'I was Valentino Rossi when I rode her' - prolific Group 1 winner Goldikova dies
Goldikova, one of the outstanding racemares of the 21st century, has died at the age of 16.
Campaigned for five seasons by her owner-breeders Alain and Gerard Wertheimer and trained brilliantly by Freddy Head in Chantilly, Goldikova became the first horse to win the same Breeders' Cup race three times when landing the Mile in 2008, 2009 and 2010, performances which earned her election to the US Racing Hall of Fame in 2017.
Among a glittering 14 Group and Grade 1 victories during her career she also won the 2009 Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville by six lengths, as well as the 2010 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Those two performances were picked out by jockey Olivier Peslier, who said: "She was a great international champion and it is a great credit to the Wertheimers that they were sporting enough to keep her in training for so long.
"Alongside the Breeders' Cups, those wins at Royal Ascot and in the Marois stand out to me. At Deauville she just took off and her acceleration made me feel like a Formula One or a Moto GP guy. For a moment I was Valentino Rossi when I rode her."
Peslier, who rode Goldikova in every one of her 27 career starts, added: "She was one of the great international champions and to win 14 Group 1s is extremely rare.
"To have owners who kept her in training for the sport, when most good horses get retired, we were lucky that the Wertheimer brothers chose to enjoy her for so long on the track. It's something for which we must all say a big thank you.
"You have to savour all her great victories including of course her three Breeders' Cups. The Marois was special because it is extremely rare in France to have people go to the races to support a champion like that, fans who just wanted to see her win. They cheered and applauded in a way you get more often in England, it is not really in the French psyche.
"Royal Ascot was very special and her capacity to really accelerate was enormous, while she also had a great heart. When she picked up the bit she just went.
"I used to sit there, taking her back and then off she went. From her very first races we knew – wow! We had a crack on our hands and it was wonderful."
Wertheimer racing manager Pierre-Yves Bureau broke the news of Goldikova's death to French online racing daily Jour de Galop.
Head admitted that the atmosphere at his stable was very sombre on Wednesday morning.
"I am very sad and she was a very important part of my life," he told the Racing Post. "She ran until the age of six and was in my yard for five seasons so everyone is very down here today.
"She was a mare totally out of the normal run of things who had extraordinary physical attributes. She never had a day during her entire career when I had to stop with her, she was made of steel.
"She could take the training and the racing like very few horses can, she was exceptional."
Goldikova's remarkable record at the Breeders' Cup began as a three-year-old when Head took her to Santa Anita for her seventh start of the season and a length and a quarter defeat of Kip Deville.
She returned to California to repeat the trick at four, hitting the front inside the last 50 yards having been just eighth turning into the short Santa Anita straight.
And the hat-trick was completed under the historic twin spires of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
"To take a horse to America and win a race of that quality three years running was exceptional," said Head. "You have to be one of a kind to stay at the same level of form and have the same desire to win.
"She had quite a special character and you couldn't go near her in her box. But on the track she became kind and had an enormous will to do the job."
Head added: "Even in the mornings I saw her do some absolutely extraordinary work. She was like it right through her career. Most horses get to a time when they have given everything and become less generous. But to see her gallop in the mornings was still a thing of wonder. Thierry Blaise rode her throughout career in the mornings.
"She could do everything: she won all over the world; in France, in Britain in the States; over all sorts of trips and on straight and turning courses. It is such a rare thing to have a horse like her."
Most trainers lucky enough to have one such horse through their hands have little by way of comparison but Head's glittering career in the saddle means he is able to draw comparisons with another great champion mare, also trained in Chantilly by Francois Boutin.
"From my riding career the only horse that compares to her would be Miesque, who was an extraordinary mare," said Head. "Miesque was more precocious than her but you have to remember that Goldikova ran into Zarkava in the Poule d’Essai and the Prix de Diane.
"Without doubt I won't have another like her."
After her retirement following a brave third in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Mile, Goldikova produced seven foals, the best to date being her daughter by Galileo, Terrakova, who won the Group 3 Prix Cleopatre on just her second career start and finished third in the 2017 Prix de Diane Longines won by Senga.
She was not in foal this year but her two most recent offspring, the Dubawi filly Goldistyle and a Galileo colt who has just turned two named Lehman, are both in training with Carlos Laffon-Parias.