Legends of the Turf: Abernant

24th November 2012

The grey colt was foaled in 1946 and boasted a top quality pedigree, His sire, Owen Tudor, was an excellent Derby winner and a son of the great Hyperion, and came from a sire line full of stamina. However, his dam was a daughter of the legendary broodmare Mumtaz Mahal, daughter to the best two year old of the century (The Tetrarch)  passed on her speed and grey coat to her son.

The union of his sire and dam did not appear at first to yield a champion: Abernant was reportedly described at the sales as ‘a little rat’ by none other than Fred Darling. However the colt was a great mover, which persuaded connections, including trainer Noel Murless, to purchase him.

Abernant repaid them by winning fourteen of his seventeen starts, including five of six races as a two year old. Paired with champion jockey Gordon Richards, Abernant lost his maiden race at Lingfield but then proceeded to reel off a list of impressive victories. He won the Bedford Stakes, Chesham Stakes at Ascot by five lengths, the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, the National Breeders Fund Stakes at Sandown and the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket to end the season as the highest ranked juvenile. In the Champagne over six furlongs, be beat Nimbus (a July Stakes and future Derby winner) by an impressive six lengths, and was unextended in winning most of his races. The only test he got was in the National Breeders Produce Stakes when beating fellow brilliant two year old Star King (later known as Star Kingdom, the champion Australian sire) by a short head Star King counted wins in the Richmond and Gimcrack at two, and the Greenham, Jersey and Hungerford Stakes at three, while future Irish Derby winner Hindostan finished some way behind them. Abernant’s superlative performances saw him end the season top weighted two year old in the Free Handicap.

Abernant’s main weapon was his devastating speed: he pushed other horses as soon as the race began and broke many long before the finish. However, this style of racing posed a problem for connections. Although clearly developing into a brilliantly fast sprinter, the lure of running in the prestigious 2000 Guineas over a mile was a clear temptation, enhanced when the colt won the Somerset Stakes at Bath over seven furlongs in good style from Kinlochewe and Maidens Green. Abernant had class and the talents of Richards behind him, but faced a gruelling race over Newmarket’s stiff eight furlongs, especially if he made all as usual.


One other ace held by Abernant was his extremely calm temperament, unusual in sprinters, who are normally easily excitable.  He was very tractable in races, so was unlikely to waste excess energy, suggesting that he could still last home over the mile trip.

As it turned out, Abernant put up a brilliant performance in the Guineas, but was collared in the dying strides by the staying on Nimbus, his old rival from the Champagne Stakes. He had raced prominently as expected, and after four furlongs held a lead on the stands side from Granl and Decorum, and was still ahead with a furlong to run with most of his rivals toiling. However, his stamina ebbed away up the stiff incline, and despite Richards’ best efforts to nurse him home, Nimbus triumphed by a short head. The tight finish led to a photograph, and was the closest finish in 140 years of Guineas history.

With his status as a sprinter confirmed, Abernant proceeded to dominate the division, winning all four of England’s prestigious sprints. In the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, he beat Cul-De-Sac and Robert Barker by four lengths, with 1948 Nunthorpe winner Careless Nora back in the field.  Just over a week later, he romped by three lengths in the July Cup at Newmarket, leaving Diadem Stakes winner Combined Operations flat-footed.  Abernant reappeared a month later at Goodwood in the King George V Stakes, where he recorded a smooth two length success. Finally, he took in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York in arguably his most impressive performance. Despite not hitting the front until the final furlong, Abernant swiftly put five lengths between himself and the field in an astonishing display of raw speed. He ended the season the top rated three year old on 138lbs, and joint highest overall along with brilliant stayer Alycidon.

Abernant continued in 1950 much as he had left off in 1949. Amongst his wins was a victory in the Lubbock Stakes at Sandown. While not a terribly important race, this was significant in that it gave Gordon Richards his 4000th winner. Abernant then just failed to concede 23lbs to the good three year old Tangle in the King’s Stand Stakes when going down by half a length, but recorded effortless repeat wins in the other three top sprints. He regained the winning thread in the July Cup, triumphing by four lengths over subsequent Cork and Orrery Stakes winner Bob Cherry. A second King George V Stakes resulted in a five length thrashing of stakes winners Master Gunner and Nassau, before a final win in the Nunthorpe in the sterling time of 58 seconds.

Abernant retired at the end of his four year old season with ‘nothing more to win’. He was outright champion of 1950, rated at a lofty 142lbs, the same rating as undefeated dual Arc winner Ribot. Further praise came from Richards, who described him as the fastest horse he ever rode, quite some compliment considering the champions he was associated with.

At stud, Abernant was a moderate success, siring a number of good milers, especially fillies. These included Abermaid (1000 Guineas) and Even Star (Irish 1000 Guineas), as well as Welsh Rake (Queen Anne Stakes).  Always a calm horse, he became extremely mellow and, according to Noel Murless’ daughter, was very fond of children. Gordon Richards recalled an instance when he had become distracted by a group of children before a race, and began playing with their marbles. Abernant died aged 24 in 1977, and was buried at Egerton Stud in Newmarket.

Abernant (1946) By Owen Tudor out of Rustom Mahal (Rushtom Pasha)

Breeder: Catherine Macdonald-Buchanan

Owner: Richard Macdonald-Buchanan

Trainer: Noel Murless

Jockey: Sir Gordon Richards.

Race record 17: 14-2-0

Chesham Stakes (1948)

Champagne Stakes (1948)

Middle Park Stakes (1948)

King’s Stand Stakes (1949)

July Cup (1949 & 1950)

King George V Stakes (1949 & 1950)

Nunthorpe Stakes (1949 & 1950)