by GRAHAM OLIVER THE Musidora Stakes is an Oaks trial held on the Knavesmire and named in honour of the 1949 Oaks winner. Musidora was a bay filly by Nasrullah out of Painted Vale by Gainsborough. She was named after the French silent screen star Jeanne Roques, whose stage name was Musidora. Nasrullah also sired the 1954 Derby winner Never Say Die, ridden by an eighteen year youngster called Lester Piggott.
Nasrullah topped the British sires table in 1951 and also five times in the USA. He became one of the greatest sires and sire of sires of the twentieth century, where some of his most important winners included Bold Ruler (Secretariat, Wajima, Bold Bidder, Raja Baba, Reviewer, What A Pleasure), Nashua (Fillies Triple Crown winner Shuvee, Gold Digger, dam of Mr Prospector), Red God (Blushing Groom) and Never Bend (Mill Reef, Riverman, J O Tobin). Musidora’s dam Painted Vale also produced another good horse in Sovrango, winner of the Chester Vase, Ormonde Stakes, and Oxfordshire (now Geoffrey Freer) Stakes!
Musidora was purchased as a yearling at Doncaster Sales for 4,700 guineas by Norman Donaldson and sent into training with Charles Elsey at his Highfield Stables at Malton in Yorkshire. As a two year old she ran six times, winning once and being placed either second or third in her other five starts. In the Free Handicap, Musidora was assessed as 24lb inferior to the top weighted youngster Abernant.
Her classic campaign in 1949 started with a win in the Roseberry Stakes at Stockton. Her next outing was the One Thousand Guineas, where she was ridden by her regular partner, the Australian Edgar Britt. She started as an 100/8 outsider in a field of eighteen.
Musidora had the unfortunate habit of pulling herself up as soon as she hit the front, so Britt had to delay his challenge as late in the race as possible. He kept Musidora tucked in behind the leaders until they approached the Dip. Gordon Richards, racing alongside Britt, seeing how well Musidora was travelling, shouted across to Britt to go and win the race. Britt desisted, determined to hold Musidora up until the last possible moment. After further encouragement from Gordon, Britt felt he should follow Gordon’s well-meant advice. He pressed the button with about a furlong to go and Musidora shot clear. Although she tried to pull herself up, Britt managed to keep Musidora going long enough to win by a comfortable length and a half from the favourite Unknown Quantity and Solar Myth.
Musidora follows up in the Oaks
The Oaks was her next race, where she started the 4/1 favourite. The French runner, Coronation V, who had recently dead-heated for the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches at Longchamp, attempted to make all. Britt and Musidora tracked Charlie Elliott on Coronation V for most of the way. In the Epsom straight the pair were joined by the Royal filly Avilla. Britt delayed launching his challenge until well inside the final furlong, in order to avoid Musidora stopping in front, and got up close home to defeat Coronation V a neck with Vice Versa two lengths away in third. Avila faded to fifth. Musidora’s winning time was two seconds faster than that recorded by Nimbus in the Derby two days later. A further boost to the form of the Oaks was emphasised later in the year when Coronation V, now ridden by Roger Poincelet, destroyed the field in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, winning by four lengths from Double Rose and the Derby second Amour Drake.
This was to be a last success for Musidora. In three further runs she ran unplaced in the Yorkshire Oaks, St Leger, and finally the Doonside Cup at Ayr.
As a broodmare the best of her offspring was the Petition filly Heavenly Thought, winner of the Princess Royal Stakes in 1970. She in turn produced Homing, by Habitat, successful in the Queen Elizabeth 11 Stakes, as well as Water Mill, by Mill Reef, runner up in the St Leger. Musidora also became the great grand-dam of St Leger winner Snurge, through another daughter Musical.
Charles Elsey trained the winners of six classics in total. Apart from the two with Musidora, he won another Oaks with Frieze (1952), and another One Thousand Guineas with Honeylight (1956). He also won the Two Thousand Guineas with Nearula (1953), and the St Leger with the filly Cantello (1959). Elsey was also Champion Trainer in 1956.
Edgar Britt rode the first five of Elsey’s classic winners, plus the 1948 St Leger on Black Tarquin for Cecil Boyd-Rochfort (later Sir). Britt retired in 1959 and returned to Australia. He passed away in January 2017 at the age of 103.
Edgar Britt was only part of an invasion of very talented Australian jockeys to come to Europe from the 1930’s onwards. They were recognised as very stylish and highly skilled riders who far preferred to ride out their mounts with hands and heals, without recourse to the whip. Amongst those great riders were George Moore, ‘Scobie’ Breasley (twice Champion Jockey, Epsom Derby twice), Ron Hutchinson, Neville Sellwood, Bill Williamson, and Rae Johnstone, who rode thirty European classic winners, starting with Colombo in the 1934 Two Thousand Guineas. Johnstone was the first Australian to win the Derby, in 1948 on My Love. In 1950 alone he won a total of seven European classics, including the Derby on Galcador, whilst under contract to Marcel Boussac.