On Saturday Ascot will host the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. The prestigious all age, one mile and four furlong race, was first run in 1951.
Guest blogger Grenville Davies looks back at the career of Royal Palace, winner of the 1968 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
The years from 1965 until 1972 were considered to be a golden era in European racing – as there was Sir Ivor, Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard and of course the incomparable Sea Bird. However, the one horse who always seems to be missing from this list of champions is the 1967 Derby winner Royal Palace, by Vincent O’Brien’s first classic winner in Ballymoss, who also won the 1958 Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe, out of the stoutly bred Crystal Palace.
Whatever Royal Palace did as a two-year-old, he was expected to be even better at three and four. Trained by Sir Noel Murless at Warren Place, who must have thought that he had something to go to war with, as he made his debut in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, only to finish unplaced behind Bold Lad.
He would run twice more as a juvenile, with victories in both the Acomb Stakes and the Royal Lodge. In both of those, he was ridden by Lester Piggott - whose ten-year association with Murless would soon some to an end.
The Australian jockey George Moore was drafted into the stable for the 1967 season and to begin with they took all before them and Royal Palace would be no different. His first two runs as a three-year-old resulted in wins at the very highest level, with victories in the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby. The first of those involved a short-head win over Taj Dewan (whom he would meet a year later). The Derby was more clear-cut with a two and a half-length success over the subsequent St. Leger winner Ribocco, a race that Royal Palace was expected to win and in so doing become the fifteenth winner of the Triple Crown. But it was not to be, as injury would intervene. His season ended on a slight downer as he finished third to Reform in the Champion Stakes.
By the time of the 1968 season, Moore had decided to return home and Murless elevated apprentice Sandy Barclay to stable jockey -both he and Royal Palace would not disappoint. His first three runs resulted in three comfortable wins but come Sandown on Eclipse day things would be different, and claims would be made for this to be the race of the century. In opposition and starting favourite was that year’s 2,000 Guineas and Derby winner Sir Ivor but lurking in the wings was the runner-up of the previous year’s 2,000 - Taj Dewan, who had gone down by a short-head that day to Royal Palace, so as they say “Let the Battle Commence” and what a battle it would be, as they went hammer and tong at each other up the Sandown hill. Many felt that Taj Dewan had got it but the camera would prove otherwise and Royal Palace had gained the day by a short-head, whilst Sir Ivor would be three-quarters of a length back in third.
Next stop was the Ascot’s King George VI Queen Elizabeth Stakes, where Royal Palace would cement his reputation as a tough and genuine horse, as well as a brilliant one. (See the finish above) As they turned for home, his backers were looking very pleased with themselves, having taken the odds of 4-7 however a furlong from home he started to falter and Sandy Barclay’s skills as a jockey were tested to the full, as he had to nurse home a broken down Royal Palace. Half a length away in second and third were Felicio and the 1967 Arc winner Topyo. It later transpired he had torn a suspensory in his near-foreleg. Royal Palace was swiftly retired to stud, where his only progeny of any note was the Queen’s 1977 Oaks and St. Leger winner Dunfermline.
Lester Piggott was not a fan of Royal Palace, as he had felt him to be ungenuine as a two-year-old. The ironic thing is, though, he had to dig deeper than most horses do to achieve greatness.
The race photo is courtesy of Alpha Press.
The 1968 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes trophy (pictured above) is on display in the National Horse Racing Museum and on loan from Jockey Club Estates.
Blog by guest blogger, Grenville Davies.