Brigadier Gerard – Unforgettable Legend

Brigadier Gerard 2

Generally on this web-site, I extol the wonders of past champions who would become influential sires or broodmares. A few sires that did not win important races or a few broodmares who had a likewise similar racing career, but became foundation sires or mares have also received attention. This article is about a one of the greatest thoroughbreds ever witnessed at the races in history, but he did not become a legend as a sire. His name is Brigadier Gerard.

Brigadier Gerard was bred in 1968 by racing journalist John Hislop and was foaled on March 5 of that year in England. His sire was Queen’s Hussar, a fourth generation descendant of the very important sire Fairway, a son of Phalaris. Queen’s Hussar was by March Past, a three time stakes winner whose own sire was the very fast and capable Petition. Petition won seven of twelve races which included wins in the Eclipse Stakes, Champagne Stakes and the Gimcrack Stakes, all very important races back in the day. Petition was also the leading sire in England in 1959.

Fair Trial was the sire of Petition. Here we have one of the more successful sons of Fairway. Fair Trial won seven of nine races as a three and four year old. He was unraced at two. Fair Trial led the English/Irish sire list in 1950 and the broodmare sire list in 1951. He is the sire of classic winners Court Martial, a very successful sire in his own right, as well as Palestine and the 1000 Guineas winner Festoon. This line which descended from Fairway was noted for blazing miler speed.

Queen’s Hussar was a fast one himself. Among his seven victories are the group one Sussex Stakes and group one Lockinge Stakes, both one mile events. Queen’s Hussar had an up and down career as a sire. However he not only got Brigadier Gerard but also later on sired the great Highclere, who won the classic 1000 Guineas and Prix de Diane for her breeder/owner Queen Elizabeth II.

The dam of Brigadier Gerard was La Paiva, a daughter of the stamina influence Prince Chevalier. This fine horse won the Prix du Jockey Club and Prix Lupin among his seven stakes victories from fourteen starts. His sire was the great Belgian champion Rose Prince, who also counts Princequillo as one of his finest sons.

La Paiva was an unremarkable racer. She never had a victory from seven races. She does however descend in tail female line from the great Pretty Polly, fourth generation, through that one’s very good Cheveley Park Stakes winning daughter Molly Desmond. La Paiva also produced minor stakes winner Brigade Major from her other eleven foals. At the time of La Paiva’s conception of Brigadier Gerard, Queen’s Hussar was standing for the small stud fee of two hundred guineas.

So Brigadier Gerard has enough back class in his pedigree to warrant optimism before he set foot on a race course. The strapping bay son of La Paiva would however, far exceed even the wildest dreams of his connections. He had the look of a good one though as he had excellent conformation and an equally excellent temperament, and when he began his training with Major Dick Hern his action was nearly flawless. The race career he was about to embark, would be one for the ages.

June 24, 1971 at Newbury in the five furlongs Berkshire Stakes was the first race for Brigadier Gerard. He beat the other four entrants by five lengths, easing up well before the finish line. Eight days later he returned for the Champagne Stakes of six furlongs at Salisbury. He duly won this race by four lengths.

Six weeks later the Brigadier was back at Newbury for the Washington Singer Stakes. Starting as the odds on 4/9 favourite, he cruised to a very comfortable win by two lengths. Joe Mercer had ridden him in all three of his races and this partnership would continue for his biggest test as a two year old.

The Middle Park Stakes of six furlongs at Newmarket is one of the more prestigious races for juveniles in England. The race attracted not only the unbeaten Brigadier Gerard, but also the unbeaten Mummy’s Pet and the once beaten Swing Easy, whose only loss was to Mummy’s Pet. The two were made the favourites for the race with Brigadier Gerard third choice at 11/2. The early pace was pedestrian but the Brigadier made a strong move with two furlongs to go and pulled away from his two main rivals to win by a comfortable three lengths.

One would think that such a dominating two year old campaign would see Brigadier Gerard named as the top colt of the class. However, he was rated just below a pair of other crack two year olds in Mill Reef and My Swallow. The upcoming classic 2000 Guineas became the talk of the winter leading into the next season. Hope and speculation that these three superb colts might face each other dominated the off season turf talk.

Seldom does the anticipation of a classic six months in the future come to fruition in the form of having the main challengers make it to the starting post. Mill Reef, My Swallow and Brigadier Gerard were all in top condition and set to face each other for the highly anticipated race at Newmarket. Three other brave colts were also entered in Minsky, a full brother to the previous year’s dominant winner Nijinsky, as well as Indian Ruler and Good Bond. The race lived up to the advanced billing and became one of the most exciting in the long history of the great classic.

The field broke cleanly with My Swallow and Mill Reef leading the charge. Minsky and the Brigadier followed closely in pursuit. As they came up the hill to the bushes, Mercer gave Brigadier Gerard a nudge and the big colt responded with a positive move past Minsky and started to gain on the front two. As they approached the dip, the Brigadier was on the flank of Mill Reef, who in turn was right at My Swallow’s neck. The three main rivals then began to instantaneously pull away from the remaining three and drew clear. Brigadier Gerard was on the stand side and had a full head of steam as his momentum carried him past Mill Reef and My Swallow to win the race by a clear two lengths. Mill Reef was second and My Swallow third.

A new superstar was crowned at Newmarket that day. Brigadier Gerard had won the most highly anticipated 2000 guineas in memory, with a stunning performance. More was to come.

The next race for “The Brigadier” was the St. James Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. In the race, which was run in bog-like conditions, Brigadier Gerard did not display his brilliant speed but he did display his brave heart as he overcame the soggy course and won the one mile race over Sparkler and Good Bond. He repeated this effort in his next race, the one mile Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, in very similar conditions. The field for this race was a sterner test as he defeated some very strong older horses here. The classy miler Caro and soft turf specialist Faraway Son, three time stakes winner for the year Joshua and Irish 2000 Guineas winner King’s Company were all entered. Brigadier Gerard made mince meat of the field, winning by a comfortable five lengths on the soft course.

The Goodwood Mile was next and Brigadier Gerard destroyed his rivals Gold Rod and Ashleigh by ten lengths, making the entire pace. The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot would see the Brigadier pulverise another small but classy field, to score an eased up eight length victory over Dictus and Ashleigh.

For his final race as a three year old, Major Hern and owner John Hislop selected the ten furlong Champion Stakes at Newmarket in October. This race was the first time Brigadier Gerard was asked to travel farther than a mile in a race. The two sportsmen were eager to see what their talented colt was capable of. The press and the public were looking for a rematch between Brigadier Gerard and Mill Reef, who was sweeping all before him at longer distances in winning the Epsom Derby, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes as well as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The public would have to wait.

Brigadier Gerard conquered a high class field at Newmarket in the Champion Stakes. The challengers were headed by the top older miler in Welsh Pageant, off course specialists Roi Soliel and Rarity, old foe Gold Rod and the inform Tratteggio, trained by the great Alec Head. Another challenger came in the form of the English weather. It had been raining all day prior to the start, turning the course into a very soft, deep track. Brigadier Gerard stalked the pace setters Welsh Pageant, Gold Rod and Roi Soleil until the dip on the Rowley Mile course. He cruised into a three length lead but was not displaying his customary brilliant turn of foot. He gamely hung on to win by a scant head over Rarity, holding that one off with his courage and heart. It was the closest winning margin Brigadier Gerard had so far.

The undefeated Brigadier Gerard was named as the co-top weight, with Mill Reef, in the Timeform poll at the end of the year. The rating was a very respectable 141 lbs. He was now considered as the best miler since the legendary Tudor Minstrel.

As was the anticipation from the previous winter for the 2000 Guineas, the upcoming 1972 Eclipse Stakes at Sandown was viewed as the possible showdown race between Brigadier Gerard and Mill Reef. Both horses were kept in training for the year as four year olds by their respective sporting owners. The Eclipse Stakes at ten furlongs was deemed as the ideal distance for the top miler in Brigadier Gerard and for the top mile and a half horse in the classy Mill Reef.

Brigadier Gerard began the 1972 season winning the one mile Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, the ten furlong Westbury Stakes at Sandown and a further victory in at the same distance in the Prince Of Wales Stakes. The latter race was won with a five length margin of victory at Royal Ascot in a new course record. The Eclipse Stakes was next on the racing agenda.

Unfortunately for the racing fans of the world, the possible showdown between Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard did not take place. Mill Reef had come down with a virus and was subsequently taken out of training to recuperate. The race was run over another soft course, a type that did not suit the Brigadier’s running style. He gamely persevered to win the race by a length over his old buddy Gold Rod.

Next up would be a test he had never faced before. Brigadier Gerard, now acclaimed as the best miler in history, was to run in the prestigious one and one-half mile King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. This is the premier twelve furlong event for three year olds and older horses on the British racing calendar. The field, as usual was a stellar one. Riverman from France who had won the Poule d’Essai des Poulins was in. Irish Derby winner Steel Pulse, Italian Derby winner Gay Lussac, Hardwick Stakes winner Selhurst and Irish St. Leger winner Parnell were going to take a shot at defeating the mighty Brigadier.

The crafty Joe Mercer settled Brigadier Gerard in the middle of the pack as Selhurst and Parnell set a good lively pace in front. The Brigadier made his move around the field on the turn for home, sweeping past Parnell in the home straight. He gained a two length lead and held off Parnell to the finish post. Riverman had made a late run to finish third. Mercer and Brigadier Gerard had to sweat out an inquiry from the stewards as he had lugged in toward the rail after he passed Parnell, but the result would stand.

Brigadier Gerard had now won fifteen straight races in fifteen attempts. Surely no other horse in training could beat him now. He conquered top class horses in all kinds of conditions, at various distances. He is now THE superstar of superstars in racing.

But wait! He still had not confirmed his superiority over Mill Reef. Could the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup finally be the race in which we will see the big showdown? Alas, it was not to be. Mill Reef had suffered a near fatal leg break and was miraculously saved for stud duty, but his racing career was obviously finished.

Brigadier Gerard face a fine field in the Benson and Hedges, but no one was taking any of the challengers seriously. Big mistake. Roberto, the winner of the Epsom Derby, would rocket out of the starting gate as if he had been launched from Cape Canaveral and set a scorching pace. Jockey Braulio Baeza had been flown in by Roberto’s owner to ride the colt, using the North American tactics of setting an early fast pace, rating during the middle of the distance to conserve energy, and then let it all out for the run home. Baeza was a master at this riding technique and he magnificently guided Roberto, who was running the race of his life, to win the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup by three lengths over the second placed Brigadier Gerard. That’s right, second placed Brigadier Gerard. This was his first and subsequently only loss in his brilliant career.

The mighty had fallen. The unthinkable had happened. The postmortems came pouring in from all corners of the racing world. Was the mighty Brigadier sick? Is he injured? Did Joe Mercer miss-judge the race? Contrary to what was the perceived reason for the defeat, both Roberto and Brigadier Gerard had run the race in course record time. There was no disgrace for the loser. Call it the law of averages or sheer racing luck. The fact is Roberto had beaten the Brigadier fairly and squarely.

Brigadier Gerard reappeared at Ascot in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. He turned in a breathtaking performance to reassure his fans of his phenomenal ability. He flew past Sparkler two furlongs from the finish line in the one mile race and won by six lengths. Order had been restored as he defended his win in the group one race.

The final race in the illustrious career of Brigadier Gerard came at Newmarket in the Champion Stakes. The Brigadier was there to defend his title from the previous year. Joe Mercer had his equine champion in a good position when he asked Brigadier Gerard for his run. With three furlongs to go in the ten furlong race, Brigadier Gerard simply accelerated with his customary explosiveness to take command and then used his considerable heart to withstand a furious late charge from Riverman to prevail by a length and a half.

Timeform honoured Brigadier Gerard with an outstanding rating of 144 lbs, which at the time was equal to Tudor Minstrel, only topped by Sea-Bird’s 145 lbs rating in history. The record has since been surpassed by the amazing Frankel, who was given a 147 lbs rating in 2012. The comparisons of Frankel to Brigadier Gerard are often debated within the racing world. The comparisons offer lively conversations. Since both were very similar in their racing styles, it is only natural to compare the two, even though they raced forty years apart.

Brigadier Gerard retired with seventeen wins from eighteen starts and one second place finish. He went to stud at Egerton Stud in Newmarket, moving to East Woodhay Stud which was owned and operated by Hislop. Unfortunately, Brigadier Gerard did not have much success as a stallion. He did sire a few good ones such as Vayraan (Champion Stakes) and Light Cavalry (St. Leger Stakes), as well as General (Prix Thomas Byron). General became good sire in Argentina getting the very good Lord At War (Santa Anita Handicap, San Antonio Handicap).

Lord At War has become the only source of top class blood with Brigadier Gerard in a pedigree. He stood at Walmac Farm, later moving to Wimborne Farm, during his stud career. Lord At War was a good sire of broodmares with the likes of Whisky Wisdom, E Dubai, Purim, War Emblem and Pioneer Of The Nile produced by daughters of Lord At War. Pioneer Of The Nile is the sire of recent American Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh.

The accolades and honours to Brigadier Gerard have been well earned. He is immortalised with a life sized statue at the Rowley Mile in Newmarket, the scene of some of his greatest triumphs. The Brigadier Gerard Stakes is run annually in his honour at Sandown. He was named as the British Horse of the Year in 1972. His name is spoken with reverence and awe.

Brigadier Gerard was one of the greatest thoroughbreds to ever appear on a race course. He was breathtaking to watch. His 16.2 hands frame had a fluid motion with perfect balance and explosive acceleration. He was at his best at a mile but could stretch out to win at ten furlongs and also captured one of the biggest races in the world at twelve furlongs. He was an engaging and people friendly horse with a quiet demeanour and confident way about him. He was a superstar, without the troublesome attitude.

Brigadier Gerard was an equine marvel.

(Photo source of Brigadier Gerard unknown)



  • Your best yet !!!

  • During the course of a programme aired on Tellytrack RSA recently was very interested to hear the great Lester Piggott comment that Brigadier Gerard was possibly the greatest in his opinion.

  • Marlaine R Meeker

    This is brilliant. I almost felt like I was there, transported back in time. Maybe the good General bequeathed his wonderful temperament to American Pharaoh.

  • So why did he do so badly at the stud?
    I have read that he deteriorated physically in this stud career and completely lost the quality he was famous for on the racecourse. I certainly haven’t seen a stud card image in his latter career. He also became difficult to handle and his offspring difficult to train. His first season at stud gave such promise as well.

    • The hislops barred commercial breeders from using the brigadier, preferring to use and hand pick owner/breeders only instead.
      Which was a catastrophic mistake, as every stallion needs as many opportunity’s as possible, especially in the first few seasons at stud.
      The hislops single handedly ruined the brigadier stud career.

  • L’un des 5 meilleurs chevaux de tous les temps. Près de 50 ans après je le pense toujours.C’est vrai qu’il n’a pas été un très grand étalon mais la génétique est un mystère que l’on n’expliquera sans doute jamais. Personnellement j’aurais tant aimé qu’Allez France lui soit présentée. Je pense que cela aurait donné un super produit. C’est mon regret. (Translation) One of the 5 best horses of all times. Nearly 50 years after I always think it. It is true that it was not a very large standard but the genetics is a mystery which one will undoubtedly explain never. Personally I would have liked as well as Allez France is presented to him. I think that that would have given a super product. It is my regret.

  • I read in an article a few years ago (sorry, do not remember the author) that the conjecture was that he was syndicated amongst private breeders by his owner /breeder John Hislop and so did not get the best mares from the big studs. That becomes a vicious circle of course with less impressive results leading to not getting the best mares in following years …. I am not any kind of expert myself but grew up at a time when the Brigadier was an icon in the horse world generally, known beyond just the racing scene. He has always fascinated me. Also video and photos of him racing show a structure and movement that appeals to more than just racing people – awesome horse.

  • Graham Stirling

    This is a great article about the wonderful Brigadier Gerard !

    I remember his racing career so well (I was 17 when he first raced) and in my opinion, he was far and away the best horse that I have ever seen, bar none. In that 1971 2,000 Guineas, he hammered Mill Reef and My Swallow – it wasn’t even close (he won by 3 lengths, not 2) – and he produced a much better turn of foot than either of the other two. It was well known that he hated heavy ground, but the Hislops did not shy away from any challenge with him and he duly won on all kinds of tracks and shades of going. His defeat at York by Roberto was a shock, but he was a sick horse that day and even though Roberto had scraped home in the Epsom Derby against Rheingold, he never showed comparable form. A healthy Brigadier would have walloped Roberto on any normal day.

    As for comparisons with Frankel, I don’t think there are any to be made – the Brigadier was in a class of his own, was campaigned far more adventurously, beat much better horses than Frankel did and still won when taken out of his comfort zone. The connections of Frankel were so unambitious with him that they seemed content simply to let him beat the same bunch of domestic horses they knew he could beat and never once risked him either out of his comfort zone or raced him abroad. Surely, if he had been such a fantastic horse, they would have wanted him to prove it on the world stage ? Apparently not, so it would seem – I think they were afraid that his record would be tarnished. The defeat which Brigadier Gerard sustained in no way detracts from his magnificent record as a racehorse.

    I had the very good fortune to meet the Brigadier a couple of times after his retirement from stallion duties at Six Mile Bottom. He could be a little handy with his teeth on occasions (he didn’t bite me, but I was careful) and it was such a huge honour to meet him and stroke him – such a wonderful horse and the like of which I do not think that I will see again in my lifetime. So once again, a great article about a truly marvellous horse – hats off to the mighty Brigadier Gerard !

    • Graham would you happen to know if theee was a grey pony kept with Brigadier Gerard at that time ? Possible family link and would be interesting to know

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