In the first of our two Guineas blogs this week, guest blogger Grenville Davies tells the story of the 1975 2000 Guineas when Bolkonski and Gianfranco Dettori, Frankie Dettori’s father, were surprise winners at the Rowley Mile.
At the time of writing a dark cloud hangs over the Guineas, the only time in living memory that the meeting was in doubt was 1975, this though was because of a completely different set of circumstances. The 1970s are often remembered as a time of industrial disputes and horse racing was no different. The dispute was that a stable lad’s average wage was £28 (£236 today) and this would have been after long unsociable hours. With Newmarket being the centre of British racing, the strike naturally focused on Headquarters.
After months of negotiations, no resolution had been achieved, the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), called an all-out strike. This led to matters coming to a head at the Guineas meeting, with the 2,000 Guineas being the focal point.
The favourite was Grundy, trained by Peter Walwyn, affectionately known as Basil (after Basil Fawlty) and ridden by Pat Eddery. Grundy had finished 1974 as champion two-year-old, however, his three-year-old season did not have the best of starts, as he was kicked in the head on the gallops. Beaten on his seasonal debut in the Greenham, much better was expected of him in the Guineas.
Bad blood & bad potholes
Things though did not go the way as hoped by all. When the meeting opened on the Thursday, striking stable lads picketed both the entrance to the course and the start and Willie Carson was pulled off his horse, whilst some racegoers and jockeys including Lester Piggott charged the strikers. Blood was up on both sides and eventually, things calmed down but only after the police managed to clear the course.
Come Saturday and 2,000 Guineas day, the situation had eased or so it seemed. As dawn broke it became clear that the course had been vandalised in the night and there were 15 potholes in the course near the mile start. Due to the damage, the race had to be started by a flag and also 40 yards short of its given distance.
When the race eventually got underway (as the start had been delayed by 20 minutes due to striking stable lads) Frankie’s father was able to ease Bolkonski at the rear, taking-up the running as they came into the dip. The last furlong proved to be a duel between the winner and the runner-up Grundy.
At the line, Bolkonski prevailed by half a length as he became Henry Cecil’s first classic winner. Bolkonski wasn’t that well known to English racegoers, for his two-year-old season had been spent in Italy, where he had been one of their best juveniles, trained by Luca Cumani’s father. During the winter of 74-75 owner Carlo d’Alessio of Le Moss fame, decided to move Bolkonski to Newmarket to be trained by Henry Cecil, whose assistant was Luca Cumani. Frank Conlon, who now works at Palace House rode Bolkonski in all his work, felt that he wouldn’t be beaten in the Guineas, as he was not fully fit in the Craven when beaten into second. He also said that along with Zilzal he was the strongest puller he ever rode.
A Lucky Winner?
The feeling at the time was that Bolkonski at 33-1 was a lucky winner and had made the best of his circumstances. That may have been the case but that was due to the foresight of his jockey. Whilst on form, Grundy would prove himself to be the better horse by the end of the season, Bolkonski was certainly no back number,
Grundy would go on to win the Irish 2,000 Guineas, Derby and Irish Derby. But he would save his best till last - in what would be termed “The Race of the Century” - the King George VI Queen Elizabeth Stakes. After his titanic tussle with Bustino, he would only race once more when beaten at York. Ascot would not see a race of comparable measure until the 2019 running of the race.
Bolkonski would go on to cement his reputation with wins in the St James's Palace and Sussex Stakes. At stud, both of the protagonists never set the world alight, as Grundy would only breed of any note, Bireme the 1980 Oaks winner and Little Wolf the 1983 Ascot Gold Cup winner.
Bolskonki retires to stud
As for Bolskonki at stud, he never hit the heights that were hoped of him, whilst his lineage must have had breeders scratching their heads till they had bald patches. He was in-bred 4-3 to Nearco, by the sprinter Balidar. But the spanner in the works was his paternal grandsire Will Somers, whose most notable progeny was Sonny Somers a three-mile chaser, who needed knee-deep mud and in 1980 wrote his name in the record books by winning two races as an eighteen-year-old.
And they always say that breeding racehorses is more of an art than a science.
Blog by Grenville Davies