Wonder Mares : Signorinetta

Signorinetta with Edoardo Ginistrelli

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

I’ve got a soft spot when it comes to heart-warming stories in racing. Especially in the treacherous times we are all currently facing, I feel like this is the perfect opportunity to reflect on days gone by, which is what inspired this series. Part one was about Petite Etoile, which you can read here – https://t.co/zj3q99DoIC?amp=1 but this story I’m about to tell holds a romantic quality that could only have stemmed from Italy…

In the early 1880s, Cavaliere Edoardo Ginistrelli arrived in England, to Newmarket, from Italy after selling his stud and stable near Mount Vesuvius. Ginistrelli trained a mare called Signorina, who was unbeaten in nine races at two, including the Middle Park; won two races at three and placed in the Oaks and, aged four in 1891, she won the Lancashire Plate, which was only held from 1888 to 1893, at Manchester Racecourse. Tragically, at stud, she hadn’t produced a live foal for ten consecutive years before foaling a colt, Signorino, who was second in the 2000 Guineas and then third in the Derby.

At the stud, there was a horse called Chaleureux, a nine guinea stallion who was predominantly used as a ‘teaser’, which tests to see if a mare is in season. Ginistrelli, to his surprise, noticed that Signorina neighed to Chaleureux each day when he passed by her box on his daily exercise. He decided that they were in love and allowed them to mate. Despite this being completely frowned upon because Signorina was such a talented race mare and Chaleureux was merely a ‘teaser’, Ginistrelli’s decision was based on the “boundless laws of sympathy and love”. Signorinetta was their foal, who Ginistrelli decided to train himself.

A painting of Signoretta and Ginistrelli

Signorinetta made her debut in 1907, aged two, but Ginistrelli’s training methods were widely ridiculed by other racing professionals. She was unplaced in her first five races but managed to win a nursery handicap.

In her three year old season, Ginistrelli campaigned Signorinetta with the belief she was a smart horse. To some, he may have looked overly ambitious when she finished unplaced in the 1000 Guineas. Next for her was the Newmarket Stakes, in which she started at 25/1 and finished fifth, running a good race.

The Derby was next on Signorinetta agenda. One week before the premier flat race, Lord Alfred Douglas, a British poet, dreamt that she would win the race and placed a £5 bet on her, much to the disgust of his friends. On the 3rd June, she started at odds of 100/1 against seventeen colts in the Derby, ridden by William Bullock. Eventhough she wasn’t close to the early leaders, she made remarkable progress until she hit the front at the two furlong pole. She kept going without being fazed by another rival for an easy, two-length victory. She won in a time of 2:39.8, a second quicker than Harzand’s Derby win in 2016. Interestingly, it didn’t take much out of the filly and an onlooker’s comical analogy was that “she would not have blown a pinch of snuff off a sixpence.”.

This was a huge shock to the racing world. She is one of only three 100/1 winners of the Derby. Jeddah won at that price in 1898 and Aboyeur in 1913. Ginistrelli is one of only two people who have won the Derby as Owner, Breeder and Trainer. The other was Arthur Budgett, who won the Derby in 1969 with Blakeney and in 1973 with Morston.


Just two days later, Signorinetta attempted to be just the third filly to do the Derby-Oaks double which is completely unheard-of in current times. Eleanor and Blink Bonny had won both races in 1801 and 1857 respectively. Signorinetta was 3/1 against the 1000 Guineas heroine Rhodora, the favourite, and eleven other fillies. The race was really messy and French Partridge fell, bringing down Rhodora! Signorinetta held her position in second until the turn for home when she kicked and won by three quarters of a length. A second classic win in a matter of days! The crowd were overjoyed and cheered much louder than when she’d easily won the Derby at 100/1. Ginnistrelli was even congratulated by the King himself!

Signorinetta finished unplaced on her final three starts before being retired. It is debatable whether she was a high-quality winner or were the fields she faced weak. My argument is that she beat what was in front of her and what more could you want?

In 1911, Ginnistrelli was struggling. He was poor and living modestly in Newmarket but was desperate to return to Italy. He had one choice – to sell Signorinetta, who was the “apple of his eye”. On the 11th December 1911, he sold her for about 10,000 Guineas to Lord Rosebury. He was high up in the government and married Hannah De Rothschild, meaning that he acquired the Mentmore Stud and built Crafton Stud himself. His most famous horses were Ladas, Sir Visto and Cicero, who all won the Derby whilst he was prime minister.

Signorinetta at the sales.

At stud, Signorinetta had several foals – Pasta (1912), dam of six-times leading sire in New Zealand Hunting Song; Rizzio (1916) by the owner’s Derby winner Cicero; The Winter King by Son In Law (1918), who sired Barneveldt and he sired Pont l’Eveque, and Eyrcina (1920) dam of 1832 Scottish Grand National winner Clydesdale. I’ve extensively searched the internet for horses racing today who are descendants of Signoretta. Pont l’Eveque was shipped out to Argentina due to a lack of opportunity in war-time England so he’s proved tough to track. He didn’t produce many horses of note but his daughter Antinea was the dam of Atlas, who won the 1960 Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini. Their progenies have since been bred with native warmbloods and I found a few who were show jumpers currently.

Signorinetta died in 1928, aged twenty-three and won three races from thirteen starts. I like the fact that she was born through a genuine love between two horses and how her exploits on the track contradicted all the mockery Ginistrelli suffered whilst training in Newmarket.

Wonder Mare.

One thought on “Wonder Mares : Signorinetta”

  1. Hi
    Excellent article – Im doing some research on Ralph and William Bullock can you say what colour silks William wore on Signorinetta when they won the Derby – I have a photo from Clarence hailey of Newmarket


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