I REMEMBER the hyperbole as if it was yesterday. Gorytus. Two runs. Two wins. But they weren’t just wins. In those juvenile races he massacred the opposition in a way that caused him to be hailed as some sort of Pegasus. This, according to the racing world, was a wonder horse like we had never seen before.
But in the space of seven furlongs, the bubble had well and truly burst. Gorytus’s flop in the 1982 Dewhurst became the stuff of legend. He virtually staggered over the line and Willie Carson would have needed binoculars to spot the derriere of winning jockey Lester Piggott.
Gorytus, the 1/2 favourite, finished 37 lengths behind the winner, and then the speculation and conspiracy theories began…
Named after a piece of archery equipment, Gorytus was bred by owner Alice Mills and was a beautiful son of Nijinsky and Glad Rags, who had won four classics between them. He was sent to Major Dick Hern’s West Ilsley
classic-winning factory and soon began to sparkle on the gallops. By the time he reached the track, there was a real feeling that he could follow in the footsteps of the Major’s 1979 Derby winner Troy.
Gorytus made his debut in the Acomb Stakes at York but was up against Henry Cecil’s unbeaten hotpot Salieri, who was odds-on. But Gorytus hammered him by seven lengths and in the process broke the course record for juveniles by more than a second. The hyperbole was under way.
A few weeks later Hern’s freak of nature reappeared at Doncaster in the Laurent-Perrier Champagne Stakes. Although up against just four rivals, he won even more spectacularly than at York, this time by five lengths.
The Dewhurst at Newmarket was next and Gorytus had scared off most of the opposition. Only three took him on including Kris’s brother Diesis, Cecil’s best two-year-old. But Carson was sending out distress signals before halfway. He had asked his colt to close on the leader Gordian but got no response. Within a few strides Gorytus had dropped right out, tailing off in the last three furlongs. Nobody will remember the fact that Diesis won by five lengths; the racing world wanted to know what had happened to the wonder horse. The frantic post-mortem into the spectacular eclipse of Gorytus had begun.
Speculation that the colt had been “got at” soon began to emerge although those closest to the horse always insisted that he was fine before the race. Theories included that Gorytus had been nobbled via a dose of croton oil, a purgative used as elephant laxative. Another was that he had been sprayed with an “anti-mugger” aerosol as he circled round the parade ring.
Major Hern, who died in 2002, always insisted he had been got at. To him, there could be no other explanation. The horse had been working like a champion and everything seemed A1. But the trainer, who was painstaking in his methods and approach, found nothing wrong with the horse. In fact despite exhaustive tests on his blood nothing ever came to light. A dope test after the race was also negative and security chiefs at the course later revealed they had found no evidence of foul play.
Whatever happened left Gorytus a pale shadow of the horse he promised to be. His next run was in the 2,000 Guineas the following May and although he looked threatening two furlongs out he faded into fifth behind Robert Sangster’s Lomond. You can relive that race by clicking here
Gorytus was upped in trip in York’s Benson & Hedges Gold Cup but again buckled under pressure and was a disapponting fourth behind Caerleon. Ditto his final UK race at Goodwood. Gorytus raced on in the USA at four after being transferred to trainer Woody Stephens but with little success. The horse passed away in 1996 aged 16 after an unsuccessful stud career at Coolmore and in Japan.
But in a similar way to the Shergar mystery, the Gorytus riddle still lives on today although Carson was later quoted as saying: “’I think he took the mickey out of us after his first two races. If I had my time again I’d ride him differently.”
So was he nobbled at Newmarket, or did the colt’s beautiful physique mask a lack of courage?
Or was he simply kidding with us? What do you think?