The story of the Royal heroine Sun Chariot

4th October 2017

The story of the Royal heroine Sun Chariot

Sun Chariot was bred by the National Stud which at the time was still in County Kildare, Ireland. She was by the 1933 Derby winner Hyperion, out of the unraced Clarence. The National Stud’s policy used to be to keep a selected few to later breed from and to lease them during their racing career. The lessees tended to be Lord Lonsdale and the Royal Family. This is how the Carrozza came to be owned by the Queen and become her first classic winner. This was also the case with the 1942 2000 Guineas winner Big Game and the horse that will always be linked with him – Sun Chariot.

The statue of Hyperion stands outside the Jockey Club Rooms The statue of Hyperion stands outside the Jockey Club Rooms

Sun Chariot went into training with Fred Darling at Beckhampton and the trainer had no time for either man or horse who were not prepared to pull their weight, he would run his stables’ with such order – that even the flowers stood to attention. So badly had Sun Chariot worked at home on the gallops Darley said he had no use for her and should be shipped back to Ireland. This was not as easy as it sounds, because of war-time restrictions, a licence had to be obtained and this is where fate intervened as the necessary paperwork was late in arriving, by which time she had shown enough at home to earn a stay of execution.

Sun Chariot made her debut in the Acorn Plate at Newbury in June 1942 at the time she raced as the Clarence filly – as two-year-olds could then race un-named. Harry Wragg rode her to victory in this race, as he did in all of her two-year-old wins, Gordon Richards was not able to ride due to a broken leg. The next time the filly was seem was in the Queen Mary Stakes, run at Newmarket as opposed to Royal Ascot, this was the first time that she showed any dis-inclination on the racecourse, as she played up at the start and took her time in getting on top to beat Perfect Peace by a short-head. The decision was then taken to take the unusual step of taking on the colts in the Middle Park Stakes and as hindsight showed this proved to be no easy task. Against her were Watling Street who finished second and would land the following year’s Derby, whilst Ujiji would win the 1943 Gold Cup.

At the end of the season the Free Handicap rated both Sun Chariot and Big Game joint top on 9st 7Ibs, five pounds clear of Watling Street on 9st 2Ibs. The Royal household looked forward to the 1942 season with a great deal of anticipation and they were not to be disappointed.

sun-chariot-gordon-richards-up A painting by Alfred Munnings of Sun Chariot with legendary jockey Gordon Richards in the Royal colours on display in our gallereis.

As the 1942 season dawned Sun Chariot’s mental attitude left a lot to be desired, as she refused to gallop and would only run round in circles. Her seasonal debut was at Salisbury where she suffered her only defeat, where it had been decided to try to organise her and hold her up, this Sun Chariot resented and she lost any interest in the race and finished third behind Ujiji, so as the experiment had failed abysmally, it was decided to let her have her own way. A recovery mission was deemed necessary and the venue chosen was Salisbury, where she won in such style that given normal behaviour the 1000 Guineas would be a mere formality. This she duly did in beating her old adversary Perfect Peace four lengths.

Her next start was to be the same as the majority of 1000 Guineas winners - the Oaks, what happened in between time has since passed into racing folk-lore. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were in attendance at Beckhampton to watch both Sun Chariot and Big Game work, whilst Big Game was as good as gold, the filly though had not read the script. Sun Chariot refused point blank to co-operate and would not move an inch on the gallops, as a last resort the head lad went behind her and cracked a hunting crop, this she took an instant dislike to and duly galloped off into an ploughed field, where she ceremoniously un-shipped her jockey Gordon Richards and got down on her knees and proceeded roar like an bull.

Jockey Gordon Richards (c) Jockeypedia Jockey Gordon Richards (c) Jockeypedia

Her next race will live with anyone who witnessed it that day, unfortunately for the racegoers it took place at Newmarket’s July Course, consequently most of the race would not have been visible from the grandstand. In the Oaks run on 12th June, she messed up three starts before she consented to start; even then she whipped round and was left nearly a furlong before she decided to set off. Just as well the start was not visible from the grandstand, as anyone who had taken odds of 1-4, would have been rueing their decision. She did no help to her cause by running wide on the home turn. Now in the home straight she decided to get down to brass tacks, with a furlong to go she hit the front, only then to think that she had done enough and she had to be kept up to her work to beat Afterthought. As she was led in by the King, she behaved impeccably. The scene looked very serene and she gave the impression that butter would not melt in her mouth, as the King in his R.A.F uniform led her in.

In the Derby (run the day after the Oaks), Big Game clearly failed to stay otherwise the King may have reaped all five classics. It also raises the question would Sun Chariot have triumphed in the Derby, if she had taken part, this of course can never be known; a lot would have depended on how she would have behaved on the day. What is known though is that she was clearly the best of her generation.

A good a maxim as any in racing is that come September fillies really start to bloom and she was on her best behaviour as she took on the first three in the Derby in Watling Street, Hyperides and Ujiji. She started second favourite at 9-4 to Watling Street’s 2-1, she treated them all like they were mere selling platers, as she had the Derby winner Watling Street an easy three lengths back in second. In so doing she completed the “Fillies Triple Crown” of 1000 Guineas, Oaks and St. Leger, which only two other fillies have done in the last 75 years – Meld in 1955 and Oh So Sharp thirty years later.

There is a quote by Sun Chariot’s long-suffering jockey Gordon Richards after one of her victories. “It’s a relief, now it’s all over. Nobody knows the anxious times I have had with her on the downs. You simply don’t know what she will do, but there is no doubt of her ability.” In many ways that statement sums up her career on the racecourse and was said after her win in the Oaks, when she whipped around at the start and the rest of the field raced for the best part of a furlong before she attempted to join them.

Sun Chariot is now remembered by a fillies mile race at Newmarket in October for three year olds and older. The only other British Group 1 race on the flat named after a horse is the Eclipse Stakes.

Blog by Grenville Davies