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An obstreperous enigma who saved best until last.

OF ALL the notable horses I've seen in action over half a century, none had such a variety of adjectives applied to him as Connaught. The trouble was, there seemed to be several different characters within that powerful bay frame, so we never knew quite what to expect from him or what to make of his performances. But fortunately he remained in training until he was five, when he was at last able to live up to a reputation that those closest to him had thrust upon him before he ever reached a racecourse.

In 1967 the Noel Murless team was winning everything that mattered, with a pair of undisputed champions in four-year-old Busted, successful in the Eclipse and King George, and three-year-old Royal Palace, hero of 2,000 Guineas and Derby. The folk at Warren Place were entitled to know a good colt when they saw one and such was the praise they heaped on Connaught's work that his debut at York's Ebor meeting was eagerly awaited. Here, we were led to believe, was the stable's next champion.

A field of 21 was declared for the Convivial Maiden Stakes, with Connaught, one of only three with no experience, favourite at 5-2 as the stalls handlers got to work. There was nothing they could do to persuade the obstreperous colt to enter and the race was run without him.

After such an inauspicious attempt to launch his career it was remarkable that two months later - a debutant taking on six previous winners - he should start 11-4 favourite for the Observer Gold Cup, richest race of the juvenile campaign. But he had evidently continued to thrive and this time there were no stalls, so he was given benefit of all the doubts.

In truth, Connaught's Doncaster run was not bad for a first-timer, but fifth, ten lengths behind Vaguely Noble, indicated no more than reasonable promise and had to be counted disappointing for one whose talent had been so widely touted. His supposedly inferior stable companion Lorenzaccio was half a length in front.

In the following spring Newmarket work-watchers were again effusive in their praise of Connaught's efforts but, once bitten, the public was twice shy about trusting him when he was sent out for the Greenham Stakes, two of his eight rivals being preferred in the market. Punters who kept faith at least got their money back, because for a second time he refused to have anything to do with the stalls.

Connaught had to be cured of that aversion before the 2,000 Guineas, and he was. In fact he was the only runner seriously supported against market leaders Sir Ivor and Petingo, being backed from 10-1 to 13-2. But entering his stall readily was the only way in which he improved his image as he beat only one home.

There was real progress to report at Chester, where Connaught took on undefeated Remand in the Vase and went under by only half a length. That display gave him licence to take a shot at the Derby, albeit seeking to become the first maiden to win since 1887. He so nearly achieved that feat, handling the course with surprising ease, bounding clear in the straight and seemingly having the race at his mercy until Sir Ivor swooped with a devastating burst in the last furlong.

There was no longer any doubt that Connaught was a top-class performer and that elusive first win came in style at Ascot, where he trounced Ribero by 12 lengths in the King Edward VII Stakes. Nine days later, when Ribero beat Sir Ivor in the Irish Derby, Connaught's stock rose again, but doubts soon resurfaced.

The Great Voltigeur was supposed to represent a formality. Starting at 1-3, with Riboccare - 36 lengths behind him at Ascot - his only credible rival, he wandered under pressure in the last furlong, became involved in a bumping match and went under by a neck. He seemed fortunate to be awarded the race in the stewards' room.

The pair went on to the St Leger, with Connaught illogically at odds-on and Riboccare a drifter to 100-8. There was scant consolation that the Murless colt proved the better as both ran deplorably in fifth and sixth as Ribero claimed his second Classic. What were we to make of Connaught now? Epsom and Ascot had shown what he could do, but he couldn't be relied on to run to that form. Perhaps he'd become more consistent at four.

In fact we got more of the same in-and-out performances in his third season. He trotted up by six lengths in the Coronation Stakes at Sandown, but as runner-up Jimmy Reppin finished lame that didn't signify much. Relishing Epsom again, he seemed to have poached a winning lead in the Coronation Cup halfway up the straight, but had no answer to Park Top's finishing speed and forfeited second to former victim Mount Athos.

Connaught had things easy in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, leading from start to finish and winning by five lengths from Wolver Hollow, then came down with a cough that caused him to miss the Eclipse. That race, won by Wolver Hollow from Park Top, will feature in a future article in this series, as will Doncaster's Scarbrough Stakes, in which Connaught reappeared, beaten into third behind Karabas and Hotfoot.

By now Murless was convinced that Connaught did not truly stay a mile and a half, and sent him out for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, his first start at a mile since the Guineas. The experiment was justified with a fine effort as runner-up to Jimmy Reppin. But no sooner had we felt inclined to rate him more highly again than he turned in a shocker in the Champion Stakes, stopping rapidly to finish a dull sixth after setting the pace.

AFTER three seasons in training Connaught had at various times impressed me as exasperating, brilliant, disappointing, lucky, unwilling, and game; in brief, he was an enigma and as a great big boat of a horse, lacking refinement, I couldn't count him among my favourites.

But in his fourth season the old devil won me round. He won the Westbury Stakes at Sandown against inferiors, then a second Prince of Wales's with high-class Hotfoot and Shoemaker in arrears. Both times he made all, setting a strong gallop, and was never threatened. That was clearly the way he needed to be ridden and that had to be the plan in the Eclipse, where he would face an odds-on foe in old rival Karabas.

The plan was not so readily put into practice. Connaught was reluctant to enter his stall and as manhandling would prove futile his backers could only hope the starter would exercise patience until the horse consented to go in of his own accord. Five minutes passed until he acquiesced and then came another near-disaster.

As the gates opened Connaught ducked to his left, Sandy Barclay shot up his neck and the pair seemed likely to part company. Amazingly, they remained intact and by the end of the first furlong the Joel colours were to the fore, Connaught going like a bat out of hell and setting a pace that never flagged. In the straight Karabas was close enough if good enough, but he was going to have to quicken and Connaught would have to yield.

That never looked likely. Connaught was still out on his own at the finish, breaking the course record as he came home with two and a half lengths to spare. It was an exceptional performance, so impressive that after 40-odd years I would be hard pressed to name many horses who might have lowered his colours that day.

On his 16th and final racecourse appearance the old enigma had earned a new epithet. I've no doubt that, ridden from the front on fast ground at a mile and a quarter, Connaught was great.

In the Great Voltigeur Alleged accelerated three furlongs from home like a rocket and won by eight lengths. Hot Grove, Lucky Sovereign and Classic Example were left standing. Trained by a genius, ridden by a genius. makaritis Aged 21, I backed Alleged for the St Leger at 7-1 ante-post. By Leger day he was 4-7 and, inevitably, he was beaten by a short-head. He won nine of 10 starts, including two Arcs and was second only once - and I didn't back him each-way. supamac I visited Alleged at Lanes End stud and he looked magnificent. His groom told me he had savaged and almost killed a few previous grooms. He was a real character. manuel1 We went to buy a pedigree dog on the afternoon of Alleged's first Arc and watched the race in the seller's lounge. We were so impressed by his superb win we bought the dog and called him Shandy Beechrise Alleged. Happy Days. malcgod Horse got one of the worst rides Piggott ever dished out in a Classic when tearing after Gregarious in the St Leger and helped set it up for Dunfermline. Dreadful effort but he made up for it in Paris. koooo **Those rides the maestro gave Alleged from the front in two Arcs were unforgettable. That was Lester Piggott at his supreme best. His timing was unbelievable on both occasions. The Templar Tell us your recollections of Connaught on racingpost.com

CAPTION(S):

Connaught's finest hour in his final race, winning the 1970 Eclipse by seven lengths from Karabas
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 16, 2011
Words:1576
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