Famous horses: The Oh So Sharp story

CAMELOT could be about to write himself into the pantheon of racing history. But let’s pause for a moment and think of the fairer sex. Now we all know that the Triple Crown hasn’t been done since Nijinsky in 1970. But what about the Fillies’ Triple Crown? If there was a Fillies’ Equality Council it could be forgiven for crying foul and citing a serious case of thoroughbred misogyny in recent days during the build-up to Camelot’s date with destiny. So in the name of equine equality, I’d like to pay tribute to the brilliant filly Oh So Sharp…

Oh So Sharp had everything: speed, stamina and a heart as big as a lioness. And, of course, a genius trainer in Sir Henry Cecil. Physically she wasn’t the biggest, but her athletic chestnut frame simply glided along the turf. Her feat of winning the 1,000 Guineas, Epsom Oaks and St Leger in 1985 was monumental.

Oh So Sharp looked like her handsome dad, Kris, also trained by Sir Henry for Lord Howard de Walden. She was foaled in 1982 and cutely named as Kris was by Sharpen Up and her dam was Oh So Fair. She was the thoroughbred equivalent of Kate Moss and would have won any equine beauty contest with her chiselled features and cinnamon colour.

Oh So Sharp and Steve Cauthen go to post for the Leger

One of the big mysteries is where her stamina came from. She was from the first crop of Kris, who was the champion miler in 1979, and who was only beaten twice in his career, by Tap On Wood in the 2,000 Guineas and Known Fact in the Queen Elizabeth 11 at Ascot. Oh So Sharp’s dam had only previously bred mile-and-a-quarter horses, so her bloodline would not have suggested stamina reserves.

Owned by Sheikh Mohammed, she made her racecourse debut as a two-year-old at Nottingham where Paul Eddery stood in for the injured stable jockey Lester Piggott. News of her impressive home work had obviously got out as she started the 2/1 favourite. She duly trotted up. Lester returned to the saddle for her next race where she took on the colts (a sign of things to come?) in the Solario Stakes at Sandown. The pair won cosily by two lengths and next up was the Fillies Mile at Ascot where she comfortably disposed of Helen Street, who went on to win the Irish Oaks the following year.

After Lester’s departure from Warren Place, the “Kentucky Kid” Steve Cauthen took over on Oh So Sharp and this partnership was to become a marriage made in heaven. Cauthen had been champion jockey in the US where he had ridden Affirmed to his US Triple Crown (The Kentucky Derby, Belmont and Preakness) in 1978 at the age of 18. It was not long before the “Kid” was boasting that Oh So Sharp was the best filly he had ever sat on.

The pair won the Nell Gwyn at Newmarket and the filly went off the 2/1 favourite for the 1,000 Guineas. What happened next was simply unbelievable. Oh So Sharp looked to have no chance going into the Dip, but Cauthen galvanised her and she flew to make it a three-way photo with Bella Colora (ridden by Piggott) and Al Bahathri (now of Newmarket gallops fame) on the line. I remember watching Channel 4 Racing and waiting for the result of the three-way photo to come through. It seemed like an age: it was an age. The bookies thought Bella Colora and Piggott had nicked it. But Cauthen had somehow managed to conjure up one of the best sustained finishing bursts ever seen on the Rowley Mile to win by two short heads.

All roads led to the Oaks at Epsom but many pundits feared Oh So Sharp would never stay a mile and a half, as her bloodlines suggested. What we witnessed wasn’t just a victory: it was a massacre. A good Oaks field, including Triptych and Dubian, was battered into submission. I recall commentator Graham Goode’s words as the filly asserted:

“Steve Cauthen strikes the front and goes for home and the race looks all over in a matter of strides.” Graham Goode, Epsom Oaks, June 1985.

Oh So Sharp won by six lengths. No mean feat when you consider the ground was on the soft side and that the talented runner-up Triptych went on to win the Champion Stakes.

Cecil wanted to campaign the filly over a mile and a quarter in the Nassau Stakes, the Champion Stakes and the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup at York. He had won the Derby with Slip Anchor and intended to run him in the King George and then the St Leger. But then Slip Anchor injured himself and the plans changed.

Oh So Sharp was rerouted to the King George where she was beaten a neck by Petoski. Cauthen reported that she did not like the very firm ground and felt she lost because she never saw Petoski who came very late and wide. Oh So Sharp then went to York for the Benson and Hedges where she was touched off by Commanche Run under a masterful Piggott, who managed to turn it into a two-furlong sprint. Was the great filly beginning to wilt? Had she done enough?

But immortality awaited her at Doncaster on St Leger day. The field cut up and the main danger looked to be stablemate Lanfranco (ridden by Piggott) and Guy Harwood’s Phardante. Again the sceptics dismissed Oh So Sharp’s ability to stay 1m 6f and cited the fact she had endured a long season. But in a game of cat and mouse between Cauthen and Piggott, the American committed early in the home straight and the filly showed tremendous guts, determination and stamina to get home and win.

Relive Oh So Sharp’s Triple Crown by clicking here

Oh So Sharp is one of only five fillies to have won the Fillies’ Triple Crown, the others being Sceptre, Pretty Polly, Sun Chariot and Meld. Cauthen also became the first jockey to have won the Triple Crown in two continents. The bare stats say that Oh So Sharp won £311,576 during her career of nine races: seven wins and two seconds. But the stats only tell half the story.

Connections dallied with racing her at four but she was retired to stud where she bred five winners from nine foals. These included Shaima who became the dam of St Leger winner Shantou, and Group 1 winner Rosefinch who won the 1992 Prix Saint Alary.

The tributes flowed when news of her death from laminitis came through in 2001. Cauthen summed it up perfectly: “She was, without doubt, the best filly I have ridden. She was a good two year old and she was probably unlucky to be beaten ever. She was one of my favourite horses.”

Her legacy includes the Oh So Sharp Stakes at one of Newmarket’s back-end meetings. But she is worth more than that in the memories of racing fans.

Was Oh So Sharp the best filly ever? And did she get the credit she deserved? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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