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Horse Racing: Lester loves Nijinsky.

Byline: Dunwoody

IN Vincent O'Brien's Great Horses, a superb book by Ivor Herbert and Jaqueline O'Brien, the legendary trainer is asked how he compares Nijinsky with all his horses.

"I would have to rate him first or second," he said. "Him or Sir Ivor. For brilliance: Nijinsky. For toughness: Sir Ivor."

As for all the other greats, Ribot and Sea-Bird II, Vincent said: "It has to be remembered that Ribot, over three seasons, only left his homeland on three occasions, and Sea-Bird only once.

"At three years old, Nijinsky ran eight times against Sea-Bird's five. All but two of Nijinsky's three-year-old races were outside Ireland. He faced international competition at Newmarket, Epsom, Ascot, Doncaster, Longchamp and Newmarket again, with the Irish Derby thrown in. All in one season."

Ireland's greatest Flat champion, Nijinsky won the Triple Crown - 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger - in 1970, the first since Bahram in 1935, and may well be the last colt to do so.

The Canadian-bred, a champion in both his two-year-old and three-year-old seasons, easily won the Dewhurst in 1969 and powered home as a 4-7 shot in the 2,000 Guineas the following April.

He never started at oddsagainst until the Derby, where he suffered after a littleknown colic scare 24 hours before the race. He then produced a superb turn of foot at Epsom to beat Gyr by two and a half lengths and then sauntered to an Irish Derby victory.

His most impressive display came in the King George, in which he beat the previous year's winner Blakeney without turning a hair, and then took the St Leger with ease.

Officially rated at 140 in 1970, he suffered an attack of ringworm before the St Leger and that took its toll. He was past his best when suffering two shock defeats in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and in the Champion Stakes, where he got terribly uptight beforehand.

No other race has so openly and for so long upset the great man. "That was a sad day. Really dreadful," added O'Brien years afterwards.

But the son of Northern Dancer is best remembered for those two glorious summers and latterly as sire of other greats like Caerleon, Golden Fleece, Lammtarra, Royal Academy, Green Dancer and Shahrastani to name a few.

Asked to name the best horses trained by O'Brien and ridden by him, Lester Piggott said instantly: "Well, obviously Nijinsky, Sir Ivor and The Minstrel."

If you believe in the subconscious grades preference, you have to believe his first response.

Lester added: "I think Nijinsky probably on his day was the most brilliant horse I've ever ridden. On a few days in the summertime as a three-year-old..."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 2, 2008
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