Gary Sears’ 10 Top Flat Racehorses
Gary Sears pick his 10 Top Flat Racehorses
Following on from Gary McKenzie’a Top Ten Flat Racehorses compilation, I’ve drawn up my own list and, like Gary McKenzie, have probably let heart rule head on a couple of occasions. I’ve seen eight of them on course, and have not considered any American/Australian horses.
10 – PEINTRE CELEBRE (foaled 1994)
The betting for the 1997 Prix de l’Arc deTriomphe suggested a three-horse race between Peintre Celebre, Pilsudski and Helissio. It turned out to be a one-horse race with Peintre Celebre storming clear in the final furlong to beat Pilsudski by five lengths in a very fast time.
At halfway Peintre Celebre didn’t look to be going that well but once seeing daylight he picked up like only a top-class horse can and if proof were needed that here was a true champion, confirmation came with Pilsudski following up by winning the Champion Stakes and the Japan Cup.
Peintre Celebre had previously won the French Derby and the Grand Prix de Paris that season but it was the Arc that truly showed what he was capable of and it was just a shame we never got to see what he could have achieved as a four-year-old.
9 – MARWELL (1978)
Marwell was unbeaten in five starts as a two-year-old including the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket but it was as a three-year-old that she really came to the fore. After winning the Fred Darling over seven-furlongs she ran a close fourthin the 1000 Guineas, almost certainly not staying although was thought to be in season at the time.
Back to sprinting she won easily at Haydock before taking on older horses in the Kings Stand and beating them comfortably. It was then off to Newmarket for the July Cup where she was outstanding in beating Moorestyle. A couple of defeats followed (no shame in that as she pursued an aggressive campaign) before her swansong in the Prix de l’Abbaye. Leading two furlongs out she couldn’t have been more game in holding off Sharpo with Runnett back in fifth, thereby beating the only two horses to have previously beaten her over sprint distances.
Notably tough, genuine and consistent she won on fast and soft ground, never shirked a battle and was truly a star in a vintage year for sprinters.
8 – FRANKEL – (2008)
One where the head has probably overruled the heart. Obviously difficult to leave out of any list of top horses of recent generations, his win in the 2000 Guineas was scarcely believable and he slaughtered the genuinely top class Farhh on two occasions. However, there was an element of him not really fulfilling his true potential, starting odds-on on 13 of his 14 starts, never venturing abroad (the furthest he travelled was to York) and never trying 12 furlongs (couple of close relatives both got the trip).
Still, undeniably a brilliant racehorse and given the story behind him, did nothing but good for the sport of horse racing.
7 – EL GRAN SENOR – (1981)
Will probably always be best remembered as the horse who didn’t win the Derby (have watched the race several times and can’t see that Pat Eddery could have done much different) but he should be remembered as the horse that won one of the best ever 2000 Guineas.
Against him were Chief Singer who subsequently went on win the St James’ Palace, July Cup and Sussex Stakes, Lear Fan who took the Prix Jacques le Marois next time and Rainbow Quest yet El Gran Senor beat them comfortably travelling strongly and sprinting clear. He then proved his stamina for 12 furlongs when beating Rainbow Quest in the Irish Derby. after which he was retired after sustaining an injury.
Any half decent horse these days seems to receive the epithet from his trainer that he could win anywhere between 6 furlongs or 12 furlongs. In 99.9% of cases this is hype. In the case of El Gran Senor it was true – and he could have done it against the best
6 – ALL ALONG – (1979)
The 1983 season didn’t start auspiciously for All Along with a couple of disappointing defeats and it could have been assumed she wasn’t going to fulfil her true potential. A more promising effort in the Prix Foy perhaps signalled better to come but doubt anybody could have predicted what the next 2 months held.
A daring ride in the Arc saw her come from an unpromising position on the rails with a withering turn of foot to beat Sun Princess and then it was off across the Atlantic. The Rothmans International at Woodbine was won in the words of Timeform “convincingly”, the Turf Classic at Aqueduct with “incredible ease” and the Washington International at Laurel “with disdain”.
For a period of 41 days in the autumn of 1983 the world of racing belonged to All Along
5 – SAGARO – (1971)
The first horse to win 3 Gold Cups, Sagaro was that rarity, a strong stayer with a turn of foot. As a three-year-old he beat Bustino in the Grand Prix de Paris but it was the next year, when given a chance at extreme distances that he really showed how good he was.
The 1975 Gold Cup (not a vintage edition) was won in facile fashion and in 1976 he comfortably beat the high-class Crash Course. But it was in 1977 that Sagaro really excelled. Up against Buckskin who had beaten him 3 times already earlier in the season, he cruised through the race and without Lester Piggott moving a muscle sprinted clear to win by five lengths.
We’ll leave the last word to Piggott. ” He was a magnificent stayer – the best I rode and his turn of foot for a long-distance performer was phenomenal”. Pretty high praise
4 – MONTJEU – (1996)
Described by Mick Kinane as “the best 12-furlong horse I have sat on”, Montjeu had his quirks but a record of 11 wins from 16 races shows they didn’t hold him back too much.
As a three-year-old Montjeu won the French Derby by four lengths and the Irish version by five, but it was in the Arc he put up the best performance of his career and one of the best in living memory. The brilliant Japanese horse El Condor Pasa had an easy time of it in front and when kicking clear early in the straight looked to have the race won but Montjeu quickened to get to him and then battled on bravely to win by half a length, the pair a long way clear.
Montjeu won his first four races as a four-year-old including cantering all over Fantastic Light in the King George and although he couldn’t quite reproduce his brilliance later in the season he was never disgraced.
Have used a few quotes from connections of various horses in this list but one quote from a non-racing friend who was at Ascot for the King George about Montjeu will always stick in the memory. Unfortunately, Idoubt very much the actual words used will get past the Racing Hub publisher but the gist of it was that he thought Montjeu was pretty good
3 – FALBRAV – (1998)
Falbrav was the perfect example of why top-class horses shouldn’t be rushed off to stud at the end of their three-year-old careers. Very useful at two and three it was as a four-year-old that he really took off, winning a couple of Grade 1s in Italy and ending the season holding on in game fashion to take the Japan Cup.
Being moved to Luca Cumani for his five-year old-campaign was hardly likely to hinder his progression. He won the Prix d’Ispahan over nine furlongs, the Eclipse, brilliantly from Nayef, and the International over 10 furlongs, then back to a mile to annexe the QE2 at Ascot. In one of the best races of the decade he was just touched off in the 12-furlong Breeders Cup Turf and ended his career by beating Rakti, showing a scintillating turn of foot in the Hong Kong Cup, looking the perfect racehorse.
Falbrav is a Milanese dialect word meaning “be good”. Just for once he was a horse that lived up to his name.
2 – DANCING BRAVE – (1983)
The 1986 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was widely considered beforehand to be one of the best in the post war era, the field comprising, in the words of Timeform “the most valuable collection of bloodstock that had ever faced the starter for the race” yet Dancing Brave started 11/10 favourite.
Held up he only had two behind him turning for home and when Bering struck for home it looked like the hope of France would prevail but then Pat Eddery got clear sailing and showing a turn of foot very rarely seen, Dancing Brave stormed past to win with a bit in hand.
Earlier in the campaign he had won the 2000 Guineas, Eclipse and King George though perhaps will be best be remembered for his 2nd in the Derby after being given a lot to and finishing strongly – one that got away.
I for one however will always remember being at Longchamp on Arc day and seeing one of the best racehorses of all time at his imperious best, and when a few years ago asked brother Ian whether he’d like a painting as a present and which horse, he wasted no time in choosing Dancing Brave – and he’s seen a few good ones.
1 – SEA BIRD – (1962)
Along with Sagaro, Sea Bird is the other horse in the list who I haven’t seen on course but no hesitation in making him number one – in my opinion he is the best.
He was unbeaten at three starting with a couple of easy wins in French classic trials before coming over to Epsom for the Derby. Made 7/4 favourite he won without coming off the bridle, beating subsequent Irish Derby and King George winner Meadow Court and jockey Pat Glennon’s only worry was that he would be unable to pull him up before the road crossing after the line.
After an easy win in the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud he then had a break before the Arc where he came up against the best the world could muster including the brilliant, unbeaten Reliance who tried his level best, pulling five lengths clear of the rest. However, without really being asked a question Sea Bird was six lengths clear of him. It was all so easy.
“The best horse I have ever seen, let alone ridden” said Pat Glennon. He may have been biased but he was right.
Gary McKenzie’s Top 10 Flat Racehorses http://wp.me/s8e3Dl-14474