Graham Buddry believes a unique foursome deserves a place in history
Graham Buddry makes a case for Nashwan to be considered a great
There have been many great horses over the decades and most of their names spill from the lips like honey. Yet one champion is routinely omitted from most conscious lists of the best – and there seems no clear reason why.
Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard, Dancing Brave, Frankel and many more are spoken of with hushed reverence but how many, without prompting, would recall Nashwan?
Meaning “delirious” or “ecstatic” in Arabic,Nashwan was a sturdy and powerful son of the brilliant Blushing Groom,out of the Queen’s high class mare, Height of Fashion,being herself a daughter of Bustino, Nashwan was owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum and foaled in 1986 at his Shadwell Stud in Lexington, Kentucky before being sent into training with Major Dick Hern in Berkshire.
On 13 August 1988, Nashwan made his racecourse debut in a 27-runner maiden race over seven furlongs at Newbury.Perhaps it was the combination of Hern, jockeyWillie Carson and the famous blue and white colours which sent him off the 6/4 favourite in such a large field because his home gallops had only been workmanlike. Either way,he prevailed by three parts of a length to start his career in winning style.
On 8 October, he turned out again, upped in class to a Listed contest at Ascot over a full mile having missed the Royal Lodge due to a minor injury.
Odds on this time, Nashwan raced up with the pace, turned into the home straight in second place, took the lead before the distance and ran on well,showing even at this early stage that longer distances would be his forte.An easy four lengths separated him from his closest rival although it was the debutant in third place who Nashwan would have some cracking races against the following season,for this horse was Cacoethes.(His original name was My Friend Elvis!)
There would be no Middle Park,Futurity or Dewhurst on the agenda for the colt rated a full eighteen pounds below the top rated colt in the European Free handicap. Having won both his races as a two-year-old, Hern proved what a wily trainer he was by roughing the horse off, turning him out to grass and letting him grow into his powerful frame.
The Dewhurst then provided a dead heat between Scenic and Prince of Dance, an imposing sort from Sadlers Wells’ first crop out of the brilliant Sun Princess.
Prince of Dance was also trained by Hern and had passed the post first in all his two-year-old starts including the Champagne Stakes although he had earlier been disqualified from top spot in the Washington Singer at Newbury. He had been considered the stables’ leading Guineas contender and enhanced his reputation when scooting up first time out as a three-year-old but injury meant he would miss the race. Prince of Dance was well fancied for the Derby but ran a lifeless race and tests quickly discovered he was suffering from cancer of the spine and was put down soon afterwards. With breeding such as he had this was a tragic loss to the racing world.
Back to Nashwan though and he had indeed thrived over the winter months and his work in the spring of 1989 was outstanding. News quickly leaked out about the astonishing gallops he was doing at home just weeks before the race as he built up for the Two Thousand Guineas and even without a prep race his odds tumbled fast from 33/1 to 3/1 clear favourite on the day.
Carson fired his mount from the stalls at the off, laying a close third, as the pack thundered up the course at a terrific speed.Taking the lead two out,a couple of horses closed to challenge but inside the final furlong his undoubted stamina came
nijinsky, mill reef, frankel and more are spoken with hushed reverance but how many, without being prompted, would recall nashwan?
into play and Nashwan went away to win by a comfortable length in the fastest time ever electronically recorded for the race.
This was a sweet moment for Hern, wheelchair bound after a crippling hunting accident, recently diagnosed with a heart condition and then given notice to quit his West Ilsley stables of thirty years. Questioned in the winners enclosure after the race Hern confirmed the next target for Nashwan was the Derby and when asked if the big colt would handle the gradients of Epsom,replied;“He could gallop down the side of a house.”
A month later and Nashwan was sent off the 5/4 favourite for The Derby. Second favourite was Cacoethes, unbeaten since his first race against Nashwan and having recently won Lingfield’s Derby Trial with incredible ease.
Considered the equal of Dancing Brave at home, Cacoethes had the benefit of a pacemaker and in a hectic race he sat just behind his stable companion with Nashwan in mid division. Coming down Tattenham Hill,Cacoethes moved through and took the lead rounding Tattenham Corner into the home straight. Nashwan had moved through menacingly and the two colts soon had a clear advantage, locked together as they went past the two furlong pole. From here Nashwan lengthened his stride still further and powered clear, leaving his rivals toiling in his wake to win by five lengths from the fast finishing Terimon while Cacoethes was another couple of lengths further adrift in third.
Despite worries about a poisoned foot, Nashwan lined up next at Sandown for the Eclipse Stakes,attempting to become the first horse since 1939 to win that race after triumphing at Newmarket and Epsom.
Nashwan would start odds on for this race yet the opposition could hardly have been tougher. Warning, the second favourite, was a miler of the highest quality. Most recently he had sauntered clear of his field at Royal Ascot to win the Queen Anne Stakes, however this would be his first attempt at 10 furlongs.
Many people’s idea of the winner was Henry Cecil’s Indian Skimmer.A winner of five of her last six races,all at Group level, her only defeat during that time was her only crack at a distance longer than the Eclipse when a close third over 1½ miles in the Breeders Cup Turf at the end of the previous season. To ensure she got her required strong gallop a pacemaker was employed in the shape of OpeningVerse, who himself would win the Breeders Cup Mile just four months later.
Turning into the straight with three furlongs left to race, Opening Verse had set the fractions which would bring him glory later that season while Nashwan was a full eight lengths adrift with Indian Skimmer andWarning upsides.
Here, Carson quickly got to work and in an electrifying response Nashwan shot after the leader and ominously opened a gap on his closest rivals. The Champion Miler, Warning, failed to stay in the end and try as she might Indian Skimmer couldn’t go with Nashwan,who,at the line had an incredible five lengths in hand over this top class field.
Ascot’s King George and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes was next on the agenda on one of the hottest days on record.The field Nashwan faced here was hot too. His old foe, Cacoethes, was back for another crack having won the King EdwardVII Stakes at Royal Ascot after they
last met. Also in the field was Carroll House who wouldn’t get in a blow at the two big guns, but emphasised the quality of the race when his next two outings brought victories in the Irish Champion Stakes and the Arc de Triomphe. Also unable to get in on the finish was multiple Group race winner Sheriff’s Star, whose recent Coronation Cup victory was only half a second slower than Nashwan’s Derby winning time.
What wasn’t known,or truly appreciated at the time, is exactly how much that gruelling Eclipse had taken out of the champion but we were soon to thrill at not just his brilliance but his incredible courage as well.
Nashwan had a pacemaker who proved unequal to the task of setting a strong enough pace at such a level and it turned into a tactical affair. With the big two watching each other closely one of the outsiders slipped the field and held a four length lead turning in only for Nashwan to accelerate smoothly alongside and receive a bump as he went past.
Cacoethes had tracked Nashwan into the straight and went with him after the leader and now he ranged menacingly alongside,both pulling clear of the chasing pack. Cacoethes got his nose just in front for a stride or two close home until the courage and raw power of Nashwan sealed an epic victory after a titanic battle. At the line Nashwan had a neck to spare as he maintained his unbeaten record with a chasm back to the rest as he completed a unique sequence of victories.
A prep race for the Arc resulted in his only defeat as the long,hard season finally took its toll and he was retired.
Controversy raged at the end of the year when Nashwan was rated only the third best three-year-old colt and perhaps this is why he is often overlooked in the pantheon of great horses.
Willie Carson has arguably ridden more top class horses than any other jockey, except possibly Lester Piggott, and Carson is adamant that Nashwan was clearly the best horse he ever rode. Dick Hern won 16 English Classics and trained many other champions,yet he,too,called Nashwan; “The best horse I’ve ever trained.”
With his unique foursome during the summer of 1989 it is hard to disagree that Nashwan fully deserves his place among the greats of the equine world.
dick hern won 16 english classics and trained many other champions, yet, he too, called nashwan ‘the best horse i have ever trained’
Nashwan, ridden by Willie Carson, strides away to win the 1989 Epsom Derby from the fast-finishing Terimon