With the Grand National over and done with for another year, the racing focus begins to turn firmly towards the upcoming flat campaign, with the month of April seeing trials season begin in earnest. Flat racing’s HQ of Newmarket hosts one of the key early season fixtures in the shape of the hugely informative three-day Craven Meeting, which takes in mid-April.
The signature event of the Craven Stakes acts as the centrepiece of a cracking card on the closing Thursday, as a field of promising three-year-old colts and geldings do battle over the Rowley Mile. Formerly an open-age event, the race counted the influential trio of Hambletonian, Priam, and Potoooooooos (Pot-8-os) amongst its early heroes, but here we take a look back at the five finest winners since the current format was introduced in 1878.
5. Petingo (1968)
Boasting a perfect juvenile record, encompassing effortless wins in both the Gimcrack Stakes and Middle Park Stakes, Petingo was the standout two-year-old performer of the 1967 season. Hopes were therefore high headed into his Classic campaign, and the colt delivered in adding a trio of Group class triumphs to his CV – the first of which came when landing the Craven Stakes by an easy 4l. Undone by the legendary Sir Ivor in the 2000 Guineas, he then bounced back in style to take the St. James’ Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, and Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.
Retiring to stud at the end of 1968, Petingo’s time as a stallion was sadly cut short due to a heart attack in 1976. However, that didn’t prevent him from making his mark, with his son Troy winning the 1979 editions of both the English and Irish Derby.
4. Bald Eagle (1958)
As the son of the champion sire Nasrullah and Group 1 winning dam, Siama, the US-bred, Bald Eagle certainly looked the part on paper, and wasn’t long in delivering on that potential at the track. Beginning his career in England, his finest hours on these shores came when landing this event and the Dante Stakes, before being shipped over to America where his career exploded.
The winner of eight high-profile events on the other side of the Atlantic, Bald Eagle set new track records at Hialeah Park and Belmont Park, before becoming the first horse to win the prestigious Washington D.C. International on more than one occasion. By the time he had retired to stud, the money-spinning colt had amassed $692,922 in total prize money – equivalent to over $7.2m in today’s cash.
3. Twice Over (2008)
Of the names on this list, this Henry Cecil-trained star wins the award for longevity, having continued to perform at the highest level well into his seventh year. Going in the silks of Prince Khalid Abdullah – made so famous by the incomparable Frankel – Twice Over was a fine example of a runner who improved with age – winning a Group 3 as a two-year-old and Group 2 as a three-year-old, before a first career Group 1 in his four-year-old campaign.
The standout performances during his three-year-old season came when holding off future Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Raven’s Pass in this race, and filling the runners-up spot behind Derby winner, New Approach in the Champion Stakes. Compensation was however to await in that Champion Stakes contest, with Twice Over landing both the 2009 and 2010 editions of the race. Retired in 2012, the last of his four top-level successes came when seeing off his 6-time Group 1 winning stablemate Midday in the 2011 Juddmonte International at York.
2. Migoli (1947)
Going in the Green and Red silks of the Agha Khan, this regally bred son of the 1938 Epsom Derby hero, Bois Roussel, is another runner on this list who looked destined for greatness on the breeding page. The good-looking grey was quick to fulfil that potential in claiming the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes in his juvenile campaign, before embarking on an extremely successful three year old season – following up his win in this race with impressive victories in the King Edward VII Stakes, Eclipse Stakes and Champion Stakes.
The decision to keep the colt in training as a four-year-old was to be rewarded with hissfinest hour. Prior to 1948, no British-trained runner had come home in front in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe since Parth in 1923, but Migoli put an end to that losing sequence when upsetting the hotly fancied Nirgal from the yard of legendary French trainer Marcel Boussac. Going on to a successful career at stud, Migoli counted the brilliant Belmont Stakes winner, Gallant Man amongst his progeny.
1. Dancing Brave (1986)
Topping the pile is not only the greatest ever Craven winner, but one of the finest racehorses of the 20th century full stop. Reportedly an unimpressive specimen as a foal, with less than ideal front legs and a “parrot mouth”, Dancing Brave went on to prove that looks aren’t everything during a breath-taking career. Two from two during his juvenile season, he opened his Classic campaign with an eye-catching win in this race, before quickening right away from the field in the 2000 Guineas on his next start.
A first defeat followed in the Epsom Derby when only just failing to mow down Shahrastani, having been given an exaggerated waiting ride by Greville Starky, but that loss was to prove a mere blip. Dispatching his elders with ease in the Eclipse Stakes, he then gained revenge on Shahrastani in the King George, before taking the Select Stakes en route to what would prove to be his career-defining moment at Longchamp.
Seemingly out of the picture inside the final furlong of the 1986 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, he produced an electrifying turn of foot close home to win going away in a course-record time. Handed a revised International Classifications rating of 138 in 2013, only one horse has ever achieved a higher mark than Dancing Brave, and he goes by the name of Frankel.