Next Race Newspaper
Free Bets
My Account

Sunday, 16 December, 2018

In pictures: George Washington, the phenomenon and his fragile legacy

Remembering the great who died at the Breeders' Cup in 2007

George Washington is led into the pre-parade ring after winning the 2,000 Guineas
1 of 1

A host of big guns from Ballydoyle, including Churchill, Highland Reel, Rhododendron, Roly Poly and US Navy Flag, are ready to be fired at the Breeders' Cup in Del Mar this weekend. 

Trainer Aidan O'Brien always sends a strong squad to North America for the prestigious meeting and has been rewarded with some special victories, such as the back-to-back triumphs of High Chaparral in the Turf or Johannesburg in the Juvenile.

But a decade ago this year, when the Breeders' Cup was held on the opposite coast from Del Mar at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, the action ended in calamity for O'Brien as George Washington, the exceptional talent who had returned from an abortive spell as a stallion at Coolmore, had to be put down after fracturing the cannonbone in his right front fetlock joint as well as both sesamoids.

Here we remember the life and legacy of the horse his many adoring fans called Gorgeous George.

Danehill: the legendary sire of George Washington takes a shower at Coolmore in 2003

George Washington was born in Ireland on March 1, 2003, having been bred by Roy and Gretchen Jackson's Lael Stables. Remarkably, the Jacksons bred another Classic winner with a tragic tale that year: Barbaro, the brilliant Kentucky Derby hero who shattered his leg in the Preakness Stakes and died from those injuries in early 2007.

George Washington was a son of Danehill, the breed-shaping source of numerous top-class horses such as Banks Hill, Dansili, Duke Of Marmalade, Dylan Thomas, Fastnet Rock, Mozart, North Light, Oratorio and Rock Of Gibraltar.

His dam, Bordighera, a winning daughter of Alysheba, was purchased privately by the Jacksons after she had produced Grandera, who carried the couple's silks to finish placed in the Prix du Jockey Club, Coral-Eclipse and Juddmonte International before he was sold to Godolphin, for whom he won three Group 1 races.

George Washington as a yearling at Tattersalls, when he was known only as 'Lot 62'

George Washington was sent to Book 1 of the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale in 2004, where he was consigned by Paul Thorman's Trickledown Stud on behalf of the Jacksons.

Not only did his catalogue show he was a Danehill half-brother to a multiple Group 1 winner, but he was by common consent a physical standout and Demi O'Byrne paid an auction-topping 1,150,000gns for the colt. That price was 400,000gns in advance of the next best price at the sale.

Demi O'Byrne (left) at Tattersalls with John Magnier and Paul Shanahan of Coolmore

George Washington was sent into training with Aidan O'Brien and made his debut in a five-furlong maiden at Newmarket in the May of his two-year-old season, finishing an eye-catching third to League Champion and Northern Empire under the then-retained Ballydoyle jockey Kieren Fallon.

"He looks sure to improve when stepping up a furlong," noted the Racing Post analysis of the race, in what turned out to be some understatement.

George Washington en route to victory in the Phoenix Stakes at two

George Washington went on to win all of his four other starts that season, including when slamming the runner-up, stablemate Amadeus Mozart, by eight lengths in the Phoenix Stakes, and notching a second Group 1 victory - at odds of 2-11 - by beating Golden Arrow by two lengths in the National Stakes.

He had been entered in the Dewhurst Stakes but was pulled out due to the good to soft ground, leaving O'Brien's main chance as Horatio Nelson - another warrior later tragically lost in battle - to just fail to reel in the winner Sir Percy. Nevertheless, George Washington was crowned the champion two-year-old in Europe of 2005.

George Washington (centre) storms clear of a decent 2,000 Guineas field

George Washington made his three-year-old bow in the 2,000 Guineas. Sent off the 6-4 favourite, he saw off subsequent Derby winner Sir Percy by two and a half lengths, with the likes of Araafa, Amadeus Wolf, Horatio Nelson and Red Clubs further behind.

The next natural step in his career was the Irish 2,000 Guineas three weeks later: but whereas for the Newmarket Classic our hero had his favoured firm ground, at the Curragh the going had turned bottomless.

The Racing Post on the day of the Irish 2,000 Guineas speculates on George Washington's aptitude for heavy going

Coolmore sportingly allowed their prized colt to take his chance, but he was unable to unleash his famous burst of acceleration and his immense raw ability only got him to a two-length second to the 2,000 Guineas fourth Araafa, who relished the conditions.

Unfortunately George Washington sustained pulled muscles on the unsuitable ground and the injury ruled him out of Royal Ascot.

George Washington's quirks were by now well known. He was accompanied on his travels by a retired stablemate; he sometimes veered away from his rivals in a race and carried his head awkwardly; and he had even seemed to pull himself up before the line in the 2,000 Guineas. But all that only served to enhance his legend. He was enigmatic rather than ungenuine.

George Washington's quirks get the better of him in the Celebration Mile

However, he tested even his most ardent supporters' faith on his comeback after the injury suffered at the Curragh when dropped to Group 2 level for the Celebration Mile at Goodwood.

The Racing Post comments in running tell the horror story: "Started slowly, took keen hold, held up in detached last, urged along to close 2f out, hanging and not keen, ran on final furlong, nearest finish."

But all the most absorbing stories feature their leading light gaining redemption and so it was with George Washington.

His next target - by now a recovery mission - was the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and although he was facing high-class opposition in Araafa, Court Masterpiece, Librettist and Proclamation it was still indicative of his slightly dented reputation that for the first time since the 2,000 Guineas he was sent off odds against at 13-8.

George Washington defeats old foe Araafa (left) with a straightforward display in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes

Even on ground more dead than ideal, George duly atoned for his sins by easing to a one-and-a-quarter-length victory over old foe Araafa, with a slightly cocked head the only sign of not being straightforward. The effort rightly earned him the status of European champion at three.

George Washington during his brief spell as a stallion at Coolmore

George Washington was retired to Coolmore after a lacklustre sixth behind Invasor in the Breeders' Cup Classic and commenced covering duties at a fee of €60,000.

But then disaster struck for the operation. Their gleaming new recruit had all the credentials to excel as a stallion - the pedigree, the looks, the performance - except the crucial one: full fertility.

George managed to successfully impregnate only one mare before he was withdrawn from service and returned into training, to be replaced at Coolmore by another Group 1-winning son of Danehill, Holy Roman Emperor fresh from a fruitful juvenile campaign.

He returned to the track at four and showed he retained plenty of his ability, not to mention his old tricks. He pulled hard but finished with a flourish for a close fourth to Ramonti in the Queen Anne Stakes; misbehaved before the race and hung in the Coral-Eclipse, but still managed a creditable third to Notnowcato; and took third to Darjina in the Prix du Moulin.

Our last glimpse of George Washington, battling the kickback in the Monmouth Park slop

Then came that fateful trip to New Jersey for the Breeders' Cup Classic. After his awful demise in the Monmouth Park mud, O'Brien paid fitting tribute to the outstanding athlete with the beautiful mind.

"The one thing George wouldn't have wanted – if he was thinking like a human being, the way he always did – was to be among the other horses at Ballydoyle, petering out slowly," he said.

"And if he was not going to be a stallion, that was probably what was going to happen over a period of time. George being George, if it had to happen, he would have chosen it that way: a big race, a big day."

Gerry Burke (right) and Patricia Burke inspect the George Washington filly before buying her as a foal at Goffs

The only mare in foal to George Washington was Flawlessly, a daughter of Rainbow Quest owned by Loreto Luciani and son Stefano who had already produced the Group 3 winner Ombre Legere and Grade 1-placed Flawly, the dam of Prix du Jockey Club second Best Name.

The resultant filly - the centre of attention as a true one-off since her birth in 2008 - was offered at that year's Goffs November Foal Sale and was bought by Gerry and Patricia Burke of Glidawn Stud for €280,000 as a bold pinhooking venture.

George Washington's only foal - the future Date With Destiny - as a yearling at Tattersalls with groom Anna Jordan

Glidawn Stud sent the filly, who had a long white blaze like her dad, to the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale in the following year. There she was bought by Peter Doyle on behalf of owner Julie Wood for 320,000gns.

Wood gave her new purchase the auspicious name of Date With Destiny and put her into training with Richard Hannon snr.

Date With Destiny at Richard Hannon snr's stables in 2010

The filly possessed only a fragment of George Washington's talent but still managed to win a Newbury maiden on debut at two and to finish third in the Listed Lingfield Oaks Trial at three, with a best Racing Post Rating of 94.

At the end of Date With Destiny's three-year-old season in 2011 she was sold at Tattersalls for 185,000gns as a broodmare prospect to John Warren on behalf of leading British nursery Newsells Park Stud.

At Book 1 of the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale in 2014, ten years after George Washington himself had topped the sale, his first grandchild, a Galileo filly who was the debut foal out of Date With Destiny, came up for auction.

The Galileo filly out of Date With Destiny with groom Gerry Meehan as a yearling at Tattersalls

Newsells Park's investment in the dam paid off as Jamie McCalmont gave 650,000gns for the lot, who happily also had a bold white blaze, on behalf of American owner Jon Kelly.

The filly - subsequently named Beautiful Morning - was trained by Luca Cumani to finish fifth in the Fillies' Mile at two in 2015 and, after being switched to Jessica Harrington, finished second in the Group 2 Blandford Stakes and took the Listed John Musker Fillies' Stakes at Yarmouth this year.

Beautiful Morning: gained a valuable Listed victory at Yarmouth this year

The George Washington tale is taking extraordinary twists even ten years after his death. His infertility raised the threat of him leaving no offspring, and the one who did emerge was, serendipitously, a filly who would have more chance than a colt of ensuring his name persisted in pedigrees.

Indeed, Date With Destiny has now produced three female offspring of her own - besides Beautiful Morning, the two-year-old Nathaniel filly Janabiya and a Lope De Vega foal. She also has a yearling colt by Lope De Vega and was covered by Iffraaj this year.

And Beautiful Morning? She will come under the hammer as lot 1,866 at this year's Tattersalls December Mares Sale where, as a stakes winner by Galileo, she should be in hot demand as a breeding prospect. The George Washington seed is set to be dispersed farther and wider yet.


Mick Easterby's office kindly sent in a picture of the Lope De Vega yearling colt out of Date With Destiny, bought for 48,000gns at Tattersalls last month.

Is that a hint of the famous George Washington blaze we see? Let's hope he has inherited his grandfather's talent too.

If you enjoyed reading this, you might also like...

Galileo's daughters strengthening his legacy

The only rule with this unique sire is: there are no rules

Teofilo and Havana Gold a budding branch of Galileo sire-line

George Washington's quirks were well known but they only served to enhance his legend; he was enigmatic rather than ungenuine
E.W. Terms
Sky bet