The Juddmonte International is one of the premier middle distances races in the world and its glossary of winners include the mighty Frankel in 2012, Sea the Stars, Troy and the dual winning filly Dahlia. First run in 1972 our latest blog by Grenville Davies recalls the history-making first running of the ten furlong contest which featured Roberto and Brigadier Gerard at the Knavesmire.
At the beginning of the 1970s, three horses stood like a colossus above all else. One of those was Nijinsky who had won the Triple Crown in 1970 and just like London buses two more would be right behind. We only had to wait a year, for two three-year-olds who would even surpass his lofty rating. Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard who only met the once – in the 1971 2,000 Guineas over a mile and whilst the Brigadier ran out an emphatic winner, there was still a sense of unfinished business about the race and everyone looked forward to a re-match. Later form would prove that the Brigadier was best over a mile and Mill Reef’s forte would prove to be over a mile and a half. Fast forward to 1972 and it was hoped that all roads would lead to York for their Ebor Meeting in August, as the racecourse had just instituted a new race, the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup, now the Juddmonte International, their intention was to entice those two titans for a winner takes all head-to-head over a mile and a quarter. Unfortunately, illness and later injury would curtail Mill Reef’s career and he would not see the racecourse again after his 1972 Coronation Cup win at that year’s Derby meeting.
Enter stage left, Roberto, who had won the Derby a day earlier than Mill Reef had won the Coronation Cup. Roberto was trained by that Master of Ballydoyle, Vincent O’Brien and was controversially ridden to his Derby victory by Lester Piggott. In the meantime though he had been well beaten in the Irish version, so Piggott decided to desert him in favour of the Epsom second Rheingold, the 7-2 second favourite. Roberto was very much an American bred horse being by Hail to Reason out of Bramalea and was owned and bred by John Galbreath, who upon Piggott’s desertion needed a jockey, so his American based jockey Braulio Baeza was flown over. Roberto was named after the Baseball star Roberto Clemente who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that Galbreath owned.
If Roberto had the best of American blood coursing through his veins, Brigadier Gerard was bred on a budget, being by the miler Queen’s Hussar out of La Pavia, he did though have Pretty Polly as his fifth Grand Dam. Named after the Conan Doyle character Brigadier Gerard who was a Hussar in the French army, he took all before him on the racecourse, just like his namesake. He achieved a Timeform rating of 144, the highest of any British trained horse and joint best overall with Seabird, until Frankel in 2012. In so doing the Brigadier had won the Middle Park, Guineas, Champion Stakes, Eclipse and had achieved two victories at Royal Ascot. Prior to his York race, he broke new ground by running in Ascot’s King George VI Queen Elizabeth Stakes over a mile and a half, where only class and down-right courage got him home in front, for the last furlong he was running on fumes.
At York the ground was good to firm, which was all that Brigadier Gerard’s connections could have hoped for, as he was a far better horse when the going was fast, conditions that also suited Roberto and as form would later prove, best on a left-handed track. No sooner had the stalls opened, Roberto a forlorn 12-1 chance, went straight to the front and attempted to make every post a winning one. Nearly thirty years later I got to meet his jockey at an event in Saratoga and I asked him about Roberto and that race, Braulio said that they thought they would be running for second but was told to try and make the running as it was felt that a different jockey may liven him up a bit and the fast ground would definitely suit him. The nearest the Brigadier, favourite at 1-3 got to him was a length and by the time the line was reached Roberto was three lengths to the good and had also set a new course record (photo above). What’s often forgotten is that the Brigadier also broke the old course record as well.
Of all upsets in the history of racing, none has undergone so much scrutiny as this one. So, what caused his defeat, well there’s the famous quote from the owner’s wife – Jean Hislop “Roberto must have been stung by a Bee”, then there’s Joe Mercer who rode him in all of his eighteen races, saying his horse was sick and mucus came out of his nose when he returned to the stables. It may just have been that the twelve furlongs of the King George took the edge off him. Then again there’s just the possibility, that they met an underrated Derby winner on a going day, when he had all the conditions to suit. What is known, Gold Rod finished a long looking ten lengths back in third, he had met the Brigadier four times previously and the form between those two horses stands up, the furthest that Gold Rod had finished behind him was ten and half lengths.
Roberto’s only subsequent triumph was in the 1973 Coronation Cup, which he won by an easy five lengths in another course record.
As regards the Brigadier he ran twice more, first of all in Ascot’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, in which he set a course record. His final race came in the Champion Stakes, then run at Newmarket, completing a record of 18 starts with one solitary defeat.
Their careers at stud dovetailed alarmingly, Roberto’s was one of outstanding success, through the likes of Lear Fan, Kris S and Silver Hawk. Brigadier Gerard’s was complete opposite with only one classic victory in Light Cavalry, although he does appear in the lineage of American Pharaoh, so hopefully his influence will live as long as his memory.
Photo of finish courtesy of Timeform and Alec Russell.
Blog by Guest blogger Grenville Davies.
If you enjoyed this blog and would like to learn more about the fascinating history of horse racing, why not visit Palace House, Newmarket. Tickets here