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Graham Cunningham’s 15 Shades of Grey (part one)

11 Aug | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Graham Cunningham’s 15 Shades of Grey (part one)

To celebrate the Betway Grey Horse Handicap - which is live on Channel 4 on Saturday - the leading pundit names his greatest greys of all time

By Graham Cunningham

The old racing adage dictates that everyone loves a grey.

Or do they?

Legendary Italian breeder Federico Tesio didn’t seem sold on the notion – in fact, he insisted that “grey is not a coat but a disease”.

But at times like this it’s tempting to invoke Harry Enfield’s baron of bombast Frank Doberman and say: “Oi, Tesio. No!”

Tesio clearly had a point in strict genetic terms and his nickname of the Wizard of Dormello was carved from a career which spawned a long line of outstanding thoroughbreds including the peerless Ribot.

But for us lesser mortals the sight of a gallant grey on the Flat or over jumps still stirs the soul in a special way.

A swift poll among my Twitter followers revealed a lot of love for all sorts of galloping greys from past and present.

Not surprisingly, top Flat horses like Kalaglow, Silver Patriarch, Kingston Hill, Bruni, Scallywag and the enigmatic Knockroe gained support.

So did star jumpers like Nicolaus Silver, Kribensis, Nacarat, Teeton Mill, The Grey Monk, Better Times Ahead, Morceli, Senor El Betrutti, Silver By Nature, Call Equiname and Stalbridge Colonist.

The influential (if ageing) sprint lobby pulled hard for popular old warriors like Standaan, Absolution, Palacegate Touch, Gods Solution, Grey Desire, Paris House, Vorvados and Trending.

Jumps junkies responded with names like Detroit City, What’s Up Boys, Thousand Stars and the ill-fated Valiramix, while the modernist lobby weighed in with votes for Solow, Mastercraftsman, The Grey Gatsby, Lethal Force, Tominator and even the once-raced Lumiere.

Sorting the wheat from the chaff among such a stellar bunch is a daunting task, but with Betway’s latest renewal of the Grey Horse Handicap coming live on C4 from Newmarket on Saturday this seemed an ideal time to assemble a list of Fifteen Shades of Grey.

Ask me again this time next year and the pecking order might be different. But compiling it was great fun, not least because YouTube enables us to see so many memorable moments all over again.

1: ONE MAN (Gordon Richards)

What a horse. And what a story to try and tell in a few short paragraphs.

One Man’s roller-coaster career, accompanied by various human dramas, held jumps fans in thrall through the mid-to-late 1990s.

It started in his hurdling days with his charismatic trainer Gordon Richards saying “just wait till you see him over the black ones”.

Five vibrant novice chase wins were followed by capitulation in the Sun Alliance Chase at Cheltenham.

Thrilling wins in the Hennessy and the King George (run at Sandown) were followed by another Festival flop when 11-8 favourite for Imperial Call’s Gold Cup in 1996.

Three more big wins – including a runaway King George defeat of Rough Quest at Kempton – preceded another sorry Gold Cup retreat behind Mr Mulligan in 1997.

Then came the 1998 Champion Chase. One Man had never raced over two miles since his debut in a Hexham hurdle way back in 1992.

Richard Dunwoody had jumped ship to ride Klairon Davis; Tony Dobbin was sidelined by a fall in the Arkle a day earlier; and Richards was absent having tests in a Cumbrian hospital.

Brian Harding took over on One Man and the pair raised the roof with a bold-jumping defeat of Or Royal.

1998 Queen Mother Champion Chase

One Man died just 16 days later in a crashing fall at Aintree. The cancer Gordon Richards was being treated for on Champion Chase day claimed him six months later. The end for both was deeply sad. But the ride that came before was unforgettable.

2: DESERT ORCHID (David Elsworth)

“He’s beginning to get up, Desert Orchid is beginning to get up.”

1989 Desert Orchid Gold Cup

You have to be well over 40 to have witnessed that unrelenting 1989 Gold Cup in person, but Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s commentary captures the defining moment of an epic career perfectly.

And that is just one of a host of abiding “Dessie” dramas, starting with a near-fatal fall on his hurdling debut and ending with a grand total of 34 wins from 70 starts.

Dessie’s four King George wins made him the king of Kempton until Kauto Star came along. His runaway Irish National win under 12st represented a truly great handicap performance, while the way he rallied to give 22lb to the high-class Panto Prince in the 1989 Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot typified his refusal to give in.

Bold, brilliant, brave, incredibly versatile and capable of the sort of leap to leave you gasping, Desert Orchid was a phenomenal horse by any measure. We might be lucky enough to see another like him. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

3: DAYLAMI (Saeed bin Suroor)

What would Godolphin give for a globetrotter like Daylami nowadays?

It must have cost a huge sum to persuade the Aga Khan to sell his French Guineas winner at the end of his three-year-old campaign.

Whatever the cost it proved a sound investment as Daylami flew the royal blue flag with distinction on both sides of the Atlantic.

Wins in the Eclipse, Coronation Cup, King George (by five lengths) and Irish Champion Stakes (by nine) thrilled racegoers on this side of the Atlantic before Daylami signed off with a commanding performance in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Gulfstream.

1999 Breeders’ Cup Turf

Frankie Dettori was exultant on passing the line. America’s greatest race caller Tom Durkin summed up Daylami by saying: “Wow, what an animal!” He certainly was.

4: INDIAN SKIMMER (Henry Cecil)

Henry Cecil hadn’t been knighted – and the flawless Frankel was 20 years from being foaled – when he lauded Indian Skimmer in 1988.

“I have trained some very good animals but she is brilliant,” he said. “It would be unfair to her not to say she is the best I have ever had – and that includes the colts.”

Cecil had already trained Reference Point, Slip Anchor, Wollow, Bolkonski, Kris, Oh So Sharp, Ardross and Le Moss at this point, but Indian Skimmer’s brilliant best gives his quotes ample substance.

Indian Skimmer trounced Miesque in the French Oaks at three and returned to form with a vengeance once the ground eased at four, culminating with a crushing success in the Champion Stakes under Michael Roberts.

1988 Dubai Champion Stakes

Firm ground hindered her five-year-old campaign, which ended with a lacklustre third in Nashwan’s Eclipse, but she remains one of the very best fillies of the modern era.

5: FURTHER FLIGHT (Barry Hills)

Barry Hills tells a tale about the late Greville Starkey getting off Further Flight after finishing tenth at Epsom on his third run as a juvenile and saying: “I could have nearly won that.”

Michael Hills was aboard when a punt was landed up at Ayr from a plater’s mark of 59 next time out and ended up partnering this hugely popular gelding to 22 of his 24 successes in a remarkable ten-year racing career which was hallmarked by five consecutive wins in Newmarket’s Jockey Club Cup.

Some of the Youtube pictures of his high days look more like they come from the 1890s than the 1990s but this clip does him full justice.

1992 Jockey Club Cup

Futher Flight enjoyed an active retirement under Michael’s care until his death in 2001. His late charging style during a 70-race career made him a huge fan favourite. Meanwhile, Barry simply said: “You could live a lifetime and never have a horse like him again.”

6: NEPTUNE COLLONGES (Paul Nicholls)

Talk about going out on a high.

Neptune Collonges had been a high-class chaser for several years before his National win, but in a yard containing the John, Paul and George of Kauto Star, Denman and Master Minded, he always seemed destined to play the Ringo role.

All that changed on April 14th, 2012 at the John Smith’s Grand National Chase.

Paul Nicholls was 0 for over 50 in the world’s most famous steeplechase; some said Neptune Collonges was too old at 11; and others felt he had too much weight with 11st 6lb.

It all added up to an SP of 33-1 but Neptune Collonges hadn’t read the stats and never flinched under a powerful drive from Daryl Jacob to collar the luckless Sunnyhillboy right on the line.

Owner John Hales, with first-hand experience of the dangers Aintree can present, knew exactly what to do. Neptune Collonges was retired from racing on the spot and is currently enjoying a successful career in dressage.

7: DALAKHANI (Alain De Royer-Dupre)

Time to declare an interest here as I backed Dalakhani to land the Arc at 8-1 just after he had lost his unbeaten record to Alamshar in the Irish Derby.

A cosy win in the Prix Niel followed and come Arc day he saw off a pair of fellow Derby winners in High Chaparral and Kris Kin before finding more than enough to repel gallant longshot Mubtaker.

2003 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

History dictates that anyone who expects an Aga Khan-owned Arc winner to stick around the following year is looking through rose coloured glasses.

Conduit, Reliable Man, Integral and Second Step have all advertised his stallion prowess at Group 1 level, but Dalakhani will be chiefly remembered for what he did on October 5th 2003. And on that day he was a very good colt indeed.

READ: Graham Cunningham’s 15 Shades of Grey (part two)

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