Supreme Court first to secure a verdict as new race goes on trial and convinces the jury; REWIND: THE GREAT KING GEORGES The Racing Post's resident historian John Randall has chosen his top five King Georges from a glittering array, and this week we will be outlining the reasons why, in reverse order. Today, it's the inaugural running of the race in 1951.
IT MAY have been austerity Britain, but there were untold riches on offer at Ascot on July 21, 1951. Exactly 57 years ago today, the inaugural running of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes took place at the the Berkshire track, which for its first incarnation took the label Festival of Britain Stakes after the ongoing celebrations.
The brainchild of clerk of the course Major John Crocker Bulteel, the Festival of Britain Stakes was the most valuable race ever run in Britain, with a first prize of pounds 25,322 10s. The concept was to create a midsummer contest to compare with the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in terms of prestige and financial reward, and the race disappointed no-one in terms of both quantity and quality.
Not only did the race attract 19 runners, a number that has yet to be surpassed, but among their ranks were five Classic winners and an Arc winner.
Derby winner Arctic Prince headed the field and the betting market, starting at 100-30 after a six-length victory at Epsom that appeared to suggest he was of the highest class. Belle Of All (1,000 Guineas) and Ki Ming (2,000 Guineas) also represented British Classic form, while from France came the previous year's St Leger winner Scratch and the great Tantieme, whose roll of honour included the 1950 Poule d'Essai des Poulains, the same year's Arc and, a few weeks before Ascot, the Coronation Cup.
Tantieme, at 7-2, was the only horse apart from the favourite to be quoted at less than 10-1, but there were plenty of stars lurking in the outer reaches of the betting, including stout stayer Colonist, owned by Winston Churchill, and Derby also-ran Zucchero, who had talent and temperament in equal measure and would have been much closer to Arctic Prince at Epsom but for losing a lot of ground at the start.
The other leading contender was Supreme Court, trained by Evan Williams at Kingsclere. The gangly brown colt had an aura of mystery about him, being listed as a son of either Persian Gulf or Precipitation (the type of thing that could get his dam Forecourt a bad name in those days), and as a yearling was politely turned away from the yards of both Noel Murless and Marcus Marsh.
His owner Vera Lilley eventually found a billet for him with Williams, who in his riding days had won the 1937 Grand National on Royal Mail, and Supreme Court repaid her faith at two with an easy win in the Horris Hill Stakes at Newbury.
At three, success in the Chester Vase was followed by victory in the King Edward VII Stakes, in which he gave weight and a beating to Derby runner-up Sybil's Nephew. That line of form put him within hailing distance of Arctic Prince, and he was sent off fourth favourite at 100-9.
THE pace was fast, set by Belle Of All and Tantieme, while Zucchero had got away to a level start under a 15-year-old Lester Piggott and sat a little way off the headlong pace along with Arctic Prince (Charlie Spares) and Supreme Court (Charlie Elliott).
On the home turn it was Tantieme who held sway, but his exertions soon took their toll and he drifted towards the stands' rail a quarter of a mile out, allowing Arctic Prince, Zucchero and Supreme Court clear passage up the far rail. Arctic Prince cracked first, and at the furlong pole Supreme Court held the advantage over Zucchero.
Piggott did his whipcracking utmost but could not peg back the scarlet-clad Elliott and Supreme Court, who took the pot of gold by three-quarters of a length. There were six lengths back to Tantieme and a further length and a half to Colonist.
It was Supreme Court's last race. He was retired to Banstead Manor Stud, where he signally failed to set the world on fire in ten years of stallion duty. Zucchero was back at Ascot the following year but made little show behind Tulyar, while Tantieme, who never showed his best form in Britain and was unarguably the best horse in the race, returned to Longchamp that autumn to harvest a second Arc.
The new race had been a great success, and the shape of things to come. Its rise initiated the decline of the Gold Cup as a test for true champions, Classic winners now having an alternative to the Royal Ascot marathon both in terms of prestige and prize-money, while the following year Wilwyn, only 17th behind Supreme Court, won the inaugural running of the Washington DC International, the first of a line from which great global contests such as the Canadian International, Arlington Million, Japan Cup and Breeders' Cup would spring.
Winning jockey Charlie Elliott (left) at Lincoln races in 1949