Steve Dennis picks ten racing legends who were trained in Yorkshire
First published on Monday, August 10, 2015
Trained at Middleham by Bob Johnson.
A small, delicately made mare who developed a fervent public following as her career waxed, Beeswing combined longevity and ability in equal measure and was practically invincible in the north, winning 51 of her 64 races. She won the Doncaster Cup four times, retiring on a high at her favourite track after gaining her fourth win in the race, but her finest hour came on a rare foray down south when victorious in the 1842 Gold Cup at Ascot, becoming the oldest winner of the race in its long history.
Belatedly retired to stud, she produced two Classic winners from six foals of racing age. There was a Group 3 named in her honour at Newcastle, where she won six Cups, but it has been discontinued and her name now adorns a handicap.
THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (1846-70)
Trained at Middleham by John Fobert.
The Flying Dutchman earned his place in racing legend when defeating his local rival Voltigeur in a match at York that drew 150,000 spectators, but even without that garnish his reputation would have been secure.
Unbeaten in five races at two, the brown son of Bay Middleton made his first start at three in the Derby, splashing through the mud to win by half a length. Later that season he ran out an easy winner of the St Leger, and it wasn't until the autumn of his four-year-old campaign that he was beaten for the first time, his only defeat in 15 races.
Hubris had a hand in it. His regular rider Charlie Marlow had too much to drink before the Doncaster Cup, shouted, "I'll show you what I've got under me today!" and set his mount alight from the start. Out on his feet in the closing stages, The Flying Dutchman was caught and beaten half a length by Voltigeur.
The following May the two horses met again in the 'Great Match', in which a sober Marlow restrained The Flying Dutchman – who was conceding weight-for-age to his rival – until delivering him with an irresistible challenge at the furlong pole. The Flying Dutchman won by a length and was immediately retired.
Trained at Richmond by Robert Hill.
Overshadowed by his contemporary and countyman The Flying Dutchman, Voltigeur was a high-class horse in his own right despite the defeats of his latter career lending a patchy look to his record.
Unusually lightly raced at two, winning his only start, Voltigeur was an intended runner in the Derby until it was found that his entry fees had not been paid. His owner Lord Zetland determined not to run, until a deputation of his tenants begged him to reconsider as they had wagered heavily on the son of Voltaire and would be ruined if he were withdrawn. Voltigeur ran and won, and added the St Leger to his laurels after deadheating with Russborough and winning the subsequent run-off. Two days later he beat The Flying Dutchman and the sozzled Marlow in the Doncaster Cup.
His defeat in the 'Great Match' (see above) marked a watershed in Voltigeur's fortunes, and he won only once more. He was well beaten in the Gold Cup at Ascot and in the Ebor Handicap at York; before the sweat had cooled on his back he was sent out for a five-furlong Plate and predictably finished last. He was not a great horse, despite his name being attached to York's St Leger trial.
Trained at Middleham by Matt Peacock.
It is 70 years since Dante became the last northern-trained winner of the Derby, and his name is brought out and dusted off whenever the great race contains a similar contender. Yet if Lady Luck had looked more warmly upon him, he might have been the north's last Triple Crown winner.
Dante was the brilliant champion two-year-old of 1944 on the strength of a brilliant and unbeaten six-race campaign that included the Coventry and Middle Park Stakes. He was a hot favourite for the 2,000 Guineas, but lost the race and his unbeaten record by a neck to Court Martial. An unfavourable draw was one reason offered, another was the fact that he'd had an interrupted preparation, but the clincher was a recently sustained eye injury that eventually led to his becoming totally blind. Dante probably did not see Court Martial coming.
The Nearco colt returned to Newmarket for the last wartime Derby and ran out a thoroughly convincing two-length winner under Billy Nevett – Court Martial was third – before being prepared for the St Leger. However, three weeks before the race he was reported as having unspecified training problems and was withdrawn from the race. He never ran again.
Phil Bull, another Yorkshire titan, said of Dante: "He was one of the best horses of the century."
SEA PIGEON (1970-2000)
Trained at Great Habton by Peter Easterby.
Horseracing is founded on difference of opinion, but there are precious few who will disagree with the notion that Sea Pigeon was the best dual-purpose horse of all time, and one of the best-loved horses of the last 50 years.
Bred to win a Derby, Sea Pigeon was not of that class but the scintillating turn of foot gleaned from those Flat genes stood him in good stead throughout his long and enormously distinguished career. He won two Chester Cups and an Ebor – under 10st, by a fraction of an inch, a race which the few who saw it will never forget – on the Flat, and in the golden age of hurdlers proved himself 24-carat when winning the Champion Hurdle in 1980 and 1981 after finishing second in the previous two years.
His victory in 1981, at the age of 11, is famous for the exaggeratedly patient tactics employed by jockey John Francome, who waited until the last 100 yards to ask his gallant mount for his effort. "He is quite simply the best horse I have ever ridden," he said afterwards.
Sea Pigeon's other victories included the Fighting Fifth Hurdle (twice) and the Scottish Champion Hurdle (twice), when that race was a mightier contest than it is today. His versatility and attitude endeared him to all who saw him race.
NIGHT NURSE (1971-98)
Trained at Great Habton by Peter Easterby.
For all his brilliance, Sea Pigeon was not the best hurdler in his yard. That honour goes to Night Nurse, widely regarded as the greatest ever exponent of the genre. An entirely different horse to his stablemate, the boldjumping bludgeon to Sea Pigeon's rapier, Night Nurse was an out-and-out champion.
A doughty front-runner, he won the Champion Hurdle twice (1976, 77). His first victory was part of a ten-race winning streak that included the equivalent races in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and on the second occasion he accounted for the strongest field ever assembled for the race – any of the first seven home would have been a worthy winner in any year.
Less than three weeks after his second championship Night Nurse produced, ratings-wise, the greatest performance by any hurdler when giving 6lb to the almost-as-magnificent Irish streetfighter Monksfield and running him to a dead-heat in the Templegate Hurdle at Aintree.
Over fences he was almost as good, and narrowly missed becoming the first horse to win both of jump racing's crowns when beaten a length and a half by stablemate Little Owl in the 1981 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
He and Sea Pigeon were buried at Great Habton under a stone that reads simply 'Legends in their lifetime'.
SILVER BUCK (1972-84)
Trained at Harewood by the Dickinson family.
The Dickinsons – father Tony, mother Monica, son Michael – oversaw an almost endless production line of high-quality horses from their base near Leeds in the late 1970s and early '80s, with Silver Buck among the first and best.
His defeat of Night Nurse in the 1979 Embassy Premier Chase Final at Haydock was a remarkable spectacle – some called it 'the race of the century', but we have been there before – and the first definitive display of Silver Buck's talent. At the other end of the year 'Bucket' won his first King George VI Chase – trained by Tony - and 12 months later completed a double – now trained by Michael - despite idling in front, as was his wont, a trait that initially denied him wider recognition of his brilliance.
Victory in the 1982 Cheltenham Gold Cup set the seal on his marvellous career - he also won the Edward Hanmer Memorial Handicap Chase at Haydock four years running, an important race then - and the following season he played his part in the yard's 'Famous Five' Gold Cup, finishing fourth behind Bregawn. On his premature death while still in training, he had won 30 of his 40 races over fences.
WAYWARD LAD (1975-2003)
Trained at Harewood by the Dickinson family.
Now that Kauto Star has five and Desert Orchid four, the three victories of Wayward Lad in the King George VI Chase might suffer in contrast - but they shouldn't, for the tall, strikingly dark bay was one of the cornerstones of the Dickinson family's success.
If his reserves of stamina had enabled him to fully see out the extended distance of the Cheltenham Gold Cup he might have become one of the all-time greats, but he was essentially a three-miler through and through. He came closest in 1986, when Dawn Run – in receipt of the new mares' allowance – collared him at the last gasp; three years earlier he'd played a supporting role in the 'Famous Five' Gold Cup, finishing third.
Instead, Wayward Lad made the King George his own, winning Kempton's Christmas highlight three times (1982, '83, '85) and becoming the first horse to do so. His first victory was one of 12 wins on the day for trainer Michael, a world record that still stands.
In his final season his form deteriorated – he was well beaten at Kempton and Cheltenham – but he left the stage with a perfectly timed, widely applauded flourish when victorious at Aintree on his last outing.
Trained at Richmond by Bill Watts.
This gelding has claims to being one of Yorkshire's finest exports – at least in the frame behind Hovis and Sheffield steel – on the strength of his game-changing victory in the 1985 Arlington Million in Chicago.
At the time geldings were barred from most Group 1 races in Britain, but Teleprompter – always adorned with a pair of black blinkers and a sheepskin noseband - had proved his stature with a string of victories including the Britannia Handicap, Prix Quincey and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (then a Group 2), beating Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Katies.
The mile and a quarter in Chicago was the far extent of his stamina and rain had turned the ground tacky, but the tight track and the solicitous waiting-in-front tactics of rider Tony Ives mitigated those concerns and Teleprompter turned in a tour de force, leading all the way and capably fending off the late charge of Greinton by three-quarters of a length.
In one race Teleprompter had earned five times more prize-money than he'd amassed hitherto, and his transatlantic excursion helped effect a change of the rules. The following year, geldings were allowed to run in nearly all the weight-for-age European Group 1s.
Teleprompter made good use of his new freedom, finishing third in the 1986 Eclipse behind stars Dancing Brave and Triptych.
DOUBLE TRIGGER (1991- )
Trained at Middleham by Mark Johnston.
In the early 1990s the staying division was uninteresting, unpopular, dying a slow death. By the end of the decade it was exciting, appreciated, resurrected. Much of the credit for this transformation can go to a white-blazed, white-footed chestnut whose courage and durability revitalised the Cup races.
Double Trigger's record makes for remarkable reading. He won a Gold Cup and twice finished runner-up in the race, he won three Doncaster Cups and three Goodwood Cups, completing the stayers' 'triple crown' in his annus mirabilis of 1995. Yet simply to look at the results is to miss what made Double Trigger the horse he was - his indomitable courage and generosity of spirit.
His front-running style of racing accentuated his tenacity, and his duel with his brother Double Eclipse in the 1995 Goodwood Cup will live long in the memory. That effort was surpassed, however, at the Sussex track three years later on his penultimate start, when he turned certain defeat three furlongs out into uplifting victory in the last 100 yards.
"That's the only time I've been involved in a horse where the public were running from the stands to get to the winner's enclosure to see him," said trainer Mark Johnston.
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