Gra­ham Bud­dry looks back on the ca­reer of Com­manche Run

Gra­ham Bud­dry re­mem­bers the great Com­manche Run who swept Pig­gott to vic­tory in the 1984 St Leger

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The mid 1980s were great years for rac­ing with a plethora of bril­liant horses, far more than just the odd two or three we some­times get. We also had the spec­ta­cle of Frank Buckle’s long-stand­ing record of English Clas­sic win­ners be­ing chal­lenged 157 years af­ter he rode his twenty sev­enth and fi­nal one, 35 years af­ter his first in 1792.

Lester Pig­gott is a leg­end in his own life­time, a jockey of un­match­able class and strength with a unique style in the sad­dle that even your old granny could spot a mile off. Like Buckle, he started his English Clas­sic win­ning haul by land­ing the Derby as an 18-year-old, steer­ing Never Say Die to vic­tory.

Thirty years later he equalled Buckle’s record when win­ning the Oaks on Cir­cus Plume yet with all those English Clas­sic vic­to­ries to cher­ish and re­call in re­tire­ment among other big races, on horses whose names trip off the tongue like nec­tar, one of the very best, and most ver­sa­tile, is of­ten over­looked.

Com­manche Run raced in the un­usual colours of red with a dou­ble chevron on the body of his owner, Ivan Allen, soon to be­come a close friend of Pig­gott’s. Allen was ac­tu­ally a trainer in his own right, hav­ing re­cently taken over a li­cence in Sin­ga­pore on the death of his fa­ther but Com­manche Run was trained in Eng­land by Luca Cu­mani. Pig­gott main­tained in later life that Com­manche Run was one of his favourite horses and it’s not hard to see why.

It was as a late de­vel­op­ing three year old that Com­manche Run started to make his pres­ence felt in the rac­ing world. Third place in the King Ed­ward VII Stakes at Ascot over 1m3f to Head for Heights was fol­lowed with the same place be­hind the same horse over a fur­long fur­ther at New­mar­ket next time out. Cu­mani and his stable jockey, the Amer­i­can Dar­rel McHar­gue were un­sure about the best dis­tance for the colt, one line of thought want­ing to drop him back in dis­tance, the other think­ing he needed fur­ther. Even­tu­ally it was de­cided his next race would be the Gor­don Stakes at Good­wood.

McHar­gue was sus­pended at the time and Allen urged Cu­mani to em­ploy Pig­gott for the ride and as it turned out this proved a bless­ing in dis­guise. Pig­gott scored a runaway suc­cess on the colt but, as al­ways, it was his un­canny insight into a horse that was equally in­valu­able. Re­turn­ing to the win­ner’s en­clo­sure af­ter an easy vic­tory, Pig­gott was of the opin­ion that Com­manche Run could get fur­ther and then added that he had such speed he would be equally as ef­fec­tive over shorter. In essence we had an od­dity where a mile and a half was too far for his blis­ter­ing speed and too short for his am­ple re­serves of stamina and he needed ei­ther shorter or longer to be seen to his best ad­van­tage.

Cu­mani di­gested this and pen­cilled in his next race as the March Stakes back at Good­wood but up in dis­tance to 1mile 6f with a clear view of the St Leger as a prime tar­get if all went well. McHar­gue re­turned from his sus­pen­sion and took the ride as Cu­mani stayed loyal to his re­tained stable jockey. Com­manche Run got the dis­tance well and won, set­ting up an in­ter­est­ing set of events for the fi­nal Clas­sic of the sea­son at Don­caster.

It was well known that Pig­gott was just one Clas­sic vic­tory from the record but he didn’t have a firm ride in the race yet. This was com­pounded by time out with a bad in­jury when fall­ing from a horse at Yar­mouth when the sad­dle slipped round in the clos­ing stages and he was dragged along the rock hard turf. Pig­gott was even­tu­ally back rid­ing barely two weeks be­fore the St. Leger and de­spite some spec­u­la­tion that he would ride Com­manche Run, Cu­mani in­sisted his stable jockey would re­tain the mount. Four days be­fore the race Allen, the owner, and bur­geon­ing friend of Pig­gott, in­sisted that it was his pre­rog­a­tive to have Lester on board his own horse.

The next day, as the Press spec­u­lated that Pig­gott had phoned up for the ride as he had cer­tainly done many times in days past, it was sur­passed by news that Com­manche Run had fallen in the cov­ered ride at the stable and in­jured his knees, mak­ing him a doubt­ful starter.

With con­stant care and at­ten­tion it wasn’t un­til Satur­day morn­ing that Com­manche Run, the favourite, was fi­nally de­clared fit and well enough for the race where his only se­ri­ous ri­val ap­peared to be the Aga Khan’s Bay­noun. Re­cent win­ner of the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot and the Geoffrey Freer at New­bury, Bay­noun was rid­den by the bril­liant young Amer­i­can, Steve Cau­then, soon to be crowned Bri­tish Cham­pion Jockey.

In the pre-race pre­lim­i­nar­ies Com­manche Run was far from his usual calm self and many thought he had lost his race be­fore get­ting to the post but he set­tled well enough in sec­ond place as the race got un­der way with Bay­noun not far away and watch­ing his ev­ery move. As they turned into the long home straight at Don­caster with a full half mile still to go, Com­manche Run hit the front and Bay­noun im­me­di­ately moved through to chal­lenge. Two out and to many it looked as though Bay­noun had his mea­sure and mo­men­tar­ily got his nose in front but soon we saw Pig­gott at his strong­est and best. In per­fect rhythm with the horse he drove his will­ing part­ner back in front and stayed there like no other jockey could have done to win by a neck.

The favourite had won thanks to a Pig­gott mas­ter class as he claimed a record 28th English Clas­sic and the crowd cheered the pair to the echo, all thought of how he se­cured the ride for­got­ten. As Pig­gott dis­mounted he quipped: “I didn’t re­alise they cared so much.”

The fol­low­ing sea­son Com­manche Run re­verted to 1 mile for the Bri­gadier Ger­ard Stakes at Sandown where he de­stroyed his field by 12 lengths, Pig- gott now his reg­u­lar part­ner. The Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot looked a match be­tween Com­manche Run and the great filly, Peb­bles, who beat her ad­ver­sary by a short head.

How­ever, the tal­ented yet un­con­sid­ered Bob Back floored them both.

All three were due to meet again for the Eclipse back at Sandown with Rain­bow Quest also in the field for what looked an un­for­get­table con­fronta­tion. Un­for­tu­nately Com­manche Run went lame go­ing down to the start and had to be with­drawn as won­der filly Peb­bles be­came the first of her sex to win the Eclipse in its 99 year his­tory, Rain­bow Quest hold­ing Bob Back for the mi­nor places.

Com­manche Run was fit again by the time of what is now the In­ter­na­tional at York, again over 1¼mile, and faced an­other filly of the high­est pos­si­ble class in Oh So Sharp, the hot favourite. Cu­mani thought it best to let the filly lead and try to pass her in the straight but Pig­gott thought oth­er­wise and

shot Com­manche Run out of the stalls and im­me­di­ately into the lead. Oh So Sharp sat a length be­hind in sec­ond all the way round as Pig­gott grad­u­ally in­creased the pace un­til they had the filly at full stretch and the rest, in­clud­ing an­other top race mare in Trip­tych, strug­gling be­hind. Just in­side the fi­nal half mile Pig­gott had a long look round then kicked again and the spoils were theirs. Oh So Sharp was bril­liant but on his day there were few who could live with Com­manche Run.

That year there was a mil­lion dol­lar bonus on of­fer for any horse who could win that race and both the English and Ir­ish Cham­pion Stakes. Sport­ingly Com­manche Run’s next ap­pear­ance was at Phoenix Park in a dis­play noth­ing short of awe­some. Like watch­ing a Rolls Royce rac­ing against Re­liant Robins with dodgy spark plugs Com­manche Run glided along at the head of the field, ooz­ing class, then pulled ef­fort­lessly away as the rest coughed and splut­tered in his im­pe­ri­ous wake.

With two legs se­cured the bonus sadly proved a step too far af­ter a busy sea­son. Never able to fully dom­i­nate he also had the mis­for­tune to run into Peb­bles at her own scin­til­lat­ing best with the re­cent Derby win­ner, Slip An­chor, a well held sec­ond as Com­manche Run faded close home.

It was un­for­tu­nate that Com­manche Run ran in the same pe­riod when so many other great horses made head­lines around the world and he was thus of­ten over­looked. A bril­liant horse over 10 fur­longs with the class to win a Clas­sic over 14, per­haps his big­gest claim to fame was in giv­ing Lester Pig­gott his record break­ing 28th English Clas­sic suc­cess. For the record, Pig­gott went on to ride two more Two Thou­sand Guineas win­ners, tak­ing his tally to an un­prece­dented 30 be­fore fi­nally re­tir­ing.

Af­ter only mod­er­ate suc­cess at Cool­more Stud, Com­manche Run was trans­ferred to Ast­ley Grange Stud in Le­ices­ter­shire in 1999 and lived a long and con­tented re­tire­ment un­til his death in March 2005 at the age of 25.

For those of us lucky enough to have wit­nessed those dis­tant days at first hand, though, Com­manche Run is fondly re­mem­bered as a shin­ing star in a rare galaxy of equine ex­cel­lence.


Com­manche Run and Lester Pig­gott beat Bay­noun in the 1984 St Leger

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