Excitement is starting to build with Glorious Goodwood less than a week away. But before we take a trip to the Sussex Downs, there’s the small matter of this Saturday’s King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes from Ascot.
First run in 1951, this is arguably the most prestigious Flat race of them all. The Group One, run at a mile and four furlongs has been won by middle-distance legends. The roll of honour is astounding, teeming with Derby, Oaks and Arc winners. Many of the sport’s greatest trainers have landed the spoils, including Andre Fabre, Henry Cecil, Sir Michael Stoute, the O’Brien’s both Vincent and Aidan and ‘The Major’ Dick Hern.
Outstanding jockeys have steered equine heroes to success. Multiple champion Sir Gordon Richards was victorious in 1953. French legend Yves Saint-Martin, landed the honours in the 60’s and 70’s. Lester Piggott won this race seven times over a period of three decades. And Kinane, Murtagh and Dettori have all tasted success in more recent times.
I mentioned the sensational roll of honour, and the 1970’s is a great place to start. In a particularly thrilling decade for the event, the list of winners includes; Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard, Grundy and Troy.
The winners in the 80’s were no less illustrious, and included the mighty Shergar, a dazzling Dancing Brave, Reference Point and Nashwan. The 1990’s saw success for Generous, Lammtarra and Daylami, whilst this century opened with an astounding performance by the wondrous Montjeu.
In recent times, we’ve been treated to stunning performances from Galileo, Dylan Thomas, Harbinger, Danedream, Novellist and Taghrooda. Last year it was the turn of Aidan O’Brien’s globetrotting star Highland Reel, to add his name to the remarkable list of King George heroes. He’ll be doing his utmost to make it two-in-a-row on Saturday, and is sure to be a tough nut to crack. But for now, I wanted to focus on past heroics from a quintet that took this prestigious event in quite sensational fashion.
It’s no exaggeration to call the first an equine legend. Nijinsky was trained in Ireland by Vincent O’Brien, and owned by American Charles W Engelhard Jr. The colt was from one of the earlier crops of outstanding American stallion Northern Dancer. As a juvenile Nijinsky was exceptional, winning all five starts, including the Dewhurst at Newmarket.
He opened his three-year-old campaign with victory at the Curragh, before cruising to victory in the 2,000 Guineas back at Newmarket. Facile victories in the Epsom and Irish Derby’s were to follow, before a date with the older generation in the King George at Ascot. A classy field was assembled, including the previous year’s Epsom Derby winner Blakeney. Nevertheless, the result was never in doubt, with Lester Piggott motionless on Nijinsky as he swept past the field in the closing stages. Poetry in motion, O’Brien’s sensational youngster was in a league of his own.
He went on to complete the Triple Crown with success at Doncaster in the St Leger. Possibly past his best after a lengthy campaign, his season ended with two defeats, though he was unfortunate to lose-out in the Arc. He was retired to stud having won 11 of his 13 career starts. Nijinsky was a powerful racehorse that glided across the turf. A sensational mover, he was one of the best.
During the summer of 1991, the Paul Cole-trained Generous routed classy fields in both the English and Irish Derby’s, before winning the King George by a record, seven lengths. Only fourth in the Guineas on seasonal debut, he was a different proposition when stepped-up to a mile and a half. His Grandsire was Nijinsky, and he undoubtedly inherited plenty of his grandfather’s class. I’d encourage everyone to watch the Ascot success on YouTube. It was truly a devastating performance, from an outstanding racehorse.
Similarities can be drawn between Nijinsky and the 2000 King George VI winner Montjeu. Another powerful looking colt from the Northern Dancer bloodline, he was also a wonderfully fluid mover. He made winning appear effortless, and as a three-year-old captured the Prix du Jockey Club, the Irish Derby and the Arc.
Thankfully, he remained in training at four, and after success in the Tattersalls Gold Cup and the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, he was sent-off a short-priced favourite for the Ascot showpiece. He did not disappoint, cruising to a stunning success, hammering the classy Fantastic Light in the process. It was a spectacular performance from a wonderfully talented colt.
The last of our ‘Fantastic Four’ came as something of a surprise when winning the 2010 renewal in such an extraordinary fashion. Second favourite to Epsom Derby winner Workforce, and shunned by jockey Ryan Moore, Harbinger proved to be one of the greatest winners of this prestigious showpiece. The acceleration he showed on turning for home was a sight to behold. He scorched clear to win by an astounding, 11 lengths, trouncing the Epsom Derby winner, the Irish Derby winner and an Arc runner-up.
He’d proved rather ordinary as a three-year-old, but as often is the case with Sir Michael Stoute inmates, he improved immeasurably at the age of four. Serious injury ended his career before a shot at the Arc. Timeform gave him a lofty rating, which on the evidence of the Ascot romp, was richly deserved.
And there you have it. I could have written about so many sensational winners of this wonderful race. But the four I chose, left an indelible mark, thanks to their extraordinary performances in winning this much-heralded contest.