1977 A Golden Year for Her Majesty - We look back at the dual Classic winning filly, Dunfermline.
1977 must have felt like all the planets had aligned, England defeated Australia in the Ashes Test Series, Liverpool won the European Cup and Red Rum won a record breaking third Grand National, whilst the Queen in her Silver Jubilee year famously landed two classics.
Bred by Her Majesty – Dunfermline was a plain looking bay filly by the 1967 2,000 Guineas and Derby winner Royal Palace, out of Strathcona who was also by a Derby winner in the 1960 champion St Paddy who had also won that year’s St. Leger. Dunfermline was never expected to set the world alight as a two-year-old. She ran three times as a juvenile, after making her debut at Sandown running third, she put up two eye-catching performances in finishing second both times, first of all in Doncaster’s May Hill behind Triple First, then to Miss Pinkie in Ascot’s Fillies Mile. With some justification, the Queen had a lot to look forward to racing-wise in her jubilee year, as did her trainer Major Dick Hern.
The Major was very much of the “old school” in that he believed the press were to be kept as far away as possible and were very much an unnecessary evil. This relationship was not helped by the controversial sacking in June 1976 of stable jockey Joe Mercer for the younger Willie Carson (albeit by only 8 years). Hern was considered by many to be as culpable as the stable’s owners Sir Michael Scobell and Lord Arnold Weinstock however, in truth he had little or no say in the matter, as like, Mercer he was just a paid employee.
Dunfermline started the way of many a respective Oaks candidate has down the years (most notably Ouija Board in 2004) with victory in Newmarket’s Pretty Polly Stakes. Four lengths away in second was Olwyn who later that year would go onto win the Irish Oaks.
Come Oaks day which then used to be run on a Saturday, Dunfermline started at 6-1. Many though considered her to be a fortunate winner, as the favourite Durtal bolted on the way to the start and those watching feared for jockey Lester Piggott’s safety as he was hung–up in the stirrups but just before she was about to collide with a set of wooden rails, Piggott was able to extricate himself.
At the business end of the race Dunfermline was all-out to beat the two Luca Cumani trained runners in Freeze the Secret ridden by Gianfranco Dettori (Frankie’s father pictured at the Heritage Centre recently) and Vaguely Deb.
The Irish Oaks at The Curragh were by-passed in favour of a tilt at the Yorkshire variety in mid-August only to disappoint in finishing third behind Busaca although the slow pace was totally against her; something that would be her undoing later in the season.
She would prove what a great filly she was though with her next outing. One of the best known maxims in racing is that when a filly starts to bloom in her coat, the improvement shown in her form can be likewise and Dunfermline was no different.
As staying was felt to be her strong suit, Doncaster’s St. Leger over one mile, 6 furlongs and an all too important 132 yards was seen as the logical progression. This race though was being seen as little more than an exercise canter for the Vincent O’Brien trained and Lester Piggott ridden Alleged. Unbeaten in five races the last of those being an easy success in York’s Great Voltigeur, long seen as the main trial race for the Leger. Alleged was expected to follow up at Doncaster and he was backed to do so starting a 7-4 on favourite.
Dick Hern with Willie Carson though formulated a plan to try to expose any weakness in Alleged’s armoury by making sure that the pace was a strong one. The Queen’s Gregarious tried to make the running and led until four furlongs out, when Alleged took the lead and set sail for home, only to be run down by Dunfermline with a furlong to go, much to the delight of those who had backed her at 10-1. Alleged’s trainer Vincent O’Brien was not at all pleased with Piggott’s riding and it was said that it was the only time he lost his temper with Piggott. One of O’Brien’s team summed it up best with – “Dunfermline didn’t have one pacemaker that day, she had two”.
Run on the first Sunday in October, the Prix de l’arc de Triomphe has long been seen as not just the one and an half mile European Championship but the World Championship. The 1977 running was going to be no different, as Balmerino had travelled all the way from New Zealand, although he was lodging temporarily with John Dunlop at his Arundel stables in Sussex. The main British interest lay with Dunfermline, who was attempting to round off the perfect year for Her Majesty with victory in Europe’s most prestigious all-age race. In opposition, again was her vanquished rival from the Leger - Alleged.
If his ride on Alleged in the Leger was not one of Piggott’s finest rides, his ride in the Arc was anything but, for it was pure artistry. Sensing from the off that there was no pace, Piggott sent Alleged straight to the front and proceeded to make all the running, as he gave a masterclass in how to ride a race from the front. Dunfermline had no sort of run at all and was only able to see daylight a furlong out, by which time both Alleged and the runner-up Balmerino were gone beyond recall. When she did see get out, she was able to use her stride and in another few yards she may well have finished third. You may well say that Dunfermline was a victim of circumstance, in any other year there would have been a fast pace instead of the dawdle that Piggott was able to dictate. We are only left to wonder if there had been a pacemaker for Dunfermline then the result may have different and Her Majesty might have experienced her finest moment in racing.
Dunfermline’s last start that year was back at Longchamp in the Prix Royal Oak (French St. Leger) but she could only finish third behind Rex Magna and Trillion. The latter would go onto finish second to Alleged in the 1978 Arc, as he became the first dual winner since Ribot in 1956, only Treve in 2013 and 2014 has done the double since.
Dunfermline was kept in training as a four-year-old which was very much an anti-climax, with her best performance being a second in Royal Ascot’s Hardwicke Stakes.
As she was stoutly bred great things were expected of her as a broodmare and in this sphere she was a disappointment.
Her best honour came eleven years after she died: - A Century of Champions by John Randall and Tony Morris rated Dunfermline a "great" Oaks winner and the eleventh best filly trained in Britain and Ireland in the 20th century”. When you consider the long list of great fillies trained in this country in that 100 year period, this puts her in illustrious company.
Blog by Grenville Davis