, “I see now, and always
shall do, the beautiful leap made at Valentine’s by Captain Tuppy Bennet and Sergeant Murphy, the perfect seat and horsemanship of the rider”. Sadly, that was to be Tuppy’s National swansong.
In Christmas week the same year, Tuppy’s mount Ardeen fell
  Chiron Calling / 23

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