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SWEET SIXTEEN; How the prolific Provideo equalled a record that had remained unchallenged for nearly 100 years.

Byline: Steve Dennis

IT WAS a good year for Flat racing, 1984. El Gran Senor thrashed a hugely talented field in the 2,000 Guineas before going under to Secreto in a nailbitingly dramatic Derby. The previous year's Derby winner Teenoso returned to win the King George, Lester Piggott set a record for Classic victories on Commanche Run in the St Leger, brilliant sprinter/miler Chief Singer enthralled us with his versatility. And, imperceptibly at first but then in a great wash of media and public acclaim, a two-year-old called Provideo stole the story of the season from them all.

Provideo won 16 races that year. He actually produced his best performance in defeat and at the end of the season was rated around a stone below the best of his generation, but in racking up that sweet 16 he equalled a record that had stood for 99 years.

His exploits earned him the accolade of Horse of the Year, the first time a two-year-old had been so honoured. They also ensured that a glossy photograph of him in full cry adorned the front of my English Literature file throughout the summer and autumn terms at school, a privilege that marked the absolute zenith of equine endeavour. Yet it could all have been very different.

"He should have gone to the Doncaster sales in the autumn, but he was kicked by another horse and couldn't go," remembers his trainer Bill O'Gorman. "So we kept him - he was home-bred by his owner Ahmed Foustok - and put him into training.

"We thought we'd win the Brocklesby with him, although there were a couple in the yard who I thought were better. To be honest, I thought Que Sera was infinitely superior and I was more interested in his race at Doncaster on the Saturday, which he won. He went wrong later in the year, unfortunately, but Provideo just never stopped."

No-one was under any illusion regarding Provideo's abilities, least of all Tony Ives, who rode him in all but one of his races and all his victories. "We didn't think he was all that good, just an ordinary sort of two-year-old," he says. "As it was, he turned out the best we had."

A January foal, sharp and early, Provideo was a comfortable winner of the Brocklesby, coasting home by four lengths from Tame Affair under Ives, whose muscular style mirrored his mount's attitude. Six days later he hacked up by seven lengths at Catterick; a fortnight after he was beaten a length at Lingfield. Another defeat three days later at Thirsk appeared to confirm his status as just another early-season juvenile, but O'Gorman had an ace up his sleeve.

"I didn't go when he won at Catterick, and apparently he looked a little less than straightforward," says O'Gorman. "But no-one said anything to me, and of course in those days there was no way to watch the race unless you were actually there.

"Then, next time at Lingfield, he gave the race away. I was there that day and it was evident he needed blinkers, but there was no time to try him in them at home before the Thirsk race, and he did it again there.

"After that, he wore blinkers and saw his races out really well. He could be very troublesome in the parade ring, though, and was often mounted on the racecourse. It took four people to put the blinkers on and leg-up the jockey all in one, otherwise there'd be trouble, but once he got going he was as good as gold."

Blinkers proved the key to the irascible colt, described by O'Gorman as "a bad-tempered horse in his box" and one who left his mark in more ways than one on Claude Charlet, then O'Gorman's assistant and now a racing pundit and broadcaster. "He was a small colt but very tough, and you were always wise to be wary of him in his box," says Charlet.

"I remember that one Sunday his normal lad wasn't around and no-one else wanted to go into his stable and give him his feed. I called them all wimps and said I'd do it myself.

"I went in there with the bucket and he sort of leapt at me, then reached his neck right out and bit my lip. I had to go to the hospital for a few stitches - it was my fault, I should have been more careful. But he was a devil to deal with."

Two weeks after that Thirsk race and now resplendent in red-andgreen-checked headgear to match Foustok's silks, Provideo regained the winning thread in a canter at Ripon. O'Gorman had previously trained the multiple winners Manor Farm Boy and Abdu, and after Provideo had taken his tally to four with another easy win at Catterick he laid plans for a similar campaign.

"Provideo needed a tremendous amount of work, he really did have the most incredible constitution," says O'Gorman. "He took all the travelling in his stride, always ate well and had great powers of recuperation.

"He never had any easy races, either, because he used to go out and make the running, but after he won his fourth race I started thinking about winning ten."

O'Gorman was assisted in this not only by his indefatigable little colt but also by the racing programme, which catered for two-year-olds then in a way it no longer does. Twenty-five years ago there were a large number of juvenile conditions races in which horses could compete regardless of their previous record, with prolific winners such as Provideo burdened with penalties for their successes but liberated by the opportunities for competition outside handicaps and Pattern races. O'Gorman considers current practice a retrograde step, one that inhibits both the structure and the spirit of two-year-old racing.

"In those days, two-year-old races made up 30 per cent of the programme, now it's 20 per cent," he says. "Any incentive for the smaller owner or a horse like Provideo has been taken away. Now it's all about getting a handicap mark.

"It was good for the health of the breed and good for integrity. Nowadays, Provideo would either have had to win his maiden and then go up in class, or he'd have had to carry huge weights in nurseries. That was a good year for two-year-olds, there was a decent pool of talent and we knew it was a decent pool because they raced against each other and the form stood up."

Provideo hit double figures in the Cock of the North Stakes at Haydock on July 7, his 14th race and what would be his biggest pot - pounds 6,648 - of the season. "Four horses came to beat him in that race and he saw them all off one by one," says Ives. "I battered him and he kept on pulling out more."

Nine years earlier, the Barry Hills-trained Nagwa had won 13 races as a juvenile, and five years later Spindrifter had matched that tally for Sir Mark Prescott. Provideo had another target to reach. By the end of July he was there, victories at Pontefract and Windsor preceding one of his best performances at Sandown in the Star Stakes, in which he showed his habitual tenacity to master and then distance himself from the classy Pettingale. "He was a great horse to ride," says Ives. "He was the toughest horse I ever rode. He gave me everything I asked for and I remember asking him for quite a lot on several occasions."

THE following week he was asked to step up in distance and in class, trying seven furlongs for the first time in the Lanson Champagne Stakes at Glorious Goodwood. He acquitted himself as admirably as ever, going down by three-quarters of a length to Petoski, who would go on to win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes almost exactly a year later.

Strictly on form, that was his best effort of the season, and neither his searching campaign nor the emergence of a higher calibre of opponent were hampering his progress. Provideo was runner-up again at the Ebor meeting, a defeat that cost Ives more than just his winning percentage. "I had a bet with Geoff Lewis," he says. "We had dinner with Steve Cauthen the night before, and Geoff said Steve's horse would beat me the next day. I said he wouldn't, of course, so we bet a case of Dom Perignon on the result. As it happened, Steve beat me by a neck, so I paid up. Geoff was delighted."

Four days later, Provideo took on four in the Champion Two-Year-Old Trophy at Ripon and seized his chance to take the 20th-century record outright, seeing off Lobbit by a length and a half to the unfettered delight of the crowd, who cheered the son of Godswalk all the way back to the winner's enclosure.

His place in the affections of racegoers was secure, but Provideo now became a media favourite and, with the Rubicon of the record crossed, the archives were pillaged to find more milestones to pass. The next landmark was The Bard's all-time two-year-old record of 16, set in 1885 when men were men, children were chimney-sweeps and racing was a good deal less competitive. The Bard was a good colt and trained on to be runner-up in the Derby behind Ormonde, but his unbeaten spree at two was achieved against minimal and moderate opposition.

Next time out, Provideo finished out of the first two for the first time when third in the Sirenia Stakes at Kempton, and developed a cough that kept him off the track for seven weeks. As autumn took over, time was running out for an attempt on the all-time record, but O'Gorman brought him back in the last week of October to pip Pacific Gold by a head at Doncaster and take his tally to 15.

"It was a desperate struggle at Doncaster, he had to drag himself back past Pacific Gold to win," says O'Gorman. "If I'd been able to put blinkers on him for his third race instead of his fifth race he'd have beaten the record at Doncaster, but there's no point worrying about that now. It was another hard race for him, and we were getting short for time."

Provideo was entered in only one race during the last two weeks of the season. It wasn't much of a race, the six-runner Dinsdale Spa Stakes at Redcar on November 1, worth just pounds 1,452 to the winner, but by then such was the fervour behind the record attempt that victory was all that mattered.

It was practically assured; Provideo was sent off at 1-8 to beat his five rivals, a task he accomplished in straightforward style, drawing clear in the final furlong to beat Duffer's Dancer by seven lengths.

It was something quite special. A share of the record was his, due reward for a campaign that had spanned nine months and 23 races. It had been a superlative feat of training by O'Gorman, a heroic and Herculean effort by his little, short-tempered colt.

That wasn't quite that. Provideo went to Hollywood Park later that month for the Buckpasser Stakes over a mile, in which he was outclassed and outdone for stamina. "It was stupid, I wish I hadn't sent him," says O'Gorman. "The US authorities fell over themselves to help us out, but the style of racing didn't suit him - you had to put him in the race, he wasn't the type to be held up."

Amazingly, O'Gorman repeated the feat six years later with Timeless Times, who had 16 wins on the board by the start of September but couldn't manage that final, elusive victory. "Provideo had more ability than Timeless Times, although Timeless Times had more scope," says O'Gorman. "They were opposites at home, Timeless Times was a smashing horse to deal with, a lovely individual. Provideo had a bit of a mean streak.

"I think it would have been a shame had Timeless Times beaten Provideo's number of wins. When Provideo won 16 races it was considered just about impossible, so I'm glad his name is still associated with the record."

As a three-year-old, Provideo was nothing out of the ordinary, failing to add to his tally in a handful of races before being sold halfway through the summer to stand at stud in Australia. As a two-year-old, he epitomised the extraordinary. The first reaction of all those involved in this article was, "Is it really 25 years ago?", suggesting Provideo's epic season was still vivid in the memory, effortlessly returned to and enjoyed in idle fireside moments.

Everyone who followed racing in 1984 will remember Provideo. More precisely - and it's not the same thing at all - they'll never forget him.

It happened in 1984 ...

In the news February Konstantin Chernenko takes over as leader of Soviet Union March Year-long miners' strike begins October Grand Hotel in Brighton bombed by Provisional IRA October BBC shows Michael Buerk's report of famine in Ethiopia November Pound note withdrawn from circulation November Band Aid form and release Do They Know It's Christmas? December Bhopal chemical leak, worst industrial disaster on record In sport European Championships France European Cup Liverpool First Division champions Liverpool Five Nations Scotland Wimbledon John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova Cheltenham Gold Cup Burrough Hill Lad Grand National Hallo Dandy Olympic men's 100m gold Carl Lewis Olympic men's 1500m gold Sebastian Coe (right) Goodbye to ... Marvin Gaye, Tommy Cooper, Count Basie, Diana Dors, John Betjeman, Eric Morecambe, James Mason, Richard Burton, Leonard Rossiter, Indira Gandhi

CAPTION(S):

Provideo with his groom Sid McGaughey and jockey Tony Ives in the winner's enclosure at Sandown after his 13th victory
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 28, 2009
Words:2292
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