SUNDAY’S Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe will bring back a host of memories. Who can forget the famous horses that have lit up Longchamp including Alleged, Sagace, Lammtarra and Sea The Stars. But when you think of the Arc, one horse stands out…
Dancing Brave was the best racehorse I’ve ever seen and his performance at Longchamp in October 1986 was the most thrilling in Arc history. But getting to Longchamp had been a rocky journey…
As a yearling, Dancing Brave was not much of a looker. By Lyphard out of the prolific winning dam Navajo Princess, he was a bay colt with three distinctive white feet and was described as parrot-mouthed with imperfect forelegs.
He was bred by Glen Oak Farm in Kentucky and although he didn’t stand out physically, James Delahooke, who was regarded as one of the best judges of a yearling at the time, saw something in Dancing Brave. So when he entered the sales ring at the Fasig Tipton Sales, he was 100% determined to buy him on behalf of Prince Khalid Abdullah.
Delahooke later told Brough Scott in an interview: “Some people would not look at him, but I thought he was a magnificent specimen.”
The hammer fell at $200,000, which was a fairly modest fee during an inflated period in yearling purchases. In fact, it would turn out to be one of the bargains of the century. Jeremy Tree had the first pick of Abdullah’s yearlings and the previous year had plumped for the brilliant Rainbow Quest, who went on to controversially win the 1985 Arc in the stewards’ room.
But Tree wasn’t as keen on Dancing Brave. His loss was Guy Harwood’s gain. The Pulborough master loved the horse and he was sent to his yard, which was one of the most prolific and most modern training establishments at the time.
Dancing Brave was given plenty of time to mature and had a fairly low-profile two-year-old campaign. He made his racecourse bow in the Dorking Stakes at Sandown and then ran in the Soham House Stakes at Newmarket. He wasn’t really extended to win either race but was still the winter favourite for the 2,000 Guineas.
He kicked off his three-year-old campaign beating the Henry Cecil pair Faraway Dancer and Mashkour in the Craven before starting a warm favourite for the 2,000 Guineas. Despite a slow gallop, he quickened up impressively to beat Green Desert. Later Walter Swinburn would remark that he was convinced Green Desert was going to win until Dancing Brave “mowed him down”. Relive the Guineas win here
Dancing Brave was always ridden with great confidence by Harwood’s stable jockey Greville Starkey, who had the utmost faith in the horse. But Starkey was vilified in Dancing Brave’s next race, the Epsom Derby, when he was widely judged to have given the horse far too much to do. Despite finishing like a train, he failed to catch Shahrastani, who had been given a copybook Epsom ride by Walter Swinburn. You can watch the 1986 Derby here
Starkey was staunchly defended by Harwood and he kept the ride when Dancing Brave pulverised his field in the Coral Eclipse at Sandown. But fate dealt a cruel blow when he was injured for the horse’s next race, the King George at Ascot, and replaced by Pat Eddery, who went on to keep the ride on the great horse.
Dancing Brave gained his revenge on Shahrastani in a classic King George, which also saw Shardari, Petoski and Triptych among the vanquished. He then enjoyed a well-earned break as plans were drawn up to train him for the Arc. A big part of that preparation came in the Select Stakes at Goodwood, which he won by 10 lengths. Paris was looming large…
The opposition in the Arc was immense. Both Shahrastani and Shardari were there; so was the unbeaten French Derby winner Bering; the Prix Vermeille winner Darara; the German derby winner Acatenango who had won 12 on the bounce and the wonderful mare Triptych.
Racing folklore suggests that in the weighing room before the race Guy Harwood had stormed out during a chat about riding tactics when Eddery had told him he was “going to be the last to challenge”. Boy, how the jockey stayed true to his word.
Eddery was later quoted as saying: “He had taken me to the front so quick at Ascot that he had pulled up with me. I knew they thought the world of the French horse Bering and I thought I would track that. I never let him out of my sight and I kept my fella back because I wanted to let the other horse go first. When I finally pulled him out, Dancing Brave did not pick up as quick as Bering, but when he did he was electrifying. Boy did he go. I have never felt anything like it.”
The finish is widely regarded as the best in flat racing history, with the field spread across the width of the track. Eddery was virtually last entering the straight and memories of Starkey’s exaggerated waiting tactics at Epsom popped into everybody’s minds. With 200m to run, he was not even in the first 10! But when he eventually pulled him wide, he flew. It was a moment of pure joy to behold. He also smashed the track record.
Relive that famous Arc victory here
Dancing Brave raced one more time, in the Breeders Cup Turf, where he suffered only his second defeat. However there was a valid excuse as he was injured during the race when a clod of turf flew into his eye.
Dancing Brave was retired to stand at Dalham Hall in Newmarket with an initial stud fee of £120,000. He had some early fertility problems and his modest early success led to him being exported to Japan to continue his stallion career. But he sired numerous winners including the 1993 Derby winner Commander In Chief and White Muzzle who was second in the Arc. He died in August 2, 1999, of a heart attack.
Dancing Brave is remembered as one of the best horses never to win the Derby but it is only fair to pay homage to THAT burst of speed that broke the heart of Bering, and for Eddery’s bucking bronco-style urgings down the home straight. Unforgettable.
Has there been a better winner of the Arc? Which other famous horses bring back Arc memories for you?