In their book A Century of Champions, authors John Randall and Tony Morris classify all the classic winners of the twentieth century, picking their best and worst winners of each classic and allocating the rest to the categories ‘Gran’, ‘Superior’, ‘Average’, ‘Inferior’ and ‘Poor’. The classification, note Randall and Morris, ‘reflects overall career performances, not those in the [Derby] alone. Their greatest Derby winner was Sea-Bird, successful in 1965, and their worst the filly Signorinetta in 1908 (she was also an ‘inferior’ Oaks winner).
The Derby winner of fifty years ago, Blakeney, fell into the ‘poor’ category, though of course, even ‘poor’ Derby winners are well above-average colts. Blakeney was undeniably overshadowed by the other Derby winners who came immediately before and after him, the ‘superior’ Sir Ivor in 1968 and then the ‘great’ pair Nijinsky and Mill Reef in 1970 and 1971. All three of those became successful sires, the latter pair siring Derby winners of their own in Golden Fleece, Shahrastani and Lammtarra (Nijinsky), Shirley Heights and Reference Point (Mill Reef).
Blakeney ran twice as a two-year-old, winning the Houghton Stakes at Newmarket over seven furlongs on his final start, and had one run as a three-year-old before the Derby, finishing strongly for second in the Lingfield Derby Trial. He had twenty-five rivals to beat at Epsom and inevitably in such a huge field not all of them enjoyed as good a run as he did, getting a clear run up the rails to win by a length and the same from Shoemaker and the French colt Prince Regent, the latter unlucky after being poorly placed at Tattenham Corner.
In his next couple of starts at three, Blakeney finished fourth in the Irish Derby, which was won impressively by Prince Regent (from Ribofilio, fifth at Epsom), and then fifth in the St Leger behind Intermezzo who had met trouble in running when only eighth in the Derby. Ribofilio, incidentally, who also finished an unlucky second at Doncaster, was a beaten favourite in four classics, three in Britain (he was tailed off in the 2000 Guineas) and the Irish Derby. Blakeney’s final outing at three came in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Sent off at 60/1, he finished only ninth but the three-year-olds were routed as a group behind four-year-old winner Levmoss, Prince Regent faring best of the classic generation in fifth with the likes of Ribofilio and Shoemaker not making the first ten.
Keeping Blakeney in training at four brought him only one more victory, in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester, something which did less for his reputation than some big runs in defeat. He became the first Derby winner since the 1945 winner Ocean Swell to run in the Gold Cup and went close over the two and a half miles, beaten half a length by Precipice Wood who had also finished just in front of him in the St Leger. Back at a mile and half, in a rare meeting of Derby winners, he proved no match for Nijinsky in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes but gave a good account in second, finishing clear of the rest, and fared best of the older horses when fifth in his second attempt at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in which Nijinsky lost his unbeaten record in going down to the Prix du Jockey Club winner Sassafras.
Blakeney was bred and owned, as well as trained, by Arthur Budgett and was very much bred for the longer classics, by the 1962 St Leger winner Hethersett (who was brought down in the Derby) out of the 1964 Oaks runner-up Windmill Girl who was herself by the St Leger runner-up Hornbeam, Intermezzo’s sire. Windmill Girl earned further fame when another of her sons Morston* won the Derby four years after Blakeney. It wouldn’t have been too much longer before Blakeney’s staying pedigree, not to mention his effort in the Gold Cup, would probably have consigned him to a stallion career abroad, Japan maybe, as Nijinsky brought in the Northern Dancer era to Europe, but there was still enough interest in his ‘old-fashioned’ breeding for the National Stud to stand him when he retired. He died there in 1992.
Unlike Mill Reef, who was soon to join him at the National Stud, Blakeney was unable to found a male line of Derby winners but he did have some success in classics. He sired the 1980 Irish Derby winner Tyrnavos, and before that the 1978 St Leger winner Julio Mariner whose sister Juliette Marny completed the Oaks/Irish Oaks double three years earlier. Indeed it was as a sire of fillies and broodmares that Blakeney made more impact. Three more of his daughters were placed in the Oaks; Roseate Tern was second in 1989 (she won the Yorkshire Oaks and was third in the St Leger) while Britannia’s Rule and Three Tails were third in 1979 and 1987 respectively. Both Roseate Tern and Three Tails were out of mares by High Top. Elsewhere in Europe, he sired the 1992 Preis der Diana (German Oaks) winner Longa and Mountain Lodge who won the 1983 Irish St Leger as a four-year-old, while he was also the damsire of the 1993 Prix de Diane winner Shemaka.
Another of Blakeney’s daughters, Rostova, became dam of User Amigable, winner of the Oaks, Irish Oaks, Yorkshire Oaks and St Leger in 1992. More recently, Rostova’s great granddaughter Pretty Pollyanna has made her mark in a classic when runner-up in this year’s Irish 1000 Guineas.
While Blakeney never sired an Epsom Derby winner, one of his daughters produced one when Sir Percy was successful in 2006; he was out of the September Stakes winner Percy’s Girl. Incidentally, both User Amigable and Sir Percy are from the Mill Reef/Shirley Heights sire line, User Amigable a daughter of Shirley Heights’ Derby-winning son Slip Anchor and Sir Percy by Shirley Heights’ grandson Mark of Esteem.
Another consequential mating between a daughter of Blakeney and Mill Reef himself resulted in the Ribblesdale Stakes winner Gull Nook who was out of Shirley Heights’ half-sister Bempton. Gull Nook became dam of the Champion Stakes and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Pentire who became a successful sire in New Zealand where his offspring included the 2015 Melbourne Cup winner Prince of Penzance.
Blakeney’s name also appears in plenty of good Japanese pedigrees as his daughter Pilot Bird (behind in Gull Nook’s Ribblesdale) became grandam of the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) winner King Kamehameha, a two-time leading sire in Japan and the sire of Almond Eye’s very promising sire Lord Kanaloa.
Fifty years after his own Derby victory, could Blakeney appear in the recesses of the pedigree of this year’s winner? It’s not impossible. The Dante third Surfman traces back to the Blakeney mare Radiance, his fourth dam who won the Prix Corrida. She’s also the fourth dam of Treasure Beach who won the Irish Derby after being caught in the shadow of the post by Pour Moi at Epsom in 2011.
*Morston was also rated a ‘poor’ Derby winner, though he had no chance to prove himself otherwise; he never ran again after Epsom and had won his only start beforehand.