Salute the Brigadier
Gary McKenzie looks back to the 1971 Guineas when Brigadier Gerard swept past Mill Reef
“It was fifty years ago today” to paraphrase Lennon and McCartney.
Just like today, the 2000 Guineas of 1971 was run on 1 May. And what a race it was. The main players had won 18 of 19 races prior to the Newmarket Classic.
Mill Reef had won the Coventry (by six lengths), the Gimcrack, and the Dewhurst Stakes as a two year old. And and his prep race for the Guineas was a Greenham win.
His only defeat had come in France in the Robert Papin which had been won by My Swallow. That colt had also won the Woodcote and the Prix Morny. He was the top rated two year old of 1970 (judged to be a pound better than Mill Reef).
Brigadier Gerard was rated 1lb below Mill Reef. He had won the Champagne Stakes, the Washington Singer Stakes and the Middle Park (where he was allowed to go off at 11/2).
Not to be missed
So we had the top three colts in Europe ready to duke it out. There were only six runners but it was a race not to be missed.
Brigadier Gerard was making his seasonal debut and was third in the betting. My Swallow made the running with Mill Reef close up.
At the three pole Brigadier Gerard came to challenge and from that point on it was clear who was going to win. The margin of victory was three lengths with Mill Reef in second.
Jimmy Lindley, who had ridden Good Bond, said “It must have been the best Guineas for fifty years”.
It was all over
Geoff Lewis, who rode the runner up, said “The moment Joe appeared it was all over. His horse was just too good.”
My Swallow didn’t really hit the heights expected as a three year old but did finish second in the July Cup.
Mill Reef was never beaten again in his career. He won the Derby, Eclipse, King George, and Arc that season and won the Coronation Cup at four. Only injury stopped him defending his Arc title.
Brigadier Gerard, in my opinion the best British trained horse of the 20th century, went on to win all the top mile races that season, as well as the Champion Stakes over ten furlongs.
As a four-year-old he won the Lockinge, Prince Of Wales Stakes, the Eclipse, and his second Champion Stakes. His King George win in 1972 could well be one of his best performances as the distance of 12 furlongs was beyond his optimum.
Joe Mercer has often said it was the horse’s class that won him that race. He was beaten. Just once, in the inaugural running of the Benson and Hedges Cup (the race we know as the Juddmonte International).
He was up against the 1972 Derby winner Roberto and that horse set a blistering pace up the Knavesmire. He was three lengths too good for our hero and he broke the track record.
Brigadier Gerard had run an excellent race in defeat though. He too had broken the course record and was a dozen lengths ahead of Gold Rod in third. And he was giving the winner 12lbs in weight!
It must have been a real privilege to have been at Newmarket on May Day in 1971.