Ebor Festival memories: the origins of the International and the defeated superstar horse.

The Juddmonte International Stakes is one of the big races of the York Ebor meeting and traditionally highlights the opening day of action on the Knavesmire. As an established Group 1 event it is surprisingly a relatively recent concept having been first run in 1972. In those days it was known as the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup and the race soon gained a reputation for being a graveyard for favourites.

This was never truer than in that inaugural running when top colt Brigadier Gerard lined up off the back of an extraordinary record of 15 wins in 15 starts. His two main challengers were the 1-2 in the Epsom Derby, Roberto and Rheingold. Although Roberto won that contest by the minimum margin, it was generally thought that Lester Piggott made the difference and got an inferior horse to win on the day. Piggott clearly thought so too as he got off Roberto to ride his 3yo rival – Roberto has also been well beaten since in the Irish Derby.

Roberto’s choice of jockey for York came from left field. US based Panamian jockey Braulio Baeza was booked for the mount rather than using a local jockey. In the race Baeza sent Roberto straight to the front, but Joe Mercer on the Brigadier sat in just behind the lead waiting for his moment to pounce.

As Roberto gradually stretched the field turning for home, Rheingold was soon in trouble and was clearly not going to figure in the finish. However Brigadier Gerard was asked for his effort approacing two out and now Baeza was required to go for everything on the leader. To everyone’s suprise though it was Roberto who answered his jockey’s urgings best and despite keeping on gamely Brigadier Gerard could never quite back to Roberto.

There were suggestions after the race that the Brigadier was a sick horse and ran below par. However the clock said otherwise and Roberto won the race in a then course record. The third horse was a further 10l plus behind.

Brigadier Gerard was able to out his York eclipse behind him as he took both the QEII Stakes at Ascot and the Champion Stakes at Newmarket to end his career on 17 wins from 18 starts. For Roberto, he never truly recaptured those York heights again. He was beaten on both subsequent starts in 1972 and though he took the Coronation Cup the following year, his career ended in anti-climax when trailing in almost last in the King George at Ascot.

However that August day at York, a new top class race was born and a memorable contest denied Brigadier Gerard an undefeated career record.

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