Advent blog: Angel of racing

19th December 2013

This advent blog comes from Museum friend, Tony Lake

Countess Margit Batthyany, a German steel heiress, had an ambition to become a leading owner and a figure in international racing. To fulfil that ambition, in 1971, she enticed Angel Penna, to train for her at Lamorlaye, Chantilly.  The forty eight year old, who had been champion trainer in his native Argentina, in 1952, and in Venezuela, in 1954, had also had a distinguished career in America, where his stakes winners included Bold Reason and Czar Alexander. Angel A. Penna, Sr was to take European racing by storm.

In his first season he pulled off a shock victory in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe with, the Countess owned and Freddie Head ridden, San San, with a well beaten Roberto back in seventh. In 1974, he won Europe’s most valuable prize again, with the brilliant filly Allez France, owned by his new employer, International Art dealer, Daniel Wildenstein. By the end that season Penna had become a leading trainer yet again, this time in France.


Allez France was undoubtedly the best horse he ever trained. As well as the Arc she won Prix de Diane (1973), Prix d'Ispahan (1973 & 1974) and Prix Ganay (1974 & 1975).

This truly international trainer, although enjoying incredible success in France, initially had a frustrating run of bad luck whenever he sent runners across to Britain. However, his luck changed when Lianga captured the 1975 July Cup at Newmarket, and in 1976 he plundered British prizes with a vengeance.

The year started promisingly when El Rastro (Bill Pyers) won the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury. Then, Penna fulfilled a promise he made in the winter to Wildenstein that he would win the first British fillies’ classic, the 1,000 Guineas, with Flying Water. After running away with the Nell Gywnn, she duly trotted up in the Guineas.  The Penna, Wildenstein and Yves St Martin team then went to Epsom with Pawneese, who romped away with the Oaks.  A few weeks later they returned to England with that filly and scooped  the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes.  Come the autumn, Wildenstein’s blue silks were seen in the winner’s enclosure again when Crow won the final classic, the St. Leger.


The remarkable Argentinian had won six races in Britain worth £240,819 with only four horses and was within reach of becoming leading trainer in Britain. To lift the title he pinned his hopes on Crow winning the Champion Stakes.  However, in a record field of nineteen, being drawn on the stand side thwarted all hope, and Henry Cecil was champion for the first time. As some consolation though, Penna’s patron Daniel Wildenstein was leading owner for the year.

In 1978, for many reasons, but particularly the responsibility and work involved in managing Wildenstein’s enormous string, Penna decided to return to America. Success continued unabated notably with Waya winning Turf Classic and Man O' War Stakes. He was soon hired by renowned owner Ogden Phipps for whom he trained Relaxing, the 1981 U.S. Champion Older Female and won a number of important stakes races. In 1988, Angel Penna, Sr. was inducted into the United States' National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.


Meanwhile, Daniel Wildenstein decided to have some of his horses trained in England and appointed Peter Walwyn as his trainer. Commenting on the news Lester Piggott made a prophetic remark, “Angel Penna will not be an easy man to follow.”