2000 Guineas

Established by the Jockey Club, under the patronage of Sir Charles Bunbury, in 1809, the Two Thousand Guineas took its name from the original prize fund; at the time the guinea, worth 21/– in pre-decimal currency, was still the largest denomination in British currency. However, in two hundred-odd years since the race was first run on the Rowley Mile Course at Newmarket, the Two Thousand Guineas has become one of the races that defines a generation of thoroughbred racehorses and, today, has a prize fund of over £500,000.

 

Designated a ‘Classic’ – along with the One Thousand Guineas, Derby, Oaks and St. Leger – by the Jockey Club in 1814, the Two Thousand Guineas is run over a straight mile, in late April or early May, and open to thoroughbred three-year-old colts and fillies. Fillies receive a 3lb weight allowance from their male counterparts but, even so, tend to contest the ‘fillies-only’ One Thousand Guineas which, despite its title, is worth £500,000 in prize money. In fact, the last filly to win the One Thousand Guineas was Garden Path in 1944.

 

Along with the Derby and St. Leger, the Two Thousand Guineas traditionally forms the so-called ‘Triple Crown’, last won by Nijinsky, trained by the late Vincent O’Brien and ridden by Lester Piggott, in 1970. Nowadays, the Triple Crown is rarely, if ever, attempted, although in 2012, Camelot, trained by Aidan O’Brien, won the Two Thousand Guineas and the Derby before finishing second, beaten three-quarters of a length, in the St. Leger. Speaking of Aidan O’Brien, the current ‘Master of Ballydoyle’ has a phenomenal record in the Two Thousand Guineas, with the 2019 winner, Grecia Magna, taking his total to ten winners since 1998.

 

Indeed, Grecia Magna joins a roll of honour that includes some of the highest-rated horses since Timeform published ‘Racehorses of 1948’ in 1949. In 2011, the highest-rated horse of the Timeform era, Frankel, made all the running to win by six lengths, but even he could not match the performance of the 1947 winner, Tudor Minstrel – joint-third on the all-time list, according to Timeform – who won by eight lengths and, according to some observers, could have won by twenty lengths. Other luminaries to have won the first Classic of the season include Brigadier Gerard, Dancing Brave and Sea The Stars.

1000 Guineas

Inaugurated in 1814, the One Thousand Guineas is the most recent of the British Classics but, like two of its predecessors, the Derby and the Two Thousand Guineas, was established under the auspices of Jockey Club Steward Sir Charles Bunbury. The race is run over a mile on the Rowley Mile Course at Newmarket – the same course and distance as the Two Thousand Guineas the previous day – in late April or early May and is open exclusively to thoroughbred three-year-old fillies. The race title was derived from the original prize fund – a guinea being worth 21/–, or £1.10s, in pre-decimal currency – but, nowadays, the One Thousand Guineas is one of the most prestigious races of the season for three-year-old fillies; in 2019, the total prize fund was £500,000.

 

Many of the records for the One Thousand Guineas, including those for leading jockey, trainer and owner, were set during the nineteenth century. The leading jockey is George Fordham, whose seven victories between 1859 and 1883 included the widest margin winner in history, Mayonaise, who romped home by 20 lengths. The leading trainer is Robert Robson, a.k.a. the ‘Emperor of Trainers’, who saddled nine of the ten winners between 1818 and 1827, eight of them for George Fitzroy, Fourth Duke of Grafton, who is, unsurprisingly, the leading owner in the history of the race.

 

In 1840, the undefeated Crucifix, who had the distinction of winning the Two Thousand Guineas, One Thousand Guineas and Oaks in a three-year-old campaign cut short by injury, was the shortest-priced winner at 1/10 while, as recently as 2018, Billesdon Brook became the longest-priced winner at 66/1. The One Thousand Guineas also forms the first leg of the so-called ‘Fillies’ Triple Crown’ – which also included the Oaks and St. Leger – but the last filly to win all three races was Oh So Sharp in 1985 and, before that, Meld in 1955. Nowadays, the Fillies’ Triple Crown is rarely, if ever, attempted.

Epsom Derby

The Derby Stakes, or simply the Derby, is named after Edward Smith Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby, who co-founded the race with Sir Charles Bunbury, Steward of the Jockey Club, in 1780. The inaugural running, over a straight mile, on Epsom Downs, featured nine runners and was won by the 6/4 favourite, Diomed, owned by Bunbury. Four years later, the distance was extended to a mile-and-a-half and, apart from the years 1915-1918 and 1940-45 – when the race was run, as the ‘New Derby Stakes’, at Newmarket – the Derby has been staged over the same course and distance.

 

Of course, the Derby is a Group One contest, run over an advertised distance of 1 mile, 4 furlongs and 6 yards at Epsom Downs Racecourse in early June. The race is open to thoroughbred three-year-old colts and fillies, although the last filly to participate was Cape Verdi in 1998. Designated a ‘Classic’ by the Jockey Club in 1814, the Derby is the most valuable horse race run in Britain, with total prize money of £1.625 million.

 

Befitting a race sometimes billed as the ‘Supreme Test of a Racehorse’, the Derby is run on a notoriously testing, switchback course, which rises steadily throughout the first three-quarters of mile before a sweeping, downhill turn into the home straight, at Tattenham Corner. The final furlong is uphill and the ground falls away towards the inside rail in the straight, creating an adverse camber, which can throw horses off balance and create trouble in running. Nevertheless, the roll of honour for the Derby reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of middle-distance talent over the years and include the likes of Sea Bird, Mill Reef, Shergar, Reference Point and Sea The Stars.

 

Together with the Two Thousand Guineas and the St. Leger Stakes, the Derby forms the so-called ‘Triple Crown’, last won by Nijinsky, ridden by Lester Piggott, in 1970. Piggott is also the is the most successful jockey in the history of the Derby, having ridden the first of his nine winners, Never Say Die, in 1954 and the last, Teenoso, in 1983.

Royal Ascot

Royal Ascot is the most valuable race meeting staged in Britain, offering in excess of £7 million in prize money, and takes place at Ascot Racecourse, in the Royal County of Berkshire, in June each year. Situated approximately six miles from Windsor Castle, Ascot Racecourse was founded by Queen Anne in 1711 and has enjoyed a close association with the Royal Family ever since.

 

The Royal Enclosure can be traced back to 1807, during the reign of King George III, and King George IV made the first Royal Procession, originally known as the Royal Parade, up the Straight Mile in 1825. Each day of the week still begins with the Queen and various members of the Royal Family arriving by horse-drawn landau. They are joined in the Royal Enclosure – entrance to which is strictly regulated – by international heads of state, high-level dignitaries from home and abroad and the rich and famous from around the world.

 

Traditionally, Royal Ascot was a four-day, Tuesday-to-Friday fixture, with a less formal fixture, known as the Heath Meeting, held on the following Saturday. However, in 2002, Royal Ascot was extended to five days to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and, prompted by overwhelming demand, the Heath Meeting was subsequently assigned, permanently, to the history books.

 

Royal Ascot is a major sporting and social event, attracting 300,000 racegoers over five days. The five-day programme features a total of thirty races, of which eighteen are Group, or Pattern, races and eight are Group One ‘feature’ races. Day one features the Queen Anne Stakes, the King’s Stand Stakes and the St. James’s Palace Stakes, but the remaining Group One contests are spread evenly throughout the week; day two features the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, day three, also known as ‘Ladies’ Day’, features the Gold Cup, day four features the Commonwealth Cup and the Coronation Stakes and day five features the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

 

Royal Ascot attracts leading thoroughbreds not just from Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe, but also from North America, the Far East and Australasia. In 2012, for example, the Diamond Jubilee Stakes was famously won – albeit only just, after a surviving a calamitous error by jockey Luke Nolen – by Australian ‘supermare’ Black Caviar, having her one and only start outside her native country.

The Grand National

As the most famous steeplechase in the world, the Grand National requires little, or no, introduction. The advertised distance of the Aintree marathon may have been reduced to four miles and two-and-a-half furlongs – a furlong shorter than previously, following re-measurement of the National Course in 2016 – and the obstacles may have been ‘softened’ for safety purposes, but the race remains a formidable test of stamina and jumping ability. To win the Grand National horses must complete two circuits of the National Course, negotiate thirty obstacles, including the infamous Becher’s Brook, Canal Turn and The Chair, and retain enough stamina for the famously long, 494-yard run-in between the final fence and the winning post. In 2020 the Grand National was cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This put on ice the Gordon Elliot trained Tiger Roll’s attempt to win three Grand Nationals in a row.

 

Aintree Racecourse, the home of the Grand National, was created by William Lynn, the proprietor of the Waterloo Hotel in Liverpool, in 1829. Lynn originally leased the land at Aintree from William Molynuex, Second Earl of Sefton, with the intention of staging Flat racing. However, prompted by the success of an existing steeplechase, known as the Great St. Albans Steeplechase, Lynn staged a precursor to the Grand National, known as the Liverpool Grand Steeplechase, or simply the Liverpool Steeplechase, for the first time in 1836. Interestingly, the inaugural running was won by The Duke, ridden by Captain Martin Becher, who famously sheltered in the brook at the fence which now bears his name during the first ‘official’ Grand National in 1839.

 

Although still known by its original title, the 1839 renewal was won by the aptly-named Lottery, trained by George Dockeray and ridden by Jem Mason. Originally a conditions or weight-for-age race, in which all the participants carried twelve stone, the Grand National became a handicap, under the influence of Edward Topham – who later acquired the lease and became Clerk of the Course at Aintree – in 1843. Aside from the years 1916-1918, when a substitute race, known as the ‘Racecourse Association Steeplechase’ and subsequently as the ‘War National’, was run at Gatwick Racecourse, 1941-1945, when the race was abandoned, and 1993, when the race was declared void after thirty jockeys failed to realise a false start had been called, the Grand National has been staged as a handicap at Aintree ever since.

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