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Queens of the Turf Live

Counting down 50 fantastic fillies and mares throughout January


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  • As God is my judge, she might be better than Secretariat

    Lucien Laurin, trainer of Secretariat
  • On the day Secretariat detractor Donald Trump is sworn into office (although he later back-tracked, we can only hope he does the same elsewhere!), it seems appropriate we celebrate his female counterpart - as described by Big Red's trainer himself.

    Although she only raced over 14 months, in that time she produced astounding performance after astounding performance - winning her first ten races by a total of 83 lengths. However, he final outing was to end in tragedy when, in a 1975 match race against Foolish Pleasure following the hugely popular 'Battle of the Sexes' match between tennis legends Billie-Jean King and Bobby Riggs, Ruffian suffered a catastrophic breakdown. Despite emergency surgery, she could not be saved.

    The following year she was inducted into the US Hallf of Fame, and took 53rd place in the Sports Illustrated list of top 100 female athletes of the 20th century - the only non-human to be honoured.

    Ruffian: an imposing specimen 

  • Well, I think it's easy to see what Racing Post historian John Randall thinks of those involved with number 14 on our countdown, the mighty Sceptre . . . 

    "This iron lady won all the Classics except the Derby in 1902, and her record would have been even better had she been trained and ridden competently throughout her career."

    You read that right - Sceptre, born in 1899, won the 2,000 Guineas, 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and St Leger. Now to be fair, that's a feat no colt could ever achieve given they can't run in the 1,000 Guineas or Oaks, but that doesn't make her accomplishments any less remarkable. She ran in the Derby, but was fourth behind Ard Patrick following "an interrupted preparation and an injudicious ride by the inexperienced Bert Randall".

    Now I've no idea if Bert and John are related, but he pulls no punches - and it's fair to say he was no fan of Sceptre's owner either . . .

    "As a two-year-old Sceptre won the July Stakes, but at the end of the season her trainer, Charles Morton, turned his yard into a private stable. Bob Sievier therefore had to find a new trainer and his choice, born of invincible self-confidence, was himself – despite his total lack of experience.

    "He set up his base at Shrewton, Wiltshire, and decided that Sceptre should start her 1902 Classic campaign in the Lincoln. Even after her preparation for the big handicap had been ruined by his incompetent American assistant, she was beaten only a head."

    Sceptre at stud with her foal Maid Of The Mist 

  • I hope you're enjoying our Queens of the Turf series - it's hard to believe we've only just over a week left! While we've got fillies and mares on the mind, why not try our Queens of the Turf quiz?

  • "This was no defeat for the males. It was humiliation. They dictated the pace that destroyed them. They broke under the ferocious pressure. They were devoured by the filly."

    What a brilliant description of the 1973 King George by Tony Morris, reflecting in the Bloodstock Review. The filly in question is Dahlia, a teak-tough traveller and number 15 on our list.

    Owned and bred by oil magnate Nelson Bunker Hunt - whose business was probably boosted by the fuel needed for Dahlia's frequent trips across the Atlantic - she raced for five seasons. Victories in the Man O' War Stakes, Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, Prix Saint-Alary and Irish Oaks are just some of the highlights on her CV, which also includes a second King George in 1974.

    However, even that list doesn't convey just how brilliant she was - but Peter Thomas does in today's paper!

    Dahlia and Lester Piggott win the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup 

  • All Along, number 16 on our countdown, triumphed in the ultimate girl power Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, leading home a 1-2-3-4 for fillies in the 1983 race - Sun Princess, Luth Enchantee and Time Charter followed her home.

    However, she was about much more than that single race - the Patrick Biancone-trained filly was an early pioneer in her globe-trotting ways, finishing a close second in the Japan Cup and landing the Rothmans International, Turf Classic and Washington DC International in North America. Those victories earned her the accolade of 1983 US Horse of the Year - the first time an international runner had won the award.

    All Along and Walter Swinburn celebrate at Longchamp 

  • I'm going to let Nicholas Godfrey tell you all about number 17 on our list, the great Zenyatta . . .

    Queens of the Turf: Nicholas Godfrey
    by Racing Post via YouTube

  • We've another Sir Henry Cecil filly in today's paper as Bosra Sham fills number 18 on our countdown. The daughter of Woodman was a top flight performer on her day, but was plagued with foot issues throughout her career.

    She regularly missed planned runs and work sessions due to the chronic condition, including a final gallop before the 1996 1,000 Guineas. 

    "It was touch and go whether she could run," recalls Tim Bulwer-Long, racing manager to Bosra Sham's owner Wafic Said. "We knew she wouldn't be at her best but Henry felt she would still be good enough."

    She was, landing the fillies' Classic by a length and a half. However, she saved her best performance for that year's Champion Stakes, dismissing the dual Eclipse and International Stakes winner Halling by two and a half lengths.

    Bosra Sham and Pat Eddery following 1,000 Guineas glory 

  • A Tuesday treat - here's the story of Noblesse in full.

    Paddy Prendergast was a pioneering figure on the Irish racing scene. Having started his training career in County Kildare during World War II, the former jump jockey began to mount regular raids on major British two-year-old races in the early 1950s.

    The brilliant Windy City led the way with victory in the Gimcrack in 1951. Two years later The Pie King became the first of the trainer’s six Coventry Stakes winners. By the end of the decade Prendergast had won races such as the Champagne Stakes, the Cheveley Park, the Lowther, the Norfolk, the Queen Mary and the Richmond Stakes.

    In 1960 he saddled Martial to become the first Irish-trained winner of the 2,000 Guineas. In the same year came the foaling of a filly – sold in utero by Stanhope Joel – by Mossborough, the sire of Vincent O’Brien’s 1958 Arc winner Ballymoss, out of Duke’s Delight.

    Bought as a yearling for 4,200gns by the Anglo-Irish Bloodstock Agency, Noblesse was sent into training with Prendergast to carry the colours of Evelyn Olin, second wife of John Merrill Olin, an Illinois-born chemical engineer and inventor who specialised in the design and manufacture of arms and ammunition.

    A member of a juvenile team that included the Molecomb winner Royal Indiscretion and Whistling Wind, who won the National Breeders’ Produce Stakes at Sandown, Noblesse had established a significant reputation on the Curragh gallops prior to her debut in the Blue Seal Stakes.

    After she won that Ascot event by a comfortable five lengths, Prendergast was sufficiently encouraged to send her back to England to take on the colts in the Timeform Gold Cup, inaugurated the previous year at the instigation of Phil Bull as Europe’s richest two-year-race.

    Ridden by the Australian Garnie Bougoure, Ireland’s champion jockey in 1960, she won readily by three lengths. She remains the only filly to have won the race now known as the Racing Post Trophy.

    On the strength of just two races, Noblesse was named champion British and Irish juvenile filly. Following a bad winter and cold spring, Prendergast did not have time to prepare her for the 1,000 Guineas. Instead, she made a winning seasonal debut in the third running of the Musidora Stakes at York, accounting for Partholon and the Royal Lodge winner Star Moss in smooth fashion.

    Returning for the Oaks, she was sent off the 4-11 favourite. Always going well, she accelerated when asked by Bougoure a furlong out to win by ten lengths from the 1,000 Guineas runner-up Spree. Bougoure claimed she could have doubled the margin and several experienced observers suggested her performance was good enough to have beaten the brilliant Relko in the 1963 Derby.

    A minor hock injury forced Noblesse to miss the King George and in her place Prendergast sent over Irish Derby winner Ragusa, who proved an able deputy, beating 1961 Timeform Gold Cup winner Miralgo.

    The Arc was now the target for the filly, who returned to action in the Prix Vermeille with Lester Piggott aboard. Failing to find anything like the blistering acceleration she had shown in her previous races, she managed only third. She was found to be lame and was retired.

    Timeform described the 133-rated champion three-year-old filly in glowing terms: “In the first four of her races she hardly needed to gallop seriously for more than fifty yards, and yet she won all of them by a wide margin, and her turn of foot was something to marvel at.”

    She was perhaps the best filly ever trained in Ireland, although Irish racegoers never got an opportunity to see her in action.

  • If you missed it, here's an astonishing side story from Alastair Down in today's paper about Howard de Walden, who bred Oh So Sharp's sire Kris and won the Derby with Slip Anchor the same year Oh So Sharp won the Oaks.

    "As a student in the 1930s, De Walden was driving in Munich when he knocked down a pedestrian who sadly escaped with only the most insignificant injuries. If only he had floored it and done the job properly. It was Adolf Hitler."
  • We all know Sir Henry Cecil was a genius when it came to handling fillies, and in Oh So Sharp he had one of the greatest. The daughter of Kris was the fifth winner of the Fillies' Triple Crown in the 20th Century - the first being Sceptre, who also through in the 2,000 Guineas for good measure!

    Paired with the great Steve Cauthen, in the summer of 1985 Oh So Sharp swept to victory in the 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and St Leger - beating Phardante and Lanfranco by three-quarters of a length and a head.

    The final test came just in time too, according to Sir Henry: "Another week and it might have been too late. She was beginning to go and I was just hanging on to her"

    Oh So Sharp and Steve Cauthen win the Oaks 

  • You're welcome Doyoun, glad you're enjoying it!
  • Martin D. as much as this isn't a Frankel discussion, it is certainly hard to agree with the ending of your comment. But Frankel didn't just win his races, he pulverised opposition, mainly on the bridle, tanking along at in a manner most can only dream of their horse doing. If he hadn't been around imagine us talking about Excelebration as a crack miler. Also, did you forget the International & Champion Stakes and the high-class field he beat on both occasions then? When he passes, it really wouldn't surprise me if he has a much larger than average heart, much like Secretariat.

    However, I am really enjoying the Queens of the Turf and they are bringing some sublime memories of our heroines over the year. Thank you!
  • Not sure I agree with you about Allez France not beiing in the same class on the track as Frankel. She was far more versatile and highly tried than he was and though he was an extremely high class animal he, a bit like American Pharoah, it could be said that he didn't really beat anything outstanding or at the peak of their form.
  • Recalling memories of Indian Skimmer, number 21 on our list, may take a little more delving into the grey matter, but boy, what memories she made - and not just for a plethora of high profile wins. 

    There was the time the enigmatic grey refused to go to post for the Champion Stakes. As Steve Denis recalls: "On this occasion she was ably demonstrating that faculty, and it wasn't until Cecil himself came out to indulgently remonstrate with her that she consented to move. They walked a little way down the course together, Cecil not minding about the ruination of his Gucci loafers, Indian Skimmer not minding that she'd been coaxed into participating in the silly race after all. A few minutes later she came back alone, her rivals lost in the fog, the race won, the immovable object transformed into the irresistible force."

    Once she got going though, the wins came raining down - the Prix Diane, Sun Chariot Stakes, Pris Saint-Alary, Irish Champion Stakes and Prix d'Ispahan are just some of the top-tier victories by Cecil's striking grey.
  • Few will need reminding (pardon the pun) of the heights scaled by number 22 on our countdown - and they may not yet be complete. Minding, last month crowned Cartier Horse of the Year, contested seven Group 1s in 2016, winning five of them - including the 1,000 Guineas/Oaks double. 

    Victories in the Pretty Polly and Nassau Stakes followed, but it was a win over the boys when beating Ribchester by half a length in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes that solidified her place as the star of 2016 - sorry Harzand!

    She doesn't look that sorry actually . . .    
    And the good news is she stays in training, so we may enjoy more of the same this season.
  • Before Zenyatta, there was Personal Ensign. Owned and bred by the late Ogden Phipps, the daughter of Private Account won all of her 13 starts, including eight at the highest level - a feat made all the mare remarkable by the fact she broke her near-hind leg in two places before a tilt in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

    "We never thought she'd race again," said trainer Claude "Shug" McGaughey.

    But race she did, and although off for 11 months, on her return she was a revelation, carrying all before her - including the boys when landing the Whitney.

    Perhaps her most impressive win was her last when, after the heavens opened over Churchill Downs, she was forced to slide rather than glide through the Breeders' Cup Distaff. However, in front of the famous twin spires and a jubilant crowd, she came through traffic from four lengths down at the furlong pole to grab victory over Winning Colors by a nose.

    Personal Ensign (left) wins the Breeders' Cup Distaff 

  • It was a risk to ride so soon after the injury but she took a lot of knowing. The trip [2,400 metres] was as far as she could go and I was at the limit. It was a difficult job because she began too well and I had to leave her quietly to just tick away during the race. Then she saw daylight too early. Perhaps runner-up Comtesse Du Loire came at us a little late and the post saved me

    Yves Saint-Martin, Allez France's jockey
  • For those of us who weren't around in the early 70s, we only need look back to the Frankel years to understand the Allez France effect. Now, before people spit out their morning coffee in disgust, I'm not in any way, shape or form suggesting she was his equal on the track (although she did win the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, Prix de Diane, Prix Vermeille and 1974 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, so she wasn't exactly a no-hoper), but the likeness between Allez France and Frankel comes in their ability to break from the confines of racing into the public consciousness. 

    In an era when racing enjoyed mass media exposure thanks to the popularity of the Tierce bet, Allez France graced the front pages of national newspapers, her jockey Yves Saint-Martin was a regular magazine cover star and when the pair were beaten in the 1973 Arc, news of the Yom Kippur war was relegated to the inside pages to accommodate the shocking result.

    The following year, Saint-Martin was injured in a paddock fall just ten days before the Arc - it was a borderline national crisis, with France Television devoting a section of its current affairs show to the story on the eve of the race.

    Fortunately Saint-Martin got himself back in time and the rest, as they say, is history. Well documented history, thanks to the popularity of Allez France.

    Allez France and Yves Saint-Martin win the Arc 

  • He's back - we've another Willie Carson queen in the shape of Sun Princess at 25. The daughter of English Prince added the 1983 Oaks and St Leger to the multiple champion jockey's tally - but she made him work . . . 

    "Sometimes I wonder how good she could have been if she'd been more tractable," says jockey Willie Carson. "All she wanted to do was gallop, go flat out. She was very, very good but a tricky filly to ride."

    Gallop flat out she did, to the point the pair passed the famous Epsom winning post 12 lengths ahead of their nearest rival. She threw in the Yorkshire Oaks for good measure in between Classics and came close in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe - only to be beaten by fellow filly All Along. With Luth Enchantee in third and Time Charter in fourth, it was a good day for the girls.

    1983 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe
    by sachahuista via YouTube

  • Racing anorak points for anyone who already knows more about Kincsem (26) than how to spell her name. There's no shame if you're not that familiar with her, but buckle up and get ready for a major stat: the Hungarian-bred mare won an amazing 54 races - from 54 starts! Move over Black Caviar.

    The original Budapest Bullet, racing before the Overdose Budapest Bullet's great-great-grandsire was even born, Kincsem began her career in 1876 for trainer Robert Hesp and owner-breeder Ernest de Blascovich, who'd tried to sell her to Baron Orczy only to be told she was "too common-looking". 

    Well, as a certain tennis commentator proved in recent years, some men still haven't learned that their perception of how attractive a female is has no bearing on her abilities - and Kincsem certainly made her point when not only tearing up the turf across Central and Eastern Europe, but also travelling to Britain to lift the Goodwood Cup.

    A national heroine - there's a Hungarian movie out in March of the same name based loosely around the 19th Century racing scene - Kincsem was a true legend (although she didn't do much for crazy cat-lady stereotypes, given she once refused to load onto a train until her feline friend Csalogany had been found).

    Kincsem: a perfect record of 54 from 54 

  • As David Jennings says in today's paper, Found has been some find. It's not as though the Coolmore team are short of quality, but in Found they had a filly with everything you could want in a horse. The perfect blend of speed and stamina, a gutsy attitude, an iron constitution - and she was good-looking to boot.

    However, although a Group 1 winner at two, she did develop a frustrating penchant for finishing second, doing so in the Irish 1,000 Guineas, Coronation Stakes and Irish and Qipco Champion Stakes, albeit a run broken up by victory in the Royal Whip Stakes. The daughter of Galileo clearly just kept it all for the very biggest days, heading to Keeneland and winning the Breeders' Cup Turf in October 2015.

    She returned at four, as did those seconds, but after playing the bridesmaid in the Tattersalls Gold Cup, Coronation Cup, Prince of Wales's Stakes, Yorkshire Oaks and Irish Champion Stakes, she again pulled it out the bag when winning last season's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe ahead of stablemates Highland Reel and Order Of St George.

    Found wins the Arc
    by Racing Post via YouTube

    Was she done there? Oh no, she bowed out with an honourable second in the Qipco Champion Stakes and third in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

    We love you Found.
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