As we look forward to Champions Day at Ascot our latest blog looks back to England’s Super Filly Pebbles, who won the Champion Stakes when the race was run at Newmarket in 1985.
Pebbles was trained throughout her career by the irrepressible Clive Brittain – a man whose mantra was you can’t win it, if you’re not in it.
Foaled in 1981, Pebbles was bred by the Greek shipping magnate Marcos Lemos. Her breeding was the best that British bloodstock could offer by having Hyperion on both sides of her pedigree 3x4, as well as having Tudor Minstrel and Rockfel on her sire’s side and even further back Phalaris. She was by Sharpen Up out of La Dolce, who had finished fifth in the 1979 Oaks.
Pebbles ran six times as a two-year-old and her best run came in the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket where she was a fast finishing second, beaten only a head.
Her three-year-old debut, was a winning one in Newmarket’s Nell Gwyn Stakes beating Meis-El-Reem. That was to prove to be some trial, as two weeks later, she confirmed the form as they finished 1-2 in the 1,000 Guineas.
Shortly after her Guineas success, she was bought by Sheikh Mohammed, so any thought of an Oaks attempt was quickly extinguished, as he owned two of the favourites. Royal Ascot beckoned and she lost little in defeat to the Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Katies in the Coronation Stakes.
Injury then prevented her running until the autumn, where she returned in the Champion Stakes (then run at Newmarket), beaten a neck by Palace Music, who set a course record time in the process.
She made her four-year-old debut at Sandown at the end of April, with a relatively easy win and next stop would be Royal Ascot, only to be beaten by 33-1 chance Bob Back. A short-head back in third was Commanche Run – who would figure prominently later in the season.
Her next outing would be a return to Sandown for the Eclipse Stakes and in that race’s near 100-year history no horse of the fairer sex had won it, that was until the 1985 running. Rainbow Quest started the 4-5 favourite, however, before they turned into the straight it was evident who would be triumphant. When you consider that Rainbow Quest had already won the Coronation Cup and would go on to win the Arc, it was some performance.
Her season then came to a brief halt as she went off her food; it took all of Clive Brittain’s expertise to get her back to her best, skills that he had learnt with master trainer Sir Noel Murless.
The Champion Stakes of 1985 was looked upon as a two-horse race between that year’s six-length Derby winner Slip Anchor and Commanche Run. The latter had already won both York’s Benson and Hedges Gold Cup (now the International) and the Irish Champion Stakes at the now defunct Phoenix Park and was bidding for a million-pound bonus, if he were to add the Champion Stakes.
The Rowley Mile Course at Newmarket was bathed in glorious autumnal sunshine and the crowd were expecting a battle of the titans between the two principals and they were not to be disappointed, even if it was not the result that they were expecting, as no one that day can be left in any doubt, as to who was best. For the first half of the race jockey Pat Eddery held her up at the back of the field, then Eddery switched her to the rails for a run through, a move that gave an inkling of what would happen a few weeks later. As they hit the front, he looked across at Willie Carson and seemed to say “so long I’m off”. She was one of the easiest winners of a Group 1 you would ever see, as she was eased down to win by three lengths from Slip Anchor and Palace Music. Pebbles was one of ten fillies to win the race over a fourteen-year period, the others being the likes of Time Charter, Triptych and Indian Skimmer. Pebbles stands alone.
Her next race was the mile and a half Breeders Cup Turf at Aqueduct. In this instance, it was a case of cometh the hour, cometh the men. Without Clive Brittain’s subterfuge and Pat Eddery’s coolness, there would have been no success. Brittain managed to persuade the owner of a food truck at the course to assist in getting Pebbles onto the track in a raceable state. Once on the track and racing, Pat Eddery kept her on the rails, all the way round, just hoping and praying that a gap would open at the right time and as luck had it, it did. As they turned for home, Eddery shot Pebbles through and she ran for home. She crossed the line half a length to the good, over the Steve Cauthen ridden Strawberry Road, the commentator called “England’s super filly has won it”. In so doing, she broke the course record by over a second.
The plan had been to keep Pebbles in training as a five-year-old, however it was not to be and her stud career was an abject failure. Though for two seasons she lit up the “British Turf” like few other flat horses have done.
Blog by Guest blogger, Grenville Davies
Black and white photo courtesy of Ed Byrne