Was Tudor Minstrel the greatest 2000 Guineas Winner before Frankel? Find out about his career in this blog by Grenville Davies.
When Frankel won the 2011 Two Thousand Guineas, he won it in such a manner that left racegoers rubbing their eyes in disbelief and wonderment at what they had just witnessed and had form students scanning their record books for a similar performance where one horse had destroyed a field of such quality. Well they had to go back to 1947, for Frankel’s six-length victory was very much reminiscent of Tudor Minstrel’s success – yes it was seventy years ago this month.
Tudor Minstrel was bred by his owner Mr. J. A. Dewar and from the moment he set foot on a racecourse he, had breeding analysts scratching their heads wondering if he was bred to stay a mile and a half? He was by a war-time Derby and Gold Cup winner Owen Tudor, whilst his dam Sansonnet was the best of her year as a two year old. She was by the 1924 Derby winner Sansovino out of Lady Juror (who herself had won the Jockey Club Stakes). His grand-dam Lady Juror is a half-sister to Mumtaz Mahal, who was one of the fastest two-year-olds that the British turf has seen.
Like all the owner’s horses, he went into training with Fred Darling at Beckhampton.
Tudor Minstrel made his debut at Bath in 1946 and whilst the opposition were not out of this world, somebody must have known that he was the real-deal, as he went off a well backed 5-2 on favourite and had little trouble in winning by five lengths. In his next race he was stepped up in class and ran in Salisbury’s Foal Stakes and won by an easy eight lengths at odds of 10-1 on. Next stop was the Coventry Stakes which was then run over five furlongs at Royal Ascot, which he won as he liked by four lengths at odds of 13-2 on, the shortest price ever in more than 120 year history of the race. This victory also happened to be the second of three consecutive wins in the race for his rider Gordon Richards. He finished his season with another easy win in the National Breeders Produce Stakes at Sandown. The decision to retire him for the season was probably due to the ill health of his trainer, as he entered a nursing home to recuperate and the trainer’s brother Sam took over the licence. The two could not be more different in character. Where Fred Darling could have written the handbook on how to be a martinet, his brother was more approachable and generous of spirit.
Having grown during the winter, Tudor Minstrel now stood at nearly 16 hands. His seasonal debut was yet again at Bath and it was little more than an exercise gallop over seven furlongs.
The 2,000 Guineas promised to be a lot harder though, for up against him would be Petition. Like Tudor Minstrel, he had won at Royal Ascot, in the New Stakes (now the Norfolk). He also added the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood, York’s Gimcrack and the Champagne at Doncaster to his CV. On his three-year-old debut he had routed the opposition by ten lengths at Hurst Park over seven furlongs, behind him that day was Sayajirao who would go on to be third in the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and ultimately win the St. Leger. There was a lot of confidence behind Petition, unfortunately, as circumstances were to prevail, the hopes and belief of his connections would be misplaced; Petition dashed the tapes, fell back and unseated his jockey. He seemed to be alright but as it turned out, he had injured himself and ran no sort of race. Whether or not he could have stayed with Tudor Minstrel of course can never be known.
Tudor Minstrel was in no mood to be beaten and at half-way he was six lengths clear, at the line he was eight lengths to the good and the only exertion his jockey Gordon Richards had to do on him was to pat him on the neck as he passed the post.
No sooner does a Guineas winner cross the line than all the talk starts on whether or not he’ll win the Derby or in most cases has he got the stamina to stay the extra half a mile. As the breeding of Tudor Minstrel has shown, he was to be no exception. The annual decision as to whether the Guineas winner should take his chance was made easier, as Blue Train (Blue Peter ex. Sun Chariot) got badly jarred up in winning the Newmarket Stakes and was never able to run again.
Come the Derby, the world and his dog seemed to be on Tudor Minstrel and he started favourite at 7-4 on (the shortest for over forty years). All of this left trainer Fred Darling no option but to install 24-hour security to prevent any attempted nobbling of his horse. This was in an era when many a big race favourite was suspected of being a victim of the dopers, whilst racecourse security at the time left a lot to be desired and the response of the Jockey Club did nothing to help. House-wives favourite jockey, Gordon Richards was also still seeking his first win in the world’s premier classic.
In the race itself, all Tudor Minstrel wanted to do was to get on with the race and he had no inclination at all of to help his rider by settling. In a way, it was reminiscent of Dawn Approach in the 2013 Derby in that he fought for his head all the way, was in front at the top of the hill and still in front but clearly a spent force by the time they rounded Tattenham Corner. He finished a very leg weary fourth behind Pearl Diver, an unthought of French challenger who was allowed to go off at 40-1, with the Migoli owned by the Aga Khan and Sayajirao in second and third.
It would be hard to describe which was the greater shock, Tudor Minstrel whom the racegoers had pinned all their hopes on and the house-wives who had placed their two shillings (10p) with their local street bookie getting beaten, or a French horse winning the Derby. This was the beginning of a purple patch for French Thoroughbreds, as they would go onto win the Derby in five years out of a ten-year period.
For Tudor Minstrel’s next start, it was decided to revert back to a mile and so Royal Ascot’s St. James Palace Stakes was the logical race, which he won as he liked by five lengths.
There was a belief in some quarters that he would stay further than a mile, so connections opted to go for the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown over a mile and a quarter. Tudor Minstrel as his wont attempted to make every yard of the running - he was six lengths clear on entering the home straight. The finish at Sandown is not an easy one for a doubtful stayer, as it’s a stiff uphill finish and the line seems to take an eon to arrive at. Migoli who had finished second at Epsom was gradually wearing him down and as the petrol started to run low with two furlongs still to go, Migoli went past him and beat him a length and a half. Tudor Minstrel lost nothing in defeat; the third Gulf Stream was ten lengths further back.
After five races in quick succession, four of them at the highest level, it was decided to give Tudor Minstrel a couple of months’ break. It was also decreed that his next race would be his last. The Knights Royal Stakes at Ascot was chosen, now better known as the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, which forms part of Champions Day. In what would be Tudor Minstrel’s curtain call, the stars came out to make sure that he did not get it all his own way. Petition, who had been second favourite to him in the Guineas, was out for retribution. Top sprinter The Bug started second favourite; also in opposition were two French raiders in Djelal who had won the Prix Lupin earlier in the year and Vagabond II. Starting a very generous 11-10, Tudor Minstrel made all the running and by now it was pointless trying to restrain him, so Gordon Richards just let him run and he won by a cosy length and a half.
At the end of the season Tudor Minstrel retired, likewise his trainer Fred Darling, whom was replaced at Beckhampton by Noel Murless. Murless stayed there a year before moving to Warren Place at Newmarket and the rest they say is history. His successor at Warren Place was Henry Cecil – which takes us back to the beginning. Sir Henry must have been very mindful of all that befell Tudor Minstrel and was very wary that Frankel, if left to his own devices, could so easily burn himself out. While all the so-called experts were clamouring for Frankel to run in this race or that, Henry Cecil stood his ground and had a clear idea of what Frankel’s campaign would entail, all of which makes Sir Henry’s handling of him all the more brilliant.