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Tuesday, August 3, 1999 Published at 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK


Dancing Brave dies

Dancing Brave (left): One of the best horses ever?

They describe Dancing Brave as the best horse who never won the Derby.

His jockey, Pat Eddery, called him one of the best horses of all time. His owner, Prince Khaled Abdulla, rated him the most outstanding horse ever to carry his colours. For his trainer, Guy Harwood, he was "very much the best I trained".

The superlative flat racer of his generation, he won eight of his ten starts. His name is regularly mentioned in the same breath as such all-time greats as Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard.

[ image: Dancing Brave (left): The best horse who never won the Derby]
Dancing Brave (left): The best horse who never won the Derby
But Dancing Brave arrived at Guy Harwood's yard in Pulborough, Sussex, as a puny late-foaled bay colt, with better breeding (the legendary Northern Dancer was his grandsire) than looks.

Placid and even-tempered, he didn't make much of an impression - that is, until he hit the racecourse.

"The first time he ran in a three-runner race at Sandown," remembers Harwood, "Greville Starkey (the stable jockey) got off and said, "This horse is my Derby ride."

Starkey little knew how that statement was to colour his career.

Lightly raced as a two-year-old, Dancing Brave had not attracted much attention before he stalked out onto the course at Newmarket for the Group 3 Craven Stakes. His demolition job in that race was just a foretaste of what was to come in the 2000 Guineas shortly afterwards: again, he won decisively.

That made him 2-1 favourite for the 1986 Derby - and there followed one of the most controversial runnings of the Classic for years.

Greville Starkey was dogged for years after by accusations that he had held Dancing Brave up too long and given him too much to do at the end.

The horse still flew up the straight, but it was still not enough. He lost by half a length to Shahrastani.

Starkey was to partner The Brave to victory in one more classic, beating top French filly Triptych at the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown.

His star ride was then handed over, to Pat Eddery.

Partnership made in heaven

It was a partnership made in heaven, and Eddery still remembers Dancing Brave as a "once in a lifetime" ride.

If it could be thought possible, Dancing Brave moved up a gear. He swept to victory in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot, despite a tactical error from Eddery who brought him to the front too soon.

And then he travelled to Longchamp, Paris, for the big one: the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

The field was one of the strongest for 20 years, including other outstanding horses like Bering, Triptych and Shardari. Dancing Brave's rival in the Derby, Shahrastani, was also challenging again.

Pat Eddery rode a controversial race, holding the Brave up until a furlong and a half out because he didn't want to repeat his King George error.

But that produced one of the most breathtaking finishes ever seen. In the last furlong, Dancing Brave passed almost a dozen horses. The great Bering was left standing: and the Brave won by over a length and a half.

That performance earned him the accolade of Europe's Horse of the Year 1986, and a highest-ever rating of 141 in the International Classifications - the official annual league table of top class flat horses.

It's a rating that remains to be beaten, and is higher than outstanding horses like Shergar and Alleged. He has become the standard against which every potential world-class flat racer is measured.

The glory was only marred by one race - his last. The Breeder's Cup in Santa Anita, California, was held in scorching heat. Dancing Brave lost weight, and Guy Harwood tells how he dehydrated badly before the race. He could manage only a 4th place.

He retired to stud in Newmarket, valued at 14 million. His early results were disappointing - blamed on his battle with the rare Marie's Disease which nearly brought him down in the winter of 1987.

In 1991 he was sold to Japan: at about the same time his 1990 offspring began to emerge as the stars to follow in their father's hoofprints.

Descendants of Dancing Brave now include at least 31 stakes winners. The Derby winner Commander in Chief is his son, as is White Muzzle, winner of the Italian Derby, and Wemyss Bight, winner of the Irish Oaks.

With dozens more Brave foals waiting for their turn in the limelight, the spirit of this great Classic horse lives on.

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