Nijinsky, Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard sparkle in the seventies
This first year of the new decade was all about one horse – Nijinsky, who had signed off his
undefeated two-year-old career with a facile victory in the Dewhurst Stakes.
Sent off at 7-4 on, the Canadian-bred Nijinsky, partnered by Lester Piggott, became the
shortest-priced 2,000 Guineas winner since Colombo in 1934. Such was the authoritative
manner of his victory that bookmakers offered short odds about him for the Derby.
The Derby proved just another romp for Nijinsky and Piggott, winning eased down, with
French champion Gyr, his nearest pursuer, beaten two and a half lengths. The time of 2min
36.6sec was the fastest since Mahmoud’s victory in 1936.
Nijinsky followed that with an easy victory in the Irish Derby, then beat the best of Europe’s
older horses in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. He routed a moderate field in
the St Leger to earn his place among the immortals as the first Triple Crown winner since
Bahram 35 years earlier.
Had his career ended there, it would have been one of perfection, 11 starts, 11 wins. Sadly, it
did not. He was beaten a head by Sassafras in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, then by a length
and a half in the Champion Stakes by the five-year-old Lorenzaccio, a horse Nijinsky would
have contemptuously swept aside on his best form.
However, those two defeats should not detract from all he achieved and, at his peak, he truly
was one of the greats. During that summer of 1970 he was a champion for the ages.
Brigadier prevails in memorable 2000 Guineas
Having been blessed with a true champion in Nijinsky, British racing had not one but two the
following year. They were Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard. They, along with My Swallow, had
been the outstanding two-year-olds of 1970, and the racing public licked their lips at the
prospect of all three clashing in the 2,000 Guineas.
Mill Reef and My Swallow both won their prep races with ease, whereas Brigadier Gerard did
not run before the Guineas. The betting suggested it was between the ‘big two’, showing Mill
Reef at 6-4 and My Swallow at 2-1, with Brigadier Gerard at 11-2. But it was the Brigadier
who came out on top. Having stalked his two main rivals, when jockey Joe Mercer asked him
to quicken on meeting the rising ground, he shot clear to win by three lengths.
Mill Reef showed that he was none the worse for his defeat at Newmarket by winning the
Derby comfortably by two lengths from Linden Tree under a confident ride from Geoff Lewis.
However, it was his next three races that showed him to be a true champion, for he won the
Eclipse Stakes by four lengths (breaking Sandown’s ten-furlong track record), the King George
VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes by six lengths, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe by three.
Brigadier Gerard also had an unblemished three-year-old campaign, following his Guineas
triumph with victories in the St James’s Palace Stakes, Sussex Stakes, Goodwood Mile, Queen
Elizabeth II Stakes and Champion Stakes.
This year also saw the introduction of the Pattern Race Classifications in Europe, with major
conditions races being categorised as Group 1, Group 2 and Group 3 contests.