Mill Reef's Early Career

9th February 2018

We look back at Mill Reef's early career. Named after a stretch of coastline near owner and American philanthropist Paul Mellon’s winter home in Antigua, Mill Reef was foaled at his Rokeby stud in Virginia on 23 February 1968.

To celebrate the incredible career of the 1971 Derby and Arc winner we have lined up a series of Q&A blogs during the year with his trainer Ian Balding. Our first blog features Mill Reef's early career as a two year old.

Bred in America by his owner Paul Mellon, his sire Never Bend was 2nd in mill-reef-1the Kentucky Derby so can you explain how Mill Reef came to be trained by yourself in England?

Preston Burch, Paul Mellon’s American trainer Elliot Burch’s father and a former trainer, had advised Paul Mellon  that the horse had long pasterns and would be better off trained on the grass in England.

Do you remember the first day you saw him and what were your initial thoughts of the colt as a potential racehorse?

Small, quality and a two year old

He must have impressed you from the start as he made his debut on 13 May at Salisbury. Why did he run so early in the season?

He was our first two year old to run at Kingsclere in 1970 and had worked very well in the only serious gallop he had which was just over a week before the race.

When did you then think you had a superstar at the yard, after winning that first race or following his win in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot?

After his first win.  Fireside Chat ridden by Lester Piggott was hot favourite after a very impressive win at the Craven Meeting and he finished second at Salisbury 4 lengths behind Mill Reef

Mill Reef lost his next race on 20 July, the Prix Robert Papin at Maisons Laffitte.  Was that a surprise to you?

It was a bad decision on my part to take him abroad.  He didn’t travel well and hadn’t eaten up and also was unlucky to be drawn on the wide outside.  My Swallow, the winner, was a very good two year old – only a short head in it though.

He finished the season with three further wins in the Gimcrack Stakes at

mill-reef-2-gimcrack-stakes-york-20-08-70 Mill Reef's best performance in the Gimcrack at York

York, Imperial Stakes at Kempton and the prestigious Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket.  What did you consider his best performance as two year old?

 The Gimcrack was very special and it was lucky for me his owner was there to make the decision to run!  I had wanted to pull him out due to the very soft ground but he won by ten lengths beating some very good horses.

What were your thoughts at the end of season looking ahead to the classics of 1971?

I can remember thinking – if Mill Reef doesn’t win the 2000 Guineas I will never win a Classic!  I hadn’t ever thought he would get a mile and a half.


To celebrate 50 years since Mill Reef’s birth we are showcasing items from the National Horseracing Museum’s collection relating to the famous flat horse’s racing and stud career. You can see the display in the Maktoum Gallery of the Thoroughbred between the 12th February and 7th March 2018.


Blog by Stephen Wallis, Visitor Services Team

We would like to thank Timeform for the use of the photos.