Abernant Owned by Reginald Macdonald-Buchanan and trained by Noel Murless, later Sir Noel Murless, at Beckhampton, near Marlborough, Wiltshire, Abernant won fourteen of his seventeen races between 1948 and 1950. His regular partner, twenty-six-times champion jockey Sir Gordon Richards, described him as ‘the best sprinter he had ever ridden’.

Comparing horses from different generations is invariably a thankless task but, according to Timeform, Abernant is the fifth highest-rated horse, sprinter or otherwise, to race on the Flat in the post-war era, and the highest-rated sprinter in that period. Indeed, before Frankel, Abernant was the last horse to be rated the best of his generation by Timeform at two, three and four years.

Abernant was beaten, through greenness, on his two-year-old debut at Lingfield, but thereafter carried all before him over five and six furlongs to become the best British juvenile of 1948. His five victories that year included the National Breeders’ Produce Stakes – now the National Stakes – at Sandown, the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot, the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster and the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket.

Following a successful reappearance at Bath, over seven furlongs, Abernant was sent off odds-on favourite for the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket; after trying to make all, was caught close home and beaten a short head by his old rival Nimbus, whom he had beaten six lengths in the Champagne Stakes. Thereafter, he reverted to specialist sprint distances, winning the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, King George Stakes at Goodwood and Nunthorpe Stakes at York, all over five furlongs, and the July Cup at Newmarket, over six furlongs.

In 1950, as a four-year-old, Abernant won the King George Stakes, Nunthorpe Stakes and July Cup again and in the King’s Stand Stakes was beaten only by the very useful three-year-old Tangled, to whom he was conceding 23lb. Abernant was retired at the end of the season with ‘nothing left for him to win’, according to Noel Murless.

Eclipse According to horse racing historian Michael Church, no horse has ‘achieved greater fame or left a more lasting legacy through his progeny’ than Eclipse. Foaled during an annular eclipse of the Sun on April Fools’ Day, 1764, Eclipse was bred, and originally owned, by HRH William, Duke of Cumberland. Cumberland died a year later and at the subsequent dispersal sale Eclipse was bought, for 75 guineas, by William Wildman, a cattle salesman from Smithfield.

An unruly, temperamental type, with an unusually low head carriage, Eclipse did not race for the first time until May, 1769, by which time he was a mature five-year-old. On his racecourse debut, he won the first heat of the Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Plate, over four miles, at Epsom with such ease that inveterate gambler Dennis O’Kelly famously predicted the result of the second heat as ‘Eclipse first, the rest nowhere’. O’Kelly was correct and immediately bought a half-share in Eclipse for 650 guineas.

The following April, by which time Eclipse was unbeaten in nine races, O’Kelly bought the horse outright, for 1,100 guineas, and transferred him to his stables at Clay Hill, Epsom. All in all, in a career lasting less than eighteen months, Eclipse won all of his eighteen races without ever being seriously challenged. His winning tally included eleven races with ‘King’s Plate’ in the title, run at venues throughout England, including Lewes, Newmarket and Winchester. However, having proved himself, far and away, the best horse of his generation, Eclipse ‘walked over’ on several occasions and was ultimately retired from racing due to lack of competition.

Following his retirement from racing, Eclipse proved a success at stud, siring three Derby winners. Even more remarkably, Eclipse features in the male line of ninety-five percent of English thoroughbreds and appears somewhere in the pedigree of the other five percent. Eclipse died from colic in 1789, at the age of 24. His skeleton is on display at the Royal Veterinary College, near Hatfield, Hertfordshire and he is commemorated by the Eclipse Stakes, run annually at Sandown Park since 1886.

Golden Miller Comparing steeplechasers from different generations, in an effort to determine which was the ‘greatest’ of all time, is a popular, but ultimately, futile activity. However, although he raced long before the advent of Timeform ratings or any other empirical measure that would allow comparisons to be made, Golden Miller must surely be considered, at least, one of the greatest.

Owned by Dorothy Paget – an extremely wealthy, but plain, hefty woman, with a reputation as fearsome as the horse himself – and trained, initially, by Basil Briscoe, Golden Miller won the Cheltenham Gold Cup five consecutive times between 1932 and 1936. Even allowing for the fact that the Cheltenham Gold Cup, at that time, was not the ‘Blue Riband’ event it later became, no other horse – not even the mighty Arkle – has won the race more than three times.

Of course, following his third win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in 1934, as a seven-year-old, Golden Miller went on to win the Grand National under top weight of 12st 2lb. Not only did he beat Delaneige by 5 lengths but, in so doing, he beat the previous course record, which had stood for 72 years, by 9.6 seconds. In fact, his winning time of 9 minutes 20.4 seconds wouldn’t be beaten for 40 years and, even then, it took the legendary Red Rum to do so. Golden Miller remains the only horse ever to have won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same season.

Despite being described by one racing journalist as ‘a god on four legs’, Golden Miller fared less well on subsequent attempts in the Grand National. In fact, his refusal on the first circuit in 1935, when sent off the shortest-priced favourite in National history, caused Paget to fall out with Briscoe and transfer Golden Miller to Owen Anthony. Anthony saddled the horse to win a fifth, and final, Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1936, but Golden Miller failed to complete the National Course again in 1936 and 1937.

 

Dawn Run Female horses rarely win the Champion Hurdle or the Cheltenham Gold Cup. In fact, the roll of honour for the Champion Hurdle includes just four mares, African Sister, Dawn Run, Flakey Dove and Annie Power, while the roll of honour for the Cheltenham Gold Cup also includes four, Ballinode, Kerstin, Glencaraig Lady and Dawn Run.

Of course, the salient point is that Dawn Run, who remains the only horse, of either sex, ever to complete the Champion Hurdle – Cheltenham Gold Cup double should be remembered not just as an outstanding mare, but as an outstanding racehorse.

Owned by the late Charmian Hill and trained by the late Paddy Mullins, Dawn Run was variously described as ‘ferocious’ and ‘savage’ by connections, but was nonetheless a relentless galloper. In her second season over hurdles, 1983/84, she won the Ascot Hurdle, when ridden for the first time by Jonjo O’Neill, the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, and the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown en route to a crack at the Champion Hurdle proper at the Cheltenham Festival.

Sent off slight odds-on, at 4/5, Dawn Run led turning for home but, ultimately, was all out to hold the late challenge of 66/1 outsider, Cima, by three-quarters of a length. Nevertheless, she became the first mare to win the Champion hurdle since African Sister in 1939 and subsequently won the French Champion Hurdle, under Tony Mullins, son of Paddy, to become the first horse ever to win the Champion Hurdle and the Irish and French equivalents.

Dawn Run won her first three starts over fences, too, despite a lengthy absence through injury, but unseated rider Tony Mullins in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham, her preparatory race for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in January, 1986. Rightly or wrongly, Charmian Hill replaced Mullins with Jonjo O’Neill – for the first time since the 1984 Champion Hurdle – and the Corkman was seen to good effect, galvanising the mare up the Cheltenham hill to beat Wayward Lad by a length and make history.

Night Nurse Night Nurse ran to 35 wins during his racing career that featured flat, hurdle and chase events. Trained in England by Peter Easterby, Night Nurse was originally a National Hunt race horse. The gelding was able to find success no matter what type of race or event he took place in.

Debuting in 1973, Night Nurse’s career didn’t start well. The horse lost six races during the season. If expectations weren’t high after the first year of racing, then the finish of his second season didn’t increase hope of success by much. Night Nurse won just once in six races in 1974. The gelding’s lone victory came at Ripon Racecourse.

Wins would come more often to Night Nurse in the following years. He raced to victory in two of three races in 1975 with wins at the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and the Irish Sweeps Hurdle. A year later, Night Nurse won the Champion Hurdle for the first of two times, the Scottish Champion Hurdle and the Welsh Champion Hurdle for the first time. In 1977, Night Nurse won his most remembered race at Aintree. Competing in the Templegate Hurdle, Night Nurse won a deadheat against Monksfield.

After being so successful in hurdle competitions, Night Nurse was switched to chasing, and more wins followed. Often ridden by jockey Paddy Broderick, Night Nurse raced until 1983. The duo was one of the most feared on the racetrack and many a race was most likely won before the horses even left the gates. During his racing career, the gelding earned over £170,000 in prize winnings.

In 1983, Night Nurse was retired and lived out his days for the next 15 years. Those final years saw Night Nurse live on the farm of his trainer, Easterby, and later buried on the property. In November 1998, the horse was put down just short of his 28th birthday.