Best Mate died in 2005 during the William Hill Haldon Gold Cup. The horse died of a suspected heart attack and fans who witnessed the event were moved to tears. Best Mate was one of the most beloved horses of his generation.
Much of that love was due to the Irish horses three Cheltenham Gold Cup wins. Best Mate won the Gold Cup in three consecutive years – 2002, 2003 and 2004. Best Mate’s unbelievable form and treble of Gold Cup wins matched Arkle’s record set in the 1960s. Best Mate’s consecutive Gold Cup wins made him the first horse to accomplish the feat since 1970 and 1971 when L’Escargot did it.
Best Mate was trained by Henrietta Knight and earned over £1m in winnings. The horse recorded a 14-7-0 record in 22 starts and remarkably never fell at a hurdle. Best Mate won numerous award during his career including the British Horse Racing Board’s Jump Horse of the Year.
Best Mate’s death came just weeks after a failed attempt to win his fourth consecutive Gold Cup. Best Mate had broken a blood vessel and it contributed to his inability to when the race. The race in Exeter that saw Best Mate’s untimely demise was expected to be his return to the top of the sport. Unfortunately, it was the venue for his death.
One reason for Best Mate’s popularity was due to the amount of money he had helped raise for charity.
The horse’s death didn’t just hit horse racing fans hard, but it also affected Knight and the trainer’s inner circle. The horse was called the best horse they could have ever had. In truth, Best Mate was the just that, a horse that won races and touched the lives of those who worked with him.
British Thoroughbred race horse Brigadier Gerard raced for just three years. However, during that short timeframe, Brigadier Gerard won 17 of 18 races and hearts of English race fans. His success inspired horse racing experts to proclaim him the best race horse of the 20th century.
Brigadier Gerard debuted in 1970 as a two-year-old. Ridden by Joe Mercer, Brigadier Gerard won the Berkshire Stakes in his first race before running his second event just over a week later. Fatigue was not a factor for the horse as he won again, this time at the Champagne Stakes in Salisbury. In all, Brigadier Gerard won all four of his races in his rookie season, setting him up for further success in the years to come.
By the time 1971 rolled around, Brigadier Gerard had made quite the name for himself; and by the end of 1972, he had completely altered the landscape of horse racing, becoming the most famous British Thoroughbred.
As 1971 ended, Brigadier Gerard had pushed his record to a perfect 10 wins from 10. His record influenced horse racing insiders to name him the Horse of the Year and he also received the Champion Miller award.
The 1972 season was more of the same for Brigadier Gerard as he moved to a perfect 15 wins. It was at 15 that the racing great’s win streak ended. Running at the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup, Brigadier Gerard was defeated by Roberto. Despite suffering his first loss, Brigadier Gerard was still awarded the Horse of the Year honours in 1972. Two more races followed – the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and the Champion Stakes – and both ended in wins for Brigadier Gerard. He was put out to stud following his final victory and lived until 1989.
Dancing Brave was an American-bred, British-trained horse that captured the world’s attention in the mid-1980s. Dancing Brave ran just 10 races in a career that stretched from 1985 to 1986. In 10 starts, he won eight races including the Craven Stakes, 2000 Guineas and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
The 1986 season saw Dancing Brave win a clutch of awards including the British Horse of the Year, Top-rated European Horse (Timeform) and Top-rated European Horse (International class).
Trained by Guy Harwood, Dancing Brave debuted in 1985 as a two-year-old. Harwood didn’t believe in starting the horse until he was two-years old and three months. His decision to wait on Dancing Brave proved a masterstroke as the horse won his debut at the Dorking Stakes. The horse had actually come to England and into Harwood’s care after Kentucky’s Glen Oak Farm decided Dancing Brave wasn’t attractive enough to keep around. The farm wasn’t sure the horse would amount to much and sold him for $200,000. In the end, the purchase of Dancing Brave by Khalid Abdullah was a brilliant decision as the horse earned over $1.7m in winnings.
Dancing Brave’s three-year-old season in 1986 carried on the successes of the previous year. Again, Dancing Brave won and won big. The Epsom Derby was the only blemish on Dancing Brave’s 1986 as he took second place after an unbelievable end to the race. Dancing Brave ended in second and his runner-up finish saw jockey Greville Starkey receive immense criticism for the way he ran the horse. Dancing Brave rebounded, however, winning the Eclipse Stakes in his next outing.
In Dancing Brave’s final race at the Breeders’ Cup Turf, he suffered an eye injury and was soon retired to Dalham Hall. The initial stud fee for Dancing Brave reached £120,000, but the horse suffered fertility problems in 1988. He recovered from them and was sent to Japan where Dancing Brave lived out the remainder of his years as a stud.
Shergar may be one of the most famous race horses in Irish and British history, although it isn’t for his major wins. The Irish reared, British trained horse had minimal success in his first season as he ran just two races. Ridden by Kris Plate as a two-year-old, Shergar won at Newbury, as the horse whet its appetite for more wins in the future. In 1981, as a three-year-old, Shergar blew away the field at the Epsom Derby. It was his first derby win and it wouldn’t be Shergar’s last. The horse followed up the race in Surrey by winning the Irish Derby without breaking a sweat. The win made Shergar one of the most popular Irish race horses of all-time.
Owned by Aga Khan, the race horse entrepreneur sold 34 shares of Shergar following his two derby wins. The horse’s value soared to £10 million as each share cost £250,000. Shergar claimed one more victory as a three-year-old, winning the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Following the race Shergar’s racing career was over and he went on to produce 35 foals in his first year as a stud.
In 1983, just as Shergar was to begin his second season as a stud, the horse was kidnapped. Although no one has ever been charged with the abduction of the horse, it is believed the Irish Republican Army snatched him. Shegar was never found, and it is theorised that the horse was shot and killed within hours of the bungling thieves taking him. Today, the Shergar Cup is run at Ascot as a way to remember the great race horse. The race is run in August and its unique format attracts horse racing fans from all over the globe.
Mill Reef was born in the United States, but rather than destined for the Kentucky Derby, the stallion was shipped off to the United Kingdom. Trained by Paul Mellon, Mill Reef competed in 14 races and registered a record of 12-2-0.
The Stallion only raced from 1970 to 1972, and in that time, he accumulated wins at the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Epsom Derby, Gimcrack Stakes and more.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Mill Reef’s wins were the distance in which he finished in front of the competition. At Gimcrack he won by 10 lengths. The King George VI saw him stroll to victory by six lengths; and the Epsom Derby was won by two lengths.
In 1972, Mill Reef’s career was cut short due to breaking his foreleg. Although a plate was inserted to fix the fracture, Mill Reef’s racing days were finished and the horse was retired. Over the ensuing years, Mill Reef fathered a number of offspring that went on to successful careers. In 1986, Mill Reef died at age 18.
Mill Reef’s legacy lives on in the stakes race named after the famous horse. Founded in 1972, the Group 2 flat race is run at Newbury.
During his successful career, Mill Reef was ridden to victory by Geoff Lewis. The extraordinary jockey reached fame and fortune thanks to the horse and in 1999 retired from the sport. Now 82, Lewis won a laundry list of cups and trophies during his illustrious career and a number of those came with Mill Reef.