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Awesome two-miler who met tragic end; Dunkirk.

DUNKIRK's career was brief by jumping standards, but the ill-fated champion did enough to suggest that he was the greatest specialist two-mile steeplechaser of all time.

A flamboyant, headstrong front-runner who jumped and galloped his rivals into submission, he put up awesome displays in the Champion Chase and Mackeson Gold Cup in 1965, and would have achieved even more had he not been killed in a fall when trying to match strides with Arkle.

Dunkirk was a tearaway, and the efforts of Peter Cazalet's stable jockey Bill Rees to harness his talent were only partially successful in his novice season, 1963-64. In the Henry VIII Chase at Sandown he was caught and beaten into second place by champion novice Buona Notte, and in the Cotswold (now Arkle) Chase at Cheltenham he had just been headed by Greektown when he fell at the second-last.

In 1965 waiting tactics proved a dismal failure over 2m4f at Sandown, but when given his head again over 2m in the Newbury Spring (now Game Spirit) Chase he hacked up.

He started only third favourite for the National Hunt Two-Mile (now Queen Mother) Champion Chase, behind reigning champion Ben Stack and Greektown, but put up a spectacular display of frontrunning.

Ridden by Dave Dick in place of the injured Rees, he turned the race into a procession, and not even a slip on landing after the last could stop him strolling home 20 lengths clear of Greektown.

On his reappearance that autumn Dunkirk beat Mill House by 15 lengths at level weights in the 2m Frogmore Chase at Ascot, and he then demonstrated the full extent of his greatness by conceding lumps of weight to high-class rivals in the 2m Mackeson (now Paddy Power) Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

Carrying the crushing burden of 12st 7lb in a handicap sponsored by his owner Bill Whitbread, he sweated up badly beforehand, and though he set the pace, he could never establish his usual clear lead. Indeed, Choreographer (received 31lb) headed him four out, but he jumped to the front again at the second-last and stole just enough advantage to see him home. His rival gradually closed on him up the hill, but his courage matched his talent and, responding to Rees's urgings, he had half a length to spare at the line.

Sadly, the great champion was killed on his very next start. The 1965 King George VI Chase was shaping up as a foregone conclusion for Arkle, so Whitbread sportingly ran his 2m star over a trip far outside his comfort zone.

Having been nearly a fence in front at one stage, Dunkirk had reached the limit of his stamina when making a mistake six out, and had just been headed by Arkle when failing to rise at all at the next; he broke both his own neck and Rees's thigh. A lung haemorrhage had probably killed him before he hit the ground.

John Randall 'The cause of his death was his own fighting heart' Owner Bill Whitbread Trainer Peter Cazalet Jockeys Bill Rees, Dave Dick Festival win 1965 National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase Other big wins 1964 Calor Gas Chase, 1965 Newbury Spring Chase, Frogmore Chase, Mackeson Gold Cup Ran 18 races over jumps, won 9 What you didn't know His grandsire was Davy Jones (also from Peter Cazalet's stable), who ran out at the final fence when in a clear lead in the 1936 Grand National What they said about him "The cause of Dunkirk's death was his own fighting heart which, to the end, acknowledged no superior" - John Oaksey


Dunkirk (right): put up spectacular display of front-running in 1965 Champion Chase
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Feb 25, 2012
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