YES­TER­DAY’S HERO

Gra­ham Bud­dry looks at the ca­reer of a horse that won the St James’ Palace and the Sus­sex Stakes in the same sea­son

Racing Ahead - - CONTENTS -

Gra­ham Bud­dry re­mem­bers the ca­reer of Chief Singer

Many great horses hit the head­lines dur­ing 1984 but one horse seemed to fly un­der the radar yet has ev­ery right to be re­mem­bered just as much as the oth­ers, if not more. His name was Chief Singer.

Jeff Smith had dab­bled with race­horse own­er­ship, much to the cha­grin of his fam­ily, and some small suc­cesses with Barry Hills led to the em­pire he has cre­ated to­day. Back then Ron Sheather worked for Hills and when he set him­self up as a trainer, Smith de­cided to have a horse with him.

Foaled on 19 March 1981 by the sprinter Bal­lad Rock, Chief Singer was by a mare whose own dam had won the Oaks at Ep­som in 1967. An enor­mous, al­most seven­teen hands high, nearly black horse with a white face and two white feet, he was con­sid­ered too big by many more as­tute judges but Sheather and Smith liked what they saw at the Tat­ter­salls year­ling sales. Be­cause of his size they came away with a bar­gain at just 10,000 guineas and he duly went to Sheather’s sta­ble in New­mar­ket.

The first of many strange things about Chief Singer was that he barely grew as he got older.The next was the as­tound­ing work he did on the home gal­lops as a two-year-old, lead­ing Sheather to phone Smith just weeks into 1983 ex­pound­ing on what a horse they had here. Many horses per­form very well at home but few could do what Chief Singer did; giv­ing older, more de­vel­oped horses both weight and a com­pre­hen­sive beat­ing. Plans were thus laid early for the Coven­try Stakes at Royal As­cot and with his in­tended de­but race scratched be­cause of soft ground, it was to the Berk­shire course that Chief Singer first raced in earnest.

This led to another strange fact about Chief Singer. Bereft of an easy race, such as a maiden or a listed event to start his ca­reer, Chief Singer com­peted solely at Group level.

For the Coven­try Stakes, Chief Singer would start at 20/1, in a field of 14 in­clud­ing the favourite, Our Dy­nasty, win­ner of his four races so far, in­clud­ing the very first race of the sea­son, the Brock­lesby at Doncaster, while the third choice in the bet­ting, Su­perla­tive, was also un­beaten go­ing into the race.

The sec­ond favourite was Hege­mony, the lead­ing Ir­ish hope and win­ner of his last two races, rid­den by the peer­less Lester Pig­gott and fully ex­pected to win by con­nec­tions. Chief Singer dwarfed all the other run­ners and on the way to the start Pig­gott called across to Ray Cochrane ask­ing how he ex­pected to win on‘that big black oaf’.Cochrane,know­ing ex­actly what his mount had done on the gal­lops re­torted:“Take a good look at his face,be­cause all you’re go­ing to see at the end is his arse.”

As a big horse Chief Singer started slowly and sat out the back of the field for half the race be­fore work­ing out what had to be done. With jockey Cochrane urg­ing him on, Chief Singer first picked up well, then closed fast on the lead­ers and then it was “whoosh” as he shot past at the fur­long marker and pulled fur­ther and fur­ther clear with each pow­er­ful stride. At the line Chief Singer had a full four lengths to spare over Hege­mony, then a head and five lengths plus to the oth­ers in a very fast time.

This easy vic­tory marked yet another of the un­usual things about Chief Singer, apart from giv­ing Cochrane his first big race win. He be­came only the sec­ond horse to win the Coven­try on his race­course de­but since the in­cep­tion of the race in 1890. Af­ter the race, which Time­form re­ferred to as a “scin­til­lat­ing dis­play” with “an ex­tra­or­di­nary turn of foot”, Smith re­port­edly turned down sev­eral very big of­fers for the colt.

A month later Chief Singer lined up for his only other race as a two-year-old, the July Stakes at New­mar­ket.Very un­set­tled and sweat­ing badly be­fore­hand, his ac­tion all gone, he gave a dis­mal per­for­mance, fin­ish­ing well be­hind Su­perla­tive, who he had thrashed out of sight at As­cot. It was too bad to be true. It was strongly thought he had been “got at” but ex­ten­sive tests could nei­ther con­firm this nor find what was ail­ing him so badly as his sea­son came to an abrupt end.

His first run as a three-year-old was more to get the rust off and a close

sec­ond of 17 to the fu­ture top miler, Rousil­lon, in a 2,000 Guineas trial at Sal­is­bury when giv­ing the win­ner five pounds showed he had lost none of his abil­ity.

The 1984 Guineas was his next race in what is widely con­sid­ered one of the best re­newals of the race. Priced up as the 20/1 out­sider of the nine run­ner field, Chief Singer was last un­til half way, joined the other big guns two out and was the only colt able to go with El Gran Senor in the clos­ing stages. A clear sec­ond place which would have been good enough to win most years, he still had the likes of the pre­vi­ously un­beaten Lear Fan, Rain­bow Quest and Keen well be­hind.

Sheather and Smith de­cided to by­pass go­ing to Ire­land as El Gran Senor was fully ex­pected to win on home soil (which he did) so they opted to wait for Royal As­cot and the St James’s Palace Stakes. In a fast run race old foe, Keen, was rac­ing be­hind his pace­maker while Chief Singer again ran his race from the back of the field. Turn­ing in Keen went to the front but the enor­mous fig­ure of Chief Singer cruised smoothly through into sec­ond and when Cochrane asked him to go he flew past to win by an in­cred­i­ble eight lengths in a track record time.

Fully proven at a mile, stay­ing on in his races and usu­ally slow into his rak­ing stride, where he went next cer­tainly raised a few eye­brows. Sheather and Smith were so con­fi­dent of the speed he showed at home they chose the high­est pro­file six fur­long sprint in the cal­en­dar, the July Cup at New­mar­ket.

In a class packed field, in­clud­ing Su­perla­tive, three other horses had out­stand­ing claims. The fly­ing filly, Habibti, had won the race the pre­vi­ous year along with the Wil­liam Hill Sprint and the Prix l’Ab­baye on her way to be­ing named Race­horse of the Year. This sea­son she had al­ready won the King’s Stand among oth­ers.

The Ir­ish mare, Com­mit­ted, would win both the Wil­liam Hill Sprint and Prix l’Ab­baye for the first of two times later this sea­son, while Never So Bold would win vir­tu­ally every­thing of note in 1985. Both th­ese horses would also win a plethora of Cham­pion Sprinter awards, so the com­pe­ti­tion to Chief Singer was very hot to say the least.

As the stalls opened Com­mit­ted and Su­perla­tive im­me­di­ately tucked in be­hind the lead­ing pair while the other three big guns sat out the back, Chief Singer, of course, last of the nine run­ners. In­side the fi­nal two fur­longs Habibti started a chal­lenge on the out­side while

Cochrane went a brave route, thread­ing be­tween the horses in front of him. At the fur­long marker Com­mit­ted was the clear leader but Chief Singer was now in full stride just be­hind in third place with Never so Bold com­ing with a chal­lenge wider out. That long, rak­ing stride of the big horse cou­pled with the speed they knew was there proved more than a match for the best sprint­ers around as Chief Singer pulled 1½ lengths clear of Never so Bold with Com­mit­ted another three lengths back in third to record a vic­tory of the very high­est class.

Next up he re­verted back to a mile for the Sus­sex Stakes at Good­wood.Rousil­lon was the one to beat here but as he moved up to make his chal­lenge in the home straight un­der Gre­ville Starkey, he hung re­peat­edly into Chief Singer, trap­ping the favourite on the rails. Chief Singer was can­ter­ing un­der Cochrane, the pair clear of the rest but he couldn’t get a clear run as Rousil­lon con­tin­u­ally leaned on him, nearly push­ing him over the rails. Close home a gap sud­denly ap­peared and with blis­ter­ing speed Chief Singer shot through and in a mat­ter of strides opened up a half length ad­van­tage as he be­came only the sec­ond horse to win the St James’s Palace and Sus­sex Stakes in the same sea­son.

Third place in the Ben­son and Hedges at York over 1¼ miles, fin­ish­ing just ahead of the favourite, Sadlers Wells, was a good re­sult con­sid­er­ing Chief Singer was up­set on the way to the start, got boxed in and didn’t re­ally run his race. Un­for­tu­nately his fi­nal out­ing was lost be­fore he even lined up,boil­ing over and bolt­ing on the way to the start he ran no race at all.

Beat­ing all bar El Gran Senor in the 2000 Guineas and win­ning the St James’s Palace Stakes, July Cup and Sus­sex Stakes earned Chief Singer the ti­tles of top rated Bri­tish three-year-old, fourth high­est rated Euro­pean horse, Time­form’s high­est rated sprinter and Euro­pean Horse of the Year based on per­for­mances dur­ing the sea­son, yet other horses grabbed both the head­lines and the last­ing mem­o­ries of that glo­ri­ous year.

Chief Singer stood at stud in Ger­many where he died aged 19 but while 1984 was a golden year full of great horses, Chief Singer was a star in his own right and more than de­serves to shine as brightly as any of them.

1984 was a golden year full of great horses; Chief Singer was a star in his own right and more than de­serves to shine as brightly as any of them

Chief Singer

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