'It was easier to beat the Japanese in the 90s but not now'
The Newmarket trainer, 71, looks back on the races that left a deep impression
1965 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe
It was the most staggering performance by Sea-Bird. I'd only listened to his Derby win on the wireless, so this was the first time I'd actually seen him, albeit on the TV.
The way he played with Reliance and Diatome, first and second in the French Derby, Tom Rolfe, the American champion, and Anilin, the best horse Russia had ever produced – it's a memory that will never fade. Even when he started lugging towards the stands rail he was still going further and further away from them.
It was the most astounding performance I was to see until Frankel came on the scene nearly 50 years later.
After working for Pat Rohan at Malton for three years I came to Doug Smith in Newmarket in 1968. He'd just completed his first season and done well. Then in January '69 Lord Rosebery's trainer, Jack Jarvis, died. Lord Rosebery asked Doug to train his horses out of Jack's yard and Doug made me his assistant.
Some of the staff we inherited were in their 80s. Jack couldn't bring himself to retire them. One old boy called Ted used to come in and do just one horse. Then there was another old work rider who kept asking for time off to go to funerals. It was only when he asked to attend his mother-in-law's funeral for a second time that I discovered he was going to the races to put money on for himself and the lads.
Lord Rosebery was about 90. He was a good cricketer in his younger days, he played for Surrey. He had won all the Classics except the Oaks, so it was especially pleasing when Sleeping Partner won the race for him that summer. She was ridden by John Gorton, who Jack Jarvis had brought over from South Africa where he used to go on holiday every winter. It was great for Doug too, his first Classic.
1973 Burmah Castrol Ayr Gold Cup
I bought Blue Cashmere as a yearling and paid a lot of money for him, 9,000gns.
I'd won the Stewards' Cup with Alphadamus and about ten days before the Ayr Gold Cup we did a serious bit of work with the two of them. After it I thought Blue Cashmere would be unlucky not to win. The owner liked a punt and it wasn't against my religion either. We were well drawn and didn't have too many anxious moments. He won by three lengths.
To win both those big sprints in my second season was great for morale in the yard, especially as those handicaps got much more publicity then than they do now. They and others like the Wokingham, the Lincoln and the Cambridgeshire were really big. You aimed for those races much more then than you do now.
Talking of the Ayr Gold Cup, in 1978 we took Vaigly Great up there. I said to Grev [Greville Starkey] "I'm worried about the draw". He said "I wouldn't mind if he was drawn in the f**king car park; he'll win!" And he did, easily. That was Grev in his pomp.
1996 Breeders' Cup Turf
This was a really nice family affair – my brother, Douglas, who lives in Toronto and was dean of the cathedral at the time came along. My nephew flew up from Barbados and Doug's son was there too.
Prior to that I'd had frustrations with the Breeders' Cup. Shadeed found the track too tight at Aqueduct and Zilzal had a disaster at Gulfstream. So it wasn't working for us. But we went to Woodbine with two great chances in the Turf with Pilsudski and Singspiel. I couldn't split them before the race.
We were in a great position with both of them throughout and it looked as if Singspiel would win when they kicked for home but Walter [Swinburn] was following him on Pilsudski as was the plan and they got the better of Singspiel inside the final furlong. It was great to finally crack it. We were very fond of both horses. They'd both been in the yard as yearlings and were now ‘men'.
Nowadays even more horses are racing as four- and five-year-olds, although one man who doesn't keep his high-class fillies in training is Sheikh Hamdan. He doesn't want them to endure more stress. He's very firm about it and feels they have done enough at the end of their three-year-old days.
Personally I don't think there's any harm in them continuing to race longer providing you're not too tough on them. Race them hard, though, and I'm sure it reduces their chances of success as broodmares.
Pilsudski's win was great for his owners, Ballymacoll Stud, because Simon Weinstock, who ran the operation, had died six months earlier and his father, Lord Weinstock, was wavering over whether to continue the family's association. I think this big win contributed a lot towards his decision to carry on.
Singspiel had some Lasix, Pilsudski did not. I won't administer it if a horse has never showed any hint of bleeding. If they have then I will. I'm very much one for 'when in Rome', although I do subscribe to the view that in the long term it is bad for the breed.
I love international travel but it's hard on the horses, particularly in Australia. You have to be meticulous in the attention you give them. The length of the flight has a big bearing. They all lose weight through dehydration, some a lot more than others.
Then there's the quarantine. In Japan the quarantine place is five hours from the track. I think they enjoy making the most of home advantage! I won't go back there until they change that arrangement.
Although Pilsudski and Singspiel both won Japan Cups neither was at his best. Since those days the Japanese horses have improved enormously and the best are now world class. It was easier to beat them in the 90s but not now.
2012 Qipco Champion Stakes
This was Frankel's final race. This was the horse who was keeping Henry [Cecil] alive. I'd see him most days and sometimes I'd wonder how he'd managed to get out of bed. Henry was a very ill man.
When the rain came I was really concerned for him. In my book he made a brave call to run because Cirrus Des Aigles was one of the best horses I've ever seen on soft ground. He could quicken through it. He was a big, heavy b**ger and when it rains at Ascot the ground becomes like a bag of liquorice allsorts and they can go in pretty deep.
I thought Frankel would be very vulnerable. He'd never run in ground as bad as that. I was just praying this would end well. And then what happens? He misses the kick. You don't want to be giving lengths away at the start to this sort of field. Anyhow it worked out, just.
It was the Henry show with his favourite horse. The best horse with the best engine I've ever seen. He had such sheer natural talent. This was Henry's masterpiece. He was one of the greatest trainers for many years and Frankel extended his life. It was very emotional. I didn't want to make a big fuss but I found a moment to give him a quick thumbs-up. I was so relieved for him.