This weekend’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes, The Race of the Century at Ascot is headed by two of the world’s top thoroughbreds, the dual Arc winning filly, Enable and recent Royal Ascot winner and course specialist Crystal Ocean owned by Sir Evelyn de Rothschild. Plus we have the added spice, as in 1975, of the Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck representing the three year old generation.
Whilst racegoers are eagerly anticipating this year’s race, whatever happens it will be extremely unlikely to rival the pulsating duel of 1975, often regarded as The Race of the Century. On that steamy hot July day, Derby winner, Grundy ridden by Champion jockey Pat Eddery took on the previous year’s St Leger victor Bustino and Joe Mercer in the midsummer racing showpiece. This week’s blog reviews that never to be forgotten day with the help of Eric Eldin, who rode one of Bustino’s stablemates.
The Race of the Century featured two horses at the height of their powers, the three year old against the four year old as Peter O’Sullevan famously called them as they neared the finishing post of this dramatic race.
What is easily forgotten about The Race of the Century is the quality of the 11 runner field, who entered the stalls on 26 July 1975. An impressive three length Derby winner, Grundy trained by Peter Walwyn in Lambourn had also just won the Irish equivalent; whilst the Dick Hern trained Bustino had set a course record when winning the Coronation Cup at the Derby meeting. The other nine runners featured the French superstar filly Dahlia, who had won the previous two King George’s, the German trained, Star Appeal, winner of the Eclipse only three weeks earlier, Dibidale, the 1974 Irish Oaks winner and another French raider, Ashmore, who had been runner up in the Coronation Cup.
What added to the excitement of the race was the inclusion of two pacemakers from the Dick Hern Stable, Highest and Kinglet, who were there to test the stamina of the Derby winner. Unfortunately, Bustino’s regular pacemaker Riboson, who had finished a very creditable 3rd in the 1974 St Leger cracked his near fore cannon bone in the build-up and missed the race. Both the three year old Highest and the five year old Kinglet, partnered by experienced jockeys Frankie Durr and Eric Eldin, were owned by Lady Beaverbrook. Highest, a son of Crepello was best up to a mile while Kinglet was more of a stayer, who later that year finished 6th in the Ebor.
Ironically Grundy’s debut as a two year old had been on 26 July 1974 when he won the Granville Stakes over six furlongs at Ascot. Twelve months later the racing world was watching. Grundy, the flashy chestnut with the three white feet, flaxen mane and tail was sent off the 4/5 on favourite with Bustino 4/1, Dahlia 6/1 and Star Appeal 13/1. Highest and Kinglet were both at 500/1!
Bustino was the first to break from the stalls but he was soon overtaken by Frankie Durr on Highest, who came across to the rails after having been drawn on the wide outside. Durr turned on the taps like a sprinter on the three year old pacemaker and led the star studded line up for four and a half furlongs, closely followed by Kinglet, Star Appeal, Bustino and Grundy.
Eric Eldin recalled Dick Hern saying “Make it a good gallop all the way to take the speed away from Grundy. When Frankie’s gone you take it up”. Almost reminiscent of Bannister’s four minute mile attempt Eric Eldin on Kinglet now took on the Chris Chataway role as the new pacemaker. As Pat Eddery remarked in his autobiography his aim was to keep Bustino within range at all times.
“I went on from Frankie but at the four furlong marker Joe came past me on the bridle. We had gone as we fast as we could. We couldn’t take it any further. If my horse could have done I would have tried and led him into the straight. Joe went on when I was gone. He wasn’t waiting anymore” said Eldin.
With a half mile to go Bustino was four lengths clear of Grundy. The race was on. As they turned into the straight, the bell tolled for the most remarkable of all racing finishes. The spellbound crowd were about to find out if the speed of the three year old could wear down the stamina of the four year old. Grundy had now moved into second place, three lengths adrift of Bustino with the treble seeking Dahlia with Lester Piggott in the saddle overtaking the tiring Star Appeal. “When I saw Pat in behind him I thought that now you have to outstay him” said Eldin.
At the two furlong pole Bustino remained just over a length in front, but Grundy and the relentless driving of Pat Eddery finally drew alongside and headed the long-time leader as they reached the furlong marker. Just as the crowd thought Grundy would go on and win easily, the battling Bustino found something extra and driven on, hands and heels by Mercer, he just got his nose in front for a moment. Head to head for half a furlong Grundy finally get the better of his rival, who had no more to give and went on to win by half a length. Dahlia finished 3rd five lengths back.
Bustino had narrowly failed to do what his sire Busted had achieved in 1967. Dick Hern remarked “I’m as proud of Bustino as if he had won. I think he might just have done it if Riboson had been there to lead him into the straight.”
The time of 2 26.98 beat Dahlia’s course record by 2.36 secs became the fastest mile and a half ever electrically recorded in Britain. Even the 6th horse Ashmore had beaten old record.
As for Eric Eldin riding Kinglet “It was just another ride for me although we usually got a bit extra from Lady Beaverbrook” he said.
Neither of the two gladiators properly recovered from their exertions at Ascot. Grundy ran a listless 4th in the now International at York on 19 August, beaten by Dahlia. Meanwhile, Bustino, the ante post favourite for the Prix De L’Arc de Triomphe was injured in serious preparations for Longchamp and never ran again. To underline their status in 1975 the end of season one and half mile spectacular saw Star Appeal beat On My Way by three lengths. On that hot summer’s day in July the pair had trailed well behind Grundy and Bustino.
What will this year’s race bring an expectant crowd? A second win in the race for the John Gosden filly Enable and a Frankie flying dismount or could it be a win for the Rothschild family with Crystal Ocean.
We would like to thank Eric Eldin for his help with this blog.
Blog by Stephen Wallis, Visitor Services.
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