The old axiom of Thoroughbred breeding is “Breed the best to the best, and hope for the best”. In several cases this has rang true, although there are countless, and largely forgotten such breeding attempts that have not gone according to this plan. In 1943 John Dewar sent his well bred broodmare Sansonnet to the 1941 Epsom Derby winner Owen Tudor for a breeding liaison. The result was a brown colt born the following year that would display an alarming turn of foot on the track. His name was Tudor Minstrel.
Tudor Minstrel came into the world with regal bloodlines. Both his sire and dam possessed first class pedigrees. His father Owen Tudor was sired by the phenomenal stallion Hyperion, himself an Epsom Derby winner, and was out of Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (French 1000 Guineas) winner Mary Tudor. Mary Tudor was sired by Pharos, the sire of the unbeaten Nearco, who is one of the breed shaping stallions in turf history.
Sansonnet was also sired by an Epsom Derby champion, Lord Derby’s 1924 winner Sansovino, who is a son of the historically important stallion Swynford. And to further enhance the pedigree of Tudor Minstrel, his second dam, Sansonnet’s mother, was none other than Lady Juror, a daughter of Lady Josephine, the latter is also the dam of the great Mumtaz Mahal. Lady Juror was by Son-In-Law, a great source of stamina and a prolific sire of broodmares. Dewar owned both the dam and grand dam of Tudor Minstrel, and had bred in 1932 the brilliantly fast Fair Trial when he sent Lady Juror to Fairway. Sansonnet had produced Cheveley Park Stakes winner Neolight, by Nearco, the year before she foaled Tudor Minstrel.
Within this family is also the superior sprinting speed demon grey Abernant, who was born two years after Tudor Minstrel. A grandson of Mumtaz Mahal, hence he had the same third dam in Lady Josephine as Tudor Minstrel, Abernant won fourteen of his seventeen races in top level competition. These two closely related superstars, Abernant was also sired by Owen Tudor, became very desirable sources of speed when sent to the breeding arena.
Tudor Minstrel definitely was born with a “silver bit in his mouth” and he would parlay that advantage into a memorable career when he raced. Tudor Minstrel is still to this day considered as one of the top three 2000 Guineas winners ever seen in the history of this historically important classic race. Tudor Minstrel is tied for third in Timeform’s all time rating list with another brilliant miler, Brigadier Gerard. Only Frankel and Sea-Bird are rated higher. Abernant was rated two pounds below Tudor Minstrel, in fourth place tied with Ribot.
John Dewar had as the trainer for his well bred stable one of the turf’s best in Fred Darling. Darling had already trained eighteen classic winners, including Filly Triple Crown winner Sun Chariot, before Tudor Minstrel entered his Beckhampton training yard. Darling had trained Owen Tudor to Derby Stakes glory and immediately saw the potential that one’s brown coated son possessed. Tudor Minstrel would become his swansong classic winner. To further add to Tudor Minstrel’s advantages, his jockey was another of the all time greats, Gordon Richards (he became Sir Gordon Richards in 1953).
Darling sent Tudor Minstrel out for a couple of minor events to get the colt started as a two year old. An easy five lengths win at Bath and an equally easy eight lengths win at Salisbury, both five furlong events, set the colt up nicely for his entry into the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1946. Tudor Minstrel cantered home some five lengths to the good in this race prompting the legendary Phil Bull (the founder of Timeform) to state that he had never seen such a brilliant performance by a two year old in his life.
One month later, Tudor Minstrel lined up for the National Breeder’s Produce Stakes at Sandown Park, and completely dominated this field. The colt was giving weight to his opponents, including nine pounds to second placed Kingsclere, and won by four lengths. In this high class field was a colt named Migoli, who would later win the Dewhurst stakes that year and then take the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe two years later. Migoli, who also descended from the Lady Josephine family, went on to become the sire of the great American classic winner Gallant Man.
However, this was to be Tudor Minstrel’s final race as a juvenile. Timeform rated him at 133 lbs and instilled Tudor Minstrel as the early favourite for the 1947 classic races. He was two pounds superior to Petition and also ahead of his undefeated stable mate Combat, who also won all four of his starts. Combat was bred and owned by Dewar, and both he and Fred Darling did not run the stable’s two promising colts together in any race.
Tudor Minstrel began his three year old season in the same manner as his previous season with a commanding score in a minor race at Bath. This was his tune up for the first of the English classics, the 2000 Guineas Stakes at Newmarket. What would follow became a performance of the ages.
Sent to the Rowley Mile starting post as the 11/8 favourite, Tudor Minstrel was the overwhelming choice of the bettors at fabled Newmarket. From the off Richards gave Tudor Minstrel the command to go and the colt shot clear of the field. By the time he reached the bushes with two and a half furlongs to run, Tudor Minstrel was so far in front, Phil Bull commented “The memory of Tudor Minstrel leading by the length of a street in front of everything else will remain with me for the rest of my life”.
The sudden burst of acceleration was breathtaking. Tudor Minstrel looked otherworldly when he rocketed in front and increased his lead to ten or twelve lengths. Richards then powered down his mount with a furlong to go before the finish. Had he not, many observers were in agreement that Tudor Minstrel could have won by twenty lengths. As it was, the official margin of victory at the finish post was recorded at eight lengths.
The attendees at Newmarket that day were in slack jawed, stunned disbelief. “I have never seen a horse accelerate that quickly” and “Did we just see the Horse of the Century today” were the most common after race comments made by the turf observers and press alike. Tudor Minstrel’s margin of victory would stand as the biggest in the entire 20th century. To add further to the extraordinary performance, the field Tudor Minstrel defeated was of a high caliber with the likes of Sayajirao, Saravan, and Petition left in his wake. The only quality three year old colt of 1947 that did not start was his stable mate Combat, due to Dewar and Darling focusing on their star runner.
Next up was the Derby Stakes, and needless to say, Tudor Minstrel was the 4/7 race favourite. The bookmakers were now in a panic because the sheer volume of money placed on the Guineas winner to repeat his Newmarket form at Epsom. Substantial payouts resulting in massive losses were forecast for the bookies by all in the know. With Tudor Minstrel’s historic Guineas performance fresh in the minds to all who love the sport, racing has a funny way of humbling even the most talented of Thoroughbreds. And as famous baseball player Yogi Berra would phrase a few years later, “It ain’t over until it is over” would ring true.
All the factors for Tudor Minstrel to stay the Derby trip pointed in his favour. Quick acceleration and class. Check. Distance ability within his pedigree. Check. Top tier connections. Check. BUT !!! How a horse feels on the day and racing surfaces conditions both derailed the up to this point in time wonder horse on the biggest stage in racing. Tudor Minstrel was edgy and was consistently fighting Gordon Richards right from the start of the race. He kept pulling hard over the soft course and refused to obey Richards’ commands to settle behind the pace setters and conserve himself for the longer distance at hand.
Richards had no choice but to let Tudor Minstrel run on far too early in the race. By the time they reached Tattenham Corner, Tudor Minstrel was all but used up. He had nothing left in reserve for the gruelling four furlong home stretch and gave way to Pearl Diver, Migoli, and Sayajirao in that order. Tudor Minstrel finished fourth on sheer class, and absolutely no energy. The sound of 400,000 people at Epsom groaning in disbelief was off-set by the exhale of relief the bookmakers simultaneously had when the results were made official. The mighty had fallen.
Tudor Minstrel came out of the race in fine fettle, but the stunning shock of his Epsom failure was like an open wound. Fred Darling wanted to restore his colt’s reputation and status quickly. He chose the one mile St. James Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot at the end of June to begin that process. Tudor Minstrel won the race handily and in complete control over his over matched rivals on the day. Dewar and Darling then tried Tudor Minstrel again to win beyond one mile, choosing the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown as his next target.
The Eclipse Stakes has always been one of the premier races on the English racing calendar, and is one of the most prestigious ten furlong races in the world. Although Tudor Minstrel did not fight Gordon Richards as he had at Epsom, his distance limits were his undoing as he finished second to Migoli, but ahead of the high class four year old Gulf Stream.
Tudor Minstrel made one more start that year, returning to the races in September at Ascot for the Knight’s Royal Stakes, which is now known today as the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. This would also be the final race in Tudor Minstrel’s career and he went out with a bang, defeating Vagabond and Petition in the one mile event with ease. At the end of the year, and despite his two failures in races beyond one mile in distance, Tudor Minstrel was given his 144 lbs rating by Timeform, which was not equalled or surpassed until Sea-Bird showed up in 1965.
With a record of 8-1-0 from 10 races, Tudor Minstrel went to stud with high expectations. He did not disappoint. He passed on his speed and class to future generations with very good consistency. Among his notables is the 1959 Kentucky Derby winner Tomy Lee. A promising juvenile year turned into a very enjoyable three year old season when Tomy Lee defeated Sword Dancer, (who went on to Horse of the Year honours in 1959), in a heart pounding Derby stretch duel. Tomy Lee became the second of four foreign bred horses to win the Kentucky Derby and one of only two from Europe (Omar Khayyam in 1917 being the other) to do the deed. The other two were both bred in Canada (Northern Dancer and Sunny’s Halo). Unfortunately Tomy Lee had serious fertility issues and left no progeny of merit.
Sing Sing (Tudor Minstrel – Agin The Law by Portlaw) was the champion two year old colt in England for 1959. He faired a little better at stud than Tomy Lee did, getting Celtic Song (Champagne Stakes), successful broodmare Klaizia (dam of the good sire Lypheor), the crack sprinter Song (New Stakes, Abernant Stakes, King’s Stand Stakes, etc), multiple stakes winner Mummy’s Pet, African Sky (Prix de la Foret) who sired Irish champion and multiple grade/group one stakes winner Kilijaro and African Song (King’s Stand Stakes), and Averof (St. James Palace Stakes). Song in turn sired 1993 Cartier European Horse of the Year Lochsong. Lochsong’s HOTY title was quite an outstanding achievement considering she was a sprinting mare.
Tudor Minstrel’s daughter What A Treat, out of Rare Treat by Stymie, became the 1965 champion three year old filly in the US. Her stellar racing career earned her the acquaintance of Northern Dancer in 1973 and a year later she produced and chestnut colt later to be named Be My Guest. Be My Guest won four of his seven races, including the Waterford Crystal Mile, and then sired seventy-eight stakes winners standing at Coolmore Stud in Ireland. He was the leading sire in Britain/Ireland during 1982 and includes such notables among his progeny as Assert (French and Irish Derbys), Pentire (Champion Stakes, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, etc.), Go And Go (Belmont Stakes), and high class fillies On The House (1000 Guineas, Sussex Stakes) and Luth Enchantee (Prix Jacques le Marois, Prix du Moulin de Longchamps). Be My Guest is also the dam sire of Rock of Gibraltar (2002 European Horse of the Year) and Manduro (ranked No.1 in the world in 2007).
Tudor Melody, out of Matelda by Dante, was a champion juvenile in England winning five of his six races and became a good source for speed at stud. His son Welsh Pageant became the 1970 Champion Older Horse with victories in the Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Anne, and the Lockinge Stakes as his season highlights. Like his grand sire Tudor Minstrel, one mile was Welsh Pageant’s optimum distance. He passed on his speed attributes to the likes of Welsh Term, Mountain Bear, and Lord Derby’s popular Arlington Million winning gelding Teleprompter. Welsh Pageant is also the dam sire of 1994 Champion Two Year Old Celtic Swing and of Lord Derby’s great multiple champion world travelling mare Oujia Board. The latter is the dam of double Derby winner (Epsom, Irish) Australia.
The tail male line of Tudor Minstrel has tenuously survived to today. This line now rests on the success of Bahamian Bounty (Prix Morny, Middle Park Stakes) and Toysome (Prix de la Foret). Both of these stallions were sired by Cadeaux Genereux (July Cup, Sprint Championship), a fourth generation tail male descendant of Tudor Minstrel.
Tudor Minstrel was a light boned horse, but had very correct conformation and was well balanced. Although his pedigree suggested that he could stay a twelve furlong trip, his subsequent two failures to go beyond one mile indicates he had a higher percentage of his pedigree’s speed oriented genes. This came predominantly from his tail female line descending from third dam Lady Josephine. Tudor Minstrel’s brilliance up to a mile was unquestioned. Not until the emergence of Brigadier Gerard two decades later and then Frankel another three decades after that one, did the turf world have comparisons to the explosive speed Tudor Minstrel possessed.
The 2000 Guineas is the one classic that emphasises speed above all else. A straight one mile run through dips and rising ground in which the horses are spread across the entire width of the course is a sight to behold. Very rarely does a colt string out the field due to the nature of the race. When Tudor Minstrel did just that in 1947, the turf world had never seen such a dominating performance. Only Frankel in 2011 can be compared to Tudor Minstrel’s 2000 guineas performance. There have been many outstanding Guineas races. Brigadier Gerard in 1971 over Mill Reef was a standout race for example, but the sheer visual domination that Tudor Minstrel and Frankel achieved in their Newmarket classic outings are the pinnacle performances in the long history of the 2000 Guineas.
Tudor Minstrel had no peers at the one mile distance. Frankel, sixty-four years later, had no peers at the one mile distance. The two greatest milers in racing history. Tudor Minstrel was the first, and he holds a special place in the hearts of racing historians.
(Illustration of Tudor Minstrel / Sir Gordon Richards up by Franco Matania)