Yes­ter­day’s hero

Gra­ham Bud­dry re­mem­bers the Queen Mother’s Spe­cial Cargo

Racing Ahead - - CONTENTS -

Roy­alty and No­bil­ity have long been as­so­ci­ated with the world of horse rac­ing but al­most ex­clu­sively on the Flat at the cour­ses of Ep­som, New­mar­ket, York, Longchamp and the like. Na­tional Hunt rac­ing, how­ever, had their very own fer­vent royal sup­porter in the form of The Queen Mother,a regular vis­i­tor to Sandown, Kempton and, of course, Chel­tenham.

She had a string of horses over many years and most of them were of only mod­est abil­ity.One,how­ever,was in­volved in one of the most breath­tak­ing and fa­mous fin­ishes our won­der­ful sport has ever had. Sandown Park has pro­duced many bril­liant fin­ishes over the years but in 1984 the end of sea­son high­light known as the Whit­bread Gold Cup over 3 miles 5 fur­longs would eclipse ev­ery­thing that has gone be­fore or since.

This race, with its rich prize money, was ex­pected to be the tus­sle to fi­nally de­cide that years train­ers’cham­pi­onship be­tween Fred Win­ter and Michael Dickinson and in­trigu­ingly they shared the 7/2 joint favourites, Plun­der­ing for Win­ter while Ash­ley House was run­ning for Dickinson along with the joint third favourite, Let­toch. Shar­ing this 9/2 slot was one of the Fulke Wal­wyn trained pair, Di­a­mond Edge with Spe­cial Cargo at 8/1, both at­tempt­ing to give Wal­wyn an in­cred­i­ble sev­enth victory in the race,with any price you liked against the other eight run­ners.

The thir­teen-year-old Di­a­mond Edge was eas­ily the class act in the field and car­ried top weight ac­cord­ingly. Di­a­mond Edge had won the Whit­bread in both 1979 and 1981 and also took fourth place in the 1982 ver­sion. Dur­ing this time Di­a­mond Edge was a beaten favourite in the 1981 Chel­tenham Gold Cup,won the Hen­nessy at New­bury in Novem­ber of that year and took 5th and 4th places in the next two Chel­tenham Gold Cups.A year off with a leg in­jury ruled out the whole of the 1982-83 sea­son and third place on his come­back race in the 1984 Cath­cart at the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val put him spot on and the 3m5f and 24 fences around the Esher track played very much to his con­sid­er­able strengths.

Spe­cial Cargo had also had bad leg prob­lems,hav­ing bro­ken down twice,been fired and even had a car­bon fi­bre im­plant in a ten­don.Af­ter two years off,Spe­cial Cargo had re­turned to win the Grand Mil­i­tary Gold Cup in March 1984, his fourth win around Sandown, be­fore pro­vid­ing Wal­wyn’s sta­ble jockey, Bill Smith, with the 500th win of his ca­reer at Ling­field. Smith would be re­tir­ing af­ter the Whit­bread and opted to ride Di­a­mond Edge here, leav­ing Kevin Mooney to ride the Queen Mother’s horse who had never tasted de­feat at Sandown be­fore but was a con­firmed soft ground spe­cial­ist. In con­trast, the very fast ground would be in Di­a­mond Edge’s favour and Smith had ev­ery con­fi­dence in this quick and ac­cu­rate jumper whom he rated the best he had ever sat on.

Some weeks ear­lier Plun­der­ing had beaten Ash­ley House by a neck over 3¼ miles at Chel­tenham with Spe­cial Cargo eight lengths fur­ther adrift in fifth place and a few weeks prior to that Spe­cial Cargo had in turn beaten Plun­der­ing by just a length at Sandown. The weights for the Whit­bread would, in the­ory, leave all three very closely matched.

Let­toch was a sur­prise en­try for the race in some ways, still be­ing a novice. He had started his cam­paign with four vic­to­ries, in­clud­ing a neck de­feat of For­give‘n’For­get and a 30 length thrash­ing of the well re­garded Noddy’s Ryde.

Let­toch had then con­tested the Royal and Sun Al­liance Novice Chase at the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val,hold­ing ev­ery chance and seem­ing cer­tain of at least a place when fall­ing two out. Prior to Sandown, Let­toch had then failed by just a short head to get the bet­ter of the un­beaten Straight Ac­cord at Ain­tree and con­nec­tions were very con­fi­dent of win­ning this fi­nal big race of the sea­son.

And so the stage was set for one of the most mem­o­rable races of all time.

The field of 13 walked in, the white flag went up and they were off, Ash­ley House, Spe­cial Cargo and Plun­der­ing in a line of six lead­ing the charge to the first fence with Di­a­mond Edge just be­hind.

Over the next and past the stands for the first time with Po­lar Ex­press tak­ing them along from Spe­cial Cargo, Di­a­mond Edge and Plun­der­ing.

Ash­ley House was track­ing the lead­ers and Let­toch was nicely set­tled fur­ther back as they reached the top of the hill and turned right to­wards the third. Run­ning down­hill to­wards it Po­lar Ex­press was weav­ing all over the place but con­sented to jump it with Spe­cial Cargo, Di­a­mond Edge and Plun­der­ing all now dis­put­ing the lead. In be­hind Done­gal Prince fell and badly ham­pered Let­toch, who prob­a­bly lost a dozen lengths.

Into the back straight and Di­a­mond Edge jumped to the front of af­fairs from Spe­cial Cargo and Plun­der­ing,Ash­ley House back in fifth and Let­toch get­ting slowly back into con­tention. As they cleared the last of the fa­mous rail­way fences for the first time and headed to­wards the pond fence Di­a­mond Edge still led the field from Po­lar Ex­press and Ash­ley House,Plun­der­ing and Spe­cial Cargo close up and Let­toch still mak­ing head­way from the back.

Over that one and past their point of de­par­ture, Di­a­mond Edge led from Po­lar Ex­press. Ash­ley House, Plun­der­ing and Spe­cial Cargo tracked the lead­ing pair while Let­toch had now moved through to eighth.Two more in the home straight and past the packed grand­stands,bathed in the warm sun­shine as Di­a­mond Edge still led with his im­mac­u­late jump­ing from Po­lar Ex­press and Skegby, rac­ing through in third.

Plun­der­ing, Spe­cial Cargo and Ash­ley House were in close con­tention with Let­toch now set­tled and run­ning well.

They jumped the one away from the stands and turned into the back straight for the fi­nal time, Ash­ley House mov­ing smoothly through to join Di­a­mond Edge at the head of af­fairs.Spe­cial Cargo and Plun­der­ing raced to­gether be­hind the lead­ing pair and Let­toch was closing smoothly.

At the first in the back straight Di­a­mond Edge put in an­other su­perb leap and landed a length ahead of Ash­ley House. Plun­der­ing was go­ing well in third but Spe­cial Cargo was start­ing to find the pace a bit too hot while Let­toch still closed on the lead­ers.

Ash­ley House was asked to close again and joined Di­a­mond Edge over the wa­ter as Plun­der­ing also moved up to a bare length off the pace with Let­toch also go­ing past Spe­cial Cargo, who ap­peared to be tir­ing now off the strong pace.

Over the last of the rail­way fences and it was still the 13-year-old Di­a­mond Edge at the head of the field. Ash­ley House was un­der hard rid­ing try­ing to stay with the leader and Plun­der­ing was get­ting closer,as was Let­toch.

Round the long turn to the pond fence again, this time the third from home and Let­toch had moved through pow­er­fully to take the lead. Plun­der­ing was go­ing with him as Di­a­mond Edge now found the age of his old legs be­gin­ning to tell.Ash­ley House was un­der strong pres­sure in fourth and the hard rid­den Spe­cial Cargo was a lit­tle way adrift back in sev­enth place.

Over that one and into the home straight, Let­toch gal­lop­ing pow­er­fully on from Plun­der­ing, Dickinson fromWin­ter,the trainer’s cham­pi­onship be­ing fought right to the line as the packed stands started to cheer and shout. But hang on a minute…Di­a­mond Edge was back on the bri­dle and be­gin­ning to rally in third, Ash­ley House was still there try­ing and Spe­cial Cargo hugged the rail and closed into sixth place, get­ting his sec­ond wind and stay­ing on.

Two out and Let­toch jumped just ahead of Plun­der­ing,Di­a­mond Edge was still ral­ly­ing and closing in third. Ash­ley House jumped awk­wardly and lost any chance he re­tained but Spe­cial Cargo still had the rail and had now jumped through into fourth.

One to jump in the Whit­bread with very lit­tle to choose be­tween the lead­ers as the stands went wild. Let­toch touched down frac­tion­ally ahead of Plun­der­ing as an­other fine jump by Di­a­mond Edge brought him through with just over a length now to find in his quest for an un­prece­dented third win

The Queen Mother’s horse was in­volved in one of the most breath­tak­ing and fa­mous fin­ishes our won­der­ful sport has ever had

in the race. Over on the far side Spe­cial Cargo was still stay­ing on in fourth and had also closed the gap on the lead­ing pair.

Off up the hill they set, Let­toch was strid­ing out to cer­tain glory as Plun­der­ing could find no more but Di­a­mond Edge had sprouted wings and stormed up be­tween the lead­ing pair, full of run­ning while over on the far side Spe­cial Cargo was also charg­ing home like a fresh horse,the race­course com­men­tary be­ing drowned out by the fre­netic cheer­ing of the packed crowds.

Twenty five yards to run, Let­toch was giv­ing his all but the pow­er­ful stride of Di­a­mond Edge was de­vour­ing his lead. Plun­der­ing was stay­ing on on the near side and Spe­cial Cargo was still fly­ing on the far side, go­ing fastest of them all.

Ten yards to go and Di­a­mond Edge had forged past the gal­lant Let­toch and now had his head in front…surely victory was now his yet Spe­cial Cargo was still closing like a bul­let on the far side but he still had half a length to make up and lit­tle time or dis­tance to do it in.

In the shadow of the post Di­a­mond Edge held the lead, Let­toch was try­ing to come again and Spe­cial Cargo was now like greased light­ning on the far side.

At the line, so de­cep­tive at Sandown, all three passed the post to­gether to a crescendo of noise from the stands, a bare 1½ lengths back to Plun­der­ing who had more than played his part in the spec­ta­cle.

As the gla­di­a­tors pulled up af­ter the fastestWhit­bread on record they waited for the judge’s ver­dict.

Three miles and five fur­longs over two dozen fences at record break­ing speed and one of the most amaz­ing fin­ishes in horse rac­ing his­tory.

Soon the race­course tan­noy stilled the ex­cited buzz from the stands. “Here is the re­sult of the pho­to­graph… first, num­ber three…”.

Spe­cial Cargo had done it! Let­toch was a short head be­hind in sec­ond place with the same mar­gin back to the equally coura­geous Di­a­mond Edge. The Queen Mother had been there to present the tro­phy but now she would be re­ceiv­ing it in­stead.

Plun­der­ing was only fourth this time but he would have his day in the sun, win­ning the Whit­bread in 1986.

Spe­cial Cargo went on to win the Grand Mil­i­tary Gold Cup again in both 1985 and 1986 among three more vic­to­ries at his favoured Esher venue. This eter­nal favourite of The Queen Mother even­tu­ally had a long and happy re­tire­ment at the royal stud.

Fit­tingly, a statue of this noble beast stands proudly over­look­ing the pad­dock at Sandown Park, a me­mo­rial to a Sandown spe­cial­ist, a favourite of the Queen Mother and the win­ner of the best race this fa­mous course has ever seen.The 1984 Whit­bread Gold Cup win­ner, Spe­cial Cargo.

What a fin­ish: Spe­cial Cargo, on the rails, gets up to beat Let­toch by a short head with Di­a­mond Edge a fur­ther short head in third

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