What might have been
Gary McKenzie follows up his look at horses who were not quite good enough to achieve greatness, with those horses whose promising careers were cut short
I am going to start with a couple of really sad ones.
One of the most visually impressive Cheltenham performances I have ever seen was in the 2013 Triumph Hurdle. The way Our Conor breezed past Diakali marked him out as a special horse. He was running in only his second hurdle race in open company when he finished second to Hurricane Fly in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
His fatal fall at Cheltenham two months later will always leave us wondering. He was only five and was well fancied. He may not have won that year anyway but his talent was there for all to see and another year on his back could have seen even more improvement.
I am going back a bit for the next one. Legendary trainer Vincent O’Brien described this horse as the best hurdler he had ever seen (and he won Champion Hurdles).
Golden Cygnet won the 1978 Supreme Novices Hurdle by fifteen lengths in a faster time than the Champion Hurdle won by Monksfield from Sea Pigeon. Fred Rimmell, trainer of the runner up Western Rose, and no bad judge, told reporters he had never seen a horse win as easily at the festival.
Golden Cygnet was made favourite for the following year’s Champion on the back of that. He won his next race by ten lengths eased down and was then sent to the Scottish Champion Hurdle where he would face Sea Pigeon and Beacon Light who had been second and fourth in the Champion Hurdle.
In those days the Scottish Champion was a handicap. Usually a novice like Golden Cygnet would get weight from his or her rivals. Only Sea Pigeon was giving him weight. And only a pound. Beacon Light got half a stone from our hero. And hurdling legend Night Nurse got 5lb. That is how highly rated he was.
In the race itself he was held up before moving closer at the second last. He moved alongside the leader Night Nurse just before the last travelling like the winner but he hit the hurdle and went over on his neck and back.
He got to his feet but the injury he suffered ultimately led to his demise as a brain haemorrhage formed.
He was given a rating of 176 by Timeform which was a pound more than Sea Pigeon ever achieved and only a few pounds shy of the high point of Night Nurses career.
Monksfield and Sea Pigeon won the next three Champion Hurdles between them. I think most would agree that Golden Cygnet would have had a major say in those races.
The next horse is one of my all-time favourites. He only ran six times but was the top rated three-year-old of 1989 ahead of Nashwan who did the Guineas/Derby double.
Zilzal never raced as a two-year-old but from May to September he was unbeatable. He won the Jersey Stakes by four lengths and then won the Criterion Stakes by five.
Those were Group Three’s and his next assignment was the Sussex Stakes. Warning was there to defend his title and also in the line-up were Markofdistinction, Shaadi (who had won the St James Palace Stakes) and Opening Verse. Zilzal won by three lengths (to be fair Warning never really got into it).
The QEII was to be Zilzal’s last run in Britain. And he went out in style beating the previously unbeaten Jacques Le Marois winner, Polish Precedent, by three lengths. His last run was a defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Mile where he missed the break and had to stay wide.
He was retired to stud after that.
In 1990 Distant Relative and Markofdistinction won the Sussex and the QEII respectively with Green Line Express placed in both. All three horses had been easily beaten by Zilzal. Would he have been an even better four-year-old?
Sea The Stars bis surely one of the best horses of the last 30 years. He won six out of six in 2009. All Group 1 level at a rate of one a month.
He spent the season repelling the Coolmore battalions, and they went in mob handed on occasion, before winning the Arc from a less than ideal position. Surely, he deserves to be called a legend.
The fact he always looked like he was just doing enough counts against him as we do like to see a Frankel or Shergar surge clear by ten lengths. His biggest win that season was two and a half lengths. But they could not beat him. He was sent to stud at the end of his three-year-old season.
I find it difficult to see him not being good enough as a four-year-old to beat Twice Over in a defence of his Coral Eclipse crown and would Workforce have won the 2010 Arc with Sea The Stars in the line up?
The King George would have been interesting had Harbinger put up the performance he did that year. But Sea The Stars was one of those horses who found more when required.
Another brilliant horse could have made an epic race even more memorable had he stayed in training as a four year old.
We are all aware of the exploits of Dancing Brave in 1986. His exceptional Guineas win (top sprinter Green Desert second) and his close second in the Derby.
Winning the Eclipse and the King George before that amazing Sunday at Lonchamp.
He was given a rating of 141, which was “recalibrated” to 138 after Frankel but he is still thought of as one of the greatest horses ever.
He would have been well fancied to follow up in the Arc had he raced on. Although it has to be said that Trempolino won in a faster time.
But the King George and the Eclipse would have been something. Reference Point and Mtoto fought out a thrilling finish at Sandown and Reference Point won the King George by three lengths.
Add Dancing Brave to those races and what kind of spectacle would we have witnessed. Reference Point making all while the Brave stalked and pounced.
There are others. Zafonic was one of the most impressive 2000 Guineas winners I have seen. He burst a blood vessel in the Sussex Stakes and never ran again.
Pour Moi looked the real deal in the Derby in 2011 and was being prepared for the Arc when he suffered an over reach.
Danedream was a brilliant winner of the Arc that year but I think Pour Moi could have given her a decent race. He had only run five times so improvement was probable.
Finally, back to a very sad one. Sea Of Class got oh so close to emulating her sire Sea The Stars and grand dam Urban Sea when just a neck behind Enable in the 2018 Arc.
We were all excited to think these two could do battle again in 2019. Unfortunately, she died after surgery due to a malignant lymphoma.
Her highest rating came in that defeat by Enable but her Yorkshire Oaks win was very special. James Doyle knew he had the best horse in the race and rode her with confidence. The 7/4 starting price looks silly now.
Waldgeist coming past Enable with Sea of Class flies fast and late. What an image that conjures up.
Stay safe all
Always the bride – good horses who never quite achieved greatness http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3IE