Johnny Tolton, 99, receives prize 73 years on from monumental Derby at Newmarket with Nimbus
A 99-year-old one-time Newmarket stable lad has finally been recognised for the part he played in a history-making Derby.
Johnny Tolton, who now lives in Burrough Green, said he was over the moon to receive a prize 73 years on from the success of Nimbus, the colt he led up after it won the 1949 Classic, the first to be decided by photo-finish.
Johnny, who turns 100 in October, was presented with a trophy and two cut glass tumblers commemorating the victory at a surprise presentation at Newmarket’s National Horseracing Museum on Thursday.
“I’m really shocked as we never expected we would get anything in those days,” he said.
“It was just lovely to be looking after a good horse like him. I’ll put the prize alongside Nimbus.
"I have two photos of him, one after he won the Guineas and one after he won the Derby, so this will go very nicely in between both of them.
"When I have a little drink in the evening I’ll be able to look up at them and think what I was able to do in racing, so it’s special.”
Brian Finch, chairman of Epsom Downs Racecourse, who helped present the award, said: “It was fantastic to surprise Johnny. His granddaughter, Melanie, told him he was going to Waitrose so he had no idea this was going to happen.”
Also at the presentation was Ravinder Parmar, who led up this year’s Derby winner Desert Crown, for trainer Sir Michael Stoute.
When Nimbus won the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket he beat Abernant by a short head but there was no camera to determine the result that day and, when he was interviewed by Suffolk News in October last year, Johnny recalled that he, for one, was not sure his colt had prevailed.
“When he came in I said to Charlie (Elliott) ‘Jesus we were just caught weren’t we?’ He said to me, ‘it’s a good job you’re not the judge, we’ve won’.”
Hailing originally from Kilmallock, in County Limerick, Johnny was one of nine children. He left school at 13 and his first job with a local undertaker paid him the princely sum of £5 a year.
But he always harboured a wish to work with horses and after a spell at Mount Coote Stud he came to Newmarket in 1947, when he was 25, to work for trainer George Colling at Hurworth House in Fordham Road.
There, not only did he look after Nimbus, who he remembered was like a rubber ball to ride, he also broke in Wilwyn, who went on to win the first running of the Washington International in the United States in 1952.
In 1949 Johnny married and he and his wife, Violet, were together for just over 70 years until she died in October 2020.
Together they had four children, Gillian, Angela, John, and David, but in 1969 tragedy struck when four-year-old David was killed when he was hit by a car in Dullingham.
Together, his parents, showing huge courage in their grief, agreed their son’s organs could be used for transplant and, in the first such operation ever performed at Newmarket Hospital, David’s liver was given to a woman in her 40s.