Friday 23 March 2018

Night Nurse

Owned by Reg Spencer and trained by Peter Easterby at Habton Grange, near Malton, North Yorkshire, Night Nurse is best known for winning the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival twice, in 1976 and 1977, but also has the distinction of being the highest rated hurdler of the Timeform era.

His first victory in the Champion Hurdle, which came at the expense of Lanzarote and Comedy Of Errors, among others, was part of a ten-race winning streak, which also included the Irish Sweeps Hurdle, the Welsh Champion Hurdle and the Scottish Champion Hurdle. His second came at the expense of such luminaries as Monksfield, Sea Pigeon and Bird’s Nest, not to mention Dramatist, Beacon Light and Master Monday, any of whom would have been a worthy winner in any other year. In fact, the 1977 Champion Hurdle is widely considered, by Timeform, the Racing Post and others, the best ever run and set a benchmark for decades to come.

Less than three weeks after the Champion Hurdle, on Grand National Day, 1977, Night Nurse put up a career-best performance, in terms of ratings, forcing a dead-heat with Monksfield, who was receiving 6lb, in the Templegate Hurdle at Aintree.

Switched to steeplechasing, Night Nurse enjoyed an extremely successful novice season in 1978/79 and was quietly fancied to become the first horse in history to complete the Champion Hurdle - Cheltenham Gold Cup double. However, he blundered away his chance at Cheltenham, eventually finishing tailed off behind stable companion Alverton. He missed most of the 1979/80 season through injury but, on his return, produced some magnificent displays of fast, accurate jumping that was the hallmark of his career. He finished second, beaten 1½ lengths, behind stable companion Little Owl in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1981 and was pulled up, despite starting favourite, in the same race in 1982.

Night Nurse was retired from racing, as a 12-year-old, on New Year’s Day, 1983, having won 32 of his 64 races over hurdles and fences and earned over £132,000 in prize money. When he died in 1998, at the age of 27, Peter Easterby summed him up, saying, “What made Night Nurse so special was he was a natural jumper, brilliant from the first time we ever schooled him. He was a very, very brave horse, hard and brave.”

Monday 19 March 2018


Frankel was definitely the best horse in living memory and, arguably, the best horse in the 300-year history of thoroughbred racing. He won all 14 of his races, including 10 at the highest level, was named Cartier Two-Year-Old Colt and Cartier Horse of the Year (twice) and was the highest rated horse since the introduction of World Thoroughbred Rankings in 1977.

His final victory, a workmanlike 1¾-length win over Cirrus Des Aigles in the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot on October 20, 2012, confirmed his place in racing history alongside legendary undefeated champions, such as Eclipse, Ormonde and Ribot. At the end of his racing career, he had earned £2,998,302 in win prize money.

Frankel was bred by Juddmonte Farms, owned by Saudi billionaire Prince Khalid Abdullah, and trained throughout his career by the late Sir Henry Cecil at Warren Place Stables in Newmarket, Suffolk. He was named after the late Bobby Frankel, a celebrated American trainer who saddled many winners for Prince Khalid. Sir Henry, who died from stomach cancer in June, 2013, freely admitted that his relationship with Frankel was key to coping with the ravages of chemotherapy in the last months of his life.

Frankel started favourite for all 14 races and odds against just once, on his debut in a European Breeders’ Fund Maiden Stakes at Newmarket in July, 2010. Indeed, that race was the closest he ever came to being beaten, but he had more in hand of Nathaniel than his half-a-length winning margin might imply. In fact, apart from one occasion, in the St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2011, he never gave his supporters the slightest cause for concern, although he was racing at prohibitive odds for most of his career.

Since his retirement Frankel has become won of the most exciting young sires in the world, producing more Pattern and Listed winners than his own sire, Galileo, Dubawi and Sea The Stars at the equivalent stage of their careers.

Friday 9 March 2018


Nijinsky, named after Russian-born ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, was a bay colt by Northern Dancer, instantly recognisable by his three white feet and almost perfectly heart-shaped white marking between his eyes. He has the distinction of being the only horse since Bahram in 1935 to win the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby and the St. Leger, collectively known as the “English Triple Crown”.

Owned by Charles Engelhard – who was a friend of Ian Fleming and, apparently, the inspiration for Bond villain Auric Goldfinger – and trained by Vincent O’Brien at Ballydoyle, Co. Tipperary, Nijinsky achieved a Timeform rating of 138 as a three-year-old, leaving him officially 2lb inferior to the so-called “greats” of the Timeform era. Nevertheless, having won major races between 6 furlongs and 1 mile 6 furlongs, Nijinsky was, unquestionably one of the most versatile racehorses of the twentieth century.

Nijinsky was unbeaten in five races as a juvenile, his most important victory coming in the Dewhurst Stakes, over 7 furlongs, at Newmarket. He started his three-year-old campaign by winning the Gladness Stakes, again over 7 furlongs, at the Curragh in April, 1970, before heading back to Newmarket for the 2,000 Guineas. Ridden by Lester Piggott, he started 4/7 favourite and, after travelling well throughout, only had to be pushed out to beat Yellow God by 2½ lengths.

Piggott had to work a little harder in the Derby at Epsom, but the 11/8 favourite was well on top at the finish, beating the the French pair, Gyr and Stintino, by 2½ lengths and 3 lengths. Charles Engelhard described the victory as “the best thing I ever saw”. The Irish Sweeps Derby looked a formality and so it proved, with Irish stable jockey Liam Ward, reinstated over Lester Piggott, oozing confidence as he steered the 4/11 favourite to a comfortable 3-length win over Meadowville, ridden by Piggott.

Piggott was back aboard when Nijinksy “trotted up” in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot and, after a forced absence due to ringworm, again when he recorded his eleventh successive victory in the St. Leger. Nijinsky lost his unbeaten record when controversially beaten a head by Sassafras in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp and was beaten again, at odds of 4/11, in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket two weeks later.

Friday 2 March 2018

Kauto Star

According to Timeform, Kauto Star was the fourth best steeplechaser since World War II, rated inferior only to Arkle, Flyingbolt and Sprinter Sacre. Owned by Clive Smith and trained by Paul Nicholls, Kauto Star won 23 of his 41 races, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice and the King George VI Chase at Kempton an unprecedented five times.

Bred in France, Kauto Star easily won a novices’ chase at Newbury on his debut for Paul Nicholls in December, 2004, but was subsequently beaten at odds of 2/11 – only by a short head after being remounted – at Exeter the following month and didn’t race again that season. He ran only twice in 2005/06, winning the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, but falling at the third when favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

The following season, 2006/07, Kauto Star was unbeaten, winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock, the Tingle Creek at Sandown, the King George VI Chase at Kempton and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The rest, as they say, is history. At the end of his career, Kauto Star had never finished out of the first three in all 35 of his completed starts and become the first horse in the history of National Hunt racing to earn over £2 million in win and place prize money. Upon his retirement in October, 2012, Ruby Walsh, who rode him to 17 of his 23 victories said of him, “He’s the horse of my lifetime. I'm very lucky to be the one who got to ride him.”

Following his retirement from racing, Clive Smith transferred Kauto Star from Paul Nicholls to eventing rider Laura Collett without informing, and against the wishes of, his former trainer. Nicholls said, “…what upset me and my team here is when Clive announced that he had spoken to experts about the horse’s future, but failed to consult and listen properly to the team that had looked after him here for the past nine years.”