HUGO VICKERS Biographer & Historian
Horses and Husbands (ed) (2007)
Hardback edition (UK) 2007

When Etti Plesch died in April 2003, her obituary in The Times stated: 'Lately she had all but completed her memoirs, which were awaited with some trepidation in international society.' These memoirs are now being published.

Etti Plesch earned a place in The Guinness Book of Records as the only woman owner to have won the Derby twice. Psidium won in 1961 and Henbit in 1980. What made Etti a legendary lady of the Turf was her 1970 victory in the Arc de Triomphe, when her best horse, Sassafras, beat Charles Engelhard's Nijinsky, ending his amazing run of 11 classic wins in a row.

Her own life was no less adventurous and extraordinary. By the age of 40, she had married six husbands, divorcing five of them, and losing two of them to the same woman. Finally she married the kind of husband who could buy her the kind of mare that could - and did - sire a Derby winner.

Born Countess Wurmbrand from a noble Austrian family, she was probably the daughter of a noted rake, Count Josef Gizycki. Her mother was the cousin of Baroness Maria Vetsera, who died tragically with Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria at Mayerling.

Thwarted in love at an early age, Etti set off on her marital marathon. The first husband, Clendenin Ryan, was an American with a huge fortune. After a few weeks he accused her of gold digging, set detectives on her ('The five Daddies' she called them) and packed her back on the boat to Europe. Husband number 2 was Count Pali Pálffy, who sang with his Tziganes, was one of the finest shots in Europe, and a dedicated ladies' man, who trophied eight wives. Etti lost him to Louise de Vilmorin, the French writer and femme fatale, who also stole her third husband, Count Tommy Esterházy, though this time she refrained from actually marrying him. Husband number 4, Count Zsiga Berchtold, helped Etti through the war, but with the coming of peace he was discarded.

Etti went to America and married husband number 5, Deering Davis, formerly married to the silent film star, Louise Brooks. Etti described her fifth marriage as a temporary arrangement.

In one of the more enticing lines in the book, Etti wrote: 'This time I had agreed to marry in order to have somebody with me. Now I did have him with me - and far too much. What could be done? I could not just kill him. If I asked for a divorce, he would refuse, as there were no other women, nor even men in his life. I thought, and thought …'

After his sudden though far from unwelcome disappearance, Etti played the South American market, before returning to marry Dr Arpad Plesch, one of the richest and most intriguing - some would say sinister - international businessmen in the world. With him she settled in Paris, London, the South of France, the world - and a new life opened before her.

A note about Etti Plesch

ETTI PLESCH was born as Countess Maria Wurmbrand-Stuppach in Vienna in 1914 and died in Monte Carlo in 2003. Her great knowledge of horses was inherited from her maternal grandfather, Aristides Baltazzi, who won the 1876 Derby with Kisber. Her racing triumphs included two famous Derby wins in 1961 and 1980.

   Etti was married six times -

1 Clendenin Ryan Jr 1934 - divorced 1935
2 Count Pali Pálffy 1935 - divorced 1937
3 Count Thomas Esterházy 1938 - divorced 1944
4 Count Sigismund Berchtold 1944 - divorced 1949
5 Mr Deering Davis 1949 - divorced 1951
6 Dr Arpad Plesch 1954 - died 1974

This is Hugo Vickers's fourth collaboration with the Dovecote Press. In 1999 he introduced Cecil Beaton's Ashcombe. He edited Alexis - the Memoirs of the Baron de Redé in 2005, and The Rich Spoils of Time (the memoirs of Dame Frances Campbell-Preston) in 2006.

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