Ormonde's 2,000 Guineas
The 2000 Guineas of 1886 had all of the ingredients to make it the race of the century and it did not disappoint. Veteran trainer Mat Dawson would not hear of defeat for his Minting, whilst many thought The Bard, unbeaten in 16 races at two, would remain unbeaten. Saraband and St Mirin also had good form and plenty supporters. Then there was the Duke of Westminster's home-bred, Ormonde.
Mathew Dawson, 66 years old and with 20 Classics to his name, had decided to retire in 1885 but then Minting came along. Bred in the purple, by the Triple Crown winner Lord Lyon out of Mint Sauce, Minting not only looked the part but impressed on the racecourse. As a two-year-old he ran five and won five: the Seaton Delaval Stakes at Newcastle, the Prince of Wales Stakes at Goodwood, the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, the Triennial Produce Stakes and the Middle Park Plate at Newmarket. He was a worthy favourite for the Guineas.
The John Porter trained Ormonde made his debut in the Post Stakes, run 30 minutes before the Middle Park. Winning by eight lengths from Modwena, already a winner of eight of her ten races, the Bend Or by Lily Agnes (an Ebor winner) colt showed promise. Subsequent impressive victories in the Criterion Stakes and the Dewhurst Plate marked the bay down as a Classic contender. He was generally third choice in the Guineas betting at 7/2.
Second favourite was Saraband who had won six of his eight starts at two. The flashy chesnut had lost nothing in his defeats: at Kempton he failed by a short-head to give 13lb to a smart filly, Sunrise, and in the Middle Park he was only a neck and a head behind Minting and Braw Lass. Significantly, Saraband was also the choice of Fred Archer who had ridden Minting to three successes and had partnered Ormonde to all his victories. Whether "The Tinman" was persuaded by John Blundell Maple's retainer or his own interpretation of the Form Book caused much speculation.
Porter, in his autobiography, "John Porter of Kingsclere", wrote of a fascinating encounter with Mathew Dawson on Newmarket Heath...
"On the Sunday morning (before the Guineas) I took my horses on to the Bury Hill gallops by the side of the Plantation, and there I met Mat Dawson with his string. He and I were the only trainers on that portion of the Heath. We pulled up our hacks and exchanged greetings. After the customary formalities Mat said: "Til show you the best horse you have ever seen in your life, John.' Thereupon he called to the boy riding Minting to come over to us. I examined the colt with critical and admiring eyes. "Yes," I confessed, "he's a magnificent specimen of a racehorse."
After the two trainers had discussed Minting, Porter then called for Ormonde to be brought over for inspection.Â Mat looked him up and down and went all round him. Then he delivered his verdict;
"A very nice horse - a very nice horse indeed," he said; "but mine is better here, and better there." He declined to admit that Ormonde compared favourably with Minting. Finally he lapsed into prophecy. "When," he declared, "the race is being run you will hear them shouting "Ormonde" and "Saraband" home; but when they get into the Dip it will be "Minting!" and nothing else. My horse will leave 'em all there, John, you'll see."Â "Don't be too confident. Mat," was the reply from the man who was 18 years his junior but had already tasted Classic success eight times.
Prior to the first Classic of the season, Lambourn trained Saraband and Ormonde were both stabled at Aldcroft's yard, just off Newmarket's High Street (now the King Edward VII Memorial Hall). Saraband was guarded night and day by three, of trainer, Bob Peck's staff, whilst Kingsclere staff supervised their contender. Porter recalled meeting Mr Maple at the stables on the Tuesday evening (the day before the race)...
"We began talking about the Two Thousand. He told me he thought Saraband had a great chance of winning. I casually remarked that he was certainly taking great care of the horse. Then, in a chaffing sort of way, I added: "You take care of him to-night, and Ormonde will look after him to-morrow."
Bob Peck, a part-owner of The Bard, was so impressed with Saraband's homework that he saved The Bard, who was trained by Martin Gurry, for the Derby. Furthermore the quality of the main contenders scared off many and the field cut up to six runners. The 33/1 on offer for Mephisto and St Mirin summed up their chances whilst 100/1 shot Coracle was entered to act as a pacemaker for Ormonde.
Obeying orders Robert Viney got Coracle off to a flyer only to be recalled for pre-empting "the off". Repeating the false start, Lord Marcus Beresford, the starter, began to lose his patience with Viney and chastised him for returning to the start so slowly. The jockey's response was "What is the use of me coming down there when I have to make running for Ormonde?" When Beresford got the six runners away, Coracle was soon in front with Ormonde, Minting and St Mirin in close pursuit.
As Coracle dropped away the race developed into a duel between Ormonde and Minting. George Barrett was happy to let Ormonde bowl along in front and Jack Watts, on Minting, was content to sit in behind. Both confident of their mounts the pace gradually quickened. The gallop was relentless. Two furlongs from home, approaching the Bushes, there was nothing to choose between the pair. Then, as they went into the Dip, Minting "changed his legs"; he was faltering and crying enough. Ormonde readily established a two length advantage and cruised to victory. Minting took second place, ahead of "a bad third", Mephisto. Fred Archer with Saraband came in a disappointing fourth.
Dawson was crestfallen. It's said that he returned to Exning Manor uttering "Minting's beat" as if to convince himself. Totally lacking an excuse, the master trainer decided against tackling Ormonde in the Derby and instead aimed Robert Vyner's colt at the Grand Prix de Paris. Minting won it easily.
Similarly, Bob Peck decided that it was best that Saraband avoided Ormonde at Epsom and wait for Ascot. There he won the one mile Biennial by a length, and a few days later, just failed to give 8lb to St. Mirin in the Ascot Derby. Peck had earlier pinned his Derby hopes on The Bard.
In the Derby, Ormonde, with Archer donning the yellow with black cap silks again, cosily defeated The Bard by one and a half lengths. After taking the St James' Palace Stakes and the Hardwicke Stakes at Ascot, he was on course for the St Leger and he became the fourth Triple Crown winner when justifying odds of 1/7. Kept in training as a four-year-old, in all he ran 16 times and remained unbeaten.
Described by Porter as "a giant among giants" Ormonde is a contender for "the greatest of all-time". Allowing that renowned judge Captain Machell to have the last word, he said, "Ormonde is not a horse at all; he's a damned steam-engine."