The history of British horse racing is awash with stories of horses that managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but – with the possible exception of Devon Loch in the Grand National in 1956 – perhaps none more bizarre than Ile De Chypre in the King George V Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1988.
Bred and owned by Athos Christodoulou and trained by Guy Harwood at Pulborough, West Sussex, Ile De Chypre was, at the time, an unexposed three-year-old maiden who had, nonetheless, run with sufficient promise on his reappearance to be sent off second favourite for the competitive handicap. Ridden by stable jockey Greville Starkey, Ile De Chypre looked certain to justify market support when going clear in the closing stages, but inexplicably veered badly left in the last hundred yards or so, unseating Starkey as he did so.
The details of the incident were not revealed until a year later, when car dealer James Laming to Southwark Crown Court that he had fired an ultrasonic ‘stun gun’, disguised as a pair of binoculars, at Ile De Chypre. Accused of conspiracy to supply cocaine and money laundering, Laming claimed that money with traces of cocaine found in his car was on-course winnings, but he was less than forthcoming regarding other details of his alleged coup.
Frankel, who was retired from racing in October, 2012, unbeaten in fourteen races – ten of which were at the highest Group One level – was subsequently hailed as the highest-rated in the history of World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings, which were introduced in 1977. However, unquestionably brilliant though he was, even Frankel came nowhere near some of the most prolific thoroughbreds – undefeated or otherwise – in the history of horse racing across the globe.
The most prolific racehorse ever appears to have been Galgo Jr., a Puerto Rican thoroughbred who racked up 137 wins from 158 starts between 1930 and 1936, including, unbelievably, an unbeaten sequence of 39 in the space of a year. Next best, in terms of outright wins, comes American Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee Kingston, who won 89 of his 138 starts in the late nineteenth century and finished out of the money just four times.
Of the horses which, like Frankel, remained unbeaten throughout their entire racing careers, another Puerto Rican-bred thoroughbred, Camarero, notched up 56 consecutive wins in the 1950s and tops the list. However, the legendary Hungarian mare, Kincsem, who was unbeaten in 54 races all over Europe, including the Goodwood Cup on her only visit to Britain, in a four-year period in the 1870s is a worthy second-best.
At the time of writing, the 2021 Grand National is still over twelve months away so, frankly, whether or not Tiger Roll will attempt to become the first horse to record a hat-trick in the Aintree marathon in 2021 is anybody’s guess. Of course, Tiger Roll was ante-post favourite, at 8/1 or thereabouts, for the 2020 Grand National prior to its cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic, but can be backed at 20/1 for the 2021 renewal.
Nevertheless, trainer Gordon Elliott has already said that there is ‘every chance’ of Tiger Roll running in the Grand National in 2021. He is, after all, still only a ten-year-old – which means that he will be the same age as recent National winners Pineau De Re, Auroras Encore and Neptune Collonges by the time next April rolls around – and, granted that he has been restricted to just eleven starts in the last three National Hunt seasons, has hardly been overraced.
Of course, owner Michael O’Leary announced, shortly after winning the Grand National for a second time with Tiger Roll, and the third time in all, in 2019, that he would be winding down his Gigginstown House Stud operation over the next four or five years. Even so, Tiger Roll has time on his side so, who knows, he may yet attempt to achieve racing immortality.
The smallest number of finishers ever in the Grand National was just two, in 1928, and just one of them, 100/1 outsider Tipperary Tim, completed the course unscathed. The only other finisher, Billy Barton, had been left ahead at the fence before Becher’s Brook on the second circuit, but had been joined by Tipperary Tim when falling at the final fence; he was subsequently remounted and completed the course to finish a distant second.
The 1928 Grand National was run in testing conditions, but the main reason just two of the 42 starters finished was a melee at the Canal Turn on the first circuit, which decimated the field. The Canal Turn was, at the time, an open ditch and Easter Hero, who fell, and Eagle’s Tail, who refused, were the main agents provocateur in reducing the field to nine heading out onto the second circuit. At the fourth last fence, just three horses, headed by Great Span, were left standing; hindered by a slipping saddle, Great Span unseated rider at the second last and, when Billy Barton came down at the last, Tipperary Tim was left, at least temporarily, alone to gallop home unopposed.