The Other Prioress’s Tale

“My lady prioress, and by your leave,
So that I knew I should in no way grieve,
I would opine that tell a tale you should,
The one that follows next if you but would.
Now will you please vouchsafe it, lady dear?”
“Gladly,” said she, and spoke as you shall hear. (Chaucer’s The Prioress’s Tale)

Back in 2008, a former iteration of the history of the Prioress Stakes on the NYRA website offered the following:

The PRIORESS was named for the first American Thoroughbred ever to win in England. Prioress was bought by Ten Braek (sic) from General Wells as a three year old in 1857 for $2,500. She was then sent to England where she won both the Great Yorkshire Stakes and the Cesare Witch (sic) Handicap in 1858. In the latter, Prioress finished in a triple dead heat with El Hakim and Queen Bess; she then won the run off.

This English teacher was intrigued, not least of all because of the Chaucer connection, but also because the coverage of the Cesarewitch, which sounds like a pretty remarkable race, was spotty in the English archives I could access. The Times of London provided coverage of the betting and odds in the weeks prior to the race, but to my surprise, I uncovered nothing in that publication about the race itself. Fortunately, stateside turf writers provided a wealth of information.

In 1922, the Daily Racing Form offered a history of the race; initiated in 1839 at Newmarket, the Cesarewitch was funded by Russia’s Grand Duke Alexander, who became Czar Alexander II. He gave 300 pounds to endow the race, and it was named in his honor, an Anglicization of Tsarevich, the term for the heir to the title of Tsar. And beginning in the summer of 1857, when Prioress and her stablemate Pryor were sent to race in England, the New York Times ran segments from both reporters and readers as the weights for their races were assigned, provoking much discussion.

Richard Ten Broek. National Museum of Racing image via William H.P. Robertson’s History of Thoroughbred Racing in America

Continuing reading at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s