Author: John Berry

WE’RE NOT even two weeks into 2021 but the year has already brought news of the deaths of two of the most notable European horses of recent years. Goldikova, winner of more Group or Grade One races than any other European horse in history, passed away four days after her official 16th birthday; three days later Zoffany, an excellent racehorse who became an excellent stallion, died of liver failure.

Goldikova could never be regarded as the best horse in the world, but for consistent endeavour at the top level over an extended period she had few peers. It is important to emphasise that ranking horses on their record of Group or Grade One wins does not provide a timeless comparison.

The Pattern (the classification of the best races as ‘Pattern’ races, either Group One, Group Two or Group Three) was only introduced in Europe in 1971 and in the USA in 1974 (and in Australia in 1980) so we are only talking of records compiled in the last half a century.

Furthermore, the bar for inclusion in the Pattern has been lowered considerably during the past five decades, as there are considerably more Pattern races than there were at the outset, including roughly double the number of Group Ones. Even so, Goldikova’s record deserves maximum respect.

Before she came along, the European record was held by Miesque, with ten triumphs at the top level. The link between the two French-trained mares was Freddy Head, rider of the Francois Boutintrained Miesque and trainer of Goldikova. A further link was the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Miesque’s win in the race in 1988 made her a rare example of a horse winning a Breeders’ Cup race for a second time. Goldikova put not only Miesque’s overall record but also her Breeders’ Cup Mile tally in the shade: when she won the race in 2010, she was taking it for the third consecutive year.

The Breeders’ Cup Mile wasn’t Goldikova’s most successful race, however: she won the Group 1 Prix Rothschild at Deauville four years running, 2008 to ’11 inclusive. That race, however, provides a perfect illustration of how the goal posts had been moved. The Prix Rothschild was formerly the Group 2 Prix d’Astarte.

It was not renamed and upgraded to Group One status until long after Miesque had been retired, only becoming the Group 1 Prix Rothschild in 2008. (The change of name came about because Baron Guy de Rothschild, a stalwart of French racing and breeding and of the administration of the sport, had died in 2007 and the decision was taken to (re-)name a big race to honour his memory.)

Two more of Goldikova’s Group One victories were also in races in which Miesque did not have the option of gaining a Group One victory. The Falmouth Stakes, which she won in 2009, was another race which was only upgraded (and renamed, having been known as the Child Stakes) early in the 21st century when a European policy of expanding the Grade One programme for fillies and mares was instituted.

The Prix de la Foret, which Miesque won in 2010, only became a Group One race (and was only moved to Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe day) that year, thanks to a decision that France should have a Group One race over 1400m and that the Arc day card should be strengthened.

Even with the greater opportunities for top level success which Goldikova enjoyed, winning 14 Group or Grade One races is easier said than done. (An interesting comparison is that Frankel, who pretty much sets the benchmark for Thoroughbred excellence, won ten.) A useful indication of her achievement is the list of awards which she won.

She was European Horse of the Year in 2010; European Champion Older Horse in 2009 and ’10; and American Champion Female Turf Horse in 2009 and ’10. For the sake of comparison, Miesque was American Champion Female Turf Horse in 1987 and ’88; French Champion 2yo Filly in 1986; French and British Champion 3yo Filly in 1987; French and English Champion Miler in 1987; and French Champion Older Horse in 1988.

Hopefully Goldikova’s influence will live on, just as much as the influence of Miesque (who became a stellar broodmare) did and does. Hers is a wonderful family. Her third dam Gold River won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. She was one of eight Stakes performers bred by her dam Born Gold, a group which also includes the 2011 Group 1 Prix Vermeille winner Galikova and the good French-based stallion Anodin, who coincidentally sired a Stakes winner in Hong Kong (the Douglas Whyte-trained Savvy Nine, winner of the Group 3 January Cup) the day after Goldikova died.

Zoffany can’t be placed on quite the same exalted tier in the equine pantheon as Goldikova, but even so he was a very distinguished horse. He had one notable claim to fame as a racehorse and one (so far) at stud. Zoffany will forever be remembered as the horse who came closest to beating the mighty Frankel, finishing second to him in the Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2011, beaten only three-quarters of a length.

Zoffany finished strongly that day, and Frankel appeared to be all out to hold off his challenge. No other horse ever finished so close to Frankel, and no other forced him to be put under serious pressure at the end of a race. (In fairness to Frankel, he was badly ridden that day, being sent into a clear lead far too far from home. In fairness to Frankel’s jockey Tom Queally, he was merely riding to instructions.

Frankel had ‘jumped off in front and kept improving his position’ when winning the 2000 Guineas on his previous start, and it seems as if Henry Cecil’s instructions to Queally at Ascot were, this time, to hold on to Frankel for the first half of the race and then to go for home: which is exactly what Queally did.)

The merit of Zoffany’s performance in the St James’s Palace Stakes is shown by the quality of the field that day. Behind him, Excelebration finished third, Dream Ahead fifth and Wootton Bassett seventh. There was a Japanese challenger for the race, Grand Prix Boss who had won the Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup in Tokyo the previous month, and he could only finish eighth.

The form which Zoffany showed that day outstrips that shown in any one of his five victories, which included the Group 1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes on The Curragh. Zoffany’s other great claim to fame came at stud in his first season with runners, 2015. That year he became only the second stallion in history (New Approach in 2012 having been the first) to be represented by three individual first crop 2yo winners at Royal Ascot.

(His trio consisted of Norfolk Stakes winner Waterloo Bridge, Albany Stakes heroine Illuminate and Windsor Castle Stakes winner Washington DC.) No stallion has subsequently repeated this feat. Zoffany has sired plenty of good winners since then, including the 2019 Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac victrix Albigna, and no doubt his stock will continue to embellish his roll of honour posthumously through the rest of the current decade.