The Greatest Racehorses - Ever

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bay Ronald - Galicia
Foaled 1906 Brown Stallion Died 1917
Runs: 25 Wins: 22 Places: 1 Earned: £44,535
Form: 1111111 - 45111111111111 - 11112

Races Won

Dewhurst Plate 1908
Middle Park Plate 1908
Richmond Stakes 1908
Prince of Wales Stakes 1909
Sandringham Stakes 1909
Eclipse Stakes 1909
Dutchess of York Stakes 1909
St Leger (Doncaster) 1909
Doncaster Stakes 1909
Champion Stakes 1909
Lowther Stakes 1909
Liverpool St Leger 1909
Chester Vase 1910
Ascot Gold Cup 1910

Bayardo was a rare versatile racehorse who won top races from 6f to 2m 4f. He is considered one of the greatest horses ever to grace the English turf and even though his untimely death at the age of eleven cut short his stud career he led the sires list twice in England and left a sire son, Gainsborough who continued his line into the present. But first things first. Born to a decent H'capper sire & a dam whose very promising career was cut short by a split pastern as a two year old, Bayardo was a large framed, colt with "lop" ears (very long ears that can sometimes flop sideways) & usually such horses are very honest (ie give 150% effort at all times) & good-natured.

Having said that, Bayardo hated his abnormally long ears being covered but then most horses do to some degree anyway. He would unusally however let them flop back & forth in time with his stride during a race. He was also what is known nowadays as "a thinker" which means he would do things his way & in his own sweet time & ignore what anybody else tried to tell him. This is actually a VERY dangerous trait in a racehorse as more often than not they'll decide they don't want to race so will refuse at the start. He would frequently stand still and look off into the distance for long periods of time, even doing this before some of his races at Newmarket. Another of his quirks saw him regularly banging his chin on his feed manger.

Bayardo became a great public favourite (and captured my heart within five minutes of researching him!) because of his versatility, regular appearances on the racecourse & his style of racing - sitting off the pace then coming with a devastating burst of speed cutting down his rivals in the home straight. After winning his first start as a two year old with ease, he went on to caputure every top two year old race of that era over distances ranging from 6f to 1m. Unbeaten in seven starts saw him installed as favourite for the 2000 Guineas over the unsually harsh winter off season however Mother Nature mustn't have been a Bayardo backer for he slipped on a patch of ice whilst exercising one morning just months before the big day & became badly lame.

His trainer, Alec Taylor tried to stop Bayardo's owner (Alfred Cox) from running him in the Guineas but Alfred wanted to see his champion colt run and so began a race against time to get Bayardo fit (some things really don't change. Its the same every year even now, none moreso that Teofilo this year!) . Of course Alec knew best & Cox had to watch the first defeat of his colts career as he finished a gallant fourth to Minoru who's story is remarkable in itself not least of all his mysterious disappearance but that's another story. Bayardo regained his full strength after the Newmarket run but once more fate intervened to deny him Classic glory.

During his Derby the favourite Sir Martin fell, impeding a number of runners those of which included Bayardo. His jockey sensibly saved his colt for another day & let him coast home gently in fifth place behind short head winner Minoru. After this, Bayardo was back to his brilliant best & remained unbeaten in his next eleven starts including the Eclipse Stakes (Sandown) & Champion Stakes(Newmarket) both against older horses & the St Leger (Doncaster) beating old rival Minoru into 4th place. Two days after this win he added the Doncaster Stakes to his haul.

Consequently the great horse went into the winter favourite for another of racings most prestigious prizes: the Ascot Gold Cup (always a personal favourite of mine). Two prep wins in the Biennel Stakes & the Chester Vase in which he gave his supporters a frightby only getting up by a short head, fell his way before he lined up at Ascot. His main rival the French horse, Sea Sick II winner of the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) the previous season & although gallant front running Sea Sick II gave it a good shot, still leading with a mile to go, at the six furlong pole, Bayardo simply took off with his jockey & bounded away from the field to win by a commanding four lengths. This is widely regarded as Bayardo's finest hour in his amazing career.

He won his next race (the fifteenth in succession since his Derby defeat) well enough before his final start in the Goodwood Cup. However his swansong was a major disappointment as he went down by a neck to a rather ordinary colt called Magic. Given a bad ride (worthy of Kieran Fallon / Bosra Sham Sandown 1997 or Johnny Murtagh / Ouija Board Longchamp 2004 fame) by his jockey & left with far too much ground to make up & of course carrying 36lbs more than his younger rival, Bayardo gave his all but it wasn't enough.

At stud he was immediately popular despite his princely fee of 300 guineas. He was leading sire in Britain in 1917 & 1918 and leading broodmare sire in 1925. He also sired three classic winners two of which won England's Triple Crown during the years of World War I. Tragically for the British breeding industry Bayardo died in the prime of life at age eleven when he became ill with thrombosis, which paralyzed his hind legs. He died soon after (have you ever noticed these old warrior horses don't meet with a happy ending?!) leaving behind only one son (Gainsborough & WWI wartime Triple Crown winner) that keeps his sire line alive & racing to this day.

Other notable offspring include Gay Crusader (WWI wartime Triple Crown winner), Manton (champion sire in Poland 1930), Pompadour (3rd in English 1000 Guineas), Allenby (2nd in English 2000 Guineas), Bayuda (Cheveley Park Stakes & Epsom Oaks winner). He was champion sire of broodmares too, large thanks to Saucy Sue (out of his daughter Good and Gay who was a full sister to Pompadour) who won English 1000 Guineas, the Oaks and the Coronation Stakes. Her half brother Swift also became a useful sire after winning five races at three years old including the Chester Vase.

And so Bayardo becomes one of the many "what if's...." of Thoroughbred breeding for who knows how much he could have achieved if he'd been blessed with a longer life.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Phar Lap
AKA Big Red
Night Raid - Entreaty
Foaled 4 October 1926 Chestnut Gelding Deceased 1932
Runs: 51 Wins: 37 Places: 5 Earned: £66,738
Form: 00001 - 00042111133111111111 -
211111111111112 - 11111111181

Races Won
Rosehill Guineas Randwick 1929
AJC Derby Randwick 1929
Craven Plate Randwick 1929
VRC Derby Flemington 1929
VRC St Leger Flemington 1929
AJC St Leger Flemington 1929
Melbourne Cup Flemington 1930
Linlithgow Stakes Flemington 1930
Cox Plate Moonee Valley 1930 & 1931
St George Stakes Caulfield 1931
Futurity Stakes Caulfield 1931
King's Plate Flemington 1931
Agua Caliente Handicap Mexico 1932

Phar Lap (who's name is the Thai word for Lightning) was foaled at Seadown Stud in Timaru, New Zealand & it was here as a rather thin, weak yearling that he was bought by Hugh Telford (brother of Phar Lap's future trainer, Harry) for the small fee of 160 Guineas. Once he had been shipped to Australia, Big Red's quest for legendary status began in earnest. But first he had quite a lot of growing to do - 17.1hands of it to be precise! I personally have owned a warmblood horse 17.2h in height & he was MASSIVE so I have some idea of how formidable Big Red must have looked to his rivals whose heights will have averaged from 15.2 to 16.4h. Of course his extra height meant more bone (basically that means longer legs) a larger heart, lungs, girth... everything that is essential to aid a racehorse in its racing career.

(Below:- Phar Lap as pretty as a picture, looking as shiny as a new pin :D)

A Slow Start
Big Red as he became affectionately known, was gelded not long after his arrival to Australia the theory being it would be a waste of time keeping him entire when he was such a weak animal. What I know about gelding is limited but I do know gelding a colt means he doesn't grow as strong as a stallion.... heaven knows how much stronger Red could have been if he'd been remained entire. Sometimes a little patience can go a long way. Still the fact remains his owners did what they thought was right at the time a decision Im sure they will have regretted several times over the course of Phar Lap's tragically short life.

After a rather lacklustre start to his career he got off the mark in an ordinary 6f h'cap on his final start as a 2yo. Another year on his back strengthened him up nicely & although out of luck on his further four starts of the season, he won the Chelmsford Stakes easily & finally having gotten a taste for winning he went on to record a remarkable twelve more victories in his three year season. Thats more than some modern day horses entire career runs, nevermind wins.

His four year old season saw him grow stronger still & he swept all challengers aside with a mammoth fourteen wins from sixteen starts, quite often making his own running in a race, his long easy stride tearing up the track beneath him. One race he won was the Melbourne Cup & his prep run for this prestigious event was not entirely without incident as with any great celebrity, Red was the victim of an assasination attempt. Heading back to the barn from exercise one morning a car approached him & a shotgun was fired at Red, his groom & his lead pony but miraculously no one was injured & Red lived to win another race. He duly won the gruelling two mile Melbourne Cup (carrying a dead weight of 9st 12lb) by 3 lengths from Second Wind.

(Below pic:- Red at peak fitness. Note the sheer power in his broad shoulders)

Two days after his Melbourne cup win Red won the Linlithgow Stakes also held at Flemington & so in the space of a fortnight he'd survived an attempt on his life & won four races in succession. Im sorry but thats simply amazing. Nowadays if a horse is spooked by a loud noise like a gunshot it would be given copious amounts of "equine psychology therapy" & at least three months off. The end of his four year old season ended with defeat by a short neck. Nothing unusual about that you may think but you'd be so wrong. Poor Red had been displaying Colic symptoms on the morning of the event & as I've also dealt with horses with colic I know that to get them to merely stand up is an achievement, let alone run second in a race! Luckily he could now have a well deserved two month break after which he bounded back as impressive as ever.

As a five year old he won ten of his eleven starts his only defeat coming in the Melbourne Cup where he was unrealistically expect to carry 10st 10lb. Under such ludicrous circumstances Phar Lap raced well but his hard training regime and punishing weight took their toll and he faded to finish eighth. It was after this race it was announced the horse would try & conquer America. Or in other words his owners were dazzled by the prize money (another decision Im sure they regretted once or twice for the rest of their lives). As was is ever thus. Some things just never change.

A two month voyage across the Pacific beckoned, during which time Red's devoted groom, Tommy Woodcock had virtually no freedom for Red would become overanxious as soon as his friend was out of sight & in order to keep the great horse calm Tommy had to stay with his charge around the clock. Of course such an epic journey did not phase Red who after a further two months contested his first (and subsequently his last) race in Mexico, which I suppose was a bit like the Dubai World Cup of its time IE the richest race in the world. Red demolished the field of eleven & broke the track record for good measure.

Unsolved Mystery
(above pic:- Phar Lap's death makes front page news, such was his popularity)

Sadly Red died as agonising death in 1932 in California just days after his Mexican victory. His trainer Harry Telford found the gentle giant in severe pain, with a high temperature & a few hours later he died as blood spurted from his lungs as he haemorrhaged to death. As a horse owner I can't believe his owner/trainer/groom didn't insist on the vet humanely destroying him much sooner than the two hours it took for him to pass away. Poor beautiful noble creature.

Scientists believe Red could have been posioned by US gangsters who thought the horse unbeatable & therefore a threat to their illegal gambling a theory supported by the traces of arsenic found in the horse's system. Its though he was guven a large dose of arsenic one or two days prior to his death.

Some racing experts have maintained Big Red could have died from a gradual build up of the poison as a tonic commonly used by trainers in the 1930's contained arsenic. I guess much like the mystery surrounding the luckless Shergar we'll never truly know what happened to the Aussie legend that was Big Red.

Phar Lap's colossal 6.4kg heart is on display in the National Museum in Canberra, Australia & his sleek golden hide has been preserved via taxidermy & is on display in a glass case in the Melbourne Museum, Australia. I can't see any modern day so-called "legends" such as Authorized being preserved for future generations to visit, can you?

(below:- Phar Lap as he stands today, in the Melbourne Museum, Australia)

I would give my left arm to go see him in person someday. As I have relatives in Oz, maybe thats not such a far fetched notion. Cya soon Red!