Triple Crown hero who will live long in memory; TONY MORRIS'S GIANTS OF THE TURF.
There was obviously some point to mathematics, because if I'd had a five bob each-way double on winners at 100-8 and 100-7, I would want to be able to calculate my profit. But why on earth would I choose to fill my head with useless guff like logarithms and trigonometry, when there were much more interesting things to memorise, such as the names of all the Derby winners since 1780 and all the facts that I could glean about those ultimate achievers on the turf, the winners of the Triple Crown.
I had my priorities right, because professionally the only use I ever found for maths was to enable me to compile a betting forecast. My extracurricular studies on the history of racing proved much more rewarding.
The Triple Crown was a natural subject to engage the mind of a keen young student, because by common consent over several generations it had represented the pinnacle of performance in the breed. It took an exceptional colt to dominate his contemporaries at three different distances over three widely dissimilar courses, so the few who accomplished the feat formed an elite group commanding special respect.
By the time I became fascinated with the Triple Crown there had been no winner since Bahram, 20 years earlier in 1935. Sure, it was elusive, but nobody doubted that it was attainable. When entries were made at the yearling stage many colts were nominated for all three races, and there was always the chance that a superstar might emerge.
The feat was surely going to be achieved in 1957 if only Noel Murless had been able to keep Crepello sound. The Guineas was a bonus for one with such a stamina-laden pedigree, and the Derby proved beyond doubt that he was the best of his generation at middle distances. It was a crying shame that he could not make it to Doncaster.
Ten years later and dj vu. Royal Palace, another from Warren Place, followed up his Guineas triumph with a ready victory at Epsom, and the St Leger appeared to be at his mercy. He didn't get over a setback in time to compete. As in Crepello's year, the Derby runner-up took the Doncaster spoils.
In 1968 Sir Ivor scintillated in his Guineas and Derby victories, but his American pedigree could not guarantee him stamina for the Leger, so that was never on his agenda. The wait for a successor to Bahram was extended to 35 years after Right Tack and Blakeney had shared the honours in the first two colts' Classics of the following year.
The colt who would end the long hiatus made his debut at the Curragh in July 1969. Starting at 4-11, Nijinsky toyed with runner-up Everyday, his half-length margin telling nothing about the degree of his superiority. Charles Engelhard's colt then won the Railway Stakes, storming home by five lengths from Decies, before meeting up once more with Everyday, who had trotted up by eight lengths at Naas in the meantime. In the Anglesey Stakes Nijinsky was required to give 7lb to his old rival, and he accomplished the feat with ease, finishing on top by three lengths.
The colt's first real test came in the Beresford Stakes, not that many believed he would be beaten. At 2-7 he seemed short enough, given that Decies had shown marked improvement when making all in the National Stakes, upsetting a strongly fancied pair in Great Heron and Prince Tenderfoot, winners of the Tyros Stakes and Royal Ascot's Coventry Stakes.
Decies did give Nijinsky a run for his money, leading until the last furlong and ensuring that Liam Ward would have to get down to business, but all was well in the end, the favourite getting home with three-quarters of a length to spare. All those races were in Ireland, and I knew nothing about Nijinsky aside from what I had read in the papers. By all accounts he was considered top-class, so I couldn't wait to see him when he came for the Dewhurst.
I shall never forget my first sighting of Nijinsky in the paddock at Newmarket. Talk about filling the eye! I had never seen a more imposing two-year-old, and swiftly decided that if he was as good as he looked, he was a potential world-beater. Considering that he was by Northern Dancer, famously a little'un, just where he had acquired that awesome physique was a mystery, but wow, he was some specimen.
I hardly noticed the others in the parade ring, but they surely needed no attention anyway. Nijinsky was going to blow them away. And that is just what he did, without Lester - riding him for the first time - ever having to move a muscle. Sheer, unadulterated class.
That was it for me. The 2,000 Guineas was as good as over already and through the winter I looked forward to it as an exhibition rather than a contest. And that was just what I saw. Having proved his wellbeing with a smooth victory in the Gladness Stakes, the Vincent O'Brien-trained Nijinsky returned to Newmarket to face his stiffest competition yet, started at 4-7, and won as he liked.
There seemed to be two reasons why Nijinsky might not win the Derby. One was the distance, which represented unknown territory and could pose a problem; Northern Dancer had been outstayed in the Belmont Stakes on the only occasion that he had tried 1m4f. The other threat was the French-trained Gyr, a Sea-Bird colt held in the highest regard at Chantilly - so highly that his trainer Etienne Pollet had postponed his retirement for a year to guide him through his three-year-old campaign.
Gyr had been the victim of a poor ride in his only defeat to date, and that was last season. This term he had been brilliant in the Prix Daru and had proved his capacity for the full Derby distance with victory in the Prix Hocquart.
FOR the first and only time in his life Nijinsky started at odds against in the Derby. But neither of the doubts was realised. Gyr, a huge, rangy, ungainly individual, coped admirably with the course, and quickened clear of his field two furlongs from home; his performance would have been good enough to have won plenty of Derbys. Just not this one. Once Nijinsky drew alongside, Gyr was powerless to engage another gear, the favourite gliding by to win by two lengths.
Now proven at the distance, Nijinsky was set for a mere lap of honour at the Curragh, and that was what happened. He sweated up to raise some initial concerns, and was only eighth turning for home, but his trademark acceleration was produced on demand and a second Derby secured by three lengths.
Gyr's impressive victory over older rivals in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud early in July allowed the belief that Nijinsky would treat his seniors similarly in the King George later that month, and he duly did so with astonishing aplomb. Cantering past Karabas a furlong from home, while Blakeney was being ridden furiously in a vain attempt to challenge, the colt we were now beginning to think of as the horse of the century was invulnerable, perhaps unbeatable.
Nijinsky was now entitled to a break before a warm-up race for his main objective, the Arc de Triomphe, but while we waited for news of what that race would be he contracted a severe case of ringworm. When the announcement of a clean bill of health finally came, along with a definite intention to go for the St Leger, my heart skipped a beat. The Triple Crown at last!
Of course, he still had to win it, but who could doubt that he would? On the day he was 2-7, all the stamina doubts forgotten, and though only seventh of the nine coming into the straight, he picked off his rivals one by one, cruised past Politico into the lead a furlong from home and it was plain sailing thereafter.
The excitement of witnessing an exceptional performance was multiplied many times over. Here was something that had not been achieved for 35 years, and I had been privileged to be on hand for each element of the treble. Who was to say that it would ever happen again in my lifetime? Could Nijinsky be the best racehorse that anyone had ever seen? Of course, a month or so later we were thinking that perhaps Nijinsky should have stopped where Bahram stopped, after completing his Triple Crown. Sassafras thwarted him in a desperate finish for the Arc, and the anticipated recompense did not materialise in the Champion Stakes, when he was decidedly out of sorts, only second to an obvious inferior in Lorenzaccio.
No, Nijinsky was not the best horse ever. But he gave me some fabulous 'I was there' moments that will never be erased from my memory.
Your recollections of last week's giant, Time Charter It goes without saying that she was one of the stars of the early 80s and her Champion Stakes win still takes the breath away. shade24 **Will never forget Time Charter's great win in the 1983 King George. Before the days of student overdrafts, lumped my last pounds 12 on her at 11-2 and managed to keep myself in booze and food for the final four weeks of term. A fantastic racehorse. bergsy48 Tell us your recollections of Nijinsky on racingpost.com NIJINSKY bay colt, born February 21, 1967 Pedigree Nearco Nearctic Lady Angela Northern Dancer (b 1961) Native Dancer Natalma Almahmoud Bull Lea Bull Page Our Page Flaming Page (b 1959) Menow Flaring Top Flaming Top Bred by E.P. Taylor in Canada. $84,000 Woodbine yearling.
Race/stud record Ran 13 Won 11 2nd 2 Earned pounds 282,223 Big races won Railway S., Anglesey S., Beresford S., Dewhurst S., Gladness S., 2,000 Guineas, Derby, Irish Derby, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth S., St Leger.
Gr1-winning progeny Caucasus (Irish St Leger, Sunset H., San Luis Rey S.), Green Dancer (Observer Gold Cup, Poule d'Essai des Poulains, Prix Lupin), Quiet Fling (Coronation Cup), Upper Nile (Suburban H.), Ile De Bourbon (King George VI & Queen Elizabeth S., Coronation Cup), Nizon (Premio Roma), Czaravich (Metropolitan H.), Niniski (Irish St Leger, Prix Royal-Oak), Princesse Lida (Prix Morny, Prix de la Salamandre), De La Rose (Hollywood Derby), Kings Lake (Irish 2,000 Guineas, Sussex S., Joe McGrath Memorial S.), Nijinsky's Secret (Hialeah Turf Cup S., Hialeah Turf Cup H.), Golden Fleece (Derby S.), Hostage (Arkansas Derby), Bemissed (Selima S.), Caerleon (Prix du Jockey Club, Benson & Hedges Gold Cup), Solford (Eclipse S.), Vision (Secretariat S.), Fire Of Life (Premio Roma), Folk Art (Oak Leaf S.), Shadeed (2,000 Guineas), Dance Of Life (Man o' War S.), Ferdinand (Kentucky Derby, Hollywood Gold Cup H., Breeders' Cup Classic), Shahrastani (Derby, Irish Derby), Banker's Lady (Top Flight H., Shuvee H.), Dancing Spree (Suburban H., Breeders' Cup Sprint, Carter H.), Jeanne Jones (Fantasy S.), Maplejinsky (Monmouth Oaks, Alabama S.), Classic Fame (National S.), Royal Academy (July Cup, Breeders' Cup Mile), Sky Classic (Canadian International Championship, Turf Classic Invitational S.), Mashaallah (Gran Premio di Milano, Grosser Preis von Baden, Irish St Leger), Likeable Style (Las Virgenes S.), Lammtarra (Derby, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth S., Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe).
Nijinsky ended any doubts over his stamina when winning the Derby