This index sets out to give a brief resumé in alphabetical order, of some of the more interesting animals to have graced the turf in the 20th and 21st century. Starting with Affirmed and finishing with Zarathustra I hope that followers of the great sport of Horseracing will find the blog interesting and informative.
Affirmed – Foaled in February 1975, Affirmed became the 11th winner of The United States Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes). He won 14 Grade1 Stakes over his stellar career, topping the champion table in all three seasons he raced. He was the last horse to win the Triple Crown for a 37 year period which was ended by American Pharaoh in 2015. Named horse of the year in 1978 following his Triple Crown triumph, and again the following year, it was an accolade well deserved, as it was gained competing against an animal described as “the best horse in the history of thoroughbred racing never to have won The Championship”, Alydar.
As 2yo’s, Affirmed and Alydar met 6 times with the score 4-2 in the formers favour, but despite that, come the first leg of the Triple Crown, The Kentucky Derby, Alydar was sent off the 6/5 favourite. However, as so often is the case, the market got it wrong and supporters of the “Jolly” needed their mint Julips after the race, as Affirmed beat him fair and square by a decisive 1 1/2L. It was a lot closer between them in the 2nd leg, The Preakness, with Affirmed prevailing by a neck which set things up for a dramatic final leg in the Belmont Stakes. In a race described as one of the greatest of all time, the duo took each other on from over 6 furlongs out, and battled head to head all the way to the line, with Affirmed just holding a late Alydar surge.
He was by The Arlington Classic winner, Exclusive Native, who also sired the filly Genuine Risk, one of only 3 of her sex to have ever won The Kentucky Derby, and he was ridden by a teenage Steve Cauthen, who readers of a certain vintage will remember subsequently winning 3 British Champion Jockey titles when riding as first jockey for Henry Cecil and incidentally, also landed a British Triple Crown on that fabulous filly, Oh So Sharp
Akiyda : A British bred filly foaled in April 1979, she was by Labus, a son of that tough customer, Busted. Trained in France by the top handler Francois Mathet, (trained some of the best French horses of the 20th century including Tantieme, Reliance, and the 2 Epsom Derby winners, Phil Drake 1955 and Relko 1963) she raced only once as a 2yo, winning a Saint-Cloud maiden in November 1981 by 5 lengths. Campaigned at the highest level as a 3yo she finished 2nd in both the Prix de Diane and Prix Vermeille before earning her place in the history books with victory in The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe. Racing prominently in 4th place on the rails throughout, she showed impressive acceleration at the 2 furlong marker going a couple of lengths clear but top French pilot, Yvette Saint-Martin must have felt that he had gone for home a little prematurely when the one sight no jockey wanted to see in his wing mirrors, Lester Pigott on Ardross, hove into view. Under a typical Pigott drive Ardross made relentless progress, but the filly found more and held on. Akiyda never raced again and was retired to stud where she only produced one foal who lived to adulthood, a filly named Arishka. Arishka never won a race but as a brood mare produced the colt Akbar who won the Group2 Henry11 Stakes in 2002.
Aldaniti: Trained at Findon in West Sussex by the ex champion jockey, Josh Gifford, (won the title 4 times) his victory in the 1981 Grand National at the age of 11, returning from what seemed a career ending leg injury sustained at Sandown 18 months previously, and ridden by Bob Champion recovering from cancer, was certainly the stuff of legends. Carrying 10-13 he started the 10/1 2nd favourite behind Spartan Missile, ridden by the redoubtable 54 years old Warwickshire farmer/amateur rider John Thorne, who had won the 2 previous runnings of The Fox hunters Chase over the National Fences. Aldaniti and Champion took it up at the 11th fence and maintained their advantage for the rest of the race, fighting off a late challenge from Spartan Missile on the long run in to win by 4 lengths. Needless to say there wasn’t a dry eye on the racecourse and the victory gave a huge boost to cancer charities. Great credit should be given to the sporting grandfather aboard the runner up who was conceding 6 lbs, including 3lbs overweight. The following years race was something of an anticlimax however, as Aldaniti and Champion ended up on the floor after the first fence; such is horseracing!
Al Boum Photo: This years winner of The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the 9th animal to win the race more than once, and still only an 8yo and relatively lightly raced, must have a serious shot at joining that elite band who have won it 3 times or more, Golden Millar(5) Cottage Rake(3) Arkle(3) and Best Mate(3). French bred, by Bucks Boum, a son of the excellent NH stallion Cadoudal, out of a mare by the high class French hurdler, Dom Alco, the Willie Mullins trained gelding is certainly bred to be a top class staying chaser, and so it has proved.
He made an inauspicious start to his career, coming to grief at the 3rd last in a French 3yo hurdle and didn’t race again in France. He joined the Co Carlow yard of Willie Mullins in October 2016 and won 2 of his 4 starts over hurdles. He made a successful debut over fences in a Navan 2m1f beginners chase in Nov2017 but fell next time out, and again, when sent off an 8/1 shot for the 2018 RSA Chase at the Cheltenham festival. He got his career back on track with a Grade1 victory at Fairyhouse 18 days later but then was the victim of a dreadful riding error by jockey, Paul Townend. He looked to have the race at his mercy in Punchestowns Champion Novices Chase when his rider took the inexplicable decision to try and bypass the last fence and crashed into the wings. Al Boum Photo wasn’t seen again until making a successful seasonal debut at Tramore on New Years Day 2019 and 74 days later lined up for The Gold Cup as the third choice (12/1) of Willie’s 4 runners. However nobody told him that and in the lead turning in, he stayed on strongly to win by a comfortable 2 1/2L. He had to work a little harder this year where he again led after the last but was all out to hold the late challenge of the Nicky Henderson trained Santini. Whatever the future holds for Al Boum Photo he has already proved himself an outstanding chaser, and I’m sure Willie Mullins, who must have despaired of ever landing National Hunts greatest prize, will be forever grateful to him for bringing it home to Carlow not once but twice to date.
Alderbrook: Not many entire horses have won The Champion Hurdle but one that did was a son of that great stayer Ardross, Alderbrook. Trained in the early part of his career by Sally Hall he didn’t see a racecourse until he was three, and it was only on his 5th attempt that he managed to get his head in front, a modest Class6 handicap, which he won off a lowly mark of 58. Transferred to Julie Cecil things took a decided turn for the better, winning his first 5 races for the Newmarket handler. Progress was maintained and he rounded off his Newmarket sojourn with a fine win in the Group2 Prix Dollar at Longchamp in October 1994 after which the 5yo was transferred to the Grand National winning trainer, Kim Bailey with a hurdling career in mind. Having only his 2nd start over timber, (had run unsuccessfully in a 3yo hurdle for Sally Hall) he won Wincantons Champion Hurdle trial, The Kingwell Hurdle on his debut for his new yard. Heavily backed at odds of 50/1 for the Champion Hurdle on the morning of The Kingwell, he proceeded to demolish a top class field, and 19 days later started an 11/2 chance for The Champion Hurdle itself. Held up, he travelled sweetly for jockey Norman Williamson, and when asked after the last, quickened impressively leaving the 2 joint favourites, Large Action and Danoli, toiling in his wake. After Cheltenham he finished runner up on the flat in a French Group1 and a German Group 2 before retiring for the season. Always difficult to keep sound he only raced 3 more times winning his Champion Hurdle prep race at Kempton in February 1996, finishing 2nd in the big race itself 16 days later, and rounding off a great career with a win in The Scottish Champion Hurdle the following month. He lost by 2 1/2L in The Champion Hurdle and many feel that jockey, Richard Dunwoody overdid the waiting tactics and gave Alderbrook too much to do, an allegation strongly rejected by one of the best riders the sport has ever produced. Alderbrook was retired to stud and had some success, siring plenty of good NH performers such as Ollie Magern and Baron Windrush.
All Along: Foaled in 1979 She was undoubtedly one of the greatest fillies of the second half of the 20th century. French bred, by Targowice, a son of the great American Horse, Round Table, her breeder Daniel Wildenstein, was himself a fascinating character, and it’s worth digressing a little for a quick cameo of one of the most successful, but rather acerbic and irascible, owner/breeders in the history of the turf. A scion of the famous art dealing family, The Wildensteins a business started by his grandfather in the 19th century, he took over the running of Wildenstein &Co’s Paris and NewYork branches in 1959 and those in London and Buenos Aires in 1963. He was a terrifically successful businessman, and Art critic, so much so that a profile of the family in the magazine, Vanity Fair in 1998 estimated his fortune at more than $5 billion, but when it came to racing he could be a very difficult character indeed. Following what many considered the unjustified criticism of Pat Eddery for his ride on Buckskin in the 1978 Ascot Gold, trainer Peter Welwyn told him to remove his horses
From Seven Barrows, (Now Nicky Henderson’s base). Henry Cecil took over the Wildenstein horses and enjoyed plenty of success but that relationship also broke down following the art dealers criticism of Henry’s jockey, Lester Pigott. Lester responded in typical Pigott fashion by describing the Wildensteins as “inveterate bad losers”.
All Along was trained by Maurice Zilber as a 2yo and won her only start but was then moved to Patrick-Louis Biancone for the remainder of her career. She won some notable races at three including the Group1, Prix Vermeille, but it was in the second half of her 4yo career in 1983 that she demonstrated what an exceptional filly she was. Following defeats in the Grand Prix de Chantilly and The Grand Prix de Paris she was given a summer break and on her return put in a highly promising effort in the Arc trial, The Prix Foy. Held up she came with a strong late run to get within a length of Henry Candy’s super filly Time Charter, form she reversed 3 weeks later in the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe itself. Given a great ride by “The Choirboy” Walter Swinburn, she came with a great run up the rails to collar Dick Hern’s Sun Princess a hundred yards out and was a length clear at the post. She immediately headed for Toronto where she won
The Rothmans International at Woodbine and only 2 weeks later won The Turf Classic at Aquaduct in New York. From there she headed for Laurel Park where she landed
The Washington International. She was the first animal to win these 3 prestigious North American/Canadian races in a row and in the process landed a $1Million bonus for connections. It was an amazing feat for the filly to win consecutively 4 of the Worlds top horse races, but to have done it within a 41 day time frame was truly staggering.
Alleged: Foaled in the US in May 1974 he was by the American stallion,
Hoist The Flag. He was bought as an unraced 2yo by Robert Sangster and associates and brought to Ballydoyle to be trained by the legendary Vincent O’Brien. He only ran once at two, winning a back end Curragh Maiden by 8L. He made a flying start to his 3yo campaign with a win in The Ballydoyle Stakes at The Curragh, and then surprised most people when starting at odds of 33/1 he beat his 2 stable companions,
Valinsky the favourite, and Meneval, the previous years Irish St Leger winner, in The Royal Whip Stakes. His unbeaten run continued with success in The Galinule Stakes at The Curragh, and The Great Voltigeur Stakes at York. His unbeaten run came to an end in his next race, The St Leger, and many good judges blamed the man on top, Lester Pigott. Dick Hern the Queens trainer was intent on giving her stoutly bred filly Dunfermline, every chance, and ran 2 pacemakers. Instead of ignoring them and conserving Alleged’s finishing speed, Lester took the 2 pacemakers on from the start leaving his mount with little left at the finish, and he could only finish second to the Royal filly. However back over a mile and a half in The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe next time out it was a different story with Alleged winning readily from Balmerino with Dunfermline back in 4th.
Alleged only raced three times at four, winning all three races, and he became only the 3rd Postwar dual winner of Longchamps Blue Riband, (Tantieme 1950, 1951 and Ribot 1955, 1956). Indeed it was another 35 years before we saw another animal land the great race twice, the filly Treve in 2013, and 2014. Syndicated for $16 Million, Alleged has left his mark on the breed, siring such talented animals as Miss Alleged, Midway Lady, Shantou, Legal Case, Law Society, Leading Counsel, and Strategic Choice to name but a few.
Alverton: A top class chaser who was trained in North Yorkshire by probably one of the best dual purpose trainers the country has ever produced, Peter Easterby. He is the only handler to have trained more than a thousand winners in both codes of racing, and his Cheltenham record alone which includes 2 Gold Cup winners, Alverton (1979) and Little Owl (1981), 5 Victories in The Champion Hurdle, Saucy Kit (1)
Night Nurse (2) and Sea Pigeon (2) a Stayers Hurdle and 3 Arkle’s is one equalled only by N. Henderson and W. Mullins. Peter purchased Alverton’s dam for £700 from a local breeder and had her covered by the Cambridgeshire winner, Midsummer Night 11. It was a shrewd business move and an even shrewder piece of breeding as her son went on to run 22 times, (11 on the flat and 11 over jumps) winning 12 times. Mind you it took all Easterby’s skill to keep the gelding sound as he broke down badly at four and it was a great credit to Peter that he won Cheltenham’s Arkle Chase 2 years later. The following years Gold Cup started in a blizzard and Tommy Carberry aboard Tied Cottage set a furious pace in the dreadful conditions racing well clear of the pursuing field. Coming to the last fence he was still 2 lengths clear of the closing Alverton with pilot Jonjo O’Neill looking to have plenty left in the locker. However Carberry’s mount put in a tired looking jump and fell leaving Alverton to stroll home by 25L. Tommy insisted afterwards that if Tied Cottage had jumped the last he would have won, but needless to say Jonjo would have none of it. Tied Cottage was indeed a very unlucky animal as he won the following years contest by a distance from Master Smudge but was subsequently disqualified for failing a blood test, skewed apparently for having been fed a Mars Bar. 16 days after his Cheltenham victory, Alverton lined up as favourite for The Grand National and was probably going better than anything else coming to Beecher’s Brook on the 2nd circuit when inexplicably he failed to take off and fell heavily breaking his neck. Jonjo felt that the horse was full of running and the most likely explanation was that Alverton had suffered a heart attack. It was a sad end for such a brave and talented young horse and who knows what he might have achieved in the future had connections decided to sidestep that years Grand National only 16 days after his gruelling race in the mud at Cheltenham.
Ambush II: In 1897 The Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, bought an unraced Irish bred 3yo for 500 Gns from the tenant of Eyrefield Lodge, on The Curragh, G.W. Lushington. It was a fortuitous purchase as the colt went on to win The Grand National 3 years later. Trained for his entire career at Eyrefield, his racecourse debut when four in 1898 was a rather inauspicious one, falling at Navan, ridden by
Algy Anthony. However compensation awaited the duo 29 days later when they won The Maiden Plate at Punchestown despite a refusal at the course’s famous double bank. He rounded off the year with a win in The St Stephens Day Plate at Leopardstown on December 26th. His best performance the following year was a 7th in the 1899 Grand National again with the intrepid Algernon in the plate. He made a very promising start to the new century winning a NH flat race on St Patrick’s day at the now defunct Baldoyle Racecourse near Dublin, with his previous owner G.W. lushington riding, and then lined up for the 1900 Grand National with plenty of confidence behind him, starting joint second choice in the market with Manifesto who had won the great race in 1897 and 1899. On the second circuit the favourite, another Irish horse, Hidden Mystery, had just taken over the lead when he was brought down by a loose horse, (ironically Ambush 11’s stable companion Covert Hack who had fallen at the first fence) leaving the rest of the contest to be fought out by Manifesto and Ambush 11. It was an epic struggle up Aintree’s long run in but in the end Manifesto’s welter burden of 12-13 proved too much and Algy Anthony drew clear. George Williamson then eased the gallant Manifesto and was just pipped for second place. Described by many as one of the most exciting Grand Nationals ever, Algy Anthony would certainly have had fond memories of the race as The Prince gave him a
“Present” of £500, a serious sum of money in those days. Manifesto must surely rank as one of the greatest “Aintree horses” ever as he was 3rd again in 1902 carrying 12-8, (ridden by Lester Pigott’s grandad, Ernie Pigott) and 3rd yet again at the age of 15 with 12-3 and ridden by Ernie in 1903. Ambush 11 came to the last looking like the winner in that 1903 race, with Algy up, but there was no happy ending this time as he fell and never won again. He died 2 years later in 1905 still only 8, and his head was removed for a post mortem. Also, Lushingham had his hooves removed, thinking Edward, now King, would like them mounted, (a rather macabre practice) as souvenirs of his Grand National victory. However a quick reassembly job was required when the royal command to forward the entire skeleton for display in a museum, was received.
Anglo: Foaled in 1958, he was Irish bred, by Greek Star out of Miss Alligator and had many owners. He was sold as a foal to Mr Padge Berry in November 1958 for 170 Gns and sold on the following August to a Mr Quilty for 310 Gns. 2 months after that he was acquired for 460Gns at The Newmarket Houghton Sales by Mr J.E Oxley and he raced as a 2yo named, Flag of Convenience, on the flat in the colours of General Fielden. His efforts were marked by such a conspicuous lack of success that he was sold for 110Gns to a farmer named Mr J. Nichols at Botteril’s Sales in Leicestershire who kept him on his farm for 18 months. He next appeared on a racecourse, in The Ramsey Hurdle race at Huntingdon in June 1962 where he caught the attention of Captain Ryan Price, who bought him on behalf of a partner in The Anglo Amalgated Film Studio, Mr Stuart Levy for £2,500. Perhaps seeing an opportunity to promote the company Stuart changed the 4yo’s name to Anglo, and he did well for his new connections. When Price was disqualified from training over his handling of the Hurdler, Rosyth, in 1964, Anglo moved to Fred Winters Lambourn yard. He continued to do well for Fred, (won 11 races over hurdles and fences in his career) in the 1964-1965 season, but the following year was disappointing, his only win coming in a modest Windsor Chase. Fred had won the 1965 Grand National with the American owned, and ridden, Jay Trump, but there was little confidence that Anglo, with his poor form to date in 1966, could emulate his heroic stable mate in what was the120th renewal of the great race, and he started at odds of 50/1. However, the horse didn’t know he was a 50/1 shot, and in a field of 47, ridden by Tim Norman, Anglo came home 20L clear, of the great hope of Scotland, Freddie, who had been sent off the 11/4 fav. He won for his lucky owner, record prize money of £22,334 and 5 shillings. The following year, having changed hands yet again, he was involved in the debacle at the 23rd fence which saw Foinavon romp home at odds of 100/1 and that really was his Swan-song. Interestingly, the 1968 Grand National was won by his half-brother, Red Alligator, with Red Rum’s future partner, Brian Fletcher in the plate.
Ardross Foaled in May 1976, and bred by the great Irish trainer, Paddy “Darkie” Prendergast, he was by Run The Gantlet out of a daughter of Levmoss, that exceptional animal who not only won the top staying races in France and Britain but also had the speed to win The Prix de I’Arc de Triomphe in 1969. Bred on such stout staying lines, Ardross was always going to need a trip, and so it proved, becoming one of the top staying racehorses of the last 40 years. Trained by “Darkie, he didn’t see a racecourse until he was three, running unplaced on his debut, but causing one of the shocks of the 1979 season when hosing up at odds of 50/1 in the Group2 Gallinule Stakes next time out. He only ran once more that season, finishing unplaced in The King Edward V11 Stakes at Royal Ascot. Sadly Paddy died in June 1980 and his son Kevin took over the training of Ardross. Finishing unplaced over 10 furlongs on his seasonal debut in 1980, Kevin stepped him up to 2 miles for Leopardstown’s Saval Beg Stakes, where he was a revelation, trotting up by 6L, establishing him as a potential top stayer. Starting at 6/1 for the Ascot Gold Cup the following month he gave the outstanding stayer, Le Moss, plenty to think about, pushing Henry Cecil’s Champion all the way to the line, and only going down by 3/4L. He had to give best to Le Moss again in both The Goodwood and Doncaster Cups, albeit reducing the losing margin on both occasions to just a neck. However he finished off the 1980 campaign on a positive note. Partnered by L. Pigott for the first time, he won Newmarket’s Jockey Club Cup, and then finished 3rd in Longchamp’s Prix Royal Oak.
Purchased by that great racing enthusiast, Charles St George, he moved to the Newmarket yard of Henry Cecil for the 1981 campaign, and started the season in great style, winning The Yorkshire Cup, The Ascot Gold Cup, and The Goodwood Cup, in succession, before reverting to 13 furlongs for Newbury’s Geoffrey Freer Stakes in August. In a contest that featured the future St Leger winner, Cut Above, who went on to win that years final Classic from the legendary Shergar, Ardross showed plenty of pace, winning easily from Castle Keep with the future St Leger winner back in 3rd. From the worst possible draw, 24/24, he went on from Newbury to finish 5th to Gold River in The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe, but 3 weeks later, reversed that form in the Prix Royal Oak, winning by 4L from Proustille with Gold River, 2 1/2L back in 3rd.
Ardross got his 1982 campaign off to a great start, winning The Jockey Club Stakes from Glint of Gold, and followed up with a comfortable win in Sandown’s Henry 11 Stakes, before easily landing a second Ascot Gold Cup. Further success followed with another win in The Geoffrey Freer at Newbury, followed by a second Doncaster Cup. Now six, he rounded of a great career, under a great ride by Lester, running the super filly Akiyda close in his final race, The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe.
Syndicated as a stallion for £2 Million, he failed to make much impression on the flat, but proved a significant NH influence, siring amongst many other stalwarts of the winter game, the Champion Hurdler, Alderbrook, and the winner of The Stayers Hurdle, Anzum.
Arkle: Those who braved the miserable wintry conditions to attend Navan’s National Hunt meeting on the 20th of January 1962, didn’t know it when they arrived at the Co Meath track, but that come the running of the 27 runner Bective Novice Hurdle on the card, they were going to see a slice of racing history unfold. The talented mare Kerforo, who was to win The Irish Grand National only 3 months later for her trainer Tom Dreaper, was sent off the even money favourite, and looked like justifying the odds between the last 2 obstacles, when an unconsidered outsider, (20/1) also trained by Tom, cruised past to win the modest 1st prize of £133, as he liked. The winner, a 5yo gelding by Archive, out of the mare Bright Cherry, who went on to leave an indelible mark on National Hunt racing, was the mighty Arkle, and it was the first of the legend’s 27 victories.
Foaled on 19th April 1957 at Ballymacoll stud in Co Kildare, then owned by Miss Dorothy Paget, (the 5 times Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Golden Millar,1932-36 raced in her colours) and 3 years later, in August 1960, was submitted for sale at Ballsbridge by his breeder, Mrs Mary Baker. Purchased for 1150Gns by Anne Duchess of Westminster, he spent the following year at the Duchess’s, Eaton Lodge estate in Cheshire, before returning to Ireland, to be trained by Tom Dreaper at his Kilsallaghan, North Co Dublin yard, Greenogue.
Tom, a firm believer in giving young animals plenty of time to develop, and a quiet introduction to racing, won’t have been the slightest bit concerned, when his future champion ran 4th on his racecourse debut in a Mullingar “Bumper” on Dec 9th 1961, and 3rd in a similar contest at Leopardstown 17 days later. Ridden on both occasions by the amateur, Mark Hely-Hutchinson, who amusingly remarked, “that he is the only rider of Arkle never to have won on the great horse”
Arkle’s Cheltenham career got off to a flying start with victory in the 1963 Broadway Chase, (now The Arkle Chase in his honour) and the following year he won The Gold Cup itself, beating the previous years winner, Mill House, by a length. The 1965 Gold Cup saw him extend that advantage over Millhouse to 20 lengths, and in the 1966 renewal, despite a serious blunder early in the contest, strolled home by 30 lengths at odds of 1/10. Besides winning 3 consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups he put in some eye watering, weight carrying, performances, including winning 2 Hennessy Gold Cups carrying 12-7 both times, and The Irish Grand National under 12-0 in 1964. Another outstanding performance was his concession of 16lbs to Mill House in the 1965 Gallagher Gold Cup, winning in a time 17 seconds faster than the course record. One of his greatest efforts was in defeat. In the 1966 Hennessy Gold Cup, he failed by just 1/2 a length, to concede 35lbs to the talented Stalbridge Colonist, who went on to lfinish a close 2nd in the Cheltenham Gold Cup 4 months later.
In the 1966 King George V1 Chase, Arkle struck the guard rail with his hoof jumping the open ditch, and fractured a pedal bone. Despite the injury, he kept going to finish runner up, but it was to be the great horses’ swan song at the age of just nine, and he never raced again.
A winner of 27 of his 35 starts at distances from 1m6f to 3m5f, his Timeform rating of 212 is the highest ever awarded to a steeplechaser, with only his stablemate Flying bolt on 210, coming close. Next on their ratings are Sprinter Sacre on 192, followed by Kauto Star and Mill House on 191. His owner the duchess, continued to ride him as a hack, but his retirement was sadly curtailed when he contracted a crippling bone disease and had to be put down at the young age of 13. The concensus is that we are most unlikely to ever see his like again, but the skeleton of the great horse has been preserved, and can be seen at the Irish National Stud at Tully in Co Kildare.
Ayala: We get to the end of the A’s with a horse sired by the 1950 Ascot Gold Cup winner, Supertello, whose exploits on the turf, with one outstanding exception, are largely forgettable, but is pretty interesting nonetheless for the characters who were part of his story.
Foaled in 1954 at the Dalham Hall stud in Newmarket, (purchased by Sheikh Mahommed in 1981) he fetched a mere 400Gns at the same years Newmarket December sales. Useless on the Flat, he changed hands for 40Gns and when resubmitted to the sales as a 3yo was bought by, Mr John Chapman, a patron of trainer, Keith Pigott, father of Lester Pigott. Mr Chapman hoped he would make a hunter, but found to be unsuitable, sold him on to Keith for 250Gns as a 6yo, who saw some potential in the hitherto equine failure as a future chaser. Pigott sold a half share to a London hairdresser named Raymond Bessone, otherwise famously known as Teazie Weazie Raymond. Coiffure to the rich and famous, Teazie Weazie was once summoned to Hollywood by the fifties blonde bombshell, Diana Dors, for a shampoo and set at a fee of £2,500, so I don’t imagine training fees would have been a problem.
However, Keith’s intuition about Ayala proved correct, and under his tutelage won 3 chases in the 1960-61 season, but developed a ligament problem and was Pinfired. (Pinfiring or Thermocutery while widely practised back in the day, was considered by many to be a cruel and barbaric practice, and as far as I can ascertain is now forbidden by racing’s rules). Being the son of jockey, Ernie Pigott, who had ridden the winner of 3 Grand Nationals, winning Aintree’s blue riband as a trainer, was one of Keith’s overriding ambitions. So, one suspects with more hope than expectation, he aimed his recovering, but very inexperienced chaser at the 1963 renewal of the great race.
Despite starting at odds of 66/1 in the 47 runner field, (which contained 3 previous winners of the contest, Mr What, Kilmore and Nicolaus Silver) Keith’s confidence in Ayala’s chances must have dramatically increased by race day since it is rumoured that he was backed to win over £1Million, a really huge sum in 1963. Given a great ride by the 19 years old Irish jockey, Pat Buckley, he only made a single mistake, at the Canal Turn on the first circuit, and came to the final fence a length behind the amateur ridden, Carrickbeg, who following a terrific struggle up the long run in, weakened near the finish, and the gallant Ayala went on to win by 3/4 of a length.
The runner up was ridden by that, Doyen of the racing press room, and excellent amateur jockey, John, later Lord Oaksey, whose greatest contribution to racing was undoubtedly founding The Injured Jockeys Fund. I’m sure that, that myriad of National hunt and Flat riders who have had the misfortune to suffer the injuries which are an inevitable part of the sport over the years, are forever grateful for his foresight. Ayala never won again. He was pulled up in the 1964 renewal and only got as far as the first in 1965, but his ebullient and very camp co-owner, Teazie Weazie, enjoyed further Aintree glory when the Fred Rimell trained, and Richard Dunwoody ridden, Rag Trade brought home the bacon in 1976.
Badsworth Boy: Winner of The Queen Mother Champion Chase in 1983, 84, and 85, he remains to this day, the only horse to have recorded 3 consecutive victories, in what is effectively the deciding heat of the two miler’s championship, an outcome surely beyond the imagination of his breeder, who had a sprint bred mare, (by Falcon)
covered by a son of Bold Ruler, (best known as a sire of precocious 2-year olds) Wolf Hayes in 1974. Foaled in 1975, Badsworth Boy did indeed win 2 of his 8 starts as a juvenile, when trained by Snowy Wainwright, minor 6f events at Beverly. However, suffering from Navicular disease, a condition affecting the feet, he was difficult to train and was sold to Mr Doug Armitage who had him gelded, and sent to the Dickinson’s jumping academy near Harewood in Yorkshire, to try his hand at the Winter game, a discipline he turned out to have a rare talent for, winning 8 times over hurdles, and eighteen times over fences.
In the first of his 3 Champion Chase victories he won by 35 lengths from Artifice with the previous years winner, Rathgorman well behind. The following year he won by 10L from the Gordon Richards trained Little Bay and in 1985 beat the talented Far Bridge by a similar distance.
Great credit for Badsworth Boy’s success has to go to both the Dickinson family, for keeping such a fragile animal sound, (as well as having Navicular disease he suffered all his life from a form of equine arthritis) and his rider, Robert Earnshaw, who is credited with teaching the horse his rapid fencing technique, more akin to hurdling than jumping. Indeed, Mary Reveley, who took over the reins from Son Michael for the 1984-85 campaign was certainly fullsome in her praise of Earnshaw, (now a senior NH steward) putting him right at the pinnacle of steeplechase jockeys. Michael Dickinson, still training very successfully in The US, has no hesitation in nominating Badsworth Boy as “the best I have trained”. Retired to his owners farm at the end of his highly successful racing career, Badsworth Boy enjoyed a long retirement before departing for even greener pastures, at the age of 27 in 2002.
Bahram: Foaled in 1932, he became the first winner of the traditional British Triple Crown, The 2000gns at Newmarket, The Epsom Derby, and The St Leger at Doncaster, since Rock Sand in 1903, and indeed, the only animal to have completed that elusive treble to the present day, was the mighty Nijinsky in 1970. Bred at his owners Egerton stud farm in County Kildare, he was by that hugely influential stallion, Blandford, who in the seven years between 1928 and 1935 sired The Derby winner 4 times. A real equine “goodlooker” his owner, The Aga Khan, (Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan111, to give him his full title) sent Bahram to be trained at Newmarket by Frank Butters.
Bahram remained unbeaten in his 9 race career, winning Sandown’s, National Breeders Produce Stakes on his 2yo debut, and followed up with 4 further juvenile victories, The Rous Memorial Stakes at Goodwood, The Gimcrack at York, Newmarket’s Boscawen Stakes, and rounded off his 2yo career winning The Middle Park at the same venue. Having developed into a really handsome, powerful looking colt, he got his 3yo career off to a flier with victory in The 2000gns. Starting at odds of 7/2 and partnered by his usual jockey, Freddie Fox, he won by 1 1/2L from Theft. Again partnered by Freddie, he started the 5/4 fav for The Derby, and was an easy winner, coming home 2L clear of The field. Bahram then started at 1/8 to maintain his unbeaten record in Ascot’s St James’s Palace Stakes and he did so, but was less than impressive in beating Portfolio. He was then made a very hot favourite at 4/11 to land the 3rd leg of The Triple Crown, and partner, Freddie, must have been cursing his luck when he sustained a serious injury in a fall the day before the Doncaster centrepiece. However, one man’s poison is another man’s meat, and the jockey who came in for the ride was the colourful Charlie Smirke, (son of a London fruit and fish dealer who earlier in his career had been warned off for 5 years)who had ridden the previous years Derby and St Leger winner, Windsor Lad. The new partnership never looked in any danger and they won by 5L from Solar Ray. Amusingly, after the race, Charlie expressed the opinion, that twelve stone and a brace of riders on his back wouldn’t have stopped the son of Blandford winning that day. Bahram was one of those really laid back horses, who did little on the gallops, and on the racecourse was rarely impressive, doing just enough to win, but neither at home, or on the racecourse, did any opponent ever succeed in getting to the bottom of him. His talented and highly successful trainer, Frank Butters, said that he could never really find out just how good he was.
Being by that huge influence on the British thoroughbred, Blandford, Irish and British bloodstockdealers were dismayed when the Aga Khan sold him to an American syndicate for £40,000 after only 2 seasons covering mares on this side of The Atlantic. While never siring anything nearly as good as himself he was moderately successful in The US, but was subsequently sold on to Argentina for $130,000 where he died at the age of 24.
His owner, Aga Khan111 was not only hugely influential on the turf, (won The Derby 5 times) but he was the Imam of the Shi’a Isma’ili Muslims, one of the most progressive, peaceful, and prosperous branches of Islam. During his reign of over 70 years his Golden, Diamond, and Platinum anniversaries we’re celebrated by his followers with a gift of either gold, diamonds, or platinum, to the weight of the Aga. You can’t blame him for carrying a few pounds overweight, can you? But on a more serious note, these amazing gifts were used to set up many international educational and charitable institutions, which survive to this day.
Ballinode: In the 91 renewals of The Cheltenham Gold Cup since it’s inception in 1924 only 4 members of the fairer sex figure on the great race’s roll of honour, and the first to do so was Ballinode. Owned by Sligo man, Christopher Bentley, from the village of Ballinode, he named the mare after his birthplace, and as her reputation blossomed she became known as “The Sligo Mare”. She was by a little known stallion called Machakos, (a son of the Coventry stakes winner Desmond) out of a mare called Celia, who was a half sister to The Ascot Gold Cup winner Love Wisely.
Trained on The Curragh by Frank Morgan, she won plenty of races in Ireland, gaining quite a reputation for her speedy, (but not always accurate) jumping.
She made her Cheltenham debut in the 1924 National Hunt Handicap Chase, a race then worth over £1000, (The Gold Cup was worth nearly £400 less) and finished second. A month later she finished 8th in The Grand National, and that Autumn landed her first British success, The Grand Sefton Chase over Aintree’s National fences. In 1925, she warmed up for her attempt at Cheltenham’s Blue Riband with a victory at Nottingham in February, and about 4 weeks later on March 11th, lined up at Cheltenham the 3/1 second favourite in a field of four. Ridden by Ted Leader, the race soon developed into a duel between the odds on favourite, Alcazar and Ballinode. Full of running coming to the second last fence, the “Sligo Mare” flew the obstacle and galloped up the hill to win easily by 5L, and bring the £685 first prize back to Sligo. 18 days later, she started a 10/1 chance for the rather more valuable Grand National but there was to be no happy ending this time, and she failed to finish.
The other three mares to win The Gold Cup were Kerstin in 1958, Glencarraig Lady in 1972 and the great Dawn Run in 1986, who became the first animal to win both The Champion Hurdle and The Gold Cup, but it is worth noting that the first 2 raced carrying the same weight as their male counterparts, whereas when Dawn Run was making history, she benefited from the relatively newly introduced mares 7lbs allowance. For those of you who can remember that epic finish, fought out between Dawn Run and Wayward Lad in 1986, I just wonder if she would have won her unique place in the history books with another 7lbs on her back?
Ballymoss :Foaled in 1954, Ballymoss became the first Irish trained winner of The St Leger. He was by Mossborough, (not a top class performer in his racing career, only won 5 of his 17 starts, but became a highly successful stallion and sire of brood mares) out of a daughter of Singapore, Indian Call. Indian Call was pretty useless on the racecourse but was a daughter of the well bred Flittermere, winner of The Yorkshire Oaks, who was sold for 3,500Gns at the end of her racing career in 1929. Flittermere proved a disappointment at stud, and both her and her daughter, Indian Call were sent to the December Sales in 1939. Mum, Flittermere, was knocked down for a derisory 10Gns and then Irish Breeder, Mr Richard Ball landed, what must be one of the of the greatest equine bargains ever, when securing her daughter, Indian Call, for 15gns. (besides Ballymoss she bred 6 other winners).
Submitted to the Doncaster yearling Sales in 1955, the chestnut colt who was to become Ballymoss, was bought for 4,500gns by the 38 year old Vincent O’Brien, (already the winner of 4 Cheltenham Gold Cups, 3 Champion Hurdles and 3 Grand Nationals) acting on behalf of the American, Mr J. McShain.
Backward at two, Ballymoss only ran 4 times, his sole success coming in Leopardstown’s Laragh Maiden Plate, worth £202 to the winner. He made a stuttering start to his 3yo career, finishing unplaced in the 7 furlong Madrid Free Handicap, but stepped up to 1 1/2 miles for The Trigo Stakes next time, won comfortably, and generous odds of 100/1 for Epsom’s Blue Riband were quickly snapped up. Starting at 33/1 on Derby Day, despite his preparation having been held up by a foot injury, the son of Mossborough finished an honourable 2nd under jockey T.P. Burns, a length and a half behind the top class Crepello. After Epsom, Ballymoss comfortably won The Irish Derby, but then probably in need of the run, finished unplaced in that good St Leger trial at York, The Great Voltigeur Stakes. With testing conditions prevailing on Town Moor on the day of the St Leger, the odds on the O’Brien horse drifted from 5/1 to 8/1, but belying the lack of market confidence, he had little difficulty in seeing off the challenge of the runner up, Court Harwell. Finishing out the back in the final race of his 3yo campaign, the Champion Stakes, did nothing to enhance Ballymoss’s burgeoning reputation, but with another year on his back, greatness awaited!
He made his 4yo debut in Chester’s Ormonde Stakes in the Spring of 1958, and lost nothing in defeat, when clearly in need of the run, he finished 2nd to Doutelle. He then went on to win in succession, four of the racing worlds premier contests, The Coronation Cup, The Eclipse Stakes, The King GeorgeV1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and finally, Europe’s championship event, The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe. Regrettably, his final race came in The Washington International, at Laurel park, a very tight track, with a short run in, totally unsuited to the long striding chestnut colt. In a particularly rough race, where the winner was disqualified, he finished 3rd, bringing the curtain down on one of racing’s most outstanding careers.
Ballymoss won a record £114,150 in prize money, a sum only surpassed by the Paddy Prendergast trained Ragusa 5 years later. His career as a stallion wasn’t exceptional, but he did produce one outstanding animal, the 1967 Derby winner, Royal Palace.
Battleship: Foaled in 1927, he was by that great American racehorse, Man o’War, who would have remained unbeaten in a 21 race career but for the incompetence of his rider. ( in a small field 2yo heat, jockey Loftus, managed to get himself hopelessly boxed in) As a stallion, Man o’War exerted a powerful influence on the breed, but I’m sure that few would have anticipated him siring the only animal to win both The Grand National, and the US version, The American Grand National; Battleship.
Campaigned on the flat at two and three, with plenty of success, he won 10 of his 22 starts before being sold for $12,000 to Mrs Marion Du Pont Scott, a scion of the fabulously wealthy Du Pont clan, and wife to that well known hero of the silver screen, Randolph Scott. Despite Battleship standing at less than 15.2 hands, extremely small for a chaser, that was the route Marion chose for her new acquisition, and her judgement proved correct. He won 3 of his 4 starts over fences in his first season, and in 1934 won America’s most prestigious chasing event, The American Grand National.
Never a very sound animal, but recovering from a bowed tendon, Ms Du Pont decided in 1936 to have a crack at the real thing, and sent her “pocket” Battleship to be trained in England by Reginald Hobbs for the 1937 Grand National. He won several races for Reg but many in the press considered Aintree a step too far for such a small animal, and he was withdrawn from the 1937 renewal. However, the son of Man o’War continued to perform on the racecourse, including winning the Welsh Grand National, and he was again entered for the 1938 renewal. Now an 11yo he was to be partnered by a rider only six years older than himself, the trainers son, Bruce, and between them they made history that day in April 1938 when they beat the Irish Horse, Royal Danieli, (ridden by Tommy Carberry’s future father in law, and trainer of the dual Gold Cup and Grand National winner L’Escargot, Dan Moore) by a short head. Bruce was, and still is the youngest jockey to have ever ridden the winner, and of course Battleship became the first to win both the American and English Grand National’s.
A real rarity amongst the National Hunt brigade, Battleship was an entire animal, (the previous winning Grand National entire was Grudon in 1901) and he sired 2 steeplechase champions, plus the 1952 winner of The American Grand National, Sea Legs. Following a long retirement, he sank to his own spot in “Davy Jones’s Locker” at the age of 31 in 1958.
Footnote; the American Grand National has some interesting connections to the British hurdling scene. The late Toby Balding, trained Morley Street to win it in 1990, and again in 1991, having won The Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham about three months earlier. The American horse Flatterer won the 1983 renewal of The American Grand National and 4 years later ran the three times winning Champion Hurdler See You Then to a length and a half in the 1987 renewal of Cheltenham’s hurdling Crown.
Best Mate: Bred in Ireland by the Dutch businessman, Jacques Van’t Hart, the triple Gold Cup winning Best Mate was by the French stallion Un Desperado, out of the mare Katday. His dam was pretty useless on the racecourse but certainly made her mark as a broodmare, not only producing Best Mate, a winner of 14 of his 22 starts, but also bred his two full brothers, Cornish Rebel and Inca Trail, who between them won 16 races. Foaled in January 1995, he was trained by Henrietta Knight, (ably assisted by her husband, the 3 times champion Jockey from the sixties, Terry Biddlecombe).
Best Mate made his racecourse debut in a NH flat race at Cheltenham in November 1999, sporting the claret and blue colours of midlands businessman Jim Lewis, (Jim was a lifetime Aston Villa supporter). He won by a hard fought 3/4 of a length, but 19 days later had a much easier time, winning his first hurdles race in a canter at Sandown. A close 2nd in The Supreme Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival, and a Grade2 victory at Aintree, followed in the Spring of 2000, before he was put away for the season.
Best Mate made his chasing debut a winning one, at Exeter in October 2000, (a Mr Markus Jooste had purchased a 40% share in Best Mate for £242,000 in the meantime) and the following month demonstrated his liking for Prestbury Park, easily winning the Grade2 November Novices Chase at the big Autumn meeting. Another easy victory followed in the Grade1 Scilly Isles Novices Chase at Sandown in February 2001, but alas, Cheltenham plans had to be shelved, as The Festival was cancelled due to the outbreak of Foot and Mouth.
Beaten 3/4 of a length by the Willie Mullins trained Florida Pearl in the 2001 renewal of the King George VI Chase, Christmas 2001, he lined up eleven weeks later for his first attempt at Cheltenham’s Blue Riband, and won by 1 3/4Lengths and 8Lengths, at odds of 7/1, outstaying the Ruby Walsh ridden, Commanche Court, and the 1999 victor, See More Business.
The following season he went one better in the King George V1 Chase, beating the Nicky Henderson trained Marlborough by a length and a half, and then had little trouble in landing his second Gold Cup, winning by 10 Lengths from Truckers tavern. He looked better than ever when taking the 2003 renewal of The Ericsson Chase at Leopardstown in December, and 81 days later started at odds on to become the first horse since the mighty Arkle to win three Cheltenham Gold Cups. He did so, but not in the style expected, having to be driven out by Culloty to win by 3/4 of a length from the 155 rated outsider Sir Rembrandt. Put away after Cheltenham, he reappeared at Exeter in November 2004 where he struggled to beat an animal rated 19lbs his inferior, and 39 days after that was well beaten by Beef or Salmon in The Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, never looking as if a 4th Gold Cup was in prospect. Missing the 2005 Cheltenham Festival, he reappeared at Exeter 308 days after Leopardstown, and going wrong before the third last, was pulled up by Pilot, Paul Carberry, where sadly, the Cheltenham hero collapsed and died.
Undoubtedly Best Mate was an outstanding chaser, but suggestions by some, including the late lamented Terry Biddlecome, that he was better than Arkle are fanciful. The only thing they had in common was winning 3 Gold Cups, and the highly respected Timeform organisation have Arkle rated on 212 and Best Mate 30lbs lower on 182.
Bosra Sham: An American bred filly by Woodman out of the Riverman mare, Korveya, foaled in February 1993, was sent from Kentucky to the 1994 Tattersalls Houghton yearling Sales at Newmarket, and her breeder, Mr G, Leigh, must have been hoping to see the filly realise a substantial price as she was a full sister to the colt, Hector Protector, who had been the champion French juvenile in 1990, and French 2000Gns winner in 1991. She was also a half sister, to the French 1000Gns winner Shanghai.
His hopes were certainly not in vain, as she was knocked down to the Syrian businessman, Wafic Said for 530,000gns, the highest price paid for a yearling anywhere in Europe that year. Named after the ancient Syrian town of Bosra, (Busra ash Sham) the chestnut filly was sent to be trained by the master of Warren Place, Henry Cecil. As Henry’s record graphically demonstrates, he was the consummate trainer of the thoroughbred racehorse, but having trained 8 winners of The Oaks, and 6 winners of The 1000Gns, he clearly had a particular touch with fillies, and he needed all his skill in that department to keep the new inmate of Warren Place sound for the 10 races she contested between 1995 and 1997. The apple of Henry’s Eye was a real speed machine on the Newmarket gallops, but she had a very dodgy front off fore foot, so it was to his great credit that he managed to train her to win 7 of her 10 starts, three of them at the top level.
She bolted up on her racecourse debut in a Newbury Maiden in August 1995, and 24 days later won the Group1 Fillies Mile at Ascot just as easily, before retiring for the season. She reappeared in the 1000Gns trial, The Fred Darling Stakes at Newbury the following April, winning very easily on easy ground, before lining up for The 1000Gns 16 days later as the 10/11 favourite. She duly justified the price winning by 1 1/2Lengths from the subsequent Irish 1000Gns winner, Matiya, on the good/firm ground, but entered the winners enclosure as if she was walking on hot coals, and Henry wisely gave her an extended Summer break. She reappeared in The Queen Elizabeth11 Stakes at the end of September, needing the run after 146 days on the sidelines, and on the good/firm ground, went down by 1 1/4Lengths to Mark Of Esteem, with all guns blazing. 3 weeks later she put up the best performance of her career when comfortably beating the 5yo Halling in The Champion Stakes, and finished the season with the title of, “European Champion Three Year Old Filly”.
She commenced her 4yo campaign with victories at Group3 and 2 level, but then could only finish 3rd in The Eclipse Stakes at Sandown behind Pilsudski, and was clearly past her best when trailing in last of four behind Singspiel in The International at York, bringing the curtain down on the career of one of the highest rated fillies of the last 50 years.
At stud Bosra Sham produced 5 live foals, but nothing nearly as good as herself, the best of them being the horse Rosberg, who won a Group3 at the Vancouver track, Hastings Racecourse, and he still stands as a stallion in Canada.
Brigadier Gérard: when John Hislop, owner/breeder and racing journalist par excellence, was looking for a name for his newly foaled son of Queens Hussar, out of The Prince Chevalier mare, La Paiva, (foaled 5th March 1968) he was inspired to call him after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s eponymous hero, and what a prescient name it turned out to be. Doyle’s comedic character, arrogant and self confident in the extreme, was totally convinced of his own superiority in all things, and his equine counterpart, when it came to performing on the racecourse, certainly showed that he was. Trained by Dick Hern at West Ilsley, and ridden in all his races by Joe Mercer, the “Brigadier” was only beaten once in an 18 race career, and that was following an unbeaten run of 15 straight wins.
The beautifully balanced, bay colt, made an instant impression on his racecourse debut at two in Newbury’s Berkshire Stakes , winning by an eased down 5 lengths. He followed up with two further facile victories before stepping up to the top level in Newmarket’s Middlepark Stakes. He again won with his head in his chest, from that top sprinter, Mummy’s Pet, and was retired for the season with his connections eyes firmly fixed on the 1971 2000Gns.
Hern, trainer of 16 British Classic winners, deemed that a prep run before the Guineas was unnecessary, and Brigadier Gérard lined up at Newmarket as the market’s 3rd choice (11/2) behind the previous years two top juveniles, Mill Reef, (6/4) and My Swallow, (9/4). Despite the two market leaders running up to their best form, they were no match for the impressive “Brigadier,” who showing an amazing turn of foot, accelerated past them both and won by 3 Lengths from the brilliant Mill Reef. When you consider the runner up remained unbeaten for the rest of his career, winning The Derby, The Eclipse Stakes, The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe, The Prix Ganay and finally The Coronation Cup, that Guineas run must have been one of the greatest ever. After The Guineas “The Brigadier” continued on his unbeaten path, landing The St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, The Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, which he won by 5 Lengths from another subsequently unbeaten animal, Faraway Son, and then doubled that winning distance in The Goodwood Mile. Further success followed in The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and then, stepped up to 10 furlongs for the first time in The Champion Stakes, he brought the curtain down on a magnificent season, winning, albeit by only the minimum distance, from the Irish horse Rarity.
His sparkling form continued at four, winning his first 5 races, including, The Prince of Wales at Royal Ascot, The Eclipse Stakes at Sandown, and The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes again at Ascot, so when he lined up for the inaugural running of The Benson and Hedges Gold Cup at York for his 16th undefeated start the overriding majority of the racing public thought that defeat for the 1/3 favourite was unthinkable. However, nobody told the Derby winner, Roberto, nor his Panamanian jockey, Braulio Baeza and the pair set off at a breakneck pace. The Vincent O’Brien trained Roberto maintained the furious pace right to the finish, easily breaking the course record and crossed the line 3 lengths in front of Brigadier Gérard. Pilot, Joe Mercer, in an effort to excuse his mounts defeat, tried to assert that he was a sick animal, but considering that The Brigadier also broke the course record, and finished 10 lengths (a revue of the tape recording showed it to be more like 17 Lengths) clear of the 3rd horse, the talented Gold Rod, it was in fact one of “The Brigadiers” best performances ever, a conclusion his sporting owners Mr and Mrs Hislop were more than happy to concur with. It was back to winning ways with a second win in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes next time out for the “Brigadier” and then he brought his magnificent career to an appropriate end, winning a second Champion Stakes, beating the French horse Riverman, by 1 1/2 lengths. Co-rated on 141 with Mill Reef at the end of his 3yo career by Timeform, a mark increased to 144 at four, makes The Brigadier, along with Tudor Minstrel, the two highest rated English trained horses of the 20th Century.
Brigadier Gérard wasn’t a great success at stud but he did sire one Classic winner, Light Cavalry who Dick Hern trained to win The St Leger.
Brown Jack: one of the most popular racehorses of the post World War I era, was foaled in County Offaly, in the midlands of Ireland in 1924. A brown colt by the stallion, Jackdaw, it didn’t require any great stretch of the imagination to find a name for the colt, who in the course of a 7 year career, caught the imagination of not only the racing public, but the nation as a whole.
Thoughts of the yearlings future popularity will have been far from the mind of his breeder, George Webb, when the brown colt didn’t attract a single bid at the Ballsbridge Sales in 1925, and George had to accept the offer of a paltry £110 from a Mr Marcus Thompson who spotted him in the unsold pen. The Brown Jack story might well have ended there but for the unreliability of racehorse trainer, Charlie Rogers’ motor car. It broke down outside Thompson’s Tipperary home the following year while on his way to Limerick Junction, (now Tipperary) racecourse, where he spotted the now gelded 2yo, grazing contentedly in a paddock. Liking what he saw, and impressed by the fact that he was by the 1912 winner of the Queen Alexandra Stakes, Jackdaw, Charlie managed to get Thompson to part with him for £275.
While Charlie’s new stoutly bred acquisition , (his dam was by the stayer Kroonstad) was always going to need a trip, he decided to give him a couple of outings as a 3yo, firstly over 6 furlongs at Navan and then over five at the now defunct Phoenix Park racecourse. He finished last at Navan, and unplaced at Phoenix Park, but Charlie liked what he saw and offered the horse to Wiltshire handler, Aubrey Hastings. Hastings who was looking for a potential Hurdler on behalf of patron, Sir Harold Wernher who was keen to have a contender in the newly inaugurated Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, was happy to pay £750 for the gelding, with a further contingency £50 to be paid if Brown Jack managed to win a race, and the horse was shipped to Aubrey’s yard at Wroughton in Wiltshire.
He made his hurdling debut over 1 1/2 miles at Bournemouth in September 1927 finishing 3rd, and over the course of the following 11 weeks won his next 5 races. Laid low with a virus over Christmas, he reappeared in February 1928 needing the run, and then landed his 6th victory at the end of the month at Leicester. He had a final prep race before his attempt at The Champion Hurdle, the weekend before Cheltenham, finishing 2nd to Peace River at Lingfield, form he reversed the following week. He won the Champion Hurdle at odds of 4/1, beating Peace River by 1 1/2 Lengths, and had the 2/1 favourite, and winner of the inaugural running of The Champion Hurdle the previous year, Blaris, 6 Lengths back in 3rd.
Accompanying the winning connections after the race was the Ex champion (10 times between 1914 and 1923) and hugely popular flat jockey, Steve Donoghue, and when asked if he thought the 4yo was good enough to campaign and win on the flat, his reply was emphatically in the affirmative, and added that he would ride him. So started a famous relationship that would see the duo winning an amazing 6 consecutive renewals of The Queen Alexandra Stakes at the Berkshire venue.
Clearly an Ascot specialist, he won his first race there in 1928, The Ascot Stakes, and when you consider the Royal event, (the biggest and most prestigious in the racing calendar) was the sole meeting held in the year at Ascot in those days, it is amazing that Brown Jack actually ran there 11 times, winning on 7 occasions. He was by no means a one track phenomenon though, as besides landing Cheltenham’s hurdling Blue Riband he also won The Goodwood and Doncaster Cups in 1930, The Chester Cup in 1931 and the same years Ebor Handicap at York carrying 9st-5lbs. A glaring omission on the CV of such an outstanding stayer is an Ascot Gold Cup victory, but in those days geldings were excluded from the contest. However, even a cursory glance at many colatteral form lines, strongly suggest that he would have comfortably won the prize on more than one occasion.
In 1934, at the age of 10, Brown Jack lined up for the Queen Alexandra Stakes for the 6th time, and partnered by the man who had ridden him to nearly all his successes, in front of an enormous crowd, the gallant brown horse didn’t let his adoring fans down, easily winning the race for the sixth time. He entered Ascot’s hallowed winners enclosure for a record 7th and final time, bringing the curtain down on his fabulous career. Retired to his wealthy owners estate he enjoyed a 14 year retirement before dying at the age of 24 in 1948.
Brown Lad: When we hear “triple Grand National winner,” thoughts immediately turn to the Aintree legend that is Red Rum, but there is another largely forgotten equine hero whose CV also includes victory in three Grand Nationals, and whose racecourse achievements certainly merit comparison with Red Rums’, Brown Lad.
Foaled in 1966, he was by the St Leger winner, Sayajirao, and bred by his owner, Joe Osborne of Naas, was trained by Paddy Osborne. A grandson of the great Nearco, he was certainly an extreme example of the late developer, as he was nearly eight before he faced the starter. Amusingly, when asked the reason for his late introduction, Joe quipped, “because we couldn’t catch him”. When he did get to the racecourse he won a couple of bumpers just before his 8th birthday, and then having followed up with 3 straight victories over hurdles in early 1974, was made favourite for the Royal & Sun Alliance Hurdle at The Cheltenham Festival,a race he won very easily, by 8 Lengths under Ron Barry. Following Cheltenham, Joe accepted an offer from Mrs Peter Burrell, and she transferred the horse from Paddy Osborne to Jim Dreaper, (son of Tom “Arkle” Dreaper) at Kilsallaghan in North Co Dublin.
Jim sent the strapping 8yo straight over fences at the start of the new season, and he made an immediate impact under his new partner, Tommy Carberry, winning a Punchestown Maiden, and then the prestigious Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot. Reverting to hurdles for the 1975 Cheltenham Festival, he won what is now The World Hurdle, completing a pretty unique double for trainer Jim Draper, jockey Tommy Carberry, and breeder Joe Osborne, all three who were also responsible for The Gold Cup winner, Ten Up, that same day. The following month Brown Lad showed what a versatile animal he was, contesting Ireland’s Premier Chase, The Irish Grand National. Still not out of the Novice class, and with Carberry doing the steering, he won the very competitive event, by an easy 8 lengths.
The following year, now ten, he won the valuable Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park before contesting The Cheltenham Gold Cup for the first time. With two fences to jump in Cheltenham’s Blue Riband, the chances of him even claiming 4th place money looked remote, but he came up that famous hill with such a flourish that he finished 2nd, and if the race had been 100yds longer, might well have caught the Fred Rimell trained winner, Royal Frolic. However, it was upwards and onwards for the tough Brown Lad, and the following month landed his second Irish Grand National, this time carrying an eye watering 12-2 by a comfortable 4 lengths.
Sidelined by injury for the entire 1976/77 season, he made a winning reappearance just before his 12th birthday at Down Royal, and then put up a terrific performance in the 1978 renewal of The Thyestes Chase, going down by a head to the useful Kintai, who was receiving 37 pounds. With the ground coming up heavy at Cheltenham, conditions looked ideal for the 12yo to add a Gold Cup to his impressive CV, but unfortunately the fates thought otherwise, and the race was postponed due to snow, and rescheduled for April. So It was straight to Fairyhouse for Brown Lad and his date with destiny, aiming to be the first, (and to date the only) horse to win 3 Irish Grand Nationals. With Carberry unavailable, Jim gave the ride to the inexperienced Gerry O’Dowd, who justified the trainers faith, bringing the gallant 12yo home in front with 12-2 on his back.
The rescheduled Cheltenham Gold Cup, run on good ground, very soon after after Brown Lad’s record breaking win at Fairyhouse, resulted in victory for the Fred Winter trained Midnight Court, ridden by Johnny Francome, but for connections of the Irish runner, the race must have evoked memories of the 1976 renewal. The 12yo’s chances again looked remote before the second last fence, but then in hallmark fashion, he flew up that attritional hill, passing five horses to finish second. Hindsight is a wonderful, thing, but I’ve little doubt that had the race been run on its original date in March, on ground that Brown Lad thrived on, the prize would have been destined for North Co Dublin.
Bula: A 3yo gelding by Raincheck out of the winning Hurdler, Pongo’s Fancy, was knocked down to Captain Bill Edwards-Heathcote for 1,350Gns at the Ballsbridge Sales in 1968 and he immediately sent him across the Irish Sea to be trained by Fred Winter, at his Uplands yard in Lambourn. Euphisms such as Carthorse, Warhorse, and even more insultingly, Lunatic, were used to describe the new arrival, but it soon became clear that the Irish bred 3yo was a Hurdler of exceptional potential.
He made his racecourse debut at Lingfield in November 1969, winning easily under Stan Mellor, and followed up in similar fashion at Worcester before winning 3 further races at Wincanton. Unbeaten, he was made favourite for the second division of The Gloucestershire Hurdle, at the 1970 Cheltenham Festival, and won with his head in his chest, making it a 6th straight win for the 5 year old.
Retired for the season, he reappeared in the Autumn of 1970, and kept the winning streak going with 6 further victories the last of which was in Wincanton’s Champion Hurdle Trial, The Kingwell Hurdle, which he won easily and had the triple Champion Hurdle winner Persian War, 10 Lengths back in 3rd. Bula was then made favourite to win The Champion Hurdle itself, and he sent his supporters home on excellent terms with themselves, winning comfortably by 4 Lengths from Persian War, and in the process registering his thirteenth consecutive victory
Bula might easily have made it a fourteenth the following term on his seasonal debut, but for a mistake at the last, as he was only beaten a neck. However he soon resumed winning ways with a comfortable Sandown win, but unfortunately sustaining a minor injury. On the easy list for 4 months, he reappeared at Wincanton in February, and showed that he was fully recovered, winning a second Kingwell Hurdle. Made the 8/11 favourite to win his second Champion Hurdle he did so in the manner an odds on chance should. He won by 8 Lengths from The Triumph Hurdle winner, Boxer, but it could have been a very different story if his pilot, Paul Kelleway, who had been tracking Dondieu all the way, hadn’t been inspired to alter course just before the 3rd last, where the unfortunate Dondieu came down, breaking his neck, and causing all sorts of havoc around him. Bula could only manage 2nd place in The Welsh Champion Hurdle in his final race of the season, but this didn’t stop him being nominated by an overwhelming majority of the panel, “Champion NH Horse” for the second year running.
His 1972/73 campaign commenced with a walkover, followed by a facile win in a 2 runner affair, before finishing 4th to Captain Christy in The Sweeps Hurdle at Leopardstown. He then won his next 2 races including a third Kingwell Hurdle and was again made a short priced favourite to land a third Champion Hurdle, and a place in the record books alongside Hattons Grace, Sir Ken, and Persian war. It wasn’t to be however and he finished 5th behind the Fred Rimell trained, Comedy Of Errors, and was then beaten by the same animal in The Welsh Champion Hurdle in receipt of 6lbs.
Now eight, and with his prospects in the hurdling field looking rather diminished, connections opted for a change of disciplines, and the son of Raincheck embarked on a career over the larger obstacles. While never reaching the heady heights he did over hurdles, Bula proved to be a natural over fences winning his first 4 chases, the first two by an aggregate of 32 Lengths, and finished the 1973/74 season with a tally of 5/6. Having won a 3 mile chase at Windsor in early 1975 connections were encouraged to enter him for The Cheltenham Gold Cup, hoping he could become the first Champion Hurdler to land Chasing’s Blue Riband. Hopes were still alive with just the one obstacle to jump, but a mistake at the final fence on the heavy ground proved his undoing and he finished 3rd, 6 lengths behind the winner Ten Up.
The 1975/76 season saw him notch up wins at Haydock and Windsor and he was made favourite for The Gold Cup but now, eleven he could only finish 6th to Royal Frolic. The 1976/77 campaign saw him win twice before Christmas, at Market Rasen and Haydock Park where he had Red Rum back in 3rd, and following a promising run in The Gainsborough Chase, was entered for The Two Mile Champion Chase at the Festival. However, the gallant Bula, now twelve years old, got no further than the 5th fence where he fell heavily, and sustained such a severe injury that he had to be put down a couple of months later. A real champion, he won an amazing 34 times and many think that if the weather gods had been kinder on that Thursday in March 1975, Dawn Run, 11 years later, would have only been the second horse to claim Cheltenham’s two top prizes.
Burrough Hill Lad: local Leicestershire farmer and small businessman Stan Riley, paid £450 for a mare called Green Monkey, who proving pretty useless on the racecourse, had her covered by the less than prolific local stallion, Richboy, (won the Brittania Stakes at Ascot) and the product of this rather improbable union, born in April 1976, turned out to be one of the best chasers of the last 50 years. (His Timeform rating of 184 is the 7th highest ever awarded to a Steeplechaser) Stan named the foal for his local village, Burrough-On-The-Hill and 3 years later sent the tall unfurnished horse, to be trained by Jimmy Harris, a never say die ex NH jockey, who had to train from the confines of a wheelchair. The big, backward, brown gelding did well for Jimmy, winning twice before meeting with a near fatal accident at Kempton Park in January 1980. He lay motionless by the last hurdle, his rider trapped beneath him, and the men with the green screens hovering ominously for at least 5 minutes, before miraculously struggling back to his feet. He had sustained severe damage to his neck and it took all the skill of equine osteopath, Ronnie Longford to realign his many displaced vertebrae.
Following a brief stint with Walter Wharton for whom the big horse won a couple of handicap hurdles, Stan, with a Chasing career in mind for the son of Richboy, decided to send him to that Doyenne of Steeplechase trainers, the Lambourn female Maestro, Jenny Pitman. In this first season with Jenny, (1981/82) he raced 9 times, 7 of them over fences where his cavalier approach to the obstacles cost him dearly, and he failed to complete on a couple of occasions. Notwithstanding his lack of care at his fences, Burrough Hill Lad, showed that his career was on a very definite upwards trajectory when landing the valuable Mildmay Chase at Aintree in April 1982. Leg trouble was a concern, (as it continued to be throughout his career) the following season and he only raced 3 times, winning twice, and in November 1982 put up an excellent performance, running the Gold Cup winner, Silver Buck to 2 1/2 Lengths at Haydock.
He started the 1983/84 campaign with a 3rd over hurdles at Nottingham in December 1983, but then ran up a fantastic sequence of 8 consecutive victories which included the 1983 Welsh Grand National, The Cheltenham Gold Cup, The Charlie Hall Chase, The Hennessy Gold Cup and The King George VI Chase at Kempton. He was an impressive winner of Cheltenham’s Blue Riband under substitute pilot, Phil Tuck, where he beat the John Francome ridden, Brown Chamberlain, by 3 Lengths, but made an even bigger impression in The Hennessy Gold Cup where he won by 4 Lengths, carrying twelve stone, from The RSA Chase winner, Canny Danny, to whom he was conceding 21Lbs, a performance evocative of the great days of Arkle 20 years earlier.
His dodgy legs in 1985 kept him on the sidelines until he made a winning reappearance in Sandown’s Gainsborough Chase in 1986. However leg problems again intervened, and attempts to train him for the 1987 Gold Cup were again frustrated. He finally broke down on the gallops in 1988 and was retired to enjoy a well earned, 16 year long retirement.
Caergwrle: A filly named after the Flintshire village of Caergwrle, was bred by Gwen Murless, wife of the Legendary Noel, at their Castle Stud near Helmsley in Yorkshire.
Foaled in 1965 she was by the outstanding racehorse and stallion, Crepello, winner of both The 2000 Guineas and Derby, out of Caerphilly, a brood mare by Abernant, who was probably the best sprinter of the 20th century. As husband Noel, trainer of 19 English Classics, 11 of them with fillies, (1000Guineas x6 The Oaks x5) had overseen the careers of both Crepello and Abernant, the outlook for the well made new female addition at Castle Stud looked propitious.
Racing in Gwens colours, (as she did for all her career) the filly made a fairly promising debut, finishing second in the 5f Star Stakes at Sandown, and on the strength of that run started at 2/5 in a field of 4 for The Findon Stakes at Goodwood over the same trip. Much to the disgust of punters who took the skinny odds, she bolted before the start but still took part in the heat finishing 12Lengths behind the winner. In her only other race at two she got off the mark, winning The Combermere Maiden Stakes at Chester in September 1967.
Caergwrle looked a vastly improved animal in Kemptons 1000 Guineas Trial on her 3yo debut the following April. She easily won the 7f heat by 4 Lengths and was made 4/1 favourite for The 1000 Guineas itself. Partnered by the 19 year old Scot, Sandy Barclay, she never looked in trouble on the Rowley Mile, and won the Classic comfortably by a length from Photo Flash, with Soverign back in 3rd, once again underlining Noel Murless’s genius with fillies. She only had one more race before retiring, finishing a disappointing 2nd in Epsom’s Ebbisham Stakes over 8 1/2F the following month. Now a Classic winner with an enviable pedigree, the decision to retire her to the paddocks must have been an easy one to make. At stud she remained in the Murless family’s ownership, and produced 11 live foals, but alas none of them approaching anything close to her own class. The best of them was probably her last, St Ninian, foaled when she was 21, and a winner of 7 races.
Camelot: Foaled in March 2009, he was bred by Sheikh Abdulla Bin Isa Al-Khalifa and reared at the Highclere stud in the heart of the Hampshire Downs. He is by the outstanding stallion Montjeu, a son of Saddlers Wells, and sire of three previous Epsom Derby winners, out of the Kingmambo broodmare Tarfah, a winner of 5 of her 8 races including at Group level, so it wasn’t surprising that Coolmore’s principal buyer, Dermot “Demi” O’Byrne had to fork out north of half a million Guineas to secure the athletic looking colt at Newmarket’s Tattersalls yearling Sales in 2010.
Put into training with the Ballydoyle Maestro Aidan O’Brien, Camelot made his racecourse debut in mid July 2011 in a Leopardstown Maiden, and winning the relatively minor heat so easily, encouraged the layers to install the son of Montjeu as favourite for The Derby, still 11 months away. Three months later, in the Group1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster, he confirmed the favourable impression created at Leopardstown with another facile victory and retired for the season as the winter favourite for not only The Derby, but also The 2000 Guineas.
He made his seasonal debut in the Newmarket Classic, and starting at odds of 15/8 looked to have it all to do approaching the two furlong marker, but under strong encouragement from the plate, (Joseph O’Brien), led inside the final furlong, and staying on well, won by a neck. Four weeks later, in the smallest Derby field since 1907, starting at the cramped odds of 8/13, Joseph gave his pretty inexperienced mount plenty of time to find his feet coming down that tricky hill, but entering the straight he closed readily on the field and taking it up a furlong out went away to win impressively by an eased down 5 Lengths from the subsequent 4 times American Grade1 winner, Main Sequence. Aidan and the 19 year old Joseph made a piece of racing history on the day, becoming the first father and son combination to win Epsom’s Blue Riband, and Camelot became only the 3rd animal since Nijinsky in 1970, (Nashwan 1989 and Sea The Stars 2009 the other two) to bring off the 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby Double. A subsequent 2 length victory in The Irish Derby left many convinced that Camelot must be a shoe in to go one better again, and equal the great Nijinsky’s Triple Crown achievement by winning The St Leger. Starting at a prohibitive 2/5 in the 9 runner field, Joseph again held the hot favourite up towards the back, and 3 furlongs out went for an ambitious run up the rails, but finding his way blocked had to be switched. Meanwhile the 25/1 outsider Encke, given a great ride by Mickael Barzalona, had poached a 3 length lead, and despite the unbalanced Camelot’s best efforts, he couldn’t close the gap and went down by 3/4 of a Length. (Encke the following year along with 21 other horses trained by Mahmoud Al Zarooni tested positive for Anabolic Steroids and was suspended). In his final race of 2012 Camelot could only finish 7th to the filly Solemia a 33/1 outsider ridden by Olivier Peslier in The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe and was retired for the season. He did win a Curragh Group3 on his reappearance in 2013, and was a respectable second and fourth in two Group1s at The Curragh and Royal Ascot, but never again showed anything close to his marvellous form at Epsom, and was retired to stud at Coolmore. He is proving a success as a stallion and is the sire of plenty of quality winners amongst them, the recent Cox Plate winner Sir Dragonet in Australia, and The Irish Derby winner, Latrobe.
Captain Christy: One of the best chasers of the 1970s and indeed of any other decade, was Foaled in 1967. By Mon Capitane out of the Bowsprit mare, Christy’s Bow, he made his racecourse debut 4 years later ridden by his rather eccentric owner, Major Joe Pidcock. The gelding did manage to win one of his six starts in that 71/72 season under the sixty something Major, but proved such a difficult/dangerous ride for his ageing pilot that he sent him to that outstanding horseman, Pat (Arkle) Taffe, to continue his instruction. At the Taffe yard he caught the eye of a wealthy New Zealand couple, Mr and Mrs Samuels, who made an offer the good Major couldn’t refuse, and Captain Christie spent the rest of his career racing in the colours of Mrs Jane Samuels.
It proved to be money well spent by the New Zealand pair, as in the 72/73 campaign their purchase won 5 hurdle races, including the valuable Sweeps Hurdle at Leopardstown, a non handicap in those days, where under Bobby Beasley he beat the 1972 Champion Hurdle winner Bula by 4 Lengths. Another win at the Co Dublin track in The Scalp Hurdle followed, before finishing an excellent 3rd in The Champion Hurdle behind Comedy Of Errors and Easby Abbey, and then brought the curtain down on his hurdling career with a facile win in The Scottish Champion Hurdle.
Switched to the larger obstacles for the 1973/74 campaign it soon became clear that the son of Mon Capitaine was clearly an exceptional chaser but did have a worrying tendency to miss out the occasional fence, spectacularly illustrated when coming to grief at Ascot and Haydock with both races at his mercy. However he won all six completed starts, which included The 1974 Cheltenham Gold Cup, a fantastic feat for a novice. Mind you supporters at Prestbury Park would have had their hearts in their mouths when he made a hash of the last fence, but the 3 times Champion Jockey, Bobby Beasley didn’t panic, got the 7yo back on an even keel, and galloped up the hill to land the spoils, winning by 5 Lengths from the 1973 winner, The Dikler. Captain Christy went on to conclude his first season over fences on another high note, winning the valuable Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse.
The 74/75 campaign again featured a mixed bag of performances, which was becoming his hallmark, ranging from the abysmal to the sublime. He never looked likely to successfully defend his Gold Cup Crown on ground that was close to unraceable, and failed to feature in either The Thyestes Chase or Irish Grand National, but ran brilliantly in The Leopardstown Chase, gave the brilliant Pendil a thrashing in the 1974
King George V1 Chase at Christmas, and just failed to give the very useful April Seventh over 2 Stone in The Whitbread Gold Cup. His trainer Pat Taffe never doubted his stable stars jumping prowess, blaming very soft ground which the horse hated for his inconsistency, and there was certainly little wrong with his fencing technique on trips to France when winning over Enghien’s tricky circuit, and finishing a close 2nd when running out of petrol in The Grand Steeplechase de Paris at Auteuil over 4 miles.
He kicked off the 1975/76 season with a trip to the USA for the Colonial Cup in South Carolina where he finished 4th under Bobby Coonan, and on his return, won The Punchestown Chase from Davy Lad, which set him up nicely for the defence of his King George VI Crown at Kempton. In what was undoubtedly the finest performance of his career, Captain Christy set off in front under a young Gary Newman, and literally galloped the exhausted opposition into the ground. As the race progressed he went further and further clear, and crossed the line, looking as if he could go around again, an unbelievable 30 Lengths ahead of the 174 rated Bula, easily beating the course record.
Unfortunately he developed a leg problem soon afterwards which forced the retirement of this superb chaser who was right at the peak of his powers.
Caughoo: Bred by Mr P Power of Fethard-On-Sea in Co Wexford, Caughoo was Foaled in 1939. With a pedigree bereft of any National Hunt blood, I wouldn’t have thought that Vet, Herbert Mc Dowell, was entertaining thoughts of Aintree glory when paying 50 Guineas on behalf of his brother John, a Dublin jeweller, for the entry from Co Wexford, at Goff’s Ballsbridge Sales. However, as the flat bred gelding’s career developed, and particularly after he scored back to back wins in The Ulster National at Downpatrick in 1945 and 1946, the Aintree dream didn’t seem totally impossible, and the Mc Dowell brothers, (Henry, the eldest brother, trained Caughoo) entered him for the 1947 Grand National.
The Winter of 1947 was particularly harsh causing multiple cancellations of race meetings, and with gallops either frozen, snowbound, or waterlogged, keeping horses fit was especially challenging, but Henry kept their contender in excellent order, training him on nearby Sutton beach, just North of Dublin City. His 36 years old jockey, Eddie Dempsey, had ridden some decent horses in the past, Prince Regent amongst them, way back in 1941, but his career was on a very definite downward trajectory, and he was just about making ends meet as a work rider, when he got the winning ride on Caughoo in the 1946 Ulster National, cementing his association with the horse. So the duo headed for Aintree (Eddie had never been to England, let alone ridden at Aintree, and was a total unknown to British punters) hoping to belie their generous, but rather insulting odds of 100/1.
The awful weather didn’t relent, and on a cold, fogbound (visibility less than 100 yards) day, 55 runners lined up for the 1947 renewal of the great race. With nearly zero visibility, commentary was virtually impossible until Eddie and Caughoo appeared in splendid isolation over the last fence. He galloped up the long straight for a magnificent victory, with the runner up, Lough Conn, ridden by another Irishman, Daniel Mc Cann, trailing in his wake and the winning verdict of 20 Lengths looked conservative.
A rather amusing sequel to the race occurred some time later when McCann ran into Eddie and accused him of pulling up Caughoo at the 12th fence on the first circuit and rejoining the race when the field came around for the second time. Well, perhaps not surprisingly, blows were exchanged, and one would have thought that was the end of the matter, but unbelievably, McCann persisted with his outrageous claim and took Eddie to law. Reassuringly, the judge gave McCanns silly accusation pretty short shrift, and quickly threw the case out. Mind you, many years later, a hard up Eddie, desperate for funds, did sell his story to a tabloid newspaper, embellishing the tale by saying that he had hidden behind a haystack on that first circuit. Alas, nobody could ever remember seeing the elusive haystack.
Celtic Shot: A compact, strong, Chasing type, by the stayer Celtic Cone, (winner of The Ascot Stakes and Queen Alexandra Stakes) out of the mare, Duckdown, twice a winner over hurdles, was Foaled in January 1982, and made a winning racecourse debut at Leicester over 2miles, nearly 5 years later, in December 1986. Trained by the canny and patient Fred Winter, he was given plenty of time, and wasn’t seen again for nearly 10 months, winning a second Novices Hurdle in October 1987. The inexperienced gelding made rapid progress winning 3 of his next 4 starts and lined up for the 1988 Champion Hurdle a quietly fancied 7/1 chance. Under a great ride from Peter Scudamore, (Scu partnered him in most of his races) the son of Celtic Cone took it up at the last flight, and ran on strongly up the hill to beat the 33/1 outsider Classical Charm by 4 Lengths, and had the 5/2 Favourite, Celtic Chief, a further 3 Lengths back in third. Celtic Shot fluffed his lines 3 weeks later in Chepstow’s Welsh Champion Hurdle, coming down at the fifth flight at odds of 1/3, and connections pulled up stumps for the season.
He started the 1988/89 campaign with a win, but having lost his next 3 races was an easy to back 8/1 shot to successfully defend his Champion’s Crown. Again ridden by Scudamore, he made a mistake at the fifth, became outpaced, and despite running on strongly, had to settle for 3rd place behind the 50/1 outsider Beech Road, and the Mercy Rimell trained Celtic Chief. He gained a little compensation a few weeks later, winning a two runner Welsh Champion Hurdle at the unbackable price of 1/7.
Chasing was always going to be Celtic Shot’s true metier, and now in the care of Winters assistant at Uplands, Charlie Brooks, (Fred had been forced to retire through illness) he made a really promising start to his career over fences. On his first venture over the larger obstacles he ran the top class Waterloo Boy to a neck at Chepstow, and went on to win 4 of his next 7 starts, including an impressive victory in Ayr’s Future Champions Novices Chase to round off the 1989/90 campaign.
He made a terrific start to the 1990/91 season, winning in succession, three of the top pre Christmas heats in the Chasing Calendar, The Charlie Hall Chase, The Edward Hanmer Memorial Chase, and The Tommy Whittle Chase, landing the latter by 8 Lengths from the subsequent Gold Cup winner, Garrison Savannah. He finished a well beaten 4th behind Desert Orchid in The King George V1 Chase on Boxing Day but got back to winning ways next time, comfortably landing the Gold Cup Trial at Prestbury Park in January, after which he was made favourite to land Cheltenham’s Blue Riband itself. In a strongly run Gold Cup, Celtic Shot went to the front after the 16th travelling strongly, but then unfortunately got the third last wrong, injuring his pelvis in the process, and immediately weakened, to finish 7th, 22lengths behind the winner Garrison Savannah.
The 1991/92 campaign started on a positive note with a back to back win in The Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby followed by a close second to Auntie Dot in The Edward Hanmer at Haydock, but something was clearly amiss when he finished more than 73 Lengths last of six behind Carvills Hill at Chepstow.
Sidelined for over 2 years, he reappeared at Haydock in January 1994, but was a sad shadow of the wonderful animal he had been, finishing a distant last, 46 Lengths behind Flakey Dove, over hurdles, and only a few weeks later was pulled up in a Sandown Chase.
Now 12 years old, one would have thought the Champion Hurdle Hero had earned a comfortable retirement, and the time had come to say farewell, but 355 days later, connections had him running in a humble Ludlow Hunter Chase where he finished 39L behind the winner, and 16 days later saw him ignominiously trailing around Kempton, a distance behind, before pulling up in another modest heat. A truly sad end to such a talented and genuine horse’s career!
Charlottown: Meld, one of the best fillies of the 20th century, (she won the fillies Triple Crown in 1955, a feat not repeated for another 30 years when Oh So Sharp landed The 1000Guineas, The Oaks, and St Leger for Henry Cecil in 1985), produced 5 live foals at stud. The first four were a disappointment on the racecourse but in 1963 she produced a foal by the French Derby and Grand Prix de Paris winner, Charlottesville, who was to prove outstanding. Foaled at Lady Zia Wernher’s Someries Stud and named Charlottown he was sent to be trained by John “Towser”Gosden (John Gosden’s dad) at Lewes in Sussex. None of Meld’s previous offspring had been forward enough to train as two year olds but the son of Charlottesville proved an exception, and Towser had him fit and well for his racecourse debut in The Solario Stakes at Sandown, where he spread eagled a fairly mediocre field by 8 Lengths. He followed up by winning The Blackwood Hodge Stakes at Ascot, and ended the season undefeated, winning The Horris Hill Stakes at Newbury. As all three victories had been over 7 furlongs, nowhere near Charlottown’s optimum trip, and the wins at Ascot and Newbury had been more workmanlike than impressive, he finished the season rated 5lbs lower than Paddy Prendergast’s speedster, Young Emperor.
Following Towsers premature retirement due to illness, training duties fell to Gordon Smyth, who took over Gosdens Heath House yard at Lewes. He started off Charlottown’s 3yo campaign in Lingfields’ Derby trial, where the Epsom hopeful was given a less than ideal ride by the Australian Ron Hutchinson, losing by 3 Lengths. It was a heat many felt Lady Wernher’s colt should have won, and Hutchinson was replaced by another Aussie, “Scobie” Breasley, for the colts upcoming date with destiny at Epsom. Mind you on Derby Day itself, Scobie must have been wondering what exactly that destiny might be after Charlottown trod on his own off fore, tearing off his racing plate, just as the Aussie was getting mounted before the race. The 15 minute delay that ensued, while the blacksmith replated Charlottown’s thin soled foot, wouldn’t have helped their cause, and the duos prospects weren’t looking any rosier following the first third of the race, when Scobie found himself out the back, with only 3 horses behind him. Embracing a do or die attitude, the shrewd Australian decided to take the shorter but much more precarious route down the rails to try to get into contention. This brave, but decidedly dicey decision paid off, and miraculously, having had an uninterrupted passage, the duo entered the final furlong with only the joint favourite, Pretendre in front of them. Deftly getting his courageous partner organised on the tricky camber, Breasley mounted a perfectly timed challenge and they edged past Pretendre to win by a neck.
Lady Wernher’s colt raced 3 more times in 1966, and each time was opposed by the sometimes brilliant, but enigmatic animal, the George Todd trained Sodium, who had finished 4th at Epsom. Sodium reversed the Derby form in the Irish Derby, beating
Charlottown by a Length, but the next time they met, in The Oxfordshire Stakes at Newbury, (now The Geoffrey Freer Stakes) Charlottown got the better of the argument by
13 Lengths. Their final meeting came at Doncaster in The St Leger with Sodium prevailing by a head. Charlottown only ran 3 times at 4, winning The John Porter Stakes at Newbury, and The Coronation Cup at Epsom before finishing 6th in The Grand Prix de Paris, the only poor run in his entire 10 race career. Having made little impression on the breed at stud he was exported to Australia in 1977.
Footnote : Charlottown’s pedigree was certainly out of the top drawer and his owner, Lady Wernher, had one to match. Also titled, The Countess Anastasia Mikhailovna de Torby, she was Born Anastasia Mikhailovna de Torby in 1892. She was the elder daughter of His Imperial Highness, Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich, grandson of Tsar Nicholas1, and her mother, Countess Sophie of Merenberg, was descended from the renowned Russian Poet, Alexander Pushkin. She died in the city of London, in South Ontario in 1977.
Cockney Rebel: Foaled in Ireland in March 2004 he is by Val Royal, winner of The Breeders Cup Mile at Belmont Park In 2001, out of the Known Fact mare, Factice.
(Beautifully bred, Factice was sold for 240,000Guineas as a yearling in 1993 but never justified her price on the racecourse. She only ran twice, her sole success coming in a modest Tipperary Maiden for trainer Dermot Weld) She hadn’t made much impression at stud either, her first 4 offspring managing just 7 wins all at a low level, between them, when the Cockney born business man, and keen greyhound aficionado, Phil Cunningham paid £30,000 for her fifth, in 1995.
Sent to Newmarket handler Geoff Huffer, the son of Val Royal made his racecourse debut a winning one in a 6f 2yo Maiden on The July Course. He could only manage second in a valuable Sales Race at York 5 weeks later, (2nd place prize money was over £65,000) and then rounded off his 2yo campaign finishing a very promising 3rd
In York’s Group2 Champagne Stakes, and earning a very respectable rating of 115.
Having won first time up at two, connections elected to go straight to
The 2000 Guineas, and with top French Pilot Olivier Peslier booked to do the steering, Cockney Rebel lined up on The Rowley Mile a generous looking 25/1 chance for a very open first Classic of the year. Drawn towards the middle of the 24 runner field, Peslier switched to race stand side after a furlong. Keeping a tight hold of the strongly travelling colt, the Frenchman timed his challenge to perfection inside the final furlong, and went clear to win by 1 1/2Lengths from Vital Equine, with Dutch Art 3/4Length back in third. It was a terrific performance by the relatively unsung colt, and it looked even better when the time transpired to be the fastest for 12 years, and was more than 2 seconds faster than the mighty Frankel recorded four years later.
Three weeks later, again partnered by the brilliant Peslier, he started at odds of 6/4 to become only the 6th horse to bring off the English and Irish 2000 Guineas double. He did so comfortably beating the Jim Bolger trained Creachadoir and had the New Market runner up, Vital Equine 3 1/4 Lengths back in 6th.
It looked all systems go for The St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot 24 days later where he started the even money favourite, but hanging badly he could only finish 5th, and was retired to stud.
Comedy Of Errors (1967-1990): Whatever else a mating of a King’s Stand Stakes victor, with the winner of Scotland’s oldest race, The Lanark Silver Bell, (endowed by King William the Lion 1165-1214) was likely to produce, a dual Champion Hurdler wouldn’t have been anywhere near the top of most breeders predictions, but that indeed was the result of the covering of the Kingsway (won the 1943 2000 Guineas) mare, Comedy Actress, by the stallion Goldhill, winner of the 5 furlongs, King’s Stand Stakes (1965)
Bred for the flat, Comedy Of Errors had developed into a useful middle distance performer for the Shropshire handler Tom Corrie when the big (over 17 hands) gelding caught the eye of Fred Rimell who bought the 4yo for £12,000 on behalf of a new patron, Ted Wheatley, the wealthy boss of Allied Carpets. The new inmate of the Kinnersley yard made an immediate impression over timber winning on his debut under Ken Whyte, and hopes were high that the big gelding would land the first division of The Gloucestershire Hurdle, (now The Supreme Novices) at the 1972 Cheltenham Festival. Ignoring Fred’s instructions to hold onto the inexperienced Comedy Of Errors until after the last, stable jockey, Terry Biddlecombe, kicked for home far too soon, and was collared on the line, inviting the ire of the normally placid trainer, and costing Terry any future association with the horse, who went on to win 3 more races before the end of his first season.
The first time Comedy Of Errors crossed swords with the 1971 and 1972 Champion Hurdler, Bula, was the 1973 Cheltenham Trial Hurdle, (now The Bula Hurdle) where Fred Winters charge was the clear winner, the Kinnersley runner finishing a distant third. However, on their 3 subsequent meetings the younger horse finished in front. He was runner up to Captain Christy in The Sweeps Hurdle where Bula finished 4th, and then won The Champion Hurdle in fine style from Easby Abbey, with Bula back in 3rd, before again comprehensively beating Bula, conceding 6 lbs, in The Welsh Champion Hurdle at Chepstow, his last race of the season.
Following impressive victories in The Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, The Cheltenham Trial Hurdle, and The Sweeps Hurdle at Leopardstown the apple of Fred Rimells eye, started a red hot favourite for the 1974 Champion Hurdle. In a race where the front running Lanzarote was given an easy time of it up front, Bill Smith seemed to give the favourite an awful lot to do and unable to make up the leeway was beaten by 3 Lengths. Post race, connections were furious, and the unfortunate Smith lost his plum job at Kinnersley. In fairness to Smith, who maintained that his mount wasn’t right on the day, and insisted that a Comedy Of Errors on the top of his game, would have easily got past Lanzarote, a claim borne out by a superb 6 race unbeaten campaign the following season, which included three wins over the Winter horse.
That 1974/75 campaign saw Comedy Of Errors register a third victory in The Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, land a second Cheltenham Hurdle Trial, followed by easily winning The Sweeps Hurdle, and Wolverhampton’s Champion Hurdle Trial. He then carved his own niche in the record books becoming the first horse ever to win back his Champion’s Hurdle Crown, and rounded off a fantastic season with an impressive win in Scotland’s Champion Hurdle.
Rising nine, and getting old for a Hurdler, the 1975/76 season saw him having to contend with a couple of exceptional younger hurdlers, Night Nurse and Sea Pigeon. Attempting to win a 4th Fighting Fifth he finished 2nd to the 4 years younger Night Nurse , and could only finish 4th behind the same brilliant animal in The Champion Hurdle. However he did manage to win 3 times including a victory over Grand Canyon in the inaugural running of Aintree’s 3 miles Templegate Hurdle.
Very much in the veteran category for the 1976/77 season, he still managed to perform at the top level, dividing Master Monday and the future Champion Hurdler, Monksfield, in the 1977 Irish Champion Hurdle, prior to landing the odds in Fontwell’s National Spirit Hurdle. A crack at The Stayers Crown in The Lloyd’s Bank Hurdle at the Festival proved a step too far, with the great horse finishing lame in 5th place.
Sent over fences for the first and only time in the Autumn of 1977 he finished 2nd in a Chase at Worcester but concern for the horse’s well-being saw him revert to hurdles for a final 4 unsuccessful runs and was retired. Described by the hugely successful Fred Rimell as “the best horse he had ever trained” Comedy Of Errors lived out his “Golden” years in honourable retirement at Kinnersley, making himself particularly useful as Mercy Rimell’s hack.
Commander In Chief: The great Dancing Brave, one of the best racehorses of the 20th century, didn’t enjoy the same success at stud, siring only 4 top flight winners,
Ivanka, (Fillies Mile) White Muzzle (Derby Italiano) Wemyss Bite, (Irish Oaks) and the best of the quartet, the dual Derby winner, Commander In Chief.
Bred by Juddmonte Farms, Commander In Chief was out of the outstanding Roberto brood mare Slightly Dangerous, (she had been runner up in the 1982 oaks and at stud produced 10 live offspring, including the top class quintet , Warning, Deploy, Dushyantor, Yashmak and Jibe).
Foaled in 1990 he was trained at Newmarket by Henry Cecil, and proving too backward to train for a 2yo campaign, didn’t make his racecourse debut until April 1993, when under a confident ride from Pat Eddery, won a Newmarket Maiden by an eased down 6 Lengths. Two further comfortable wins in minor Newmarket and York Condition events followed, and the son of Dancing Brave headed for Epsom, attempting to become the first, unraced horse at two since Morston 20 years previously, to land Epsom’s Blue Riband. Eddery had ridden the unbeaten colt in all three victories, but opted to ride Prince Abdullah’s other contender, (the 4/5 favourite Tenby) and the plum ride fell to “super sub” Michael Kinane.
Starting second favourite at odds of 15/2 on the day, Kinane held him up towards the rear and turned into the straight in 6th place, then made rapid progress, took the lead 2 furlongs out, and quickly went clear for a facile win from the 150/1 outsider Blue Judge. (Stable mate Tenby weakened badly in the straight and finished 10th) 27 days later, Commander In Chief, reunited with Pat Eddery, lined up for The Irish Derby, a 4/7 chance to complete the Epsom-Curragh double. His closest opponent in the betting was the French colt Hernando at 9/4, The Prix Du Jockey Club Victor. On the Curragh’s wide open galloping track, the race developed into an Anglo French duel from the 2 furlong marker, and with Eddery applying maximum pressure from the plate, the English colt prevailed by 3/4 Length, a performance that post race prompted Pat to describe the gallant winner as “comparable to all the good ones I’ve ridden”.
Now undefeated in his 5 starts, he was a warm order to land The King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes 27 days later. He looked as if he might keep that 100% unbeaten record at the 2 furlong marker, but weakened inside the final stages of the race and finished 3rd,1 1/2 Lengths and a Short Head behind Opera House, and White Muzzle. The result was a disappointment, and one can only speculate that the hard race at The Curragh had left it’s mark. Whatever the reason, Commander In Chief was retired and sold to Japan as a stallion. He did have some success in his new role, (leading first season stallion) before being euthanised in 2007 after breaking a leg in a paddock accident.
Cottage Rake: In 1945 having failed to find a buyer for the tall backward gelding with a possible wind problem, bred by his brother Richard, Dr ‘Otto’ Vaughan of Mallow, in desperation sent the unfurnished 6yo to a young local trainer just beginning to make a name for himself at his old family home of Clashnagiff House, just outside the nearby hamlet of Churchtown in Co Cork. The stars must certainly have been in alignment that day for the horse, Cottage Rake, went on to win 3 Cheltenham Gold Cups and took the 27 years old Vincent O’Brien’s career to an altogether different level.
By the stallion Cottage, sire of three Grand National winners, (Workman 1939, Lovely Cottage 1946 Sheila’s Cottage 1948) out of the Hartford mare Hartingo, Cottage Rake was foaled in 1939 and was rising seven when contesting his first race for Vincent at the end of December 1945, a Limerick Maiden, which he won easily. He won a Leopardstown Bumper with similar ease 2 months later, and despite the persistence of some veterinary doubts, was sold to the English businessman Frank Vickerman for £3,500.
Now seven, he ran unsuccessfully in two flat races over 2 and 2 1/2 miles in the Autumn of 1946 before showing plenty of pace and a useful turn of foot to win The Naas November Handicap over a mile and a half. The following month, partnered by Aubrey Brabazon for the first time, the partnership, which was to become legendary, won the prestigious Carrickmines Chase At Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting. Further success followed over fences in 1947, and towards the end of that flat season, he won the Irish Cesarewitch under a great ride from pilot George Wells. Further Chasing success with Aubrey in the saddle followed at Christmas, but in February 1948 he suffered the only fall of his career, not the ideal preparation for his first tilt at Cheltenham’s Gold Cup (and Vincent’s first runner in England) the following month.
Starting at 10/1 in a race run at a good clip, Cottage Rake with Aubrey up, and Happy Home (the previous years runner up) with Martin Moloney in the plate, came to the last locked together, where Martin, with real do or die commitment,(some might say in true Kamikaze fashion) hurled his mount at the fence and landed 2 Lengths to the good. The unruffled Aubrey, fully confident in his mounts flat racing speed, fiddled the obstacle, then relentlessly closed the gap up the hill, and went past the gallant Happy Home 50 yards from the post to win by 1 1/2 Lengths, bringing The Gold Cup (and plenty of the bookmakers lolly) back to Churchtown. His final race of the 1947/48 campaign was The Irish Grand National where he found the concession of 3 Stone to the useful Hamstar beyond him.
Vincent’s stable star kicked off the 1948/49 campaign winning The Croom Chase at Limerick shouldering 12-7, and following an unplaced run in The Irish Cesarewitch, headed for The Emblem Chase at Manchester. Again burdened with top weight of 12-7 he beat the subsequent 1951 Gold Cup winner Silver Fame, to whom he was conceding 19 lbs, by a neck, (the runner up was at least 2 Lengths clear jumping the last when Aubrey dropped his whip following a dreadful mistake by “The Rake” who responded magnificently lto his pilots hands and heels urging, and the duo got up in the shadow of the post). Victory in The King George V1 Chase at Kempton followed and he headed for Cheltenham to defend his Gold Cup Crown.
In a race reminiscent of the previous years renewal, Cottage Rake and Cool Customer came to the last, stride for stride, and putting in the better jump, the latter emerged a length to the good. However the pace of Aubrey’s mount again proved decisive up the hill and he wore Cool Customer down to win by 2 Lengths.
The 49/50 Campaign got off to a winning start with a repeat win in The Croom Chase at Limerick, followed by a Sandown victory in The Withington Stayers Chase before attempting to defend his King George V1 Crown. At Kempton he found the concession of 11lbs to the brilliant Finnure, ridden by Dick Francis, just beyond him. Things didn’t get any better in his next race, being brought down in The Leopardstown Chase, not the ideal preparation for his attempt to become only the second horse to win 3 consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups. (Golden Millar won five 1932-36)
In a six runner field, the bookies effectively made the race a match between the Churchtown contender at 6/5 on, and Finnure at 5/4 against. With a mile to travel Aubrey kicked on, and maintaining a relentless gallop all the way to the line, won easily by 10 Lengths from his Kempton conqueror, Finnure. Now eleven this was the last of the great horses 12 wins over fences, and he was retired.
For readers of an epicurean bent some of the items on the celebratory menu held at the world famous Jammet Restaurant in Dublin to celebrate Cottage Rakes third Gold Cup victory might be of some interest.
Apperitifs included, Le Cocktail Brabazon, starters included, Le Saumon Fume’ Churchtown and Le Potage Vincent. The main courses included such delights as Les Paupiettes de Sole Cheltenham-te-ne-ham and Les Poussins ‘a La Rake garnis. The star of the desserts was Le Gateau ‘a La Gold Cup Brenda, all to be washed down with gallons of Moët Chandon 1938.
Crepello: A handsome well made Chestnut, he was owned by Sir Ellice Victor Sassoon, a fabulously wealthy scion of an old Baghdadi Jewish Sassoon merchant and banking family, which had huge commercial interests across the Asian continent. (Did very well in the 18th and 19th century opium trade). By the Italian bred stallion, Donatello 11, out of the well bred brood mare, Crepuscule, who was by the top class French horse, Mieuxce, a multiple winner at the top level, including The Prix Du Jockey Club, and The Grand Prix de Paris. (Crepescule didn’t make much impression on the racecourse, her sole victory coming in a modest Hurst Park Maiden, but she became a hugely influential brood mare. Her first foal Honeylight won The 1000 Guineas, and her second was Crepello. None of her subsequent 6 offspring were Classic winners but one of them, Twilight Abbey, by Night Court, won The Ascot Gold Cup.)
Bred at Sir Victor’s Newmarket Eve Stud, Crepello was sent down the road to be trained by Noel Murless. The son of Donatello 11 was bred to stay 2 miles but had tremendous speed, and the subsequently knighted Sir Noel, always maintained that he had the pace to win the 6f July Cup. Crepello certainly showed plenty of that speed on his racecourse debut in Royal Ascot’s 5 furlongs Windsor Castle Stakes In 1956. Despite being decidedly backward, he was only beaten by the minimum distance. Given time to mature, he wasn’t seen again until the Autumn, when he reappeared in The Middle park Stakes at headquarters. Looking in need of the race, with stable jockey Piggott again in the saddle, he finished 4th to Pipe of Peace. It was a very different story two weeks later when he put up a scintillating performance with Lester doing the steering to win The Dewhurst Stakes, convincing many of the spectators that they had seen the 1957 Derby winner.
The Spring of 1957 was a particularly dry one, which made the training of Crepello whose delicate legs had always been a concern, particularly trying, and the colt had to line up for The 2000 Guineas without the benefit of a preliminary outing. However plenty kept the faith, and starting at odds of 7/2 Lester brought him home a 1/2 Length in front of Quorum, with his Middle Park conqueror Pipe Of Peace back in third.
Team Crepello then headed for Epsom with Sir Victor hoping to land a second success in the great race, (won with Pinza in 1953) Ditto for Lester, (had won on Never Say Die 1954)
and Noel Murless trying to get his name on the score sheet. Well Crepello didn’t let the trio down, winning by 1 1/2 Lengths from another great horse Ballymoss who many good judges considered good enough to win The Derby any nine years out of ten.
Down to run in The King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes the following month, he was disappointingly withdrawn just an hour before the start, connections blaming the ground. (Following heavy morning rain the ground was actually on the easy side of good)
Sadly the Derby hero did break down on his off foreleg on the gallops the following month, and was retired to take up stud duties. He proved to be a great success at the job, his progeny include the Classic winners, Caergwrle, Mysterious, Crepellana, and Celina as well as many other top class animals such as Busted, Linden Tree, Lucyrowe and Cranberry Sauce. He was also the damsire of the outstanding filly Altesse Royale, winner of The 1000 Guineas, The Oaks, and The Irish Oaks In 1971 and he led the Sires list in 1969. He retired from stud duties in 1974 and was put down soon after. Postscript : Sir Victor ended up owning 4 Derby winners, Lester riding 9, and Sir Noel training 3.
Dalakhani: Foaled in February 2000, he was by The French Derby hero, Darshaan, out of the Group 3 placed Miswaki mare, Daltawa, and is therefore a half brother to the seven times Group1 winner Daylami. Owned and bred by Aga Khan 1V he was born at his Gilltown Stud in County Meath, was trained in France by Alain de Royer-Dupré, and ridden in all his races by Christophe Soumillon.
He made his racecourse debut a winning one in a modest Deauville heat for unraced juveniles at the end of August 2002, and 3 weeks later hosed up in a Longchamp Group3. He faced a much sterner test 6 weeks after that in Saint-Cloud’s Group1 Criterium International, and had to work hard to beat the Aidan O’Brien trained Chevalier by a neck.
Put away for the Winter, he reappeared towards the end of April in a Longchamp Group2 over 1m2 1/2f which he comfortably won, and 23 days later started at 11/8 on for the Group1 Prix Lupin over the same course and distance. Impressively maintaining his unbeaten record in The Lupin, he was sent off the 11/4 on favourite for the French Derby (Prix Du Jockey Club) at Chantilly 3 weeks later. Stepping up to a mile and a half for the first time, he travelled smoothly throughout the race, challenged inside the 2 furlong marker and quickened clear to win by 2L in a time over 2 seconds faster than standard. 4 weeks later he headed for the Irish Derby where despite two thirds of the nine runner field hailing from Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle academy, Dalakhani was made the 7/4 on favourite. In the event, the threat to Dalakhani’s unbeaten record didn’t come from any of the Ballydoyle Battalion, but from the Aga Khan’s own colt, the John Oxx trained Alamshar. In another strongly run heat Dalakhani again travelled well within himself, took it up and looked like justifying his short price two furlongs out, but the Johnny Murtagh ridden Alamshar, running on with great resolution from the back, got his nose in front inside the final furlong, and stayed on the better to win by 1/2 a length. (Alamshar went on to win The King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes the following month)
Given an eleven week break, Dalakhani reappeared in Longchamp’s “Arc trial” The Prix Niel, and got back to winning ways, beating the subsequent King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner(2004) Doyen by 1 1/2 Lengths. Drawing the unpopular outside berth in The Arc itself, he started the 9/4 second favourite behind Ballydoyle’s High Chaparral at 13/8. Given a great ride by Soumillon who dropped him in, then made relentless progress from over 3 furlongs out, led at the distance, and held on to win by 3/4 Length from the Richard Hills ridden Mubtaker, with High Chaparral 5 Lengths back in third.
Unsurprisingly, with his great pedigree, and four top level successes under his belt, he was retired to stud where he made quite an impact on the breed, siring 10 individual Group1 winners, including the outstanding horse Conduit, who won The St Leger, The King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and was twice a winner of The Breeder’s Cup Turf.
Dancing Brave: Foaled in 1983 in the US, he was bought at The Fasig-Tipton July yearling Sales for $200,000 on behalf of Prince Khalid Abdullah, and was sent to be trained by Guy Harwood at Pulborough in West Sussex. Beautifully bred, his dad Lyphard was by the great Northern Dancer, and his dam Navajo Princess, a winner of 16 races, including at Grade2 level, was a daughter of Drone, a son of Sir Gaylord, sire of Sir Ivor.
Backward at two, he only contested 2 minor events, both of which he won and was retired for the season with the 1986 2000 Guineas his principal target. Over the winter he was always at or close to the top of The 2000 Guineas market, and following a scintillating performance in Newmarket’s Craven Stakes on his 3yo debut, he became a very warm order indeed for the seasons first Classic. The market got it right, and under jockey Greville Starkey, he pulverised a high class field, winning by 3 Lengths from the subsequent July, and Sprint Cup winner, Green Desert with Huntercombe back in third.
Despite stamina doubts arising from his pedigree, (his sire was best at a mile, and his dams sire Drone, was prematurely retired to stud having broken down as a juvenile) he was promoted to the top of The Derby market, and lined up at Epsom the 2/1 favourite. Concerned about the trip, it obviously made sense to hold the Guineas winner up for a late challenge, but unfortunately Starkey totally overdid the waiting tactics, (was more than 12 Lengths behind the leaders rounding Tattenham Corner) and Dancing Brave was left with an impossible amount of ground to make up. However he fairly flew up the straight and was only half a length behind the Walter Swinburn ridden Shahrastani at the post.
He got back to winning ways the following month, again ridden by Starkey, winning Sandown’s Eclipse Stakes by 4 Lengths from the French filly Triptych, and headed for the mid summer, all age, middle distance Championship, The King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
In a top class field that contained the 1985 winner Petoski, the French filly Triptych, and his Epsom conqueror, Shahrastani, who in the meantime had won The Irish Derby by 8 Lengths, the market made it a two horse race, with Michael Stoute’s dual Derby winner the 11/10 Favourite, and Dancing Brave at 6/4. In the event the expected dual between the pair never materialised, with Guy Harwood’s charge, (now ridden by Pat Eddery substituting for an injured Greville Starkey) winning by 3/4 Length from Shahrastani’s stable companion, Shardari, with Triptych in 3rd and Shahrastani only 4th.
Only one other 3yo, the wonderful Mill Reef, had ever brought off the King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes/ Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe double in the same season, and connections of Dancing Brave were now seriously optimistic that their colt could become the second. In what was perhaps the best field ever assembled for any middle distance European race, the 15 runner field for the 1986 Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe contained the outstanding 3yo’s Bering, unbeaten in 4 races at 3, including wins in The Prix Du Jockey Club and The Prix Neil, the dual Derby winner Shahrastani, the filly Darara, 5 Length winner of The Prix Vermeille, and the older horses Shardari and Triptych who had finished first and second in The International at York. In a race run in a course record time, Shardari and Triptych came to the front two furlongs out with Bering starting a run on the outside, where he showed a great turn of foot to go past them both at the furlong marker, and looked the winner, but then Dancing Brave, galvanised, under a great ride from Eddery, came with an electrifying burst of speed, and went past the whole field as if they were standing still, to win by the best part of 2 Lengths from Bering, with Triptych in 3rd and Shahrastani 4th.
Perhaps it was a case of going to the well once too often when connections sent their brilliant colt, who had had such a long and arduous season, to the West coast of America for The Breeders Cup at Santa Anita, just a few weeks later. In what turned out to be his swan song, he never looked like justifying his short price, and with his hallmark burst of finishing speed nowhere to be seen, finished 4th behind the American horse Manila.
At stud Dancing Brave sired the Derby and Arc winner Commander In Chief, The Derby Italiano winner, White Muzzle and the Irish Oaks winner Weymss Bite, but perhaps his greatest contribution to the breed was siring the mare Hope, dam of Oasis Dream, and grand dam of Kingsman, two of Prince Khalid’s Juddmonte breeding operation’s most successful stallions. Following 5 years Stud duties in England he was sold to Japan, where he died aged 16 in 1999.
Dante: The fates were smiling on Sir Eric Ohlson when he attended the dispersal sale of Lord Furness’s bloodstock in 1941, for he was inspired to purchase a 5yo French, in foal brood mare, called Rosy Legend. She had been a 4 times winner in her native France and was in foal to the great Italian Sire, Nearco. He paid 3,500 Guineas for the daughter of Dark Legend, and brought the expectant mum back to his recently founded Friar Ings Breeding operation at Manor House Stud in North Yorkshire. The French mares offspring, later to be named Dante, was sent to the Newmarket sales where Lady Luck again smiled on the Yorkshire Knight, as the son of Nearco failed to meet his reserve, and as all subsequent efforts to find a buyer proved unsuccessful, Sir Eric retained the good looking colt for himself, and sent him to be trained by Matthew Peacock at Middleham.
Following a highly successful juvenile campaign, where the handsome colt remained unbeaten in all six starts which included a 4 Lengths victory in The Coventry Stakes (Run at Newmarket because of the war) and a 2 Lengths victory in The Middle Park Stakes, Sir Eric must have been counting his lucky stars that he had been unable to find a buyer for the son of Rosy Legend, particularly when the 1944 Free Handicap was published, rating him the top 2yo in the land.
Having wintered well, and now become something of a Yorkshire celebrity, dubbed “The Hope Of The North”the impressive looking 3yo won his pipe opener at Stockton in April with his customary ease. He was made the even money favourite for The 2000 Guineas and there were few amongst his devoted fans that didn’t think the first Classic of the year was already in the bag. Alas, 2 days before the race his left eye clouded over, (a harbinger of his future blindness) and he had to miss his final gallop. In the event it probably proved decisive as he was beaten a neck by the Cliff Richards ridden Court Martial. (many of his Northern followers maintained that had Richards challenged on their hero’s right hand side the Yorkshire colt, seeing the challenger, would have prevailed) However his legions of supporters never lost the faith, and Dante lined up as favourite to become the first Northern trained Derby winner since Pretender won the 1869 renewal 76 years previously. Run over Newmarket’s July Course, their faith was well justified, as he ran a magnificent race to win by 2 Lengths from Midas, with his Guineas conqueror, Court Martial, a neck away in third place, signalling the start of days of celebrations across the county of Yorkshire.
Dante then became a very short price favourite to land the final Classic of the year, but negative reports of the colts well-being started to circulate. A harassed Matthew Peacock strongly protested his charges’ soundness, but days before The St Leger, the racing community were shocked when Dante was scratched from the race with a terse statement from connections saying “that the colt was perfectly sound but couldn’t be prepared in time”. It was in fact the end of his racing career and the outstanding horse was retired to stud where his sight continued to fail. At stud, he sired plenty of winners including the Classic hero, Darius, (2000 Guineas), and Carozza, owned by The Queen, winner of The Oaks in 1957. Totally blind, Yorkshire’s Derby hero died in 1956 at the relatively young age of 14, and sad to say, 75 years later, the North is still awaiting another winner of Epsom’s Blue Riband.
Postscript : Rosy Legend produced seven other winning offspring, including the 1947 St Leger Hero, Sayajirao, also by Nearco, making him a full brother to Dante.
Dawn Run: In 1981 a Co Cork based breeder, John Riordan, submitted an unraced 3yo filly called Dawn Run to the Ballsbridge Sales in Dublin where she was knocked down to a 60 years old, keen amateur rider, Charmian Hill for 5,800 Guineas. By the prolific stallion Deep Run, (Covered an astonishing 2,226 mares in his stud career) out of Twilight Slave, a daughter of the good NH Stallion, Arctic Slave, Mrs Hill sent the bay filly to be trained by Paddy Mullins at his idyllically situated stables, Doninga House, on the banks of the river Barrow near Gorsebridge in Co Kilkenny.
Charmian, a very accomplished rider, (despite never riding in a race before her 40th birthday, she became the first woman in Ireland to win a race on the flat, over hurdles, and over fences) was also a very “hands on” owner, regularly riding out her exciting new acquisition, and it was she who was in the plate when Dawn Run made her racecourse debut at Clonmel on May 24th 1982. Unplaced at the Tipperary track, the duo finished 4th at Thurles the following month, and 6 days later the pair broke their duck in The Castlemaine Flat Race at Tralee. It must have been a bittersweet moment for the 62 years old “Galloping Granny” because the authorities withdrew her licence on the grounds of age and she never rode again under rules.
So stable jockey Tony Mullins, (Paddy’s son) took over riding duties and the combination won 5 of the 7 races they contested prior to the 1983 Cheltenham Festival. Tony was a first class pilot and had always got on particularly well with Dawn Run, to everyone’s satisfaction, so it came as quite a shock when Hill refused to allow the talented 20 year old to ride the mare in The Sun Alliance Hurdle at the Festival. Forced to find a replacement, Paddy engaged the veteran Irish born jockey, Ron Barry, (rode The Gold Cup winner The Dikler In 1973) and the pair finished 2nd to Sabin Du Loir at the Festival. Tony resumed riding duties for the mares next 3 races, winning 2 of them, The Page Three Hurdle at Liverpool, and The BMW Champion Hurdle at Punchestown, before retiring for the season.
Dawn Run kicked off the 1983/84 campaign finishing 4th in a flat race at The Curragh before winning Down Royal’s Trial Hurdle under Tony, but 13 days later it was
Jonjo O’Neill in the plate when she won The VAT Watkins Hurdle at Ascot. The Co Cork born rider retained the ride for the mares next 4 races, finishing 2nd in The Racehorse Trainers Hurdle at Naas before winning The Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, The Wessex Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, and The Champion Hurdle itself at Cheltenham.
18 days after Dawn Runs great win at Cheltenham, the jockey musical chairs continued, and Tony was back in the saddle for her win in The Aintree Hurdle at Liverpool, and rode her in her last 2 races of the campaign, landing two fabulous victories in France. They won The Prix de Barka at the end of May, and 25 days later won The Grand Course de Haies, (The French Champion Hurdle) after which the mare was retired for the season to prepare for a campaign over fences.
Dawn Run got her chasing career off to a winning start in The Nobber Chase at Navan at the beginning of November 1984 under Tony, but following a setback was absent from the racecourse for 13 months. She reappeared triumphantly in December 1985 winning The Durkan Brothers Chase at Punchestown and The Sean P Graham Chase at Leopardstown 16 days later, ridden on both occasions by Tony Mullins. Entertaining Gold Cup ambitions, Paddy elected to give the mare some experience of the Prestbury Park fences, and sent her over for Cheltenham’s, Holsten Distrubitors Chase, on January 25th. Partnered by Tony, the mare was in her customary position, bowling happily along in front when disaster struck. She fell, but Tony remounted, and finished the race last of the 4 runners.
Having partnered Dawn Run for her last 7 races, and won six of them, Tony was fully justified in expecting to keep the ride in The Gold Cup but reckoned without the intransigence of Mrs Hill, and once again, much to the chagrin of both father and son, was jocked off in favour of Jonjo O’Neill. Well the records tell us that history was made on that Thursday in March 1986 when the mare became the first, and to date, only animal to land The Champion Hurdle/Gold Cup double, but spare a thought for the talented young jockey who was denied his place in racing’s pantheon by the inexplicable refusal of Hills to give him his riding due.
Three weeks later, Dawn Run with O’Neill in the plate, fell in Liverpool’s Whitbread Gold Label Cup, but got back on the winning trail under Tony in a match organised in her honour at The Punchestown Festival, beating Buck House ridden by Tommy Carmody to collect the stake money of £20,000. It had been a long season but Mrs Hill entertained hopes of winning the very valuable French Champion Hurdle for a second time, so Dawn Run was sent to Paris at the beginning of June for The Prix La Barka as a prep race for The Grand Course de Haies. Ridden by Tony they were comfortably beaten by the top class French Hurdler, Le Rheusois, and Tony expressed the opinion that reopposing in the Champion was pointless, a view with which his father strongly concurred. However Mrs Hill couldn’t be persuaded and saying that “if Tony hadn’t the confidence to ride the mare to win we’ll get someone else”.
A senior French pilot, 41 year old Michel Chirol was booked and on the 27th Of June 1986, despite Paddy’s serious misgivings, the pair lined up for The Grand Course de Haies at Auteuil. All looked to be going to plan until the 5th last hurdle, where the mare, for whatever reason failed to take off, fell heavily breaking her neck, and probably died instantly. It was a terribly sad end for such a magnificent horse, and one can only wonder at the callousness of Charmian Hills’ alleged, single remark to a crestfallen Paddy Mullins when he returned to the enclosures with the mares death certificate in hand, “horse’s come and horses go”.
Denman: Foaled in 2000, he was by that excellent NH stallion Presenting, and was bred in County Cork. He was the 8th live foal of the prolific brood mare Polly Puttens, and as all of her previous offspring were winners, (altogether her 10 foals won 43 races between them) breeder, Colman O’Flynn, must have been a very disappointed vendor when the big dark chestnut 4yo store was rejected by the vet at Tattersalls Ireland Derby Sale in 1984. (Thought the gelding needed a breathing operation). So Mr O’Flynn sent the imposing gelding to the retired jockey, Adrian Maguire, (won the 1992 Gold Cup on Cool Ground) who finding no pulmonary problems, embarked the big horse on a training regime and entered him for a Maiden at The Duhallow Point-To-Point at Liscaroll in March 2005. Partnered by the top amateur, CJ Sweeney, the duo duly won by an easy 12 Lengths, and the son of Presenting was bought in partnership by Paul Barber, (trainer Paul Nicholls landlord) and the high flying gambler Harry Findlay for €100,000.( Findlay is reputed to have staked two and a half million pounds on New Zealand to win the 2007 Rugby World Cup which unfortunately for Harry, the Kiwi’s lost)
Sent to the Nicholls academy at Ditcheat, Denman won his first 4 races over hurdles, including the Grade1 Challow Hurdle at Prestbury Park, and was a warm order to win The Royal & Sun Alliance Novices Hurdle when returning to the same venue for the 2006 Cheltenham Festival. In the event he was beaten 2 1/2 Lengths by the Noel Meade trained Nicanor, a defeat jockey Ruby Walsh blamed on himself for not having made much more use of the giant Denman’s great stride and bottomless stamina. Retired for the season, he made a winning debut over fences at Exeter at the end of October 2006, and remained unbeaten in his next 8 races over the larger obstacles. He scored top grade victories in The Royal & Sun Alliance Novices Chase at the 2007 Festival, in the 2007 Hennessy Gold Cup, and in Leopardstown’s 2007 Lexus Chase. The climax of his fabulous 9 race undefeated run, came in the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup which he won imperiously by 7 Lengths from his outstanding stable mate, Kauto Star. He was ridden to this, the greatest of his victories, by Sam Thomas, who maintains that the big horse travelled so well throughout the race that he was just unbeatable on the day.
Off the track for 330 days after Cheltenham, he finished a well beaten 2nd at Kempton in February, before lining up 34 days later, hoping to retain his Gold Cup Crown. On a day when his stable companion was at his magnificent best, Denman couldn’t get anywhere close, but did run on resolutely to finish 2nd, albeit 13 Lengths behind the flying Kauto Star. Things didn’t get any better 20 days later when he fell at Liverpool, and was retired for the season.
Following a 240 day break he reappeared in the 2009 Hennessy Gold Cup and put up a terrific weight carrying performance to land the race for the second time, conceding
22lbs to his stable companion, What A Friend.
Having unseated at Newbury prior to his third Gold Cup challenge in 2010, Denman started at odds of 4/1. Stable mate Kauto Star was the hot favourite to land a third Gold Cup, but in the event neither of them were good enough, and it was the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Imperial Commander, who took the bacon home. Kauto Star never jumped with his usual fluency and fell four out, while the gallant Denman never had the speed to challenge Nigel’s charge but kept on bravely to finish 2nd.
Now a 10yo, but still retaining plenty of his old ability, connections were hoping that Denman could land a record breaking third Hennessy in November 2010. However, having his first race for 220 days, and conceding nearly 2 stone to most of the field, the challenge proved beyond him, and he finished 3rd, behind Diamond Harry and Burton Point, both of whom were receiving lumps of weight.
Given a 111 day break he started at odds of 8/1 for The Gold Cup in 2011, but found the 5 years younger, Long Run, 7 Lengths too good. Well beaten at Liverpool 20 days later he was retired and suffering from a painful arthritic knee was put down in 2018.
Undoubtedly one of “The Greats” Denman must have been a joy to have been associated with. He won 14 of his 24 starts under rules and accumulated prize money of£1,141,347.
Desert Orchid: Back in the day, a mare named Grey Orchid was purchased by a Leicestershire Point-To-Point enthusiast, Jimmy Burridge for £175 pounds. Dangerously headstrong, she proved pretty useless between the flags, and was sent to be covered by a son of Nearula, Brother. The resultant offspring, Flower Child, possessed most of the negative attributes of her mother, and was just as dangerously headstrong, but she did manage to win a very minor 2 runner heat at Plumpton. Mr Burridge seeing little prospect of any further success on the racecourse, had his intractable mare covered by Grey Mirage for a fee of £350. (Grey Mirage wasn’t top class but did win a couple of 2000 Guineas trials and was briefly favourite for the 1972 renewal of the Classic) The result of this fairly haphazard mating was a pretty undistinguished looking grey foal born in April 1979. Unprepossessing at birth he may have been, but the little grey foal grew up to be one of the finest and most popular Chasers of all time, Desert Orchid.
Despite the young Horse displaying plenty of his mother’s wilful personality, Jimmy’s son Richard, became sufficiently impressed by the developing son of Grey Mirage, (Dessie as he became affectionately known to his myriads of fans) that he was persuaded to part with £2,000 of his hard earned, for a half share in the grey, and sent him to be trained by David Elsworth at Whitsbury near Fordingbridge in Devon. (coincidentally his sire, Grey Mirage, had also been trained on the Whitsbury gallops by Bill Marshall)
Ridden with restraint, Dessie failed to win any of the four races he contested in his first season at Whitsbury and actually fell on his racecourse debut under jockey Colin Brown, but did manage to finish 2nd in a Sandown Novices. (Colin, one of 5 jockeys to have ridden Dessie, rode him 42 times winning on 11 occasions) It was an entirely different story the following season when it was decided to give the freegoing gelding his head from the start, and he won 6 of his 8 starts. Victories included The Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown and The Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton but he was well beaten in The 1984 Champion Hurdle behind Dawn Run.
The 1984/85 campaign yielded just a single win, The Oteley Hurdle at Sandown, but he did finish 2nd in The Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, where he had the subsequent triple Champion Hurdler, See You Then, back in 3rd. What did become very clear to connections however was the Grey’s definite preference to race going right handed.
The 1985/86 campaign looked like getting off to a flying start at Kempton where with 2 hurdles to jump Dessie was coasting along, 15 Lengths clear of his field, but capsized at the penultimate obstacle. However, he soon made amends, making an impressive debut over fences at Exeter, and then landing 3 further scintillating victories, twice at Ascot, and once at Sandown, all before Christmas 1985. He unseated in his first race of The New Year, before finishing 2nd in The Scilly Isles Chase and then headed to The Arkle Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. His tendency to jump to his right cost him several Lengths and he finished 3rd, 9 Lengths behind the Irish horse, Boreen Prince.
He started the 1986/87 campaign with an all the way victory over 2 1/2miles at Sandown and when dropped back to 2miles for Ascot’s Frogmore Chase, was equally impressive. With plenty of doubters that such a freewheeling type would last the 3miles of Kemptons Boxing Day showpiece, The King George V1 Chase, Dessie started at odds of 16/1 for the top grade event. Ridden by Simon Sherwood for the first time, (Colin Browne was aboard the stables better fancied Combs Ditch) the duo set off in front and confounded the stamina doubters, maintaining a relentless gallop all the way to the line and finishing 15 Lengths clear of a really top class field. Further success followed in Sandown’s Gainsborough Chase and Wincanton’s Jim Ford Chase before Dessie finished 3rd in The Queen Mother’s Champion Chase at The Festival.
He couldn’t quite manage the concession of 2 stones to lone Engagement in the 1987 renewal of Tingle Creek the following season and had to settle for the runner up spot in The King George V1 Chase at Kempton. Another 2nd place, behind Pearlyman in The Queen Mother Chase followed, but the 1987/88 season finished on a more positive note when he won his first chase travelling left handed, Aintree’s Chivas Regal Cup, and followed up with a spectacular victory in Sandown’s 3miles 5furlongs Whitbread Gold Cup to round off the campaign.
His 6 victories in the 1988/89 campaign included wins in The Tingle Creek, The King George V1 Chase, The Victor Chandler Chase, (conceding 22lbs to the talented Panto Prince) and The Gainsborough Chase, before heading to Prestbury Park, hoping to land Cheltenham’s Blue Riband. Ridden by Simon Sherwood in really atrocious conditions, he won The Gold Cup by 1 1/2Lengths from the John Edwards trained mud lark, Yahoo, with the 1988 winner, Charter Party, 8Lengths further back in 3rd.
He landed a third King George V1 Chase in December 1989, and then put up probably the best performance of his entire career when winning the 1990 renewal of The Racing Post Trophy by 8 Lengths, carrying 12-3 and conceding 2 Stone to the runner up, Delius. It earned him a Timeform rating of 187, the 5th highest ever awarded, an amazing achievement for a horse at the age of eleven. Dessie could only finish 3rd in The Gold Cup the following month behind the 100/1 outsider, Norton’s Coin, but then finished the season with another fantastic weight carrying performance in The Irish Grand National. Despite a last fence blunder he won the valuable heat conceding the best part of 2 stones to the entire field.
Rising 12, he won a 4th King George V1 Chase at the end of 1990, followed by another Gainsborough Chase victory about 6weeks later. Now 12 he ran another solid race to finish 3rd behind Garrison Savannah and The Fellow in the 1991 Gold Cup before retiring for the season.
The 1991/92 campaign saw him unplaced in his two outings prior to attempting to land an unprecedented 5th King George V1 Chase. It wasn’t to be however as the gallant veteran, now rising 13 fell, bringing the curtain down on his amazing 70 race career.
He enjoyed a long and healthy retirement before shuffling off his mortal coil in 2008.
Devon Loch: Foaled in 1946 Devon Loch was a bay horse by Devonian, a son of Hyperion, out of the brood mare Coolaleen by Loch Lomond. Bred in Ireland by Mr WA Moloney, he was submitted to The Ballsbridge yearling Sales in September 1947 and was bought by the Co Meath, horse dealer/trainer, Colonel Stephen Hill-Dillon for 550 Guineas. Interestingly, another yearling who was to become a big part part of the Devon Loch story, ESB was sold at the same Sales the previous month. Trained by Hill-Dillon at Hayes House, close to Navan Racecourse the bay gelding ran unplaced over the track on his debut in 1951, but showed his potential next time winning at Naas, and was sold to Lord Bicester, acting on behalf of Queen Elizabeth,The Queen Mother. Sent to the Queen Mothers trainer, Peter Cazalet, at Fairlawne in Kent, the 6yo was placed on his debut for his new yard in November 1951.
Over the next 3 years the son of Devonian developed into a decent three mile chaser, and having won twice in the 1955/56 campaign, and finished 3rd in Cheltenham’s National Hunt Chase the previous month, was quite well fancied for the 1956 renewal of Aintree’s Showpiece. Starting at 100/7 in the 29 runner field, his prospects improved when the favourite, Must, came down at the first fence, and they looked even brighter when the strongly fancied Early Mist fell a few fences later. The 10yo, jumping boldly, continued throughout the race, to give pilot, Dick Francis, a great ride, and with 3 fences to go looked the most likely winner. Jumping the last fence 1 1/2 Lengths ahead of the Dave Dick ridden ESB, he continued to extend his advantage all the way up the long finishing straight and less than 50 yards from the finish, 6 lengths ahead of his nearest pursuer, ESB, it seemed that nothing could prevent a Royal Victory, when the unbelievable happened. To the astonishment of the huge crowd, he collapsed onto his stomach in the most amazing fashion, with 4 legs stretched akimbo, and shocked rider Francis still sitting bemusedly, in the plate. He was passed by the other 8 finishers before struggling back to the vertical, a devastated Dick Francis having quickly hopped overboard.
Theories abound as to what happened to cause such a bizarre event, ranging from the plausible to the frankly ridiculous. Amongst the latter was the theory that a member of the entourage of the Soviet Union president, George Malenkov, (briefly succeeded to the presidency of The U.S.S.R. on the death of Josef Stalin) who was present on the day, had used some form of “Ray Gun” to dazzle the Royal runner. Others of a spiritualist bent preferred to believe that a malevolent ghost from Fairlawne was responsible, two other luckless losing inmates from the same stable, Davy Jones and Cromwell, being invoked to support the theory.
On the plausible side, Dick Francis felt that it was the sheer volume of noise emanating from the 1/4 of a million spectators that distracted his mount, others point to the long shadow cast across the track at that spot by the water obstacle, encouraging the tired horse to attempt to jump an imagined fence, while many noted that pooling of water in the area, leaking from the above mentioned jump, may have played a part.
For perhaps the most credible explanation, to yours truly anyhow, we have to travel back 5 years to the days just after Lord Bicester bought the gelding on behalf of his Royal boss. Before being dispatched to England it was decided to give the horse a full workout over two full circuits of the big galloping track at Navan, about the equivalent distance of the Grand National. According to his work rider, but not revealed until many years later, that having completed two laps of the course and jumped the last fence, Devon Loch had done the splits in exactly the same manner as at Aintree. It was probably caused by a condition that affects many athletes performing at maximum effort, when their bodies fail to adequately metabolise the excessive lactic acid that builds up in their muscle fibres, and leads to severe cramp. It isn’t recorded whether his Lordship was informed of this new development before the Royal purchase was consigned to Fairlawne, (I think we can hazard a guess) but it does seem likely that a bare 4 miles, galloping with the throttle out, was as much as Devon Loch’s constitution could tolerate.
ESB, who was the main beneficiary of the strange occurrence, became the first of Fred Rimell’s 4 Grand National winners, and Devon Loch continued to race for another 10 months until retiring after finishing unplaced in The Mildmay Memorial Chase at Sandown in 1957. He was put down at Fairlawne 5 years later, but remains very much alive as a much used metaphor in the English Language, for sudden, unexpected, last minute failure, to complete an imminent anticipated victory, Don’t do a Devon Loch!
Don’t Push It: Foaled in June 2000 he is by the very successful NH Stallion, Old Vic,
(top class winner of The Irish and French Derby’s) out of the Alleged mare, She’s No Laugh Ben. Useless on the racecourse, the oddly named dam did better at stud, not only producing Don’t Push It, ( winner of 8 races and £754,616 in prize money) but one of her other 4 foals, Larifaari won three times on the flat.
Racing in the yellow and gold hoops of his legendary owner, JP McManus, and trained by his tenant at Jackdaws Castle, Jonjo O’Neill, Don’t Push It finished 3rd in a Warwick NH flat race on his debut in December 2004 and was then given a 9 months break before winning for the first time, a lowly, Class6, Market Rasen NH flat affair, ridden by the amateur, Mr AJ Berry, in September 2005. Success over timber followed at Haydock 12 weeks later, and following a 313 days break, Don’t Push It made a successful debut over the larger obstacles at Stratford in October 2006. He followed up with a close 2nd to the future Gold Cup winner, Denman, at Cheltenham’s November meeting, before landing a Class2 Chase at the same venue the following month.
The following 3 years were something of a mixed bag with a tally of just 3 wins from 15 starts but they did include a victory in the valuable John Smiths Handicap over the Mildmay fences at Liverpool in April 2009. He kicked off the 2009/10 campaign by finishing a well beaten 4th in Aintree’s Old Roan Chase, before demonstrating emphatically that staying races were his true metier in the 3miles 3 1/2furlongs Servo Trophy Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in November 2009. Carrying 11-11 and conceding 25 lbs to the winner on holding ground, he ran on with great determination up the hill, to get within 1/2 Length of the well handicapped, Galant Nuit. With eyes now firmly focused on Liverpool, the son of Old Vic had a pipe opener in The Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle at The Cheltenham Festival in March, and although making no show in the race, (he was tailed off and pulled up before the last by pilot AJ Berry) connections were hoping that the outing had left him spot on for Aintree, and enable them, messrs McCoy, McManus and O’Neill, to lay their longstanding Grand National bogey. (It was to be Tony’s 15th ride in the race)
Starting the joint 10/1 favourite with the Paul Nicholls trained Big Fella Thanks, (finished4th) McCoy gave his mount plenty of time to get into a good jumping rhythm before making steady headway to track the leaders going out on the 2nd circuit. Travelling better than most, he took 2nd place at the penultimate fence, joined Black Apalachi over the last, and staying on well from the elbow, forged clear to win by 5 Lengths from Dessie Hughes’s charge.
Retired for the season, he was trained very much with the 2011 Grand National in mind, and despite showing precious little in any of the four heats of his 2010/11 campaign, he was made the 9/1 joint 2nd favourite to retain his Aintree crown. Carrying the steadier of 11-10, McCoy followed the same tactics as the previous year and quietly crept into the race from six out, but unfortunately made a mistake at the third last which knocked them back and the duo were only fifth with two to jump. Anchored by his big weight he couldn’t get to the leaders, but did stay on bravely for 3rd place behind Ballabrigs and Oscar Time. The Aintree hero only raced once more, in a 3 miles handicap hurdle at Cheltenham the following November, where he trailed in a remote 6th and was retired to an honourable, and luxurious retirement at JP’s Martinstown estate in Co Limerick.
Double Trigger: A light chestnut with a prominent white blaze, the front running Double Trigger was instantly recognisable and became one of the most popular Stayers of the last 30 years. Irish bred and foaled in 1991, he was a son of The King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Ela-Mana-Mou out of the French mare, Solac, by Gay Lussac.
(Solac’s second foal, Double Eclipse, born the following year, and a full brother of Double
Trigger also proved to be an exceptional performer over staying distances) Owner RW Huggins wisely sent the son of Ela-Mana-Mou to be trained at Middleham in North Yorkshire by the outstanding Scottish born handler, Mark Johnston. Mark not only trained him to win 14 of his 29 starts, including 12 at Group Level and a Stayers Triple Crown. (Ascot Gold Cup, Doncaster, and Goodwood Cups)
The handsome chestnut made a 10 Lengths winning debut in a 9 furlongs Redcar 2yo Maiden in September 1993 and confirmed his potential as a stayer 5 weeks later when, up in class, he easily landed Newmarket’s 10 furlongs Zetland Stakes.
Retired for the season, he wasn’t seen back in action until finishing unplaced over 12 furlongs in the middle of August 1994 in York’s St Leger Trial, The Great Voltigeur Stakes, and then finished 3rd in the the Doncaster Classic itself, 4 1/4 Lengths behind the winner, Moonax. Two months later, the decision to send the colt to Turin for the Italian version of the same Classic, proved inspirational, but the Piedmont trip was followed by a fruitless journey, halfway round the world, to Sha Tin for The Hong Kong Vase in December.
Double Trigger started off his 4yo campaign with a win in Ascot’s Sagaro Stakes in May 1995 and following an easy 6 Lengths victory in Sandown’s Henry 11 Stakes the same month, lined up as the 9/4 2nd favourite for The Ascot Gold Cup. Ridden by his regular partner, Jason Weaver, (Now a popular racing pundit and pretty good tipster, Jason rode him 21 times) the duo made the running, quickened 4 furlongs out, and stayed on strongly to win by 5 Lengths from the St Leger winner, Moonax. There was only a neck in it 5 weeks later when Double Trigger and Jason landed the second leg of The Stayers Crown at Goodwood beating Double Eclipse, (the year younger stable companion was receiving 21lbs) and 7 weeks later, the pair easily completed the Stayers Treble at Doncaster.
The 1995 campaign was undoubtedly the high point of Double Trigger’s career, but he continued to perform at the top level. In 1996 he again won The Sagaro and Henry 11 Stakes before finishing 2nd to Classic Cliche in The Ascot Gold Cup. A second victory at Doncaster followed 2 months later, and the following year, a his 5 race campaign yielded another Goodwood Cup.
Ignored in the market for the 1998 renewal of The Ascot Gold Cup, the chestnut with the big white blaze started at odds of 25/1, but easily outran his rather insulting price, finishing a rapidly diminishing neck behind the dual Ascot Gold Cup winner, Kayf Tara. Obviously no back number, a 3rd Goodwood Cup followed 40 days later, and it was the perfect end to a magnificent career when the 7yo brought the curtain down at Town Moor on September 10th 1998, winning a third Doncaster Cup.
Footnote: Double Triggers handler, Mark Johnston, is undoubtedly one of the finest exponents of the craft of training the thoroughbred racehorse in the land. He was the first in this country to train more than 200 winners in a season in 2009, and has repeated the feat on 8 subsequent occasions. He became numerically the most successful British trainer of all time when he landed his 4194th winner in August 2018 and one is left wondering why such a talented individual has only 2 English Classics (Mister Baileys, 2000 Guineas 1994, and Attraction, 1000 Guineas 2004) to his credit after 33 years in the game. Isn’t it time that some of that assorted crew of Sheiks, billionaires, and zillionaires “smelled the coffee” and sent more of their genuine Classic aspirants north to Middleham?
Dr Devious: Irish bred, he was foaled at the Lyonstown Stud near Cashel Co Tipperary in March 1989. His sire Ahonoora was a sprinter, (won the 6 furlongs Stewards Cup, and the 5 furlongs William Hill Sprint Trophy at York)so when retired to stud it was assumed that his offspring would follow in the same vein. However the son of Lorenzaccio exceeded all expectations, and proved capable of siring top class performers at a wide range of distances, becoming a most influential stallion. Indeed many would say that he is the most successful and important representative of the Byerley Turk line in the modern era, (all thoroughbred racehorses descend from either the Byerley Turk, the Godolphin Arabian or the Darley Arabian, and more than 95% of modern thoroughbreds descend directly from the latter). The dam of Dr Devious, Rose Of Jericho, by the dual Arc de Triomphe winner Alleged, out of a daughter of the great Northern Dancer, was also regally bred, so trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam, and owner Luciano Gaucci, must have been more than a little hopeful that the colt’s ability on the racecourse might match his fancy pedigree, and happily it did.
He won four of his six starts at two, including a very impressive victory in the Group1 Dewhurst Stakes, from the subsequent top level performer Great Palm, in the final race of his juvenile campaign. The performance certainly must have impressed the American, Mrs Jenny Craig, for she is reputed to have forked out $2.5 million for the colt as a birthday present for husband Sidney. His new owner entered his very generous gift for America’s most prestigious contest, The Kentucky Derby, but unfortunately, Dr Devious, never having raced on Dirt, failed to act on the surface and finished a well beaten 7th.
The son of Ahonoora returned to England to continue his career on much more suitable turf, and showing no ill effects from the abortive trans Atlantic trip, lined up 32 days later an 8/1 chance for Epsom’s Blue Riband. Ridden by Northern Irishman, John Reid, in the 18 runner field, the duo travelled well throughout the race, took it up over a furlong from the finish, and came home 2 Lengths clear of the Jim Bolger trained St Jovite.
St Jovite emphatically reversed the placings 8 weeks later when, with a Pegasus like performance, he won The Irish Derby by 12 Lengths in a time nearly 5 seconds faster than standard. With the score standing at one all, the two Derby winners met for the last time in The Irish Champion Stakes over 10 furlongs at Leopardstown in September and this time Dr Devious prevailed by a short head. It was to be the colts last victory, although he ran respectably enough in The Arc and The Breeders Cup Turf, before bowing out with a disappointing performance in The Japan Cup at the end of November 1992.
Retired to stud at Coolmore in County Tipperary and eventually to Italy, he had some success. His most successful offspring was that doughty international traveller, Collier Hill, a winner of over £2.3 million in prize money across the globe, and the son of Ahonoora also headed the Italian sires list on two occasions. He died in Sardinia at the venerable age of 29 in 2018.
Dylan Thomas: By Danehill, the most successful stallion of all time, (sired 349 individual stakes winners, 89 of them at the top level) and out of the Diesis brood mare, Lagrion, who had produced the European Champion two year old filly, Queens Logic, (by Grand Lodge) 4 years previously, Sue Magnier and Michael Tabor must have had high hopes for their bay colt, foaled in April 2003. Well their hopes were indeed eventually fulfilled in spades, but following a fairly mundane 2yo campaign, the dizzy heights to which the son of Danehill would eventually rise were far from obvious. He did win 2 of his 4 juvenile starts, a Tipperary Maiden, and a valuable Leopardstown sales race, (by 3/4 Length from an animal only rated 73 at the end of his career) but he could only finish 2nd in a Salisbury Group3, and then made no impression in The Racing Post Trophy, finishing second last of the 7 runners.
His 3yo campaign started on an altogether higher note, winning the Group2 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes at Leopardstown, before lining up for Epsom’s Blue Riband 18 days later. Starting at odds of 25/1 for the 18 runner heat, pilot Johnny Murtagh, travelling strongly after a mile, took the initiative and sent the bay colt into the lead. Responding to Johnny’s urgings Dylan galloped on with great resolution all the way to the finish, and it was only in the shadow of the post that Sir Percy and Dragon Dancer got past to win by a Short Head and a Head. Needless to say there was no 25/1 available about the son of Danehill 29 days later when he made short work of a 13 runner field for The Irish Derby. Starting the 9/2 favourite, with Kieran Fallon doing the steering, he won by 3 1/2 Lengths from the French contender, Gentle Wave, and had the Epsom runner up, Dragon Dancer a further 3 Lengths back in 4th.
Following a 51 day break, he could only finish 4th in York’s International before getting back to winning ways 3 weeks later in The Irish Champion Stakes. In a memorable contest, that fantastic mare, Ouija Board, headed Dylan Thomas over a furlong out and looked the winner, but under a typical Kieran Fallon drive, the gallant Dylan responded bravely and fought back to win by a neck. A fruitless trip to Belmont Park on dirt followed and he was retired for the season.
The son of Danehill made a winning start to a glittering 4yo campaign. He won a listed race at the Curragh, and then, contesting 7 straight top level events, won 4 of them, and finished runner up in the other 3. Victory no 1 in The Prix Ganay at Longchamp was followed by consecutive seconds, in The Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh, and The Prince Of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot. Victory no 2 followed in The King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at the same venue, followed by a 2nd in The Juddmonte international at York. 18 days later win no 3 came when repeating his 2006 success in Leopardstown’s Champion Stakes (becoming the first horse to win the race twice) and then crowned his magnificent season by landing The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe for his 4th top level victory of the campaign. Mind you many observers felt that he was lucky to keep the race as he had veered sharply right in the straight interfering with the well fancied Zambezi Sun whose promising looking run had to come to a withering halt. Connections must have been on tenterhooks, but following a half hour inquiry, Dylan Thomas was confirmed the winner and jockey Kieran Fallon could celebrate his second win in the great race. (won on the Andre Fabre trained Hurricane Run In 2005)
Dylan raced twice more in 2007, finishing well beaten on both occasions, in The Breeders Cup at Monmouth and in The Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin, but notwithstanding, was voted the 2007 European Horse Of The Year, an honour hard earned and richly deserved. A winner of 6 Group1 races in all, and nearly £3.4 million in prize money, he retired to stud at Coolmore. Now 17 he continues as a dual purpose stallion at Coolmore’s satellite, Castlehyde Stud.
Early Mist: The first of the legendary Vincent O’Brien’s 3 Grand National winners,
Early Mist was by the French bred stallion Brumeaux, out of a broodmare by the great stayer and sire of Stayers, Hurry On. (won the war time St Leger at Newmarket in 1916) Bred in England, he was bought at The Newmarket Yearling Sales in 1946, and subsequently, entered at Ballsbridge by Mr P Doyle, was purchased by the millionaire flour miller, Mr James Voase Rank, (brother of the film magnate J Arthur Rank) for 625 Guineas.
Sent to be trained by Tom Dreaper at Kilsallaghan in North Co Dublin he won all 4 starts in 1950, and the following season displayed his potential as a possible Grand National candidate, (the winning of which was an ambition long held, and very close to the heart of his wealthy, sporting owner) winning over fences at Naas, Fairyhouse, and Leopardstown. Sadly the 69 years old, James Voase Rank, wasn’t destined to realise his dream of Aintree glory, as he dropped dead on January 4th 1952. Nevertheless the deceased’s plans to run the son of Brumeaux at Liverpool were adhered to by his executors, and following a win at Baldoyle on March 15th lined up at Aintree a fortnight later. Starting at 18/1 in the 47 runner field, with Pat (Arkle) Taffe in the plate, he got no further than the first fence,
(along with 9 others)
Ending his sojourn at Kilsallaghan , Early Mist was included in the dispersal sale of Mr Rank’s bloodstock which was held on Derby Day in June 1952.
The 7yo was purchased by Vincent O’Brien for the not inconsiderable sum of 5,300 Guineas on behalf of Dublin businessman Joe Griffin, better known as “Mincemeat” Joe, the eponymous product being the source of Mr Griffins wealth. Following two unplaced runs, at Leopardstown on February 7th 1953, and at Baldoyle a fortnight later, Early Mist’s handsome purchase price wasn’t looking the shrewdest of investments, and things looked even darker next time when the 8yo was disqualified for crossing, after winning The Newland Chase at Naas. Still every cloud has a silver lining, and following three disappointing efforts, Joe was able to back his Grand National contender at fancy odds
to take out £100,000.
Starting at odds of 20/1 in the 31 runner field, jockey Bryan Marshall managed to avoid the multiple fallers which resulted in just 5 contenders making it to the finish, and from Valentines on the second circuit, the race had developed into a duel between Early Mist and the previous years Cheltenham Gold Cup hero, Mont Tremblant. Jumping from fence to fence the Irish horse (he was receiving 17lbs from Mont Tremblant) always looked in command and fairly scooted away after the last for a long looking 20 Lengths victory.
Footnote: Vincent O’Brien won the following two Grand Nationals, with Royal Tan in 1954, again owned by Joe Griffin and ridden by Bryan Marshall, and with Quare Times in 1955 ridden by Pat Taffe. It was an amazing feat by Vincent to win 3 consecutive Grand Nationals with 3 different horses, and added to his 4 Cheltenham Gold Cups (Cottage Rake 1948,49,50, and Knock Hard 1953) plus his 3 Champion Hurdles (Hattons Grace 1950,51,52) it is safe to say that it is a record that will never be beaten.
Easter Hero: Considered by many to have been the greatest steeplechaser before the mighty Arkle arrived on the Chasing stage. By the hugely influential National Hunt stallion, My Prince, out of the broodmare Easter Week by outbreak, he was bred by Co Meath based Larry King, and was foaled at Greenogue Co Dublin in 1920. The story of his Sire, My Prince, who became one of the great influences in the success story of Irish Bred Steeplechasers, is fascinating, and is well worth a slight digression. Bred in England, by Marcovil, out of a St Simon mare, he was a moderately successful flat racer, (5th in the 1914 Derby) and when his owner, Viscount St David’s decided to withdraw from racing following the loss of two sons in the Great War, he sent him to the sales. Failing to attract a bid in the very depressed wartime market, he was sold for 100guineas to The British Bloodstock Agency who, to the great good fortune, and benefit of Irish breeding, sold him on 6 weeks later for a mere £200 to The Irish Board Of Agriculture, and he was installed at The Corduff Stud outside the village of Lusk, Co Dublin where he remained until his death in 1937. As an Irish Board stallion, commanding a very low fee, (after a number of years a cover still only cost £24 and 19 shillings) he was unlikely to produce high class flat racers from the assorted medley of mares (some of them half breeds) sent to him, but as his stock matured their ability over jumps became increasingly obvious, and he became one of the most influential NH stallions ever. Besides siring Easter Hero he also got the 1946 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Prince Regent and on four occasions was responsible for The Grand National winner, including Reynoldstown who won the great race twice. My Prince also sired many daughters who produced good winners, both on the flat and over jumps, including Greenogue Princess, who established the steeplechasing family that included the immortal Arkle.
Having failed to win for his owner/breeder Mr King, the small but athletic chestnut passed into the hands of a Mr Bartholomew in 1925 who also drew a blank with the son of My Prince, (fell or unseated in 4 of his 8 starts) and in 1927 he sold the gelding to a Belfast businessman, Frank Barbour who sent him to be trained at his establishment in the Wiltshire village of Bishops Cannings by Alfred Bickley. (Had trained KoKo to win the 1926 Cheltenham Gold Cup for Frank) They enjoyed considerable success with the rapidly improving chestnut winning 8 races including The Molyneux and Beecher Chases at Liverpool as well as The Coventry Chase at Kempton. Unable to resist an offer of £7,000 + a contingency of another £3,000 should he win the 1928 Grand National just weeks before the Liverpool marathon, from a Belgian millionaire, and jumping enthusiast, M. Alfred Loewenstein, Barbour accepted the hugely generous offer for the 8yo gelding.
One can only try to imagine the thoughts that must have gone through the wealthy Belgian’s mind when on the big day his expensive purchase came to grief at the 8th fence. (The Canal Turn). Bowling along in front of the enormous 42 runner field, he landed on top of the fence, and fell back into the ditch, causing scenes not unlike those at The Foinavon fence, 38 years later. At least 20 runners came down at the 8th, and in an accident strewn race, the only horse that got around without hitting the turf, Tipperary Tim, won at 100/1. Easter Hero did win a race in France for Alfred, The Prix des Drags, in the summer of 1928 but a month later the Belgians bad luck was compounded many times over when his plane disappeared over the North Sea, and Easter Hero was sold to Mr John Hay Whitney, a scion of the wealthy eponymous American family. Whitney sent him to be trained at the Letcombe yard of Jack Anthony and there he stayed for the rest of his career.
His first season at Letcombe yielded a rich harvest, winning 4 times over hurdles before contesting the 1929 Cheltenham Gold Cup where he spread-eagled the field, coming home 20 Lengths clear of his closest pursuer at odds of 7/4. Ten days later he put up one of the great weight carrying performances ever seen in the Grand National, finishing 2nd to the 100/1 winner, Gregalach (another son of My Prince) carrying 12stone 7lbs. Taking it up after jumping the 2nd fence he led the field a merry dance for nearly two circuits, until joined by the winner crossing the second last. Racing with a wrenched plate didn’t help his cause and many believe the twisted shoe prevented him collecting the spoils.
He won twice in the 1929/30 campaign before retaining his Gold Cup Crown with another 20 Lengths win at Cheltenham, but then had to be withdrawn from The Grand National with tendon trouble.
He won 3 times the following season, (the 1931 Gold Cup was abandoned) and was travelling as well as any in The Grand National when brought down on the 2nd circuit, but once again demonstrated what a tough and talented performer he was when turning out the following day, he dead heated for Liverpool’s 2miles Champion Chase. Retired to his owners property in America he died in 1937.
What really sets Easter Hero apart from the rest, including the 5 times Gold Cup winning Golden Millar (1932-36) was the absolute ease of his two Cheltenham victories, the likes of which weren’t seen again at Prestbury Park until Arkle’s imperious second victory in 1965.
El Gran Senor: Edward P Taylor, Canadian owner breeder of the mighty Northern Dancer, probably the most influential Sire of the 20th century, in partnership with Vincent O’Brien, trainer par excellance, John Magnier, unparalleled guru of the stud book, and Robert Sangster, racehorse owner and breeder extraodinaire, who in association with the two aforementioned helped to transform Ireland into Europe’s foremost producer of the thoroughbred racehorse, had the Buckpasser mare, Sex Appeal, covered by his famous stallion, and the result of this happy equine union, a good looking bay colt, was foaled at Mr Taylor’s Maryland stud, Windfield’s farm, on April 21st 1981. Father of the newly foaled colt, Northern Dancer, who prior to establishing himself as the most important influence on the thoroughbred breed in the 20th century, had been a championship racehorse, (winner of The Kentucky Derby and The Preakness Stakes) had been trained by the Argentinian born, Horatio Luro. Horatio, during the course of a high profile, stellar career, had acquired the moniker, El Gran Senor, and in his honour the partners named the horse for the South American born handler.
Sent to County Tipperary to be trained by Vincent, (had trained his full brother Try My Best, the Champion British and Irish 2yo In 1977) he only raced on 8 occasions before illness/injury curtailed his career, but won on seven of them, and many feel that he should have retired undefeated.
Having developed into a well balanced attractive colt, his good looks only marred by a pronounced parrot mouth, (a malformation of the jaws where the teeth don’t meet evenly, with the upper jaw protruding, parrot like, over the lower ridge) he won all four juvenile starts, including the Railway and National Stakes at The Curragh before contesting Newmarket’s Group1 Dewhurst Stakes where he prevailed by 1/2 Length over the Jeremy Tree trained, Rainbow Quest, and finished his 2yo campaign with a highly satisfactory rating of 131 from Timeform.
He made his 3yo debut in the 7furlongs Gladness Stakes at The Curragh a winning one, beating his stable companion, and future champion sire Sadlers Wells, very easily, before lining up for The 2000 Guineas as the 15/8 favourite. Ridden with great confidence by Pat Eddery, and showing an impressive turn of foot, he cruised into the lead at the furlong marker and won going away by 3 Lengths from one of the classiest fields ever assembled for the Newmarket Classic. Runner up Chief Singer went on to score 3 times at the top level in 1984, (St James’s Palace, July Cup, and Sussex Stakes) third home Lear Fan won the Group1 Prix Jacques Le Marois and the fourth horse Rainbow Quest won The Coronation Cup and Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe the following year.
Inevitably, when a horse wins a 2000 Guineas showing such an amazing turn of foot as El Gran Senor had done, doubts are bound to be raised about his ability to stay another 4 furlongs at Epsom. There were no guarantees from his pedigree either, with plenty of speed on the distaff, and his dad Northern Dancer was probably best at 10 furlongs. Nevertheless, he lined up a heavily backed odds on favourite for The Derby, and riding a possible non stayer, it was expected that Pat Eddery would hold onto him for as long as possible and use his blinding speed at the business end. In the event Eddery rode an ill judged race, found himself in the lead over 2 furlongs out and had to engage in a sustained stamina sapping duel up the straight with another son of Northern Dancer, Secreto, ridden by the wily Christy Roche who prevailed by a shot head. (Secreto had also been foaled at Windfields and was trained by Vincent’s son, David O’Brien who at 27 became the youngest ever Derby winning trainer)
Bitterly disappointed Eddery and El Gran Senor headed for The Curragh hoping to make amends in The Irish Derby. With Secreto sidelined by injury, (he never raced again after Epsom) El Gran Senor won in convincing fashion from Rainbow Quest, but going lame, was diagnosed with a Keratoma (a benign tumor in his hoof) which prematurely put an end to his career.
At stud El Gran Senor had low fertility, producing less than 400 named offspring in a 15 year career, but 55 were Stakes winners, 12 of them at the top level which in the breeding world would be considered the mark of a very successful stallion. His continuing influence on the breed was guaranteed by the success of his best daughter, the Grade1 winning Toussaud, who belongs to that über rare group of broodmares who have produced more than one individual Group1/Grade1 winner. Toussaud actually produced four.
English Prince: Foaled in 1971 English Prince was by the Champion miler, Petingo, who in a relatively brief career at stud (died of a heart attack at the age of 11) sired plenty of high class animals, including The Oaks winner, Fair Salina, and Troy, winner of The Derby, The Irish Derby, The King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and The Benson and Hedges Gold Cup. His dam English Miss, was also a very well bred mare. She was by the French stallion, Bois Roussel, winner of the 1938 Derby and her dam Virelle, was a half sister to the top class pair Sayani, (Prix Jacques Le Marois 1946) and My Babu (2000 Guineas 1948) so his owners/breeders, Colonel and Vera Hue-Williams, must have been more than a little hopeful that their big, good looking bay colt, would show ability on the racecourse to match his looks and pedigree. They had to wait 3 years to find out however, as their trainer Peter Walwyn found the big bay too backward to train for a juvenile campaign, and the son of Petingo didn’t make his racecourse debut until April 1974, when he finished 2nd in a Newbury Maiden.
Benefiting from his introductory run he took the step up in class in his stride when winning the Group3 White Rose Maiden Stakes at Ascot on the 1st of May, and then emphatically proved his stamina, winning Goodwood’s 1 1/2miles Predominate Stakes in great style by 6 Lengths. Connections, feeling that their still immature colt would be unsuited by the demands of Epsom, by passed The Derby, in favour of a tilt at The Irish Sweeps Derby. Enroute to The Curragh they took in Royal Ascot’s Group2 King Edward V11 Stakes which he won easily by 6 Lengths in record time.
The Irish Derby was the Petingo colts first attempt at a top level event, and in a high quality field, which included The Derby runner up Imperial Prince, (running in the colours of Colonel Roger Hue-Williams) the winner and 4th home in The Prix Du Jockey Club, Caracolero and Mississippian, (winner of the 1973 Grand Criterium) plus Furry Glen, winner of The Irish 2000 Guineas, the Epsom 2nd, ridden by Geoff Lewis, was sent off the11/4 favourite. English Prince, ridden by the French Maestro, Yves Saint-Martin (riding in the colours of Vera Hue-Williams) was an easy to back 8/1 chance. Well ridden by the French Champion, who showing maximum confidence in his mounts stamina credentials, kept him to the fore throughout what was a strongly run heat, and took up the running entering the straight. Galloping on in great style English Prince never looked in any danger and comfortably beat Imperial Prince by 1 1/2 Lengths, making it a one two for the Hue-Williams couple.
Looking such a strong stayer at The Curragh, the big bay was aimed at the St Leger and started a hot favourite for York’s trial for the years final Classic, The Great Voltigeur Stakes. Disappointing in the race, (was beaten 4 Lengths by Bustino) he was found to be very sore on returning home to Walwyn’s Seven Barrows yard. (now Nicky Henderson’s base) Scratched from The St Leger, (won by Bustino) English Prince never raced again, and was retired to stud duties at Ballylinch stud in County Kilkenny.
At stud his early crops failed to make much impression and he was sold to Japan in 1980, but as so often is the case, his later progeny took a decided turn for the better. His 3yo daughter, Prince’s Polly won the Irish 1000 Guineas in 1982 and his 4yo son won Evzon won the same year’s Queens Vase at Royal Ascot. His 1980 crop included the fantastic filly and broodmare Sun Princess. She won The 1983 Oaks by 12 Lengths and followed up with victories in The Yorkshire Oaks and The St Leger before finishing 2nd in The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe. At stud she bred at least 8 winners including the Group1 winner, Prince of Dance. Sadly English Prince died in the year of his best offspring’s stellar success, departing the scene at the young age of 12 in 1983.
Epatante: At the time of writing, the 2020 Champion Hurdle winner is still very much a work in progress, but having already won 8 of her 11 starts, 3 of them at the top level, and nearly £1/2 a million in prize money, the 7yo mare is hard to ignore. Foaled on 27th February 2014 she falls into that peculiar category of Gallic racehorse, AQPS, which readers might find interesting. Autre Que Pur-Sang, translated as, other than thoroughbred, (not Other Than Pure Blood) is a general term used in France to refer to horses not listed as thoroughbreds (to be thoroughbred all ancestors must appear in The Thoroughbred Stud Book) but destined to race. The designation usually means one parent is not listed in the Thoroughbred Stud Book, but in practical terms, an AQPS is akin to a thoroughbred, except they are not eligible to be included in the above tome. The term almost always applies to those horses with Selle Français breeding in the dam line,(a breed of sport horse from France of some renown, primarily in the show jumping field) even if it is extremely remote through multiple crossings with thoroughbred stallions over the generations.
So our Champion Hurdle heroine gets her AQPS designation because her dam Kadjara was not a thoroughbred, as her maternal grand sire Useful, was descended from a mare whose ancestors don’t appear in the Thoroughbred Stud Book. Her dad, No Risk At All, certainly was though, being from the same family as that top class NH performer and successful stallion, Nickname, and he was a decent enough performer on the flat, winning at Group3 level. Having won 2 of her first 3 races in her native France, (all NHF and AQPS) the last at Grade1 level, Epatante was sold to JP McManus for an undisclosed sum and sent to Nicky Henderson at Lambourn.
Arriving at Seven Barrows in November 2018 she won her first two races, minor affairs at Kempton and Exeter, before lining up as the 15/8 favourite for the Grade2 Dawn Run Tattersalls Mares Novices Hurdle at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival where she proved a major disappointment, finishing a well beaten 9th, and was put away for the season. Reappearing 261 days later in a Newbury Handicap, Cheltenham losses were handsomely recovered when she won very easily by 6 Lengths at 3/1, (what a good thing she must have been, racing off a mark of just 137) and 28 days after that was even more impressive when winning Kemptons Christmas Hurdle by 5 Lengths from Silver Streak. Rated 22lbs higher than for the Newbury Handicap, she started the 2/1 favourite for the Champion Hurdle and comfortably justified her short price, winning by 3 Lengths from the Willie Mullins trained, Sharjah.
Again, given a long break following her Cheltenham victory, she reappeared in Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth at the end of November and couldn’t have been more impressive, seeing off the challenge of Sceau Royal by over 4 Lengths. 28 days later at Kempton, the betting suggested (1/5) that all the mare had to do, was go down and come back, to retain her Christmas Hurdle Crown but unfortunately nobody had told Adam Wedge aboard the tough Silver Streak who set out from flag fall to make all. Setting a strong even pace throughout, the duo arrived at the last 3 Lengths to the good over Epatante, who having made a mistake at the 3rd last struggled to close the gap. With nothing more to come from the hot favourite Silver Streak went on to win by 6 1/2 Lengths.
Epatante retains her place at the top of The Champion Hurdle market and who can tell what the future holds for this outstanding mare but to date she has certainly proved exceptional. It does seem to be the case however, with just 11 starts in three and a half years, that she doesn’t take a lot of racing and will probably always be at her best after a break.
Espoir D’Allen: Bred by Bruno Vagne and foaled in France on 23rd of February 2014, he was by the Group1 winning sire Voix Du Nord, out of the AQPS brood mare, Quadanse. (Voix Du Nord, sire of Kemboy, Defi Du Shuil, Vibrato Valtat, Tarquin Du Seuil, and Vroum Vroum Mag to name but a few of the top class performers he has fathered, unfortunately died at the young age of 12 in 2015 just as he was getting to the top of the NH stallion’s table) Trained by Mlle A-S Pacault, Espoir D’Allen made his racecourse debut a winning one, with victory in a NHF (AQPS) heat at the provincial track of Lignieres, in the
Centre-Val de Loire region, before being sold to JP McManus six months later.
He was sent to the talented Gavin Cromwell in County Meath, whose training career was on an impressive upwards trajectory, at the beginning of October, and a fortnight later made his debut for the Navan handler in a 3yo Hurdle at Punchestown where despite a few minor jumping errors, comfortably won his first race over timber. Three further victories followed before the end of the year, including a Fairyhouse Grade3, and the Grade2, Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 27th 2017. 40 days later his winning run came to an abrupt end, finishing 4th of 5, 23 Lengths behind the winner, Mr Adjudicator, in Leopardstown’s Grade1 Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle at odds of 4/5, and was retired for the season.
Reappearing in a Naas Grade3 following a 279 days break, he turned the form around with the Leopardstown Victor, winning by 11 Lengths from Mr Adjudicator at odds of 3/1. Mind you he may have been a little lucky as the favourite, Saldier, was probably going just as well when coming to grief at the last, but the Cromwell runner continued to show what an improved performer he was, hosing up in Limerick’s Grade3 Irish Independent Hurdle 48 days later. Easily winning a Leopardstown Grade3 conceding 7lbs to that excellent yardstick, Wicklow Brave, the following month, confirmed the upward trajectory the son of Viking Du Nord’s form was on, and one can only wonder at how he was allowed to start at the very generous odds of 16/1 for his next race, The Champion Hurdle. I suppose the fact that a 5yo hadn’t won Cheltenham’s hurdling centrepiece for 33 years, the presence of the two outstanding mares, Apples Jade and Laurina in the line up, plus the winner of the two previous renewals, Buveur D’Aire, running in the same colours as Espoir D’Allen, influenced the layers. Nevertheless Espoir D’Allen and Mark Walsh never looked like a 16/1 chance in the race, travelling supremely well from Flag fall, hurdling like a veteran, and scooting clear after the last to win by a record breaking 15 Lengths from the previous years runner up Melon. (finished a neck behind Buveur D’Air in 2018)
Only five, and with a glittering career in front of him, the new Champion Hurdler was retired for the season with every hope of retaining his crown in 2020 but it wasn’t to be. Following a routine canter the following August, something spooked the gelding, and rearing over he suffered a severe shoulder injury. Despite the best efforts of Fethard Equine Hospital for nearly a fortnight, continued treatment was thought to be inhumane, and sadly the youngest Champion Hurdler for 33 years had to be euthanised.
Exterminator: Bred by F.D. “Dixie” Knight, Exterminator was by Mc Gee, (sire of Donerail, winner of The Kentucky Derby in 1913) out of the Jim Gore brood mare, Fair Empress, and was foaled in Lexington (‘horse capital of the world’) Kentucky, in the heart of the states bluegrass region in 1915. He was sold as a yearling for $1,500 to owner/trainer J. Cal. Malim who, unimpressed by the tall and unfurnished colt’s rather coarse and unprepossessing looks, had him gelded. Handsome is as handsome does however, and his looks didn’t stop “The Galloping Hat Rack” as he came to be known, winning his first race in June 2017 by 3 Lengths. Put away after sustaining a severe muscle strain in a heat in Windsor Ontario, he was sold to Willis Sharpe Kilmer for the not inconsiderable sum of $9,000. Willis can’t have been overly impressed though, as his instructions to trainer Henry Mc Daniel, had been to purchase a “workhorse” for not more than $700 to help his rising star, Sun Briar, (top American juvenile colt of 2017) in his workouts. Mind you, I suppose $9,000 wasn’t much more than loose change to Willis who on his death in 1940 left a fortune of $15,000,000, acquired largely through the successful marketing of his uncle, S. Andral Kilmers, Swamp Root Patent medicine formula. Only in America!
Well as things transpired, the “workhorse” made a serious impression on handler McDaniels when training with Sun Briar. The tall geldings ability on the track became increasingly obvious, and when Sun Briar was sidelined by injury just before the
1918 Kentucky Derby, Henry tried to get Willis to run Exterminator instead. Well the Swamp Root purveyor took some convincing, feeling that he didn’t want to be represented on such a grand stage by an animal he referred to as, That Goat, and it was only the intervention of the president of Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby’s venue, who having seen the geldings impressive work on the track convinced the reluctant Willis to run. Having his first race for nearly a year, on a deep muddy surface, Exterminator started as an unconsidered 30/1 chance for “The Run For The Roses” and last into the straight those odds looked about right, but galvanised by jockey Willie Knapp (took over the training of Exterminator in 1921) he passed the whole field to win America’s most prestigious race by a length.
Getting better as he got older, Exterminator ran in 99 races, winning 50 of them, and his career record of 33 Stakes victories still stands as an American record to this day. Hugely popular with the public, and racing until he was nine, he was affectionately referred to as ‘Old Bones’ and was voted US Champion Older Male Horse three times in 1920, 21, and 22. He also received the highly prized accolade, ‘American Horse Of The Year’ in 1922.
The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame was founded in Saratoga Springs in New York State in 1951 to honour the achievements of American Thoroughbred Racehorses, Jockeys, and Trainers, and ‘Old Bones’ is one of fewer than 215 horses since Sir Archy (1808-1809) to have been inducted into that hallowed academy. Having enjoyed 21 years of happy retirement, accompanied by a succession of pony’s, all called Peanuts, this great American Thoroughbred Hall Of Fame Racehorse, died on September 26th 1945.
Fair Salinia: Following an outstanding wartime career with the Ayrshire Yeomanry, the highly decorated, Major John Hubert De Burgh MC, returned to his run down family estate, Oldtown House, on the outskirts of Naas, Co Kildare, at the end of the 2nd World War. As part of a programme to re-establish the financial viability of the property, which had been in the De Burgh family for over 3 centuries, he started the Oldtown stud. The business thrived, producing plenty of top class animals, such as Galaxy Libra, (Man’O War Stakes) Indigenous (triple Hong Kong Group1) and Miss Petard (Ribblesdale Stakes) over the decades, but it was thanks to the Major’s penchant for the American thoroughbred, that the stud achieved its biggest success, breeding a filly who was destined to become a triple Oaks winner.
Appreciating the quality of the pedigree of the American bred mare, Fair Arabella, (by Chateaugay, winner of 2 legs of the American triple crown, the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, out of the Spy Song mare, Locus Time, making Fair Arabella a half sister to the Group1 Prix Du Moulin winner, Faraway Son, and the Group2 Prix d’Harcourt winner Liloy) the Major shrewdly bought the beautifully bred brood mare for a bargain basement price of $14,000 and had her covered by the top miler, Petingo.
The result of the Major’s breeding strategy was born on the 18th March 1975, and was purchased the following year by Sven Hansen, for 13,000 Guineas at the Newmarket Houghton Tattersalls yearling Sales. Sven’s fortune was made in the Salt industry and he appropriately named his newly acquired filly, Fair Salinia.
The bay filly was sent to Michael Stoute at Freemason Lodge in Newmarket, and she made her racecourse debut at the beginning of September 1977 in a 7f Sandown heat open to both fillies and colts. Starting at 20/1 she belied her long odds, taking up the running turning in, and going clear up the Sandown hill to win by 2 Lengths. Stepping up to the top level, and dropping back a furlong in trip for her next race was a big ask, but she acquitted herself well, finishing a running on 3rd, (promoted to 2nd) in Newmarket’s Group1 6f Cheveley Park Stakes, and retired for the season.
She made a slightly disappointing start to her 3yo campaign, finishing 4th in Newbury’s Fred Darling Stakes, but left that form well behind next time, finishing second to Enstone Park in the 1000 Guineas, doing all her best work in the final furlong. Despite her strong finish at Newmarket, there were stamina doubts about her ability to stay the extra 4 furlongs of the Oaks, and she started an 8/1 chance for the Epsom Classic. With two furlongs to go, the French filly Dancing Maid, who had been an impressive winner of the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, (French 1000 Guineas) quickened impressively to pinch a 2 Lengths lead, but Greville Starkey, who had won the Derby on Shirley Heights 3 days previously, always had the move covered, and came with a perfectly timed run to win by a short head. With Oaks number one in the bag it was on to the Curragh the following month for the Irish Oaks, and in a controversial finish, the daughter of Petingo finished 2nd to the John Oxx trained Sorbus, but following an objection to the winner by Starkey, Fair Salinia was awarded the race. The two met again in the Yorkshire Oaks and the Irish result was confirmed, with Fair Salinia beating Sorbus by 1 1/2 Lengths and landing
Oaks number three in the process. Her last race, the “Arc” trial, the Prix Vermille at Longchamp proved a disappointment, finishing 5th, 3 1/2 Lengths behind the winner, Dancing Maid, and she was retired to the paddocks.
At stud she produced 11 live foals, 6 of them winners, but perhaps the most memorable of the eleven was her foal by Great Nephew, born in 1983, Legend of Arabia, who became the first filly to sell for 1,000,000 Guineas at the yearling Sales. The Uber expensive filly never raced but she did produce that good Hurdler Nomadic, winner of Punchestown’s Grade1 Morgiana Hurdle in 1998. His grandma, the triple Oaks winner died at the age of 29 in 2004.
Fairway: Edward Stanley (1865-1948)17th Earl of Derby, may have left a mark, large or small, on the Military, Political, and Diplomatic professions to which he belonged, but in the world of breeding thoroughbred racehorses, he will be forever lauded as the individual, who bred the great stallion Phalaris, responsible through his 4 sons, Sickle, Pharamond, Pharos, and Fairway, for establishing the most dominant sire line in Europe, and later in America.
His lordship had his home bred mare Scapa Flow covered by the prepotent Phalaris in 1924, and the outcome, foaled, in 1925 was a good looking brown colt, who was destined to become the best racehorse of his generation at 2, 3, and 4. Named Fairway, he was sent to to be trained by George Lambton (Champion handler in 1906, 1911, and 1912 and trainer of 10 Classic winners for his boss) at the earls’ Newmarket stables, Stanley House. In 1926 George took over as Lord Derby’s racing manager, and the Austrian born, Frank Butters was offered the post to replace him on a 4 year contract. Frank, the son of, and assistant to, Joseph Butters, an English trainer operating in Vienna, was interned during the Great War, and following the conflict trained in Italy. When offered the post at Stanley House he accepted and enjoyed plenty of success for Lord Derby, not least with Fairway. (Although his contract with Lord Derby wasn’t renewed in 1930, it didn’t prevent Frank becoming one of the most successful trainers of the first half of the 20th century, winning 15 English Classics, 3 Irish Derby’s, and the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe In 1948. He was also Champion trainer on 8 occasions.)
Fairway was unplaced on his racecourse debut in a York Maiden in May 1927, but won the remaining 3 heats of his juvenile campaign, the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, the July Stakes at Newmarket, and the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster in September, where he sustained a minor injury, and Butters retired him for the season, with one eye on the 1928 2000 Guineas. It wasn’t to be however as he developed a nasty suppurating infection in his mouth and had to be withdrawn from the Newmarket Classic. Recovered, and gaining an impressive win in the Derby trial at headquarters, he was made favourite for Epsom, but boiling over in the Derby preliminaries, ran no sort of race and finished 9th. His dented reputation was restored in some style next time out, winning the Eclipse Stakes by 8 Lengths in a course record time, and then despite stamina doubts, (his sire, Phalaris was a sprinter) he was made the 7/4 favourite for the St Leger. Despite the doubts, jockey, Tommy Weston, rode a very positive race on the son of Phalaris in the final Classic, coming from off the pace in the closing stages, the colt saw out the mile and three quarters trip really well, and won by a length and a half. A few weeks later, racing over 4 furlongs shorter, he finished his 3yo career on a high note, comfortably winning the Champion Stakes.
3 /3 in his first three races of 1929, Fairway was attempting to make it 7 straight wins in a row in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown, but came up short, finishing 4 Lengths behind Royal Minstrel. He got back to winning ways following a 3 months break, landing a second success in the Champion Stakes and finished off the 1929 campaign in great style winning the Jockey Club Cup over 2 1/4 miles at Newmarket in a canter. He was kept in training at five with connections hoping to add an Ascot Gold Cup to his impressive CV, but he sustained a tendon injury, never raced again, and was retired to stud.
He was a great success as a stallion, topping the sires list on 4 occasions (also 2nd on the list 3 times) and siring 6 individual Classic winners. His most influential son however, was the Champion sire, Fair Trial, sire of 4 Classic winners, and in 1951 the leading brood mare sire in Great Britain and Ireland.
Faugheen : Bred by Dr John Waldron, Faugheen was by the American bred sire Germany, (a first class racehorse who won twice at the top level ) a son of the Arc de Triomphe winner Trempolino and rather appropriately was trained in Germany. He is currently making a serious impression for himself as a NH stallion. Faugheen’s dam, Miss Pickering, by one of the leading National Hunt stallions, Accordion, never raced, but she too, albeit distantly, could boast an “Arc” winner in her pedigree, Saumarez. Foaled on May 2nd 2008 he was consigned to the sales the same year making €4,000 at the Tattersalls Ireland Sale, and 3 years later, in 2011 was sold for €12,000 at Goffs National Hunt Sale. Named for a small church in deepest Co Waterford, the bay gelding made his racing debut in the Devonshire Arms Hotel Maiden, at the Co Limerick Point-To-Point course of Ballysteen on April 29th 2012. Racing in the colours of Mr Thomas Hassett and trained by Andrew Slattery he won impressively under R. Quinlan, and was sold to Rich and Susannah Ricci soon afterwards. Sent, like most of the Ricci horses, to the Mullins Academy at Closutton, to further hone his education, he made his debut for the Co Carlow yard in a Punchestown bumper in May 2013 which he won very easily by 22 Lengths. Sent over timber, he won his first two races, minor heats at Punchestown and Navan, with ease, before tackling Graded company for the first time at Limerick in December 2013 where he made all for yet another very comfortable win in a Grade3 heat, and 74 days later won his first top level event, Cheltenham’s Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle. Top level win number two came 52 days later with a 12 Lengths win in Punchestown’s, Grade1, Hearld Champion Novice Hurdle, finishing off a highly satisfactory 6 race unbeaten campaign.
Having recorded impressive wins at Ascot and Kempton (The Christmas Hurdle) before the end of 2014 he lined up at Cheltenham a very warm order for the 2015 Champion Hurdle and obliged in great style under Ruby Walsh, making all for a 1 1/2 Length and 5 Length win from his stablemates, Arctic Fire and Hurricane Fly. (who had won the 2 previous renewals of Cheltenham’s hurdling Crown) 52 days later, and now popularly referred to as “ Faugheen the Machine” the bay 7yo put in another fabulous front running performance to win Punchestown’s Champion Hurdle, this time beating the Cheltenham runner up by 8 Lengths.
Unbeaten in his 10 starts for Willie, the master of Closutton, Faugheen made his seasonal debut for the 2015/16 campaign in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown the following November, hoping to make it 11. Starting at the unbackable price of 1/6 he ran at least 20lbs below his best, and was beaten by his stable companion Nichols Canyon, bringing the long winning streak to an end. He soon got back to winning ways however, landing a second Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day 2015, and 29 days later, on January 24th 2016 won the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown by 15 Lengths, and it looked long odds on that he would win a second Champion Hurdle. It wasn’t to be however as Willie announced on February 17th that his champion had damaged a suspensory ligament and he was withdrawn.
Off the track for 665 days he made a winning comeback in the Morgiana Hurdle in November 2017 but following 2 disappointing runs lined up a 4/1 chance for the 2018 Champion Hurdle and finishing 6th, 22 Lengths behind the winner, Buveur D’Air, many felt the great Hurdler was on the downward slope, but 44 days later he proved the doubters wrong and was back in the winners enclosure having won Punchestown’s Champion Stayers Hurdle by an impressive 13 Lengths. It was to be his last victory over timber however though he did finish 3rd in the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2019. Amazingly at the age of 11 he embarked on a career over fences and just 6 weeks short of his 12th birthday won his first Chase despite making a couple of howlers on the way round. 5 days short of the same anniversary he left the National Hunt world applauding this unique veterans first Grade1 victory over the larger obstacles at Limerick on St Stephens day 2019. Now 12, another top level success was gained at Leopardstown on February 20th 2020 and he followed up with a great effort in the Grade1 Marsh Novices Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, finishing just a nose and a Length behind Samcro and stablemate Melon.
What does the future hold for this fantastic animal? Well at the time of writing he holds no entries anywhere, and at the age of 13 has certainly earned a more than honourable retirement, but who knows with such an amazing horse!