The gambling mania that gripped early 19th-century Britain, focusing on the corrupt Derby race of 1844.
In the early 1840s, Britain was the gambling capital of Europe and racing a national obsession, with the Epsom Derby assuming the status of an unofficial national holiday, attracting hundreds of thousands of spectators and many millions of pounds in wagers. It was a time of frenzied speculation, high stakes and low morals, when every ruse, subterfuge and fraud was practised - and the biggest sin was getting caught.
But as the cheerfully unprincipled Regency era began to give way to the earnest and conspicuous high-mindedness of the Victorian period, reformers decided it was time to root out the canker gnawing at Britain. In the summer of 1844, the murky world of illegal gambling hells, crooked hazard tables and the dubious practices of the Turf were made the subject of a far-reaching Parliamentary Enquiry. When the Derby of the same year ended in chaos, with the two favourite horses doped and the result challenged by the Prime Minister's brother, the Turf's most dedicated follower and greatest tyrant Lord George Bentinck, took it upon himself to uncover the truth of what happened that day: following a trail of a evidence that led to one of the most sensational court cases of the 19th century.
This is a story of men, money, gambling and sporting obsession; of rogues and rascals, subterfuge and chicanery, with duelling, suicide and murder thrown in. It is a tale of outrageous criminality, aristocratic complacency, and a gripping investigation to expose the most audacious sporting plot of the age. A compelling detective story peopled with low-life aristocrats, high-minded reformers, GENTLEMEN AND BLACKGUARDS paints a rich and vivid panorama of the full spectrum of early Victorian society, bringing to light an overlooked turning point in British history.