Never the bride – the very good horses who never hit greatness
Never the bride – Gary McKenzie on the very good horses who never quite hit greatness
There will always be debate about who would win in an imaginary race between legends from different generations (and that is already giving me an idea for next week).
But I doubt many would disagree with me when I say the likes of Nijinsky, Sea Bird, Dancing Brave, Brigadier Gerard, Frankel, Desert Orchid, Kauto Star, and of course Arkle are all time greats.
There are others, and we all have our favourites, but there are plenty of very good horses who never quite hit greatness. I call these horses benchmarks. They would turn up in the top races and would usually run their race, which gave the form a solid look, but usually found one or two too good.
Norse Dancer was one such horse. In his Classic season he was third in the 2000 Guineas (at 100/1) and fourth in the Derby before failing by a neck to win the Sussex Stakes.
The following year he was third in the Lockinge behind top filly Russian Rhythm. He was second in both the Juddmonte and the Irish Champion Stakes with the likes of Bago and Rakti behind in those races.
That Irish Champion performance behind Azamour was probably his best run but he still managed another runner-up spot in the 2005 King George behind the same horse. Norse Dancer was sent off at 50/1 that day!
He won three quarters of a million in prize money. Only £74,000 of that was for winning. He came very close in some of the top races and his level was pretty consistent.
Some of us may have forgotten that Youmzain actually won two Group Ones. Okay one was in Germany but he did win the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud. Unfortunately, he is remembered for his seconditis. Especially at Longchamp.
His first visit there resulted in a half-length defeat by subsequent Arc winner Rail Link in the Prix Niel.
A year later he was back at the track for the Arc. He had run second in the King George behind Dylan Thomas. His prep for Longchamp was well below the Ascot run and he was sent off at 66/1 yet he was closest to the winner at the line.
He had been four lengths behind Dylan Thomas in the King George but was agonisingly close here with just a head separating the two horses. There was a stewards’ inquiry due to the winner coming across Zambezi Sun two out but the result stood (which seemed unusual by French rules) and that was to be as close as Youmzain would be to Arc glory.
He was second the next two runnings behind two legends in Zarkava and Sea The Stars. He was also second in a couple of Coronation Cups.
Once again, his win prize money is ok. But it only made up ten percent of his total winnings of £3.3 million. He ran in four Arcs, which in itself is very unusual, but to get so close in three of them must surely have had connections wondering if they had broken a mirror somewhere.
Excelebtration had the misfortune to be foaled the same year as a freak of nature. This horse ran in eight Group 1 races and won three of them. He was fourth in his last race over in the States. In his four other attempts at the top grade he was third once and second three times. Behind Frankel.
Excelebration was beaten four lengths in the Greenham, four lengths again in the QEII, and destroyed in the following seasons Queen Anne by eleven lengths.
In the Greenham Excelebration was six lengths clear of the third while in the QEII he was three lengths ahead of Immortal Verse. That filly had won the Jacques Le Marois on her previous start ahead of Goldikova.
Would Excelebration been a champion if Frankel had not been around? We can’t be totally sure but the figures tell us he was one of the few to get within 10lbs of Frankel on ratings.
It is not just flat horses that have hard luck stories.
My Tent Or Yours won two Grade Ones in his long career. But he finished second seven times in that grade, including being runner up in the Champion Hurdle three times.
And there wasn’t just the one Frankel-type nemesis but several horses who stopped him reaching the winners enclosure those seven times. It verged on bullying.
Champagne Fever, Annie Power, and two who ran in the same colours as him, Jezki and Buveur D’Air. Even towards the end he was denied a win in the Irish Champion Hurdle by Wicklow Brave.
Theatreworld was just a five-year-old when he finished behind Make A Stand in the 1997 Champion Hurdle. Another year on his back would strengthen him up and he would surely be thereabouts for the following season.
Unfortunately, the next day a horse won the Royal Sun Alliance Novices Hurdle and he was to dominate the division for the next three seasons.
Istabraq was the reason Theatreworld became a three-time runner up at the festival. No disgrace though as Istabraq is an all-time great. And three of Theatreworlds best four speed figures were when running behind the great horse.
So, he dragged Theatreworld to new heights even though he was beaten.
The memory can play tricks. Triptych was a superb horse. In 1985 she was runner up in the Oaks behind Triple Crown heroine Oh So Sharp. She was again behind Oh So Sharp in the International (Commanche’s run was too good for both of them).
In 1986 she finished runner up in the Eclipse, as well as being third in both the King George and the Arc. All three times Dancing Brave was the winner. She had also placed in that years Coronation Cup.
The following season she was again third in the King George following a third place in the Eclipse (the race where Mtoto and Reference Point produced THAT finish).
Reference Point was the King George victor that year so Triptych was keeping good company. Triptych was once again third best in the Arc behind surprise winner Trempolino.
She was six years old when she once again made the frame behind Mtoto in the Eclipse. Her last run of any note was in the Phoenix Stakes at the old Phoenix Park in Ireland where she was third behind that top filly Indian Skimmer.
You had to be some horse to beat Triptych. Nineteen times she was second or third. All but one of them was at Group One level. But here is where my memory trips me.
She actually won fourteen times. Nine of them in the highest grade. I was so busy thinking she was such a great benchmark as only the real champions were beating her.
But she was the top two-year-old filly in Europe in 1984 following her Marcel Boussac win. As a three-year-old she disappointed in the 1000 Guineas but bounced back to beat the boys in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.
She won two Champion Stakes, two Coronation Cups, an Irish Champion Stakes, and a Prix Ganay.
So, this particular bridesmaid often had her big day. And she must have had some constitution to run 41 times in her career.
There are others who could use the phrase “close but no cigar”. And luck plays a part. We will never know how close
Latalomne would have been in the 2002 Champion Chase had he not fallen at the second last but he was in the shake-up. He had a chance to atone twelve months later and once again he was going as well as any when falling. At the second last.
You cannot help but feel for connections at a time like that. I was actually on each way the second year thinking that lightning couldn’t strike twice.
Please stay safe all
What might have been – horses whose promising careers were cut short http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3Jq