Legends of the Turf: Pinza

13th November 2012

As Jubilee Year draws to a close, it’s well worth casting the mind back to the Queen’s coronation year of 1953, when her attempt to win the Derby was thwarted by a talented but fragile horse, and one of the greatest jockeys of all time.

Foaled in 1950, Pinza was bred by the legendary trainer Fred Darling (who prepared seven Derby winners), although the mating that led to his birth was actually arranged by his dam’s previous owner, Mrs H.E. Morriss. His sire was the classy French horse Chanteur, winner of the 1947 Coronation Cup, while his dam was the moderate broodmare Pasqua. A large animal with a big white blaze, Pinza reportedly had questionable forelegs, but possessed an impressive girth and well formed, powerful hindquarters and back legs. He was consigned to the yearling sales at Tattersalls, and bought for 1,500 Guineas by Sir Victor Sassoon, who owned the successful Eve Stud (formerly Woodditton). Sassoon named the big colt after singer Enzio Pinza, who’s performances he greatly enjoyed.

Pinza was sent to the yard of Darling’s former head lad, trainer Norman Bertie. Having such a stout frame, he was slow to mature and considered rather backwards as a two year old. This view was reflected in his debut race at Hurst Park in July, where he ran with promise but finished out of the money. His second race at Doncaster’s St Leger meeting was a completely different story. Allowed to dominate from the off, he simply ran his opponents into the ground over the seven furlong trip and finished six lengths ahead of Smoke Signal and Prince Christian. Based on this performance, he started odds on for the Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot, but was no match that day for the classy filly Neemah, and finished second.

Pinza redeemed himself before the season’s end by romping in the prestigious Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket. Again allowed to set the pace as he had at Doncaster, he finished five lengths clear of Swashbuckler in an extremely impressive effort, which saw him marked out as a main Derby contender for 1953.

Two significant things happened to Pinza before he turned three, both relating to his training in Newmarket. First, the colt caught the eye of Gordon Richards who, despite being champion jockey a record 26 times and having over a dozen Classic wins to his name, had never won the Derby in 27 attempts. The story goes that Richards was riding a colt called Fountain in a piece of work, when Pinza breezed upsides under George Younger. Richards called for Younger to give the colt his head, and Pinza took off with his enormous stride. Richards was duly impressed, and selected the colt as his Derby mount for the final assault on Flat racing’s Blue Riband.

Pinza and Gordon Richards

Pinza

However, Pinza was a headstrong character, and very feisty in his work. His enthusiasm over the winter almost proved his undoing, as he fell heavily on a gravel path and badly gashed his shoulder. The subsequent infection prevented him from training until late spring, and he was forced to miss the 2000 Guineas.

Despite the setback, it was clear by this point that Pinza was extremely talented, and would only improve as his fitness increased and he matured into his frame. Although carrying plenty of condition, Pinza’s delayed reappearance in the Newmarket Stakes over ten furlongs saw him spread eagle a decent field to win in a canter by four lengths from Polynesian. The victory was so impressive that Pinza was immediately promoted to near the top of the Derby market, despite his interrupted preparation and the quality of the opposition.

The 1953 Derby was a very memorable race, both for the recognised ability of the entrants and the subplots of the connections. As well as Richards’ last ditch attempt to register a win in the race, Queen Elizabeth II also sought to win the premier Classic in her Coronation year with the colt bred by her father, Aureole.

Also in the line up were 2000 Guineas winner Nearule (the top rated two year old), Aurole’s well fancied stablemate Premonition and the classy French colts Pharel and Shikampur. Pinza was bet into 5-1 co-favouritism with Premonition, but many questioned whether such a big heavy horse would be able to cope with the tight downhill bends of Epsom’s infamous course. He also appeared to still be some way short of peak fitness. However, Bertie and Richards had prepared the colt by galloping him at full speed round Tattenham Corner, and the latter returned from the gallop with a small smile on his face.

The race featured 27 runners, but Richards and Pinza were able to maintain a good position, second to the Aga Khan’s runner Shikampur as they descended into the straight. With two furlongs to go, Richards gave Pinza his head and the big colt simply stretched away, beating the high class Aureole by a long looking four lengths, with Pink Horse third.

Despite the Royal runner being beaten, Pinza’s victory proved one of the most popular Derby wins in recognition of a supremely talented colt and a legendary jockey, who as a recently anointed knight had finally broken his Derby duck. The only moment of sadness came when Pinza’s breeder, the great Fred Darling, passed away only a few days later.

Pinza was a popular Derby winner

Pinza

Pinza had proven himself the top colt of his generation, and the subsequent performances of the vanquished only added further gloss to his victory. Premonition went on to win the Great Voltigeur Stakes, St Leger and Yorkshire Cup, while Nearula triumphed in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket. Even more impressive, the readily outpointed Aureole went on to become Champion Older Horse in 1954 with wins in the Coronation Cup, Hardwicke Stakes and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

The next challenge for Pinza was to prove his worth against his elders, in the midsummer classic, the King George at Ascot. Aureole once again opposed him, but once more was no match for Pinza and finished a respectful three length in arrears along with Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Nuccio and Washington DC International winner Worden.

However, Pinza’s build up to Ascot hadn’t gone completely smoothly, as he suffered from leg trouble in training, perhaps due to the slightly awkward construction of his forelegs. Although talented and fit enough to win the King George, Pinza was unable to stay sound while preparing for the St Leger, and a tendon injury curtailed his career and led to his retirement. In many ways, it was a blow for racing, as Pinza had been set to stay in training as a four year old and would very likely have improved further as he reached maturity. The exploits of his race victims also strongly suggested that he would have had further big race success. His withdrawal from racing also coincided with Sir Gordon Richards hanging up his saddle, so racing lost two outstanding athletes at once.

Pinza retired to stud as the winner of five of his seven starts and earnings totalling £47,401. He earned a Timeform rating of 137, the highest in Europe in 1953, and was retrospectively considered one of the best Derby winners and the fifteenth greatest British horse of the 20th Century.

Pinza was not an especially successful stallion, though he did sire Pindari, out of Sun Chariot, who won the King Edward VII, Craven and Great Voltigeur Stakes. He died in 1977 aged 27.

Pinza (1950) by Chanteur out of Pasqua (Donatello)

Race Record: 7:5-1-0

Dewhurst Stakes (1952)
Newmarket Stakes (1953)
Epsom Derby (1953)
King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (1953)

By Alice Kay