Bahram & The Aga Khan III

6th October 2016

This week's blog is an exclusive extract from  Peter Corbett's book Bahram & The Aga Khan III.  The book was published on the 5th October and is now available in the Heritage Centre shop. The piece below  covers a summary of the 1935 Triple Crown winner, Bahram's career.

Frank Butters wrote the following to Eric Rickman; “Bahram was certainly the best horse I ever trained and I shall be extremely fortunate if I ever have another like him.  He was very lazy, which is a common characteristic among the good ones.  He would do just sufficient to win his races and was even less inclined to exert his real merit in his work at home.  If it had been my custom to keep a trial book, nothing I could have noted in it would have shown the true Bahram, because no gallop ever tested him entirely”.

A gross or heavy-topped horse that is also lazy is difficult to get fully fit and maintain in that condition.  However, Bahram though perfectly proportioned and of considerable quality, could be described as light whilst in training and did not put on superfluous weight.  The art of training lies largely in the preparation of each individual horse according to their needs and giving them the correct amount of work to build them up physically and mentally.  In this respect Bahram was probably not a difficult horse to train despite his laziness.

He was fit enough to win on his two year-old debut and, although Butters had wanted  to give him a  preliminary race, he was able to win the Two Thousand Guineas first time out as a three year old.  He had two races; the Derby and the St James’s Palace Stakes, close together and then he was off the course for three months before the St Leger.  These are long absences and would not have suited many horses and it is to both Butters and Bahram’s credit that he was turned out tuned to the minute for each race.

Plenty of the Newmarket “touts” did not think Bahram had done enough work to win the Two Thousand Guineas.  Before a horse is given canter or gallop he is trotted.  It was Bahram’s habit to cough once or twice each morning before starting to trot.  This initially caused concern but when it became clear that this was simply an idiosyncrasy, and not a symptom of any ailment, it was ignored. He did, however, fall a victim to the epidemic of coughing just before the St Leger.

Although Bahram was quite a light-framed sort when in full training, Quintin Gilbey said he had two magnificent “ends” and was one of the most beautiful movers he had ever seen.  He wrote.... “Although a horse of magnificent constitution and of equable temperament, Bahram required careful training in that a race would lighten him up terribly.  When he appeared for the St James’s Palace Stakes at Ascot thirteen days after the Derby, he must have weighed many stones lighter than he did on Derby Day; after a race he always required building up again”.

bahram Bahram winning on the Derby at Epsom

Gilbey considered Bahram’s win in the Two Thousand Guineas to be amongst the best performances he ever saw.  This is not surprising as Theft produced a performance that would have won many other renewals.  Of Bahram’s other three-year old performances he wrote “Bahram’s task in the Derby was, I think considerably easier.  Theft at a mile and half was but a shadow of what Theft is at a mile, and the rest of the opposition was not of any great account judged by classic standards. No horse however, could have won the race more fluently than he did.  By Ascot he had run up very light and his victory in the St James’s Palace Stakes was not particularly impressive but he ran on with great gameness when Fox got at him, though just for a stride or two I had a vision that something frightful was going to happen”.

Gilbey continued, “In the St Leger he put up a glorious display.  When a horse wins that easily there are always a number of detractors who declare he beat nothing.  Maybe the horses opposed to Bahram at Doncaster were not the most brilliant we have seen, but they were the best we had.  Bahram during his glorious career could do no more than win and keep on winning.  As a true son of Blandford there was nothing flash or spectacular about his victories, they were simply the outcome of a great and sensible horse who always gave of his best at the moment his jockey called upon him”.

It seems that with hindsight some observers felt Bahram may have been underestimated.  Writing in 1968 Franco Varola observed “We find that commentators have now been regretting for many years that there has not being another Bahram after 1935 in England.  Not only because no other colt has been capable of winning the Triple Crown, but also because there has not been another horse which could convey the same impression of absolute physical excellence, of a perfectly balanced specimen, which is at the same time towering above its contemporaries”.

aga-khan Aga Khan III

Along similar lines in 1970 John Hislop wrote “As with men, posterity can be unduly eulogistic or harsh. Thus, to take a couple of the late Aga Khan’s famous horses as an example, Tulyar was over-rated and Bahram’s merit never fully recognised.  Often a horse’s true merit is not immediately evident.  He may run up an impressive succession of victories against moderate horses, and himself be really good, or only a little better than those defeated by him”.

Neither Bahram nor Tulyar beat truly outstanding horses; Theft was probably the best horse either ran against, but Bahram, who was unbeaten, was the best two year old of his year and won the St Leger in near record time, despite being eased a long way from home.  Tulyar, on the other hand won only a couple of nurseries as a juvenile and none of his performances at three match the intrinsic merit of Bahram’s St Leger.

In conclusion it is clear that Bahram was a truly great racehorse one that can truly be described amongst Twentieth Century Thoroughbreds as sui generis; just how great will never be known.  Neither his trainer Frank Butters, his regular jockey Freddie Fox nor any of his work riders ever knew the limit of his ability.  In this respect Bahram can be bracketed with the great St Simon; when his trainer Matt Dawson was asked if he was a truly great stayer he replied “I really don’t know; no horse ever went fast enough to find out!”

There is an old equestrian saying that “there is no secret so close as that between a rider and his horse”; well there is:  it is the secret of the true extent of his ability that Bahram kept from all that were privileged to be connected with him and ultimately, it was secret known only by the horse himself and his maker.

To find out more click here.