Favourite Horse – Frankel

Favourite Horse - Frankel Named after the late Robert J. Frankel, five-time winner of the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer, Frankel was, according to World Thoroughbred Rankings and Timeform, the highest-rated horse in the recent history of Flat racing. Owned by Khalid Abdullah and trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil, Frankel was unbeaten in 14 races, including ten Group One wins, at least one at two, three and four years.

Described in some quarters as a “freak”, what really distinguished Frankel from the other ‘greats’ since the late Forties was the consistency of his brilliance. Time and time again, the son of Galileo surged clear in the closing stages to beat supposedly top-class rivals by wide margins with consummate ease. By way of illustration, Excelebration, from the same Classic generation as Frankel, achieved a Timeform Annual Rating of 133 and, in any other era, would have been hailed as a champion. However, he met Frankel on five occasions at three and four years and was beaten an aggregate of 26¼ lengths, without ever laying a glove on his illustrious rival.

Frankel announced himself as an equine superstar in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in April, 2011, for which he started at odds of 1/2, making him the shortest-priced favourite since Apalachee was turned over at 4/9 in 1974. Ridden by Tom Queally, as he was throughout his career, Frankel made the running for the first time and, having been 10 lengths, or further, clear at halfway, romped home to an impressive 6-length victory. His margin of victory had been bettered just once before, by 8-length winner Tudor Minstrel – the joint-third highest rated horse since World War II, according to Timeform – in 1947.

Despite suspicions that Frankel had ‘run off’ with Queally at Newmarket, thereafter he competed exclusively in Group One company and won eight more races, all at long odds-on, before his eventual retirement in October, 2012. Thanks to the loyalty of his owner, Frankel propelled Sir Henry Cecil – a charismatic, naturally gifted trainer, whose career had been in decline since leading owner Sheikh Mohammed removed all his horses from his yard in 1995 – back to the top of his profession. Indeed, masterminding the unbeaten career of the horse he described as “the best I’ve ever seen” was to prove his swansong; Cecil finally succumbed to stomach cancer, first diagnosed in 2005, in June, 2013.

Sir Anthony McCoy

Sir Anthony McCoy Sir Anthony McCoy, knighted in 2016 for services to horse racing, was simply the greatest National Hunt jockey of all time. Born in Moneyglass, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, McCoy rode his first winner on the British mainland, Chickabiddy, trained by Gordon Edwards, at Exeter in 1994, when conditional jockey to the late Toby Balding. By the end of the 1994/95 season, he had ridden 74 winners, enough to ride out his 7lb, 5lb and 3lb claim and, in fact, a record for a conditional jockey.

Having won the Conditional Jockeys’ Championship, McCoy proceeded to dominate National Hunt racing for the next two decades, winning the Jump Jockeys’ Championship every year until his eventual retirement. During a lengthy spell as stable jockey to Martin Pipe, which lasted for nearly a decade and yielded 1,154 winners, 100, 150, or even 200 winners became the norm, rather than the exception, as McCoy racked up championship after championship. In fact, in 2001/02, McCoy rode 289 winners in a season, beating the previous record held by Gordon Richards.

In 2004, McCoy accepted a retainer, reputedly worth £1 million a year, from leading owner John Patrick ‘J.P.’ McManus and, in his famous green-and-gold silks, continued his phenomenal career. His lowest seasonal total in the last decade or so of his career was 140 winners in 2007/08, a season which, by his own admission, was ‘turned upside down’, by a fall at Warwick in January. Damage to the vertebrae in the central section of his spine required an operation to insert metal plates, and cryotherapy, but he was still back in the saddle in time for the Cheltenham Festival in March.

All in all, McCoy rode 4,358 winners, including 31 at the Cheltenham Festival, and won most of the major races in the National Hunt calendar. His high-profile successes included the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice, the Champion Hurdle three times, the King George VI Chase and, of course, which he famously won, at the fifteenth time of asking, on Don’t Push It, owned by J.P. McManus and trained by Jonjo O’Neill. Having spent over two decades limiting himself to a single meal a day and sweating in hot baths to maintain his 5’10” frame at, or around, 9st 10lb, McCoy, unsurprisingly, gained over two stone in weight following his retirement.

Favourite Jockey – Lester Piggott

Favourite Jockey - Lester Piggott It may have been a few years since Lester Piggott, who turned 83 in November, 2018, was known as the “Housewives’ Choice” but, in his heyday, he was not so much a jockey as a phenomenon. In a riding career which lasted nearly half a century – including a five-year hiatus between 1985 and 1990, a year of which he spent under lock and key for income tax evasion – Piggott rode 4,493 winners in Britain and was champion jockey 11 times, including eight years running between 1964 and 1971. His winning tally included 30 British Classics and, in 1970, he became the last jockey to win the ‘Triple Crown’ – 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St. Leger – on Nijinksy.

Piggott rode his first winner, The Chase, at Haydock Park in 1948 as a precocious 12-year-old and by the time he rode the first of his nine Derby winners, Never Say Die, in 1954, he had developed a reputation as a reckless wunderkind, who regularly courted controversy. In fact, he had his licence revoked, albeit unjustly, for causing interference on the same horse in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, just two weeks after winning the Derby. Later in his career, though, Piggott forged profitable associations with Noel Murless Vincent O’Brien and Henry Cecil – three of the finest trainers in the history of horse racing – which led to him riding some of the great horses of the twentieth century, including not just Nijinksy, but Crepello, Sir Ivor, The Minstrel, to name but a few.

Alternatively nicknamed the “Long Fellow”, because of his height and his distinctive, but much imitated, riding style, and “Old Stoneface”, because of his undemonstrative, taciturn demeanour, Piggott was naturally gifted, tactically astute, tough and determined. He did, however, have a ruthless streak and would think nothing of “jocking off” his contemporaries, regardless of any loyalty shown to them by an owner or trainer, if he thought it was to his advantage. Indeed, he only rode Commanche Run, the horse on which he won his twenty-eighth Classic, the St. Leger in 1984 – thereby breaking a 200-year-old record set by Frank Buckle – because he browbeat owner Ivan Allen into believing that American jockey Darrell McHargue, despite being retained by trainer Luca Cumani, “couldn’t ride a bicycle”.

Favourite Horse – Desert Orchid

Favourite Horse - Desert Orchid Aside from his innate ability, over hurdles and fences, ‘Dessie’, as he was affectionately known to his legions of followers, always looked like a winner. His grey coat became lighter with age – in fact, always white – such that, in the latter part of his career, he created the impression of a ghostly apparition being pursued across the landscape by lesser, mortal horses.

No mean hurdler – he was sent off second favourite for the Champion Hurdle, when still a novice, in 1983 – it was in his later career, as a steeplechaser, that Desert Orchid captured the public imagination. Renowned for his bold, attacking style and his versatility, he won 34 of his 71 races, including the King George VI Chase at Kempton four times, in 1986, 1988, 1989 and 1990 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Indeed, his victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup was arguably his finest hour; hating the heavy ground and, according to jockey Simon Sherwood, a two stone lesser horse going left-handed, Desert Orchid looked beaten when coming under pressure between the last two fences, but rallied to overhaul confirmed mudlark Yahoo halfway up the run-in to win by 1½ lengths.

Unlike some of the ‘precious’ steeplechasers of recent years, Desert Orchid regularly ran in handicaps, often conceding eye-watering amounts of weight, which only added to his appeal. In early December, 1988, as a 9-year-old Desert Orchid made all the running to give the 81-rated Jim Thorpe 20lb and a very easy, 12-length beating in the Tingle Creek Chase, over 2 miles, at Sandown Park. Just over three weeks later, on Boxing Day, he beat his old rival Kildimo, by a comfortable 4 lengths, to win the King George VI Chase, over 3 miles, at Kempton for the second time and, less than three weeks later, rallied to beat the 83-rated Panto Prince, who was receiving 22lb, by a head in the Victor Chandler Chase, back over 2 miles, at Ascot. In April, 1990, as an 11-year-old, he conceded 28lb to all bar one of his rivals, who received 26lb, in the Irish Grand National, over 3 miles 4 furlongs, at Fairyhouse and won by 12 lengths.