Dayjur was one of the fastest racehorses there has been and he is the public’s choice to become a QIPCO British Champions Series Hall of Fame inductee. 

Dayjur Nunthorpe

Dayjur and Willie Carson fly home in the Keeneland Nunthorpe Stakes, York 1990

We invited you to vote for a quartet of stunning sprinters – the other trio being Black Caviar, Lochsong and Moorestyle – and it was Dayjur who came out on top. He prevailed by a wide margin, which was perhaps appropriate given that he specialised in dishing out drubbings in many of the top sprints in 1990. 

His successive wins in the Temple Stakes, King’s Stand, Nunthorpe, Sprint Cup and Prix de l’Abbaye, were glorious minute-long exhibitions of raw pace. And if there is ever a Hall of Fame for Unlucky Losers, he will surely be one of the first through that door, too, after he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory at the Breeders’ Cup on his final appearance. 

Dayjur was owned by the late Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

His story also began in the United States, as he was bred in Kentucky. Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum paid $1.65 million for him as a yearling, seduced by his taking pedigree. Dayjur’s Dad was Danzig, the champion sire, and his Mum was Gold Beauty, an outstanding sprinter in America in 1982 and 1983. He was transported to West Ilsley, in Berkshire, and trained, like so many of Sheikh Hamdan’s horses, by the masterful Dick Hern. 

The path to stardom was not straightforward. A debut win at Newbury, as a two-year-old, augured well but he suffered an odds-on defeat at the same course the following month before being put away for the winter. 

At home, he was a bundle of energy. “He was quite tricky and didn’t care for trotting.” said Marcus Tregoning, former assistant to Hern. “He came out jumping and kicking every morning. He’d bounce all the way [on his way to exercise].” 

Dick Hern and Willie Carson

Trainer Dick Hern (right) was one of the integral parts to Dayjur’s success

Nevertheless, his connections had Classic aspirations and so Dayjur reappeared in the Free Handicap, over 7f, at Newmarket in mid-April. The race was a traditional trial for the 2000 Guineas, but Dayjur’s stamina was stretched and he never figured. 

 Instead of lining up in the Guineas, he contested a minor event over 6f at Nottingham and got back to winning ways, only to hit another bump in the road when defeated at Newbury 17 days later. 

Hern and Carson put their heads together, certain they were missing something. The latter made reference to Dayjur’s immense gate speed and so the trainer suggested: “Why don’t you just let him go? 

Carson needed no second invitation when Dayjur belatedly had his first run over the minimum trip of 5f in the Group 2 Temple Stakes at Sandown Park ten days later. Dayjur flew out of the stalls and, allowed to fully express himself, never looked like being caught. It was an explosive display and one that was to become something of a trademark.

Willie Carson was Dayjur’s partner in all 11 of his career starts, from his maiden at Newbury to his final start at Belmont Park

From then on, Dayjur was like a heavyweight boxer who came out swinging from the first bell. Opponents were sent sprawling. 

 The King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot on easy ground the following month demanded more, but the result was the same. Dayjur bullied his rivals from the start and won in commanding style. 

Having had five runs in little more than two months, he was then allowed to catch his breath before lining up in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York 62 days later. 

One of the biggest sprints of the year was billed as a match between him and Argentum, another three-year-old who had been a smooth winner of the King George Stakes at Goodwood, but Dayjur was in a league of his own. 

 He was soon calling the tune and never dropped the revs, zooming along at about 45mph and winning by four lengths in a record time of 56.16 seconds. No winner has since triumphed by as far, while the record time stood until Battaash, in the same ownership, lowered it in 2019. 

America also beckoned for Dayjur, but first he travelled to France for the Prix de l’Abbaye; the biggest sprint on those shores. Up against several rivals he had already mastered, he won easily despite spooking at something near the finish and breaking stride. Few people even noticed, but it offered a hint of what was to come. 

 Twenty days later, Dayjur returned to the country of his birth for his farewell in the 6f Breeders’ Cup Sprint in front of a 51,236 crowd at Belmont Park. Beating America’s top speedsters on dirt, a surface he had never previously run on, was a huge ask, especially given his busy campaign and an unfavourable wide draw. 

 But Dayjur rose to the challenge and by halfway the race had developed into a titanic tussle between him and Safely Kept, a four-year-old mare who had been runner-up the previous year and was unbeaten in six starts that season. The pair became locked together like arm wrestlers of equal strength, daring the other to blink. 

As the post loomed, Dayjur finally began to get on top. A historic win was in his grasp. His crowning glory beckoned.  

But then came a remarkable final twist. It was late afternoon and yards from the line, he leapt at a shadow cast by the towers at Belmont. An aspirant for the Champion Hurdle could hardly have negotiated it any better. 

Carson stayed aboard and tried to recover the momentum, only for Dayjur to spot a second shadow and skip over that, too. The late leaps allowed Safely Kept to edge back ahead and win by a neck. The fastest horse in the world had contrived to beat himself. 

 “I can’t believe it, we were just going to go away and win by a length,” Carson said to Brough Scott on TV afterwards, shaking his head. “We don’t get the money, but we’ve got the best horse.” Despite his defeat, Dayjur’s standing was enhanced. And he was more famous than ever. 

Dayjur stayed in America and in his second vocation, as a stallion at Shadwell’s base in Kentucky, went on to sire 311 winners, although none in the mould of himself. He died on September 25, 2013, having been retired from stud duty early in 2010. 

Career Highlights

Dick Hern
Dayjur Haydock

Keeneland Yearling Sales, USA

Bought by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum at the Keeneland Yearling Sales, in America, for $1.65 million.

Newbury Racecourse

Wins on his debut at Newbury for trainer Dick Hern under Willie Carson, who would ride him in each of his 11 races.

King’s Stand, Ascot

Makes all in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Nunthorpe Stakes, York

Dazzling four-length winner of the Nunthorpe Stakes at York in a record time

Sprint Cup, Haydock

Brilliant all-the-way winner of the Sprint Cup at Haydock Park

Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Belmont Park

Suffers dramatic defeat by a neck in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Belmont Park after jumping a shadow near the finish. Retired to stud

Career Starts
Career Wins
Group 1 Wins

Other Accolades

British Horse of the Year (1990)
European Champion Sprinter (1990)