You could come up with a metric to figure out the worst Group 1 winners of recent times, writes Tony Keenan. Performance ratings on the day would be a good starting point while subsequent achievements matter too, as would those of the horses around and behind them. You could look at the nature of the race, knowing full well that certain Group 1s – those confined to fillies or over staying trips, say – are less competitive than others. But none of this is as much fun as trawling through the records of the 638 Group 1 winners since 2003 in Britain and Ireland and figuring out who the hell was that horse that won the Middle Park in 2009 (Awzaan, in case you didn’t know) and looking at what became of them.
2003 is taken as the starting point because that is as far back as the excellent HorseRaceBase database goes and it neatly coincides with the time I started following racing properly. This is an utterly subjective list and the idea behind it is not to offend; it needs pointing out that every bad Group 1 winner is s triumph for someone, be it trainer, jockey or breeder, the by-product of a certain set of circumstances on the day. And that’s basically what I’m doing: looking for horses that were patently inferior to the usual level required to win a Group 1 but who for whatever reason were able to maximise their ability in a narrow window of the mere minutes it takes to run a race.
Honourable Mentions: Rajeem – 2006 Falmouth (a Clive Brittain 50/1 special, need I say more!); Vintage Tipple – 2003 Irish Oaks (one for the sentimentalists but worth remembering that she and the filly she beat in the Oaks finished the season racing in a backend Curragh Listed contest); Camelot – 2013 Racing Post Trophy, 2014 2,000 Guineas, Derby and Irish Derby (surely one of the worst four-time Group 1 winners ever, beat Zip Top, French Fifteen, Main Sequence and Born To Sea in his Group 1 wins yet nearly went down as a great), Encke – 2014 St Leger (the one that stopped Camelot’s Triple Crown bid but later banned for positive drug test), Parish Hall – 2011 Dewhurst (immortalised for trying to give his nearest rival a love-bite on his penultimate start in 2015).
Jwala – 2013 Nunthorpe
Starting price isn’t the best guide to finding bad Group 1 winners with the biggest-priced winner in this period proving the point; that horse was 2010 Nunthorpe winner Sole Power at 100/1 who went on to triumph in five more top-level contests. He was third to the 40/1 shot Jwala this day with Shea Shea in second, the softened ground suiting neither, while the Robert Cowell-trained winner also benefited from an excellent ride with Steve Drowne making more or less all. Her previous best was a win in a Listed race, also at York, but this was a shock in a race that has produced a few over the years, the short distance and big field often bringing in some randomness. To Jwala’s credit she did back up her win with a good fourth in the Abbaye next time but that was one of the lesser runnings of the French race.
My Dream Boat – 2016 Prince of Wales’s Stakes
It is truth universally acknowledged in European racing that bad horses don’t win Group 1s over ten furlongs; races over this trip have long been the most competitive in the calendar. There are some lesser Group 1 over the distance, notably the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh and some of the early season French races, but by and large you need to be good to win one. My Dream Boat isn’t very good looking at his overall form and managed to find a particularly bad renewal of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes last year, a race that tends to be among the best of Royal Ascot. Soft ground meant a field of just six took part with A Shin Hikari looking nothing like the beast that had blown the Prix D’Ispahan apart by 10 lengths on his previous start. Found was in her phase of finishing second every time she ran while the rest of the field was made up of the doggish Western Hymn, a regressive The Grey Gatsby and all-weather horse Tryster. My Dream Boat loved the ground, Found didn’t love the battle and the rest is history.
La Collina – 2011 Phoenix Stakes/2013 Matron Stakes
Including a dual Group 1 winner is probably a bit churlish – can something be a fluke if it happens twice – but La Collina was just three from sixteen overall in her career and is one of those horses that seemed blessed with luck. Kevin Prendergast has won Group 1s with some strange horses, Termagant in the same colours for instance, many of whom never produce the same level of form again. La Collina was never better than when beating subsequent National Stakes and Irish 2,000 Guineas winner, Power, in the Phoenix Stakes, allowing that one was a sitting duck with how the race unfolded. Her Matron Stakes win got within a few pounds of that form but she was rated only 106 going into the race, very much at the low end of the spectrum of official ratings for older horse Group 1s, and the filly she beat was rated just 105.
Reel Buddy – 2003 Sussex Stakes
Connections of Reel Buddy didn’t think much of him in 2003, running him twice within three days over the Lincoln meeting at Doncaster where he was beaten a combined 46 lengths, and his best win prior to the Sussex was a Group 3. This was a race that set up well for him even before post time, Dubai Destination redirected for France while Kalaman and Where Or When came out that morning. The race itself was a mess pace-wise but Pat Eddery gave his quirky mount a fine ride and never used the stick. Goodwood is a track that gets a bad name in terms of luck-in-running but bad winners of the Sussex are rare with the Nassau at the same meeting more likely to produce a shock.
Frozen Fire – 2008 Irish Derby
Seamie Heffernan has made a career out of winning races he shouldn’t have and Frozen Fire was one of the early ones, landing an ordinary renewal of the Irish Derby where he came wide and avoided traffic that led to some of the placings being reversed. There were some decent horses in the field: Casual Conquest won a Group 1 afterwards while Tartan Bearer was second in a King George, but this was very much the high point of Frozen Fire’s career arc. The only other race he won was a Gowran Park maiden while he went on to show little with Mike De Kock. Returned 16/1 on the day, these big-priced O’Brien Group 1 winners rarely go on, with Homecoming Queen, Was and Qualify also failing to win again afterwards.
G Force – 2014 Haydock Sprint Cup
The Sprint Cup is the weakest of the UK’s Group 1 sprints and by some distance; in fact, the prospective Champion Sprinter will often miss the race for a later target. That has left the way clear for recent winners like Goodricke, Regal Parade and Markab to come from handicaps and while that’s clearly not a bad thing in itself, you probably don’t want to be heading back for handicaps afterwards. That’s exactly what has happened to G Force, excellent for peak David O’Meara in 2014, rumours circulating of his taking over the mantle at Ballydoyle in fact. G Force was found to be sub-fertile when sent to stud and is 13 starts without a win since the Sprint Cup. He was last seen at the Curragh on Saturday where he finished last in the Scurry Stakes, a handicap.
Madame Chiang – 2014 Fillies and Mares Stakes
British Champions Day is a brilliant idea and there have been some brilliant winners at the meeting, notably King Frankel and all his princes like Cirrus Des Aigles, Excelebration and Farhh. With any flat meeting run in October there is always the chance of really deep ground and freak results and so it proved in the second running of the Fillies and Mares as a Group 1 in 2014. The leaders went off far too hard and there was a pace collapse – the finishing speed for the winner was a crazy 94.4% - with the most talented filly in the field, Chiquita, going bananas [geddit?!] in the finish and earning the immortal in-running comment ‘threw it away’. The mud-loving Madame Chiang was there to pick up the pieces having been dropped out completely.
Pether’s Moon – 2015 Coronation Cup
Trainers and owners might be willing to chance their best three-year-olds at Epsom, the prestige of the Oaks and Derby outweighing the obvious risk of the track, but with the notable exception of Aidan O’Brien and some French handlers many seem less keen on running their older horses in races like the Coronation Cup. Such wariness reached its peak in the 2014 Coronation Cup where just four went to post and the market was dominated by Dolniya and Flintshire; this was the pre-US Flintshire however. It was more a race Dolniya lost than anything else, emptying in the finish having traded at 1/50 in running, and Pether’s Moon came through to win, his previous best effort having come in the Bosphorus Cup at Veliefendi. Incidentally, he was the Hannons’ first Group 1 winner over further than a mile since Assessor in the 1992 Prix Royal-Oak.
Palace Episode – 2005 Racing Post Trophy
Doncaster stages two of the weakest Group 1s of the season in the St. Leger and the Racing Post Trophy and it would challenge even the best racing historian to list off the last 20 winners of each race. The ground was heavy in October 20o5 which helped Palace Episode’s case and hindered that of Dylan Thomas who was to prove much the best horse in the field but who didn’t operate on soft. Palace Episode was quirky, flashing his tail in the finish, and won just once in the rest of his career, in a Saratoga claimer. His career at stud proved little better.
Pedro The Great – 2012 Phoenix
There have been some eminently forgettable winners of the Phoenix Stakes like Sudirman, Alfred Nobel and Dick Whittington, but none more than so the unfortunately named Pedro The Great. His immediate victims on the day were the ungenuine pair Leitir Mor and Lottie Dod, the former 2/32 in his career though he did at least act as a pacemaker for Dawn Approach, the latter 1/14 lifetime and rated 89 when last seen. Pedro The Great’s task was eased when his stablemate Cristoforo Colombo slipped up while the other fancied runner Probably found little. Soft ground and Irish Group 1s can throw up some weird results.
As I've said, this is a subjective list and no offence is intended. If you disagree, or feel another has a legitimate claim to top ten 'bragging' rights, leave a comment below.
- Tony Keenan