In today’s Racing Post Lee Mottershead commented on the overuse of the superlative ‘great’ when talking about above average racehorses. It is a road I have travelled many times and doubtless will do so many times in the future as it seems commentators and journalists are ever more eager, no doubt in an effort to ‘sell the sport’, to over-egg the pudding.
Enable is a cracking good filly but on Saturday she won a King George & Queen Elizabeth receiving a stone from the runner-up. She won going away, I grant you, which is always the mark of a top horse. But winning a race she had every right to win does not confer on her the status of a ‘great’. She might become a genuinely great race-mare but she is not there yet.
For the sake of argument let us confer the order of greatness upon Enable. If the winning of two races against her own sex and a race where in effect she was a stone well-in at the weights allows her to be enrolled in the pantheon of great racehorses what superlative can we confer on Frankel or Brigadier Gerard or Ribot? If Enable’s achievements confer the order of greatness upon her how can we attribute a more defining superlative on the above that does justice to their greater achievements? Achievements that thus far outweigh what Enable has achieved by a magnitude of several digits, I would suggest. Even if she wins the Arc Enable will still not have achieved enough to be described as ‘great’. As Lee Mottershead wrote, aping the sentiments I have expressed many times on this website, only when she returns to the racecourse as a 4-year-old when she will be giving and not receiving weight will we discover her true merit.
Horses such as Red Rum, Arkle and Desert Orchid will always be remembered as legends of the sport, their achievements no doubt standing the test of time; to describe any one of the three as ‘great’ is almost an insult so profound were their influence on the racecourse and on the memory of those of us fortunate enough to have lived in their time.
Enable is without doubt the shining star of this flat season and I do not want to belittle her, I fully expecting her to remain unbeaten this season. Let’s not though build her reputation up too much too early. After all, remember the superlatives laid like rose petals before Churchill and Caravaggio, two horses now racing to retrieve reputations that at the moments are a wee bit torn.
Famous horses tend to be the most popular and talented: Arkle, Red Rum, Desert Orchid, Kauto Star, Denman, Sprinter Sacre: mere mention of their names excite the memory. But there is one horse who was not in the same parish as the aforementioned when it came to raw ability yet he is in many ways every bit as well-known, and for good reason.
Foinavon, I believe, was far from the luckiest winner of the Grand National. Undoubtedly he would not perhaps have won the 1967 renewal of the race if Popham Down had not started the train of calamity at the 23rd fence but if you watch the race again you will see that at the end of the race he was going away from the 2nd Honey End, giving the clear impression he could have easily gone round again.
There is also a lack of credit given to him for him possessing the tenacity and nimbleness to weave his way through the chaos that defeated his more talented and better fancied rivals. He was by nature a laid-back sort of horse who just got on with his life, doing his own thing, almost as if he suspected, if not this day but on some other day, an out-of-the-ordinary event would happen to give him his chance for immortality and when it happened, aided and abetted by young John Buckingham, he took it.
Horses, by nature, by instinct, are herd animals, and Foinavon could easily have thought ‘why am I all alone’, ‘where have all my mates gone’? No, Foinavon was his own person. He was brave, resolute and unassuming. Almost a nonentity for most of his life he is now immortal as the only horse in the long history of the Grand National to have a fence named after him.
In Foinavon the mystique of the Grand National had a character fit for the situation. Didn’t Pat Taaffe in his truly wonderful autobiography tell the story of falling with him at Baldoyle and fearing the worst for Foinavon found him lain on the ground picking grass as if eating grass was the sole reason for the trip that day.
What is remarkable, given how unforgiving the fences were supposed to be during that era, was 28 of the 44 runners were still in the race at the 23rd fence. Indeed 18 finished. Popham Down who is held responsible for the carnage was only running loose at the head of the field because he had been brought down at the first fence by Meon Valley. All the leaders cleared Bechers Brook with Different Class, owned by Hollywood legend Gregory Peck, and the John Lawrence ridden Norther both moving into contention. Of course every jockey who fell off or were unseated at the very next fence most likely went to their graves believing they would have won but for Popham Down deciding that having jumped Becher’s twice his work for the day was over.
And the calamity did not help the reputation of the race, especially with every Grand National of this vintage thought to be the very last. Of course what no one could foresee at the time was that only twenty-four hours earlier at Liverpool a two-year-old had dead-heated for the Thursby Selling Plate who would go on and save the race for all time. Indeed in 1967 Brian Fletcher was having his first ride in the Grand National aboard Red Alligator and even after winning the race three times he remained convinced he would have won in 67 as well, as the following year sort of proved.
Now to clarify my position that Foinavon was not the luckiest of the lucky winners in the history of the Grand National. Going to Becher’s for the second time John Buckingham was quite happy about where he was in the race. They had gone quite fast for 2/3rds of the race and looking around him he had Honey End, the favourite, ridden by Josh Gifford just in front of him, with What A Myth and Freddie, two other fancied runners nearby. So although quite far back he was in good company, and Foinavon’s greatest attribute as a racehorse was his ability to stay long distances. And stay he did. Galloping on at his own pace and winning by fifteen lengths from Honey End and Red Alligator. Neither the 2nd nor the 3rd ever looked remotely like catching Foinavon on that long run from the Elbow to the winning post.
By the way, when asked how many horses jumped the 23rd fence in the 67 National do not say one as Foinavon was not the only horse to get to the landing side with his jockey still in the saddle. Rondetto and Johnny Haine was the first and would doubtless have gone on to win but for Haine falling off. Packed Home and Tommy Carberry, who was stone last going to the fence, also jumped clear, albeit without any degree of grace and went on to finish fifth, perhaps implanting in Raymond Guest the ambition to win the race. A fete he achieved with another 12-year-old, the mighty L’Escargot, in 1975.
What is less well known is that Foinavon won two more races after his Aintree triumph at Devon & Exeter and Uttoxeter, the second of which was achieved when the two horses well in front of him were balked by a loose horse at the last fence. What an appropriate way for Foinavon to bookend his life as a racehorse?
In a previous piece I compared the records of Frankel and Brigadier Gerard in an effort to adjudicate as to which to bestow the honour of ‘greatest flat racehorse of all time’. My ‘decision’, of course, was purely a personal choice based on perimeters I chose and I accept that others might come to a different conclusion. Indeed I am prepared to accept there are horses from the distant past that because they won over a greater range of distances, on many occasions winning races on consecutive days, hold better claims to the accolade than either Frankel or Brigadier Gerard.
What I will not accept, though, is anyone disputing the accolade of ‘greatest racehorse of all time’ be accorded to Arkle. We will never see his like again, whereas in time another flat horse will come along to challenge the records, and the esteem, of both Frankel and Brigadier Gerard.
So in this instance I confined my thoughts to flat racehorses, riling many by ruling out the likes of Sea the Stars and Dancing Brave on the grounds that as they did not race beyond their three-year-old careers and can only be said to be the best of their generation and cannot be seriously compared to true greats like Frankel and Brigadier Gerard. Greatness, to my mind, should never be attributed to ‘flash in the pans’, to horses that won the races they should have won, horses that only won at level weights or receiving weight. To achieve greatness a horse must be trained to test its limitations and though it can be argued this was not the case with Frankel his connections did at least have the balls to keep him in training as a four-year-old. Sea The Stars and Dancing Brave, however, were trained with their value as potential stallions in mind and left the racing scene with an awful lot to prove.
The ‘greatest flat racehorse thing is not, though, an open and shut case. I left a shadow looming across the page when ruling in favour of Brigadier Gerard, concluding that if I looked into the career of Ribot I might find evidence that he might be thought superior to any horse that has come after him. Certainly his influence on the sport remained as high, if not higher, even after his retirement to stud duties. Having now delved into the archives I remain of the opinion that Ribot may well be the greatest flat racehorse of all time. I just cannot bring myself to nail my colours to a horse that only won outside of his home country three times. It is just so difficult to determine the true merit of winning the Gran Premio del Jockey Club by fifteen lengths.
Because, I suspect, Federico Tesio, breeder and original owner of Ribot, was an Italian who raced mainly in Italy and where his stud was located, I think in this day and age, with Italian racing in the doldrums, it is difficult to accept that an Italian horse from the middle fifties could ever has been as good, or better, than the British trained horses of latter years that we are more intimate with. Certainly in breeding circles Tesio is revered, after all he bred horses that went on to be influential stallions all around the world. Nearco, who some argue was the equal of Ribot (though he did race beyond three-years), was sold to stud in England and went on to sire Nasrullah and Bold Ruler, stallions that reigned supreme in America during the fifties and sixties. Donatello, also sold as a stallion to England, was also responsible for spreading the influence of Dormello across the world. So when Ribot came along he was initially just one in a long line of brilliant horses bred at Tesio’s Dormello Stud.
Although one of the greatest breeders of racehorses Tesio was not always right in his predictions and thought Ribot too small as a yearling, dubbing him ‘the little one’, and did not consider him worthy of entries in any of the Italian classics. Luckily, at least for any ego he might have possessed, he died before Ribot ever saw a racecourse.
Ribot, by the way, has claims of Englishness about him as he was foaled at West Grinstead, a stud that was then a wing of the National Stud. He was reared, though, in Italy. He retired unbeaten in 16 races, perhaps never extended as it is hard to believe there was a horse in Italy at the time that could eyeball him and in winning both his Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes he hardly broke sweat. It was more of a test at Ascot in the King George and Queen Elisabeth Stakes, though that had more to do with the sticky ground than the opposition, winning by 5 lengths. He won from 6-furlongs to 1-mile 7-furlongs and went on to become as great a stallion as he was a racehorse, siring Molvedo, Prince Royal, Tom Rolfe, Ragusa, Ribocco, Ribero and Long Look, the last four fondly remembered names from my childhood.
Of course no one could predict the result if Frankel and Brigadier Gerard had raced against one another. Over a mile both would doubtless prove superior to Ribot. But over a mile and a half? Who knows? We will never know. I just wish commentators would stop awarding accolades like ‘monster’ and ‘superstar’ to horses whose form merely allows them to be called ‘good’ or ‘potentially really good’. If Caravaggio, for instance, is worthy of the tag ‘superstar’ when the form-book determines he is ‘merely’ a high-end racehorse, then how will we ever find a superlative to do justice to legends of the calibre of Frankel, Brigadier Gerard, Ribot or any horse that comes along who is obviously of a class way above anything Caravaggio has so far attained?
His last words were ‘Are They Coming?’ We know that because Fred Archer was in the company of his sister when he committed suicide by putting a revolver to his mouth and firing the fatal shot. The actual account of his death surprised me as the term suicide usually refers to a lonely death yet Archer died in his own bedroom, his blood staining his own carpet. It is thought his last words were reference to his dead wife and still-born son, and who is to say they were not waiting for him ‘on the other side’?
Death haunted Archer all his life, seemingly, and he had a morbid dread of being buried alive, which might explain his extraordinary decision to end his life, even though his doctors were adamant he was overcoming the typhoid fever that had come about due to a chill he had picked up at Lewes racecourse and which had developed into a high fever by the time he reached home.
It is said as a young man Archer had his palm read by a gipsy at Chelmsford races and that she foretold that he would die by the hand she held. Even before that portentous event death had crossed young Archer’s path. In 1878 a friend of the Archer family was killed right in front of the public house his father kept in Andoversford. The following day, on the first day of the Cheltenham steeplechases, Archer’s brother William died as a result of a fall.
Nothing, though, daunted Archer when mounted on a horse and his record as a jockey is as good as anyone who followed him through to this day. He was champion jockey 13 times, with 246 wins his largest total in a single season. In all he rode 2,748 winners from just over 8,000 rides. A success rate made more notable as his only mode of transport to the racecourse was by steam train. He won the Derby 5 times and 21 classics in all, and rode one of the horses that should always be credited on any list of ‘greatest ever racehorses’ – Ormonde.
It is said his ghost can still be seen occasionally riding the lanes of Newmarket.
The crooked-spire town of Chesterfield can boast, not that anyone in the town knows, I suspect, of being the venue of Fred Archer’s first of the 2,748, on September 28th, 1870. The trainer of Atholl Daisy, John Peart, outlived Archer and never tired of telling people he was the man who started Archer on is way.
‘The Tin Man’ epithet denoted his carefulness with money, though there is many instances recorded of his generosity. A widow sent him a half-sovereign, asking him to invest it on her behalf on a horse he thought a certainty. The winnings were to be her pension. But Archer returned the money with the advice that no horse is a certainty and that half-a-sovereign was better than a torn-up betting slip. On another occasion, while waiting at a train station for a connection to a race-meeting, a man asked him for a sovereign so that he could get home to Manchester. Archer took a coin from his waistcoat pocket and walked away. The man, though, chased after him, telling Archer a half-sovereign was no good to him. Archer took back the coin, examined it and replacing it in his waistcoat pocket told the man he thought it was a sovereign, leaving the man nothing but his outstretched hand. Archer was careful with money, never extravagant but also never mean.
He was, though, without a care in a race. It is said in winning the Manchester Cup on Valour he rode so close to the rail he ripped his boot open from toe to heal and returned to the scales bleeding and sore. In the following race he rode exactly the same, ripping a second boot from toe to heal. His language, too, was ripe when riding in a race and he demanded rather asked for favours when making his bid for victory.
As it was for the age, though, death was always kin to Archer’s shadow. His first-born, a son, died still-born and in 1884, his wife, his beloved Nellie, died days after giving birth to Archer’s daughter. He later said to a friend. ‘Poor Nellie! She was my glory, my pride, my life, my all, and she was taken from me at the very moment that my happiness did really seem to me to be so great and complete as to leave nothing else in this world I could wish for.’ A tribute to his wife that is also a tribute to Archer’s true character.
Finally, when reading of the accomplishments of jockeys and trainers from another era what is crystal clear is that though there is a historical thread running through the centuries – the Epsom Derby, Royal Ascot, the Grand National etc – it is also obvious what has disappeared, and not only racecourses like Derby, Chesterfield, Shrewsbury, Northampton for example but also the major races that racecourses played host to, the Clearwell Stakes at Newmarket, a race that Archer won 6 times. The Great Northamptonshire Stakes; Nottinghamshire H’cap; the Gold Vase; Earl Spencer Plate; Great Easter H’cap; Newmarket Oaks; Great Cheshire H’cap; Epsom Gold Cup; Alexandra Plate; the Great Sapling Stakes; Manchester Cup; Royal Stakes; Whitsuntide Plate; Hartington Plate. I wonder where the trophies for these races languish. It would be nice if one or two of them could be raced for again, perhaps with the same conditions. We must never forget the past. And we should never forget Frederick James Archer. No one was more dedicated to being a jockey than him. At least until A.P.McCoy turned up.
In 2003 in Australia apprentice Aaron Yogovich was banned from riding for 15 years. I dare say he’s looking forward to next year more than any one of us. His ‘crime’, and it should be a crime, though in truth all he did was to break the rules of Australian racing, was to use in races both whips and spurs embedded with nails and to using ‘a battery’, which is an electrified whip and something I wrote about in a piece about Edgar Britt, a top Australian jockey who was riding in the forties and fifties and a device I never thought I need mention again. Yogovich was not riding at any of the top metropolitan courses but 400-miles north of Perth at a country track called Kalgoorlie Boulder Racing Club. I doubt if he reapplies for his licence he has a cat’s chance in hell of being successful. At least I hope not.
The point is he was not banned for using spurs as in Australia spurs can still be used by jockeys and a campaign to get them banned is meeting the same opposition as the proposed ban on whips in this country. Contrary to sense, at least from our prospective, there are restrictions on use of the whip in Australia – no more than 5 strokes before the 100-metre pole – yet spurs are considered, at least by jockeys, as an important part of their riding armoury, with the mentality, perhaps amongst the strident minority, of ‘can’t go to war without a gun’ pervading.
When you consider how short the modern jockey rides, with their heels resting on the flaps of the saddle, one wonders how useful the spur can be in encouraging a horse to go forward more quickly, though perhaps a jockey will drop his irons when it is believed a horse is in need of such an ‘attitude adjustor’. Whether the argument that when used resting against the flap of the saddle no pain is inflicted is cause for allowing their use is open to debate, but it is the same argument that is applied to the whip debate in this country.
In the time of Fred Archer jockeys rode with a long length of leg and in those less enlightened times not only were spurs allowed but rowels also. (Rowels are the rotating stars you associate with a cowboy’s spurs). Archer, I have seen it written, rarely resorted to the spur even though he was known to be ‘forceful to the point of cruel in his desire to win at all costs’. When not on horseback Archer had a kind disposition and perhaps in his time, when people still travelled as much by horse-power as any other means, the whip and spur were seen as ordinary and as necessary as a hat and coat. Though quite what did constitute animal cruelty in his day beggars belief. I am sure if it was commented upon how Archer rarely resorted to the spur then other jockeys must have been less reticent in its use.
I have no problem conceding that neither the use of spurs nor the whip cause pain to the horse and both are used to effect the natural flight inclination of the horse. But flight from a predator is a cause of anxiety and fear – fear of death – and to use this natural response is by definition to cause anxiety and fear which must be classified as causing mental anguish. The horse can see back to its tail and when a jockey brandishes the whip, or simply waves his arm, the horse will naturally go forward. It will also go forward if pain from the whip or spur is applied as that pain mimics the claws or teeth of the predator.
I am certain that in the foreseeable future Australia, and in other countries where the spur is still allowed, will follow our lead and ban the use of the spur. The big question, though, is when the powers-that-be here cave in and start the process of reducing use of the whip to preventative measures only?
As sure as spring follows winter further restriction on the whip will be imposed. It is a natural progression that is in line with the change in social awareness. In times past there were no holds barred races (jostle and cross), spurs and rowels were legal, then spurs, then whips were shortened and padded and at the moment restrictions on its use are imposed.
Tom Kerr was perfectly right when he proposed this debate. It would allow a better perception of our sport if we jumped on this issue rather than to be held to ransom and finally pushed by legislation that could only infer cruelty on our part over many centuries. Our racing did not suffer when spurs were banned; it improved if anything when restrictions on the size and use of the whip were imposed. No one can say it will suffer if all races were hand and heel affairs only.
By experiment and trial is the road we must start to tread as it is only by embracing the possibility of change that we can ensure control of our wonderful, historic sport.
Those cooking up a fuss regarding Tom Kerr’s article on banning the use of the whip in races are being short-sighted and insular. The point is not whether jockeys are abusing horses by use or overuse of the whip but what is being perceived by the public at large, which is particularly relevant at this time given all sides of racing are concentrating their minds on how best to attract newcomers to the sport.
Unlike true racing folk, I live amongst people with little or no interest in the sport and the two criticisms I hear the most are ‘horses get hurt’ and ‘I don’t like to see horses being whipped’.
As with Tom Kerr I do not think there is a case to answer regarding horse welfare when it comes to the whip but I am of the small percentage who know and love the sport, not the large majority who have no interest and expect to have no interest in the sport except to criticize it, doubtless unfairly, because of the two reasons I have listed above. Horse racing must survive, use of the whip does not.
Also, people conveniently overlook the possibility that some horses will improve radically if the whip were not to be used in anger. I dare say already some horses run more kindly when the whip is not picked up than when it is.
So I suggest trials should be staged to establish whether the non-use of whips in a finish is a viable option and whether jockeys could adapt to such a prohibition.
I have already suggested on this website that instead of jockeys receiving bans for improper use of the whip they should be prohibited from using the whip in earnest for a period of 4 days, with the prohibition doubled if jockeys pick up their whip during the period of prohibition. I also suggest that hand and heel races be staged for professionals, as are already is the situation for apprentices and amateurs.
Tom Kerr is right to suggest that in the future legislation may go through Parliament banning the use of whips in racing and as a sport we should be prepared for such a prohibition. As such it would do no harm to inch our way down that route voluntarily rather than be forced to do so by an act of Parliament.
Incidentally I have absolutely no problem with Jim Boyle’s rejoinder to Kerr’s article except that unlike Kerr he was giving no thought to the survival of our great sport; a sport that must never have cause to be embarrassed by our treatment of the horse.
Lee Mottershead should also be praised for his article on how apprentices are being financially ripped off (as always been the case, I suggest) by trainers and the lack of commitment by the powers-that-be to right the age-old wrong. As I have said many times, we are being so well served at present by the Racing Post columnists. Long may it continue. Even Bruce Millington writes good sense at times.
I know a good number of people who prefer the flat to National Hunt because they perceive to be less chance of a horse getting injured or indeed worse. Persian Punch, for instance, even though he had the physique of a jumper, was never campaigned over hurdles because his owner Jeff Smith couldn’t bear the thought of him being killed. Yet he died on the track anyway.
Only yesterday I read in the Racing Post that Coolmore’s Somehow had suffered an injury on the gallops and could not be saved. Wings of Eagles suffered a career ending injury in the Irish Derby and Minding continues to be affected by an injury that looks like we shall be deprived of seeing her again on the racecourse. Injuries and fatalities occur. It is a sad fact of life.
Flat racing suffers in popularity when compared to National Hunt because it is dominated by the few, with Coolmore having the sport in a stranglehold that becomes ever more restrictive as each season passes. It is, unfortunately, falsely labelled as the sport of Kings, when in fact it has become more of an investment opportunity and entertainment for the mega-rich. Coolmore exists to produce stallions, with the sport an important yet secondary enterprise to the main goal. I suspect Wings of Eagles Derby success was a mite bit disappointing to ‘the lads’ as his sire Pour Moi had just been shunted down the pecking order to the lowly status of ‘National Hunt stallion’, where doubtless his most famous son will end up.
Again unfortunately, at the start of each flat season it is not difficult to list four or five trainers who will hoover up all of the important races. Though of course as things stand it is more of a case of which trainer will win the one classic a season that escapes Aidan O’Brien. It would be the same with the jockeys if it were not for Ryan Moore being far from infallible when it comes to choosing the right one from the mobilised forces of the O’Brien stable, which has allowed Lordan, Beggy and Heffernan to enjoy classic glory this season and drive a coach and horses through my suggestion that it is easily predictable which jockeys will ride the winners of the important races.
National Hunt is unpredictable. Who could have foreseen at the start of last season that Thistlecrack, a novice, would win the King George. Or Buveur D’Air would win the Champion Hurdle. Special Tiara the Champion Chase. Sizing John the Gold Cup. Or One For Arthur the Grand National? Tizzard, Henderson, de Bromhead, Harrington and Russell. Five different horses, five different trainers, four different jockeys, which would have been five if Barry Geraghty had not got himself injured.
Though the actual racing of horses across the flat is very often exciting, and the heritage handicaps give the smaller trainer a slightly better chance of winning a large pot and a slice of glory, the flat can be samey, banal, predictable and increasingly it is becoming a fiefdom of the mega-rich, with any horse of potential snaffled-up by the any one of the big four concerns.
The narrative of racing is always made special when a fairy-tale emerges. Yes, Padraig Beggy winning the Epsom Derby had the appearance of a fairy-tale but the horse was trained by the most successful trainer of all-time and owned by the most successful outfit racing has ever known and on hearing Aidan’s uncharacteristic rambling responses to journalists questions after the Derby the impression was that the result was as unexpected as it embarrassing. Clearly it was more desirable for of the Galileos to have won, a son of Pour Moi being a far less commercial prospect for Coolmore. No, fairy-tales are the preserve of National Hunt.
And to prove my point about the superiority of National Hunt all I have to do is type in the following list of names: Arkle, Desert Orchid, Red Rum, Sprinter Sacre, Kauto Star, Denman.
It is doubtless mean and short-sighted of me to claim that the main asset of flat racing is that it fills the void of summer which allows the ‘good old boys of National Hunt’ to enjoy some ‘me’ time in the fields of good grass and fresh air.
But that is not to say I find the flat uninteresting and unexciting. It simply does not capture my heart or imagination as does National Hunt. The history of flat racing is, though, an abiding interest. I am presently awaiting a biography of Fred Archer to pop through the letterbox. Though it will be accompanied by a book on Foinavon, which might have to be read first.
The question as to the horse who should be accorded the honour of flat racing’s greatest is more complex than the simpler ‘who is your favourite’?
Ask Nicholas Clee, for example, and he will answer with conviction ‘Eclipse’. He wrote a book on the horse and stated nearly 500 times (I may exaggerate) that in his opinion no better horse has yet to be born. Others, whose opinions may carry greater credence, might suggest St.Simon, Man o’ War, Ribot, Sea Bird, Dancing Brave, Brigadier Gerard or Frankel.
Younger people will undoubtedly champion Frankel. Indeed to oppose Frankel as the ‘greatest’ is the most damning racing heresy of modern times. Will I oppose him? As I write I honestly don’t know.
Until Frankel came along I was confident that the honour belonged to Brigadier Gerard and my faith in the Brigadier’s superiority remained untouched until Frankel’s victory in the Juddmonte International at York. On that glorious day, I believe, British racing tilted on its axis.
Of course Brigadier Gerard suffered his only defeat in the race at York (it was the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup the year Roberto sprouted wings). On the other hand the Brigadier did win over the classic distance of 1-mile and 4-furlongs. Indeed except for those two aspects of their careers, that the Brigadier suffered defeat and Frankel never ran beyond 1-mile, 2 and half furlongs, their careers were pretty similar. Let us compare.
Brigadier Gerard began his career in the Berkshire Stakes at Newbury, winning by 5 lengths. Frankel started out in a 1-mile maiden at Newmarket, winning from one of the best horses he ever encountered, Nathaniel. The winning margin was only half-a-length, with 5-lengths back to the third.
Honours even, I think.
The Brigadier next appeared in the Champagne Stakes at Salisbury. Carrying 9st 7Ibs he won by an easy 4-lengths, beating nothing of note. Frankel’s second race was a 7-furlongs conditions race at the St.Leger meeting. Again he had a horse that went on to win Group 1’s against him, though Farhh was withdrawn at the start, leaving Frankel to saunter home by 13-lengths.
The Brigadier’s third race was the Washington Singer back at Newbury and like his first two races it was over 6-furlongs, winning from nothing in particular by 2-lengths. Frankel’s third race was the Royal Lodge, winning by 10-lengths, with the following season’s Irish Derby winner Treasure Beach back in third.
The Brigadier finished his two-year-old career by winning the Middle Park by 3-lengths from two very fast horses in Mummy’s Pet and Swing Easy. Frankel finished his two-year-old career by winning the Dewhurst by 2 and a half lengths from Roderic O’Connor, the following season’s Irish 2,000 Guineas winner.
As Two-year-olds they won similar races, though it must be conceded that Frankel beat better horses and looked a champion in the making.
As three-year-olds we must start with Frankel as he had a preparatory race in the Greenham, Henry Cecil ‘not trusting himself to have Frankel fit for the Guineas without racing him beforehand’. Here he met Excelebration for the first time, winning by an easy 4-lengths.
It has to said, as mindblowing as Frankel was in the 2,000 Guineas, the opposition turned out to be pretty moderate. He won by 6-lengths but you would be hard pressed in retrospect to say that Dubawi Gold, Native Khan and the fourth horse Slim Shadey were anything but ordinary.
Only 6 ran in the 1971 2,000 Guineas and was regarded as a match between Mill Reef and My Swallow. Seemingly Brigadier Gerard was disregarded and it was considered rather a turn-up when he romped home by 3-lengths.
I don’t believe anyone could argue that Mill Reef was by far the best horse beaten by either Brigadier Gerard or Frankel.
From this point their paths take a similar route. Both horses won the St.James’s Palace Stakes, neither horse winning prettily. In the Sussex Stakes Frankel beat Canford Cliffs, though the second suffered a career-ending injury so the 5-lengths he was beaten may have flattered Frankel. Coincidentally the Brigadier also won by 5-lengths, beating good horses but nothing of the class of Canford Cliffs.
The Brigadier next won the Goodwood Mile by 10-lengths.
In the Queen Elizabeth Stakes Frankel again gave a caning to Excelebration, winning by 4-lengths. The Brigadier won by 8-lengths, though by this time opposition was thin on the ground.
The Brigadier was the busier of the two as three-year-olds as they stepped him up in trip in the Champion Stakes where he beat a competitive field by a short-head on ground that blunted his speed. Like Frankel his class got him home on soft ground but again like Frankel he excelled on good or firm ground.
As four-year-olds both horses started their seasons in the Lockinge, Frankel once again beating Excelebration, with Brigadier Gerard beating Grey Mirage.
Whereas Frankel waited for Royal Ascot, the Brigadier ran next in the Westbury Stakes over 1-mile 2-furlongs, winning narrowly from Ballyhot.
In the Queen Anne Frankel extended his superiority over Excelebration to 11-lengths. The Brigadier won the Prince of Wales by 5-lengths.
By this stage in each horse’s careers there is little opposition to either horse and the Group 1’s were becoming easy-pickings
The Brigadier won the Eclipse by a length beating more or less the same horses he beat at Royal Ascot. Frankel beat Farhh in the Sussex by a very easy 6-lengths.
Both horses now ventured into new territory, Frankel stunning the racing world by beating Farhh and St.Nicholas Abbey by 7-magical lengths in the Juddmonte International whereas in a courageous initiative to find out The Brigadier’s limitations (how refreshing would it be for such a policy to be commonplace) he was sent out to try his hand at 1-mile 4-furlongs in the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, winning by 1 and a half lengths from Parnell, whose forcing tactics broke all the other runners bar The Brigadier.
The race took its toll, though, as he suffered his only defeat in the race now known as the International when Roberto returned to his Derby form by winning by 3-lengths and 10 in a course record time.
Back to a mile Brigadier Gerard sauntered home in the Queen Elizabeth, winning by 6-lengths in a course record time.
Both horses finished their careers in the Champion Stakes, Frankel beating two top horses in Cirrus des Aigles and Nathaniel by 1 and three-quarters lengths and 2. The Brigadier won his Champion by 1 and a half lengths and 4.
So what have we learned from this stroll through the form books? The Brigadier won 17 races. Frankel was unbeaten in 14 races. The Brigadier won 7 races as a four-year-old. Both horses won races a lesser horse would have lost, due to soft or heavy ground. Frankel won from 7-furlongs to 1-mile 2 and a half furlongs. The Brigadier won from 6-furlongs to 1-mile 4-furlongs. It should be said that Ribot won from 5-furlongs to nearly 2-miles. The Brigadier beat Mill Reef. Frankel did not beat a horse as good as Mill Reef. The Brigadier was tested to discover his limitations. Frankel was less ambitiously campaigned.
It should be noted that St.Simon won over all distances, on consecutive days and even won the Ascot Gold Cup as a three-year-old. Ribot was unbeaten in 16 races and a close examination of the form book might suggest he has better credentials for being accorded the honour of ‘greatest’ than either Frankel or Brigadier Gerard.
But to answer the question I set out to answer: Brigadier Gerard by a nose.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.