It’s said that for every great champion, there has to have an equally matched adversary.
For Ali there was Joe Frazier, for Arkle it was Mill House, whilst Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard had each other. Things were no different a hundred and thirty years ago, Ormonde has often laid claim to be greatest horse of the 19th Century. Apart from completing the Triple Crown in 1886 and remaining unbeaten, he also had to face an exceptional horse in The Bard, who would have been considered an outstanding champion in any other era.
The Bard (not to be confused with the American champion of the same name who was also foaled in the same year) at full height was a pony sized 15 hands by Petrarch out of Magdalene. Petrarch won the 1876 2,000 Guineas and went onto win that year’s St. Leger, so becoming one of only four horses to complete this double, he also won the following year’s Ascot Gold Cup.
Bred by Lord Wolverton, The Bard was sent to Newmarket’s 1884 July Sales, where he was bought by former trainer Robert Peck, who subsequently sold half to General Owen Williams. He was put in training to Peck’s former Head Lad Martin Gurry and made his debut when ridden by Charlie Wood in Lincoln’s Brocklesby Stakes (a move that would now be considered foolhardy to run a horse with classic aspirations in a two-year-old race on the opening day of the flat season). This would be his first victory of the 1885 season, one in which he would go onto score a record breaking 16 wins for a two-year-old. A record that still stands tall and would take nearly a hundred years before Provideo would match it in 1984, in 1990 Timeless Times would also equal it.
Amazingly he would run again two days later at Liverpool (which had mixed meetings up until the mid-1970s); he was the mount of Fred Archer (pictured: his bust that is on display at the Heritage Centre) – the Tin Man, who would ride him to victory that season on fourteen occasions. He would run a further five times before the end of April; the last three of those wins that month were on consecutive days. Of his wins, he also took in Royal Ascot’s Twenty-Third New Biennial Stakes; this would be the only other time that Charlie Wood would ride him to victory in his record breaking season, which amazingly was his twelfth win of the year. By the end of the year he would have sixteen from sixteen, he was nothing if not tough.
Even more amazingly was that The Bard had managed to thrive during the winter and his connections expected great things of him – these were men who knew the time of day and were not in the habit of making their geese out to be swans.
If his two-year-old season was one of excess, his classic year was very much of restrained quality, he didn’t make his seasonal debut until the Derby. The 2000 Guineas winner Ormonde went to post an 85-40 on favourite, whilst The Bard was second in the betting at 7/2, they finished in that order with Ormonde a length and a half to the good, The Bard was ten lengths clear of the third St. Mirin.
The Bard’s next outing was in the Manchester Cup at Manchester’s New Barns course, and only failed by one and half lengths to concede 31Ibs to Riversdale who on his previous outing had finished third at Royal Ascot. He then regained the winning thread in mid-July, winning Liverpool’s St George Stakes by a hard-held neck; this would be the last time that Fred Archer would ride him in public.
The Bard achieved two successes in one day at the newly named Qatar Goodwood Festival, as he won the Singleton Plate by ten lengths in a match against Whitefriar, whilst he only had to turn up for the Goodwood Cup to win, as it was a walkover.
A walkover and an easy three length win at Lewes and York respectively followed, both were Her Majesty’s Plates, these were races funded from the Privy Purse.
His career ended with a resounding four length win in the Doncaster Cup, the £290 that this race was worth was his lowest in terms of prize money won.
He was subsequently sold for 10,000 Guineas to stand as a stallion in France, where he was champion sire in 1894 and 1901, before dying in 1902.
Oddly enough The Bard’s two greatest moments were in his only defeats, in the Derby to one of “The Titans of the Turf” in Ormonde, and when he was trying to give an above average handicapper in Riversdale 31lbs.
Blog by Grenville Davies