Great racehorses - Mill Reef

Filed on 16 Feb 2009 @ 14:41

Six time Group One winner was one of the greats

The winner of the Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Mill Reef was an exceptional middle-distance racehorse, though his illustrious career was ended prematurely by injury after registering a record six successive Group One wins.

Bred and owned by Paul Mellon, in 1970 Mill Reef was sent to Kingsclere in England to be trained by the young trainer Ian Balding. Although he had an American pedigree, being by Never Bend out of the Princequillo mare Milan Mill (and hence bred on the potent Nasrullah- Princequillo nick that also gave us Secretariat and Seattle Slew), Mill Reef was judged to be a little too long in the pastern to race effectively on dirt in America.

Mill Reef soon showed in his work that he was a class above anything else in the stable, and he duly won on his racecourse debut in the Salisbury Stakes, a race the trainer had successfully used before as a stepping stone to victory in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, romping home under jockey Geoff Lewis by an unextended four lengths at an unconsidered price of 8-1.

At Royal Ascot, Mill Reef duly delivered in the Coventry Stakes, making all and stretching clear to an eight length win. He was never put under pressure by his jockey, yet his time was only a fraction outside the track record.

A trip to Deauville for the Prix Robert Papin was next on the agenda, but a wide draw and a rough journey saw Mill Reef beaten. He soon bounced back and the Gimcrack Stakes at York’s Ebor meeting in August was selected as his next target. Heavy ovenight rain saw the ground come up heavy, and trainer and jockey were reluctant to run, but were overruled by Mellon, who had come to see Mill Reef in action for the first time.

In the event, Mill Reef put up one of the most memorable performances of his career, being quickly away before being asked to quicken after half way. In a breathtaking performance, he forged further and further clear of his rivals, passing the post ten lengths to the good, beating the likes of champion sprinter Green God and Classic winner Kings Company.

A narrow victory in the Imperial Stakes at Kempton followed, before a busy juvenile season concluded with a step up to six furlongs in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket. Different tactics were employed here, with Mill Reef settling behind the leaders before quickening sharply out of the dip to win going away by four lengths.

Mill Reef took on Brigadier Gerard and My Swallow in the 2000 Guineas

A Classic campaign beckoned at three, where Mill Reef would have to take on two other remarkable members of the crop of 1968 – My Swallow and < ahref="/racing/features/great_racehorses_brigadier_gerard">Brigadier Gerard. The three lined up in an eagerly anticipated 2000 Guineas at Newmarket with Mill Reef sent off favourite after a comfortable warm-up win in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury, ahead of My Swallow, who had been equally impressive in his trail at Kempton, and Brigadier Gerard who had sparkled on the gallops at West Ilsey.

In the event, Mill Reef and My Swallow raced together in the centre of the track, allowing Brigadier Gerard to make full use of his brilliant miler’s finishing kick on the rail to scorch clear up the hill, winning by an impressive three lengths. My Swallow was third, three quarters of a length behind Mill Reef.

Of the three Guineas principals, Mill Reef was the only one with a Derby entry. Balding adopted the practice of Vincent O’Brien with US-bred horses of giving him a gallop over a mile and a quarter10 days before the race, leaving the question of Mill Reef’s stamina to be answered on Derby day itself. In the race, Mill Reef showed he was a middle distance horse par excellence, turning in in fourth place and quickening clear to beat Linden Tree and the subsequent Irish Derby winner Irish Ball.

Midsummer beckoned, with the perennial anticipation of seeing the Classic crop take on their elders for the first time. Ian Balding had decided to bypass the Irish Derby in favour of the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown as a prep for the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.

At Sandown Mill Reef began to show that the class of ’68 was superior to its rivals with a dominant victory over the four-year-old French raider Caro. The pair had gone clear from their rivals who set a blistering early pace, but Mill Reef found the most under pressure, quickening clear in the final furlong to win by four lengths in a course record time.

Mill Reef went on to win in the King George later that month with an even more dominant display, scorching up the short Ascot straight to win by six lengths and prompting jockey Geoff Lewis to say: “Daylight was second at Ascot.?

No English-trained horse had won the Arc in 23 years

Mill Reef’s connections decided to bypass the St Leger on Town Moor in September in favour of a run in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in October, a race that had not fallen to an English-trained horse for 23 years. Balding remembers the preparation for this race as his greatest challenge, as Mill Reef had been campaigned hard since the Greenham Stakes in April. In the race, Mill Reef settled in fifth spot under Geoff Lewis. In the straight the leaders were soon beaten, and Mill Reef darted through a gap on the rail, quickening remorselessly clear to win by three lengths, setting yet another new track record in the process.

At the end of his three-year-old season Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard were both qiven equal top rating by both the official handicapper and by Timeform. Unfortunately, the two rivals were destined never to meet again.

Mill Reef made his four-year-old debut in the Prix Ganay, where he utterly spreadeagled his rivals, skipping clear in the straight to a 10 length victory. The Coronation Cup at Epsom came next, and although Mill Reef won he failed to quicken in his usual style and had to dig deep to hold on by a neck from Homeric.

It was later discovered that Mill Reef had raced with a virus, and the Coronation Cup was to prove his last race – though his record of six successive Group One wins was to stand unbroken until the remarkable Rock Of Gibraltar won seven in succession in 2001-2002. Plans to meet Brigadier Gerard in the Eclipse were abandoned – the Brigadier won the race – but a return at York in August was possible. As things turned out, Mill Reef had to miss York after encountering two setbacks in training. Brigadier Gerard suffered his only defeat that day, going down to Roberto.

Later in August, disaster struck. Mill Reef broke his near foreleg in a routine canter whilst being prepared for the Arc. Fortunately, Balding, his team and the vets were able to save Mill Reef, who went on to have a successful career at stud. He proved a successful sire, with 1978 a particular banner year when Shirley Heights won the Derby and Acamas won the Prix du Jockey Club. Mill Reef also sired the 1987 Derby winner Reference Point, the 1981 Derby runner-up and Italian Derby winner Glint Of Gold and the 1000 Guineas winner Fairy Footsteps.

Brigadier Gerard | Mill Reef

Filed on 16 Feb 2009 @ 14:41