Coronation Cup a Fitting Part of Royal Jubilee

Aureole is led in after winning the 1954 Coronation Cup in the colours of Her Majesty The Queen | Getty Images


While Her Majesty's Platinum Jubilee celebrations at Epsom understandably focus on the Derby, we should remember that that great race, in which she owned the runner-up Aureole (GB) just days after her Coronation in 1953, is not the only big race at the meeting which has close links to Britain's Royal Family.  Arguably even stronger are the ties which bind Epsom's big weight-for-age race, the G1 Coronation Cup, to the monarchy.

This prestigious contest is run over the Derby course for 4-year-olds and upwards and serves as the natural target for the previous year's Derby winner. Initially known as the Epsom Gold Cup, it was re-named the Coronation Cup in 1902 to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II's great-grandfather King Edward VII. It thus celebrates the life-long love of racing of King Edward VII, who was an enthusiastic and very successful owner as both Prince of Wales and monarch. His passion was also honoured (posthumously) when the Ascot Derby was re-named the King Edward VII S. in 1926.

Many of Britain's monarchs have loved the Sport of Kings over the centuries, but Queen Elizabeth II has been the one whose passion for the sport has at least matched that of King Edward VII. It is fitting, therefore, that while Aureole's racing career is best remembered for his valiant effort to provide a royal victory in what is often popularly referred to as the Coronation Derby, his best win came 52 weeks later when he carried the royal colours to victory in the Coronation Cup, thus helping his sire Hyperion (GB) to his sixth and final sires' championship.

Aureole went on to enjoy a splendid stud career, most notably topping the sires' table in both 1960 and '61, in which seasons his best winners were Derby hero St Paddy (GB) and St Leger winner Aurelius (GB), respectively. He clearly ranks as one of the most distinguished horses to win the Coronation Cup during its 120-year history, but such is the class of the race's roll of honour that he certainly can't be regarded as the greatest.

The winners of the Epsom Gold Cup had included the mighty St Simon (GB), arguably the greatest horse to race during the 19th century. It didn't take long for the Coronation Cup to become established as a race won by horses of the highest order.

The first Coronation Cup to be won by a horse whom we can describe as a great was the third one, in 1904. The winner that year was Zinfandel (GB) who had been ruled out of the Classics in 1903 when the death of his owner Colonel McCalmont had rendered his engagements void. He was left to prove his class elsewhere, which he did repeatedly at Ascot, where he won the Gold Cup, the Gold Vase and the Alexandra Plate (now Queen Alexandra S.). His finest hour, though, came at Epsom where he led home a trifecta of superstars in the 1904 Coronation Cup, the minor placings being filled by Sceptre (GB) and Rock Sand (GB), winners between them of seven British Classics.

An even greater horse won the next two Coronation Cups because in both 1905 and '06 the prize was taken by Pretty Polly (Ire). Winner of the Fillies' Triple Crown in 1904, Pretty Polly ultimately established a record of 22 wins and two second places from 24 starts and is considered by many to have been both the greatest filly of the 20th century and the most influential broodmare too. Her descendants have included Brigadier Gerard (GB) and the Derby winners St Paddy (GB), Psidium (Ire) and Workforce (GB) as well as the influential sires Donatello II (Ity), Nearctic (Can), Vienna (GB), Northern Taste (Can) and Cape Cross (Ire), the latter, of course, responsible for the superb Derby winners Sea The Stars (Ire) and Golden Horn (GB).

Great winners of the Coronation Cup kept coming. Pretty Polly's two wins were followed by another double, the admirable The White Knight (Ire) scoring in both 1907 and '08.  In each year he went to Ascot after Epsom and won the Gold Cup there. An even more popular horse took the Coronation Cup in 1909 when the prize went to the evergreen 8-year-old Dean Swift (GB). Few top-class horses have been less wearied by age than Dean Swift, who ran in Epsom's City and Suburban H. eight years running (winning it twice and registering four minor placings) and ultimately brought the house down at Goodwood in 1911 by winning the Chesterfield Cup at the age of 10.

America's champion 2-year-old of 1908, Sir Martin (Ogden {GB}) was sent to England in 1909 to try to win the Derby. This principal aim was not achieved as in a rough race he and Bayardo, who had been Britain's champion juvenile, were the principal sufferers in a melee at Tattenham Corner. Bayardo (GB) forfeited merely his chance, while Sir Martin lost his rider.  Both horses subsequently put this debacle behind them, Bayardo landing a string of great wins highlighted by his victory in the 1910 Gold Cup at Ascot and Sir Martin winning the 1910 Coronation Cup.

The race was won in 1911 by Bayardo's lesser half-brother Lemburg (GB) who thus became the first horse to augment victory in the Derby by taking the following year's Coronation Cup. At least equally distinguished was the 1913 winner Prince Palatine (GB) whose other victories included the 1911 St Leger as well as two Ascot Gold Cups, an Eclipse S., a Jockey Club S. and a Doncaster Cup. Thanks largely to his grandson Princequillo (GB) (Rose Prince {GB}), Prince Palatine ultimately went on to feature in the pedigrees of some of the greatest horses of the 20th century.

The most notable horses to win the Coronation Cup during the First World War were the 1914 St Leger winner Black Jester (GB) and the 1915 Derby winner Pommern (GB). The tradition of Classic winners taking the race as 4-year-olds continued through the inter-war years, most notably with horses of the calibre of Solario (GB), Coronach (GB) and Windsor Lad (GB). The luckless Dastur (Ire), who finished second in all three legs of the Triple Crown in 1932 as well as winning the King Edward VII S., Irish Derby and Sussex S., was another.

The most remarkable Classic hero of that period to win the Coronation Cup as a 4-year-old was Reigh Count (Sunreigh {GB}), the 1928 Kentucky Derby winner who was sent to England in 1929 to try to prove himself the best horse in the world. He went some way towards doing that by winning the Coronation Cup before finishing second in the Gold Cup at Ascot, after which his owner Fannie Hertz reportedly turned down an unprecedented offer of $1,000,000. Mrs. Hertz had reason to be thankful for her decision when, standing him at Stoner Creek Stud near Paris, Kentucky, he sired her homebred colt Count Fleet, winner of the US Triple Crown in 1943 before, based at Stoner Creek, becoming North America's Champion Sire of 1951 and Champion Broodmare Sire of 1963.

French horses dominated many of Britain's biggest races in the post-war years, with the Coronation Cup's roll of honour illustrating this perfectly. In the seven years 1946 to 1952 inclusive, French trainers supplied six of the winners, headed by the 1951 hero Tantieme (Fr) who, trained by Francois Mathet, had won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe eight months previously and would go on to take France's greatest race for a second time that autumn. The only non-French winner in this period was Beau Sabreur (Ire) who won the race as a 4-year-old in 1949. Trained at the Curragh by Cecil Brabazon, he had won the Irish 2000 Guineas and Irish St Leger the previous year but had been denied the chance to land his country's Triple Crown when he had had to miss the Irish Derby.

An even better Irish-trained horse took the Coronation Cup nine years later when Ballymoss (GB) won the race as part of a stellar campaign in which he consolidated the reputation which Vincent O'Brien was starting to earn as Europe's pre-eminent big-race specialist. Runner-up in the Derby in 1957 before winning the St Leger, Ballymoss dominated Europe's weight-for-age ranks in 1958 by reeling off a sparkling four-timer consisting of the Coronation Cup, Eclipse S., King George VI & Queen Elizabeth S. and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Lester Piggott subsequently became O'Brien's most frequent partner in glory but Scobie Breasley was Ballymoss's jockey that year. Piggott, though, rode the winners of the next three Coronation Cups. In 1959 he guided the Harry Wragg-trained Nagami to victory before scoring in 1960 and '61 on a mare who takes her place alongside Pretty Polly in the highest tier of the pantheon: the Noel Murless-trained Petite Etoile (GB). The sublimely-talented great-great-granddaughter of 'The Flying Filly' Mumtaz Mahal (GB) carried Prince Aly Khan's silks to victory in 1961 but raced for his father HH Aga Khan III 12 months later, subsequent to the tragedy of the Prince's fatal car crash. It was hard for Petite Etoile to become a notable influence in pedigrees as she only had one daughter, the Habitat filly Zahra (Ire), but she ranks as the fifth dam of HH Aga Khan IV's great filly Zarkava (Ire).

Petite Etoile, like Pretty Polly before her, was a hard act to follow, but the Coronation Cup kept producing winners worthy of such great race. In fact, a racemare of similar charisma won the race later that decade. The 11th Duke of Devonshire's hugely popular Park Top (GB) was actually unlucky not to become the race's fourth dual winner, scoring easily in 1969 before an over-confident ride by Lester Piggott saw her lose out to the Noel Murless-trained Caliban (GB) the following year.

The stallion boom which began to build momentum in the late 1970s has been a significant factor in weakening the ranks of Europe's high-class older horses. However, such is the Coronation Cup's status that its roll of honour remains rock-solid. Outstanding horses were winning it through the '60s and '70s, and outstanding horses are still winning it in the 21st century. It was and still is the obvious target for the previous year's Classic stars.

The Derby winners Relko (Fr), Charlottown (GB), Royal Palace (GB), Mill Reef and Roberto all won the Coronation Cup. So did the Oaks winners Lupe (GB) and Time Charter (Ire), and the St Leger winners Bustino (GB), Crow (Fr), Silver Patriarch (GB), Mutafaweq and Scorpion (Ire). Others in the modern era to have won European Classics before taking the Coronation Cup have included Exceller, Triptych (the iron mare who won it in both 1987 and '88), In The Groove (GB), Soldier Of Fortune (Ire) and Fame And Glory (Ire).

A more recent development has been a Coronation Cup/ Breeders' Cup Turf double. This has been completed by In The Wings (GB), Daylami (Ire), Shirocco (Ger), St Nicholas Abbey (Ire), and Highland Reel (Ire); while Swain (Ire) and Singspiel (Ire) were arguably unlucky not to do so.

Warrsan (Ire) became the fifth horse to win the Coronation Cup twice when scoring in 2003 and '04 but paradoxically doesn't truly rank as one of the greats to have taken the race.  The horse who won it the next year does, though. Yeats (Ire) had been favourite for the Derby in 2004 before going amiss but bounced back to take the Coronation Cup in 2005. He then won the Gold Cup at Ascot in each of the next four seasons.

The race's only triple winner, the ill-fated St Nicholas Abbey (Ire) who won it in 2011, '12 and '13, definitely deserves his place in any list of outstanding racehorses, as do the even more recent winners Cirrus Des Aigles (Fr), Postponed (Ire), Highland Reel, and the 2020 Cartier Horse of the Year Ghaiyyath (Ire) who won the race at Newmarket during that COVID-affected season, breaking the track record and leading home the previous year's Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck (Ire) and the redoubtable Stradivarius (Ire). Last year's Cazoo Derby winner Adayar (Ire) remains in training in 2022 and the Coronation Cup, sponsored this year by Dahlbury, was the automatic choice for his resumption, although sadly a setback means that he won't be in the field this week.

Even in Adayar's absence, this year's Coronation Cup will still be a notable race whose winner will have earned his place in history. The winning jockey too will rank alongside some of the best we have ever seen, although one of them is likely to reign supreme for all time.  Lester Piggott, the true master of Epsom, holds a record for Derby wins (nine) which may well stand forever. His record total of Coronation Cup winners is the same, starting when, aged 17, he won on the quirky 5-year-old Zucchero (Ire) in 1953 and ending 30 years later when he guided Be My Native, trained by his brother-in-law Robert Armstrong, to victory.

With a history thus stuffed with many of racing's most legendary names, equine and human, the Coronation Cup is a perfect part of the jubilee celebrations of a great racing monarch.

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