The Greatest Racehorses - Ever

Friday, October 20, 2006

Persimmon - Ornament
Foaled 1899 Bay Mare Died 1926
Runs: 25 Wins: 13 Places: 8 Earned: 38,225 Guineas
(PLEASE NOTE: win money only as place money unknown)
Form: 113 - 211410512112 - 5121111 - 233
Triple Crown Winner
Only horse to ever win Four Classics

Races Won
Woodcote Stakes 6f Epsom 1901
July Stakes 5f Newmarket 1901
2000 Guineas (English) 1m Newmarket 1902
1000 Guineas (English) 1m Newmarket 1902
Oaks (English) 1m 4f Epsom 1902
St James' Palace Stakes 1m Ascot 1902
Nassau Stakes 1m 4f Goodwood 1902
St Leger (English) 1m 6f Doncaster 1902
Hardwicke Stakes 1m 4f Ascot 1903
Jockey Club Stakes 2m Newmarket 1903
Duke of York Stakes 1m 2f Kempton 1903
Champion Stakes 1m 2f Newmarket 1903
Limekiln Stakes 1m 2f Newmarket 1903

The Early Years
Sceptre was bought by Robert Sievier as a yearling in July 1900 for £10,000, a record price for a yearling at the time. She made her debut at Epsom as a two year old in the Woodcote Stakes which she won easily. This success was quickly followed up by a victory in the July Stakes. By the time she lined up for her final start as a juvenile in the Champagne Stakes she'd already grown her winter coat and she ran listlessly to finish third behind fillies' she'd beaten easily in previous races.

With mounting debts, Sievier put his horses up for sale but having sold all the others, changed his mind when it came to parting with Sceptre. In an astonishing move he decided to train her himself and so it was that Sceptre was entered in every major race of the 1902 season including all five Classics. Sievier worked her hard and raced her harder still, runing her every few days at all the big meetings throughout her three year old season. It was to this end that she won both the 2000 Gunieas and 1000 Guineas a feat few fillies every achieve. As a prep race for these prestigious races she made her seasonal debut in the Lincoln H'cap, just failing by a head to land a gamble for her ambitious owner/trainer. (below Sceptre as a 10 year old being sold in foal to Lord Ganely in 1911)

Change of Luck

Next came the Derby and Oaks Meeting at Epsom. Sadly she was left at the start in the Derby and had to be ridden hard to catch up with the rest of the field so in the end she tired to finish 4th. The next day however she trotted up in the Oaks. It was a shame she didn't carry off the unprecedented feat of winning all five Classics as its nothing less than she deserved. Following this win she was shipped to Paris for the Grand Prix de Paris but during the race she had a terrible trip and ended up running wide turning into the homestretch. She rallied gamely but finished unplaced a mere 2 lengths behind the "Sceptre of France", Kizil Kovigan.

Once back in England Royal Ascot was next on the agenda. Beaten into 5th in the Coronation Stakes she bounced back the next day to win the St James' Palace Stakes. At the Goodwood Festival she was beaten onto 2nd in the Sussex Stakes but won the Nassau easily. As Autumn loomed, so did the St Leger which Sceptre won effortlessly against the colts despite her gruelling season. She became the first horse to ever win four English Classics.

As a 4yo her season started in the Lincoln H'cap once again in which she place 5th. Sievier was in debt again and he'd placed a large bet on Sceptre to win the Lincoln. When she failed he had no choice but to sell her for £25,000 to Sir William Bass. Now, finally she got the high class understanding trainer she deserved in Alec Taylor.

When she arrived at Alec's yard she looked tired and worn out and unsure what to do with her Alec contacted Sievier to ask how to train her. His reply was "treat her like a selling plater" so Alec promptly did the opposite and gave her a long overdue four months off. The break did her good for she won the Hardwick Stakes with usual aplomb. She followed uo with a fine 2nd place in the Eclipse after a titanic battle with Ard Patrick. (below Sceptre with her first foal, the filly Maid on the Mist 1906)

Four more victories followed which prompted Sir William to keep her in training as a 5yo but she never won another race, although she did finish 2nd in the Coronation Cup at Epsom, 3rd in the Ascot Gold Cup and 3rd in the Hardwick Stakes.

Like all outstanding mares Sceptre had quirks and would often be a fussy eater. One day only liking white oats, the next black. Some days it she's like both white & black mixed together. Sometimes she'd only eat them from a bucket, sometimes her manger, somethins only from a sieve and occasionally only if the were placed on the ground.

Sceptre At Stud

Sceptre had 8 foals, one son (Grosvenor 1913) and seven daughters (Maid of the Mist 1906, Maid of Corinth 1907, Coronation 1908, Queen Carbine 1909, Curia 1912, Sceptre's Daughter 1915 and Queen Empress 1917). Although her foals were mediocre on the track they directly went on to produce a 2000 Guineas winner, an Oaks winner, an Eclipse winner and two English Derby runner ups. However it was their daughters (Sceptre's grand daughters) that made their mark in the breeding world, producing top class horses such as Petition (sire of Petite Etoile), Crepuscule who's progeny produced Northern Light and Midnight Sun, Noor who beat American star, Citation on no less than four occasions and Zucchero, a champion colt in England. (below Sceptre at stud with a foal)

Public Outcry

In 1923 after unsuccessful attempts to get Sceptre in foal from 1917 - 1922 her then owner Lord Ganley tried to sell her to a Brazillian stud despite promising never to sell her when he originally bought her in 1911. He sold her for a pitiful £500 - an insult to such a grand mare. However her adoring public caused such an outcry that Lord Ganely was forced to cancel the sale.

Sceptre lived out the rest of her life peacefully in England until she died in Febuary 1926 at the age of 27.

I only wish I was alive when these amazingly tough fillies were racing. Maybe one day the names of modern day super filles such as Soviet Song, Lochsong, Ouija Board and Alexander Goldrun will be mentioned in the same awed breath as the Kinscem and Sceptre type heroines of a bygone age.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Nijinsky (CAN)
Northen Dancer - Flaming Page
Foaled 1967 Bay Horse Deceased 1992
Runs: 13 Wins: 11 Places: 2 Earned: $677,177
Form: 1111 - 111111122
Timeform Rating: 140

15th Ever Triple Crown Winner
Champion 2yo 1969

Big Races Won
Railway Stakes 1969
Beresford Stakes 1969
Angeles Stakes 1969
Dewhurst Stakes 1969
Gladness Stakes 1970
English 2000 Guineas 1970
English Derby 1970
Irish Derby 1970
King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes 1970

Nijinsky was a very difficult horse temperamentally and had to be handled with the greatest patience by all who worked closely with him. He had his own ideas about life and would often rear up, sweat profusely and on ocassions refuse point blank to canter. He also had a vivid dislike for starting stalls.

As mentioned above Nijinksy was the 15th and last horse to win the English Triple Crown. IE the 2000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger races, since Bahrain achieved it in 1935. Not only did he manage to join an excluse club and forever secure his place in history but he confirmed to the racing public what an extrodinary talent he was by slamming high class fields by 2 1/2L, 2 1/2L, 1L respectively. He clocked one of the fastest times ever recorded for the Derby in 2 mins 34.68 sec, a feat made all the more remarkable as he's been suffering from a bout of colic (where a horses' intestines become a twisted, knotted mess) only two days before the race.

It wasn't just his own age group that suffered at Nijinsky's hooves as he bettered a vintage crop of elders in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, including English Derby winner Blakeney, Coronation Cup winner Caliban, Italian Derby winner Hogarth, French Oaks winner Crepellana and Washington International winner Karabas. Ascot has never before or sinces witnessed a field demolished in such easy fashion, with the great Nijinsky making top class horses look like mere trainers hacks.

In August of that year (1970) Nijinsky became sick again with a bout of ringworm which set him back several weeks in his training for the St Leger, although of course this didn't worry the great horse too much and he duly won by a length on the bridle, thus cementing his now legendary status into the hearts of racegoers everwhere, forever.

Sadly the great horse ended his career with two defeats. The first came in the Arc de Triompe where he was beaten a head by the French Derby & French St Leger winner Sassafras, having been denied a run on several occassions in the closing stages. His jockey, the usually brillant Lester Piggot has been criticised for leaving Nijinsky with too much to do ever since as he defied trainer's orders to lie up with the pace rather than come from behind. I for one certainly wouldn't have argued with the phenomonal Vincent O'Brien, the original master of Ballydoyle.

Vincent rightly wanted his colt to end his career on a high so Nijinsky's swansong was in the aptly named Champion Stakes at Newmarket. However someone did not read the script and so it was that Lorenzaccio took the race by 1 1/2L from Nijinsky who must surely by now have been feeling the effects of a long, hard season, his battles with illnesses and of course many miles of travelling.

Nijinsky retired to Claiborne Farm in Kentucky in 1970 having been syndicated for $5.5million which was a record sum for the time. His success story continued at stud as he's sired Lammtaara 1995 English Derby, Arc & King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner, Shahrastani 1986 English & Irish Derby winner, Golden Fleece 1982 English Derby winner, Ferdinand 1986 Kentucky Derby winner, Ile de Bourbon 1978 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner, Royal Acadamy 1991 Breeders Cup winner, Shadeed 1985 2000 Guineas winner, King's Lake 1981 Irish 2000 Guineas winner, Caerlon French Derby winner and Green Dancer who is a proflic sire himself. In 1992 Nijinsky sadly passed away at the age of 25, which is a grand age for a thoroughbred.

In 1976 Nijinsky entered the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. He was also honoured in Ireland too with a lifesize bronze statue placed at The Curragh racecourse. Nowadays he has a race; the Nijinsky Stakes held at Woodbine, Canada, named in his honour to serve as a permanant reminder to Canada's greatest equine export.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Night Shift (USA) - Asmara (USA)
Foaled 08/02/2001 Bay Colt
Runs: 12 Wins: 6 Places: 4 Earned: £1,499,558
Form: 11 - 32113 - 41153
Timeform: 128

Big Races Won
Beresford Stakes 1m Gr 2 (2003) Curragh
Irish Champion Stakes 1m 2f Gr 1 (2004) Leopardstown
St James's Palace Stakes 1m Gr 1 (2004) Royal Ascot
Prince of Wales's Stakes 1m 2f Gr 1 (2005) York
King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes 1m 4f Gr 1 (2005) Newbury

I'm not usually a fan of horses owned by rich Arabs but in this case I'll make an exception. Any horse that can change my strong opinion regarding the above must be special as indeed Azamour is. Although he started his 3yo season by losing his unbeaten tag by finishing 3rd in both the English and Irish 2000 Guineas and eventually retired from racing after coming 3rd to the magnificent German owned Shirocco in the 2005 Breeders Cup Turf at Belmont Park (New York) in between he put up some breathtaking performances, which cemented his place in my heart permanently.

A Test Too Far?

When the heavens opened at York for its June meeting a groan must have gone up in the camps of the main contenders for the Prince of Wales's stakes as despite its good drainage and hard wearing surface, York racecourse becomes something resembling a bog when it gets too wet. Although the ground was race-able many runners that day had problems with their balance and quite a number of them slipped and lost their footing, thus ruining their chances in their respective races.

One horse that managed to keep his feet with ease was the mighty Azamour and although he never looked happy on the ground in the first half of the race, once he was switched to the centre of the track in the home straight (notorious for being the better ground) he asserted his authority over rivals such as Ace, Ouija Board, Norse Dancer and Warrsan, all well established Group race performers. With pricked ears, suggesting he had more to give should it be required, he crossed the line to win by one and a half lengths.

Record Breaker

It was said by racing pundits & punters that Azamour wouldn't stay. His owner, trainer and jockey felt differently and so it was that he lined up for the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Newbury; one of my favourite races of the entire flat season. Azamour's rivals also felt he may not stay the extra distance and just to make sure they set a ferocious pace to try and blunt Azamour's trademark fast finish.

However you can't keep a good horse down and having sat quietly at the back of the pack for over a mile, Azamour was called on for an effort three furlongs out as the 12 strong field turned into the straight. He began to motor and swept past Doyen and Bago just over a furlong out, which only left the luckless Norse Dancer as the challenger. As consistant as that colt was, he didn't have the class to stay with Azamour who went on to win the race by one and a half lengths, breaking the track record in the process.

Below Azamour (green colours) forges by Norse Dancer (purple colours) with Bago in the background (navy & blue colours)

Where Are They Now?

Azamour has just completed his first season as a stallion at his owner, The Aga Khan's Gilltown Stud in Kilcullen, County Kildare in Ireland. His first crop of foals will be born next year and will set foot on a racecourse near you in 2009.

I keep my fingers crossed that his progeny inheret his stunning good looks and delightful burst of speed.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Soviet Song (Ire)
Marju (Ire) - Kalinka (Ire)
Foaled 18/02/2000 Bay Mare
Runs: 24 Wins: 9 Places: 8 Earned: £1,168,370
Form: 111 - 42523121116 - 312 - 416252

Big Races
Fillies Mile Gr 1 1m (2002) Ascot
Ridgewood Pearl Stakes Gr 2 1m (2004) Curragh
Falmouth Stakes Gr 1 2m (2004 & 2005) Newmarket
Sussex Stakes Gr 1 1m (2004) Goodwood
Matron Stakes Gr 1 1m (2004) Leopardstown
Windsor Forest Stakes Gr 2 1m (2006) Royal Ascot

Sweeping To Victory

I have found it incredibly hard to focus on one significant race in this mares career as like Bosra Sham before her she captured my heart after her first race as a rather thin, gangly 2yo way back in 2002. I have had the pleasure and privilege of seeing her in action on numerous occasions and each time her awesome turn of foot at the end of a race, would never cease to amaze not only myself but her legions of fans up and down the country.

History Repeating

As is common with high class mares of a certain type Soviet Song would find herself opposing the same top names time and time again whose blogs shall all feature here in time courtesy of myself. It started with fellow wonder 3yo Russian Rhythm in 2003 who she never managed to better; Attraction in 2004 a filly Soviet put in her place several times (although she had the advantage of age over this rival) and most recently Peeress in 2005 & 2006 who she only managed to beat once in their five clashes.

Below Soviet Song beating the boys, Nayyir (No. 4) & Le Vie Dei Colori (N0. 3) in the 2004 Sussex Stakes

My Favourite Memory

Ok you've forced it out of me:- my favourite race concerning Soviet was the 2005 Falmouth Stakes as it was a vintage renewal, featuring battle hardened Group 3 winners Sundrop, Karen's Caper and Penkenna Princess, as well as regular rival Peeress and of course the Irish champion mare Alexander Goldrun. As much as my heart said Soviet, my head said Alexander Goldrun.

I was foolish to even doubt the old girl who left it until the final furlong to begin her run for home as per her usual heart stopping style, drawing alongside Alexander Goldrun and together they passed Peeress the long time race leader (tactics got this mare beat on the day as she has a much more devastating turn of foot than Soviet does). Just as I expected them to settle down to a head to head battle to the line, which would suit Alexander's one paced racing style down to the ground, Soviet seemed to sprout wings and continued passing by Alexander who had nothing more to give. Thanks to Soviet's superior burst of speed she won the race by an impressive 2 & 1/2 lengths confirming her status as one of the greatest race mares of modern times.

Below Soviet Song wins the 2002 Fillies Mile from Casual Look (head in shot)

Where Are They Now?

Sadly after a somewhat lack lustre season & poor performances on the gallops at home the decision was made to retire Soviet Song on 9th October 2006, an act which mainly inspired me to write this blog. As the tributes from racing folk poured in for her, I too wanted to make my memories known to the world.

She will join her mother as part of the broodmare band of her owners, The Elite Racing Club so hopefully we'll be enjoying her influence on the racecourse for many generations to come.

We may not have to wait all that long as her 2yo full sister, aptly named Sister Act is currently in training with James Fanshaw.