The Emirates Airline Champion Stakes has a distinguished history at Newmarket where it was inaugurated in 1877. The prestigious10-furlong Group One contest is the centrepiece of Champions’ Day.
The initial running went to the Tom Cannon-ridden Springfield. Five years later, Tristan gained the first of his three consecutive victories in the event and he remains the only horse to have won this prestigious contest so many times.
Five Classic winners had progressed to win the Champion Stakes by the end of the 19th century – Jannette (1878), Bend Or (1881), Paradox (1885), Ormonde (1886) and La Fleche (1894).
Possibly the most highly-regarded two of this distinguished quintet were Ormonde and La Fleche. The former, owned and bred by the first Duke of Westminster, won the 2000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger earlier in the season, while La Fleche was successful in the 1892 St Leger, having previously that term taken the 1000 Guineas and Epsom Oaks.
There have been 10 dual winners of the Champion Stakes including Velasquez (1897 and 1898) and Lemberg (1910 and 1911). Lemberg also won the 1910 Derby for the great Manton-based trainer Alec Taylor.
Taylor struck in the Champion Stakes with Lemberg’s half-brother Bayardo in 1909 and Sceptre six years earlier. Bayardo was one of the outstanding racehorses in the first half of the 20th century, being unbeaten as a two-year-old and going on to win 22 of his 25 career starts including the St Leger and Eclipse Stakes.
Sceptre was the horse who came closest in British racing history to winning each of the five Classics, securing all bar the Derby, and she was unlucky in the Epsom highlight as she bruised a foot 10 days beforehand and, some might argue, was not given the best of rides.
Sceptre and Pretty Polly, the 1905 Champion Stakes heroine, were two brilliant fillies foaled within two years of each other. Pretty Polly was only beaten twice in 24 outings, winning at Newmarket as a four-year-old after taking the 1000 Guineas, Oaks and St Leger the previous season. The filly missed the chance of adding the Derby to her record, as connections had not been sufficiently impressed with the filly as a youngster to enter her for the premier British Classic.
Gay Crusader took the 1917 Champion Stakes, with Taylor the successful trainer again and he also won the next two renewals with My Dear and Buchan. Gay Crusader had the honour of being described by jockey Steve Donoghue as the best horse he ever rode and the son of Bayardo (see above) also captured that year’s 2000 Guineas and Derby as well as the September Stakes, which was the wartime equivalent of the St Leger.
There were four more pre-1945 dual winners in Orpheus (1920 and 1921), Fairway (1928 and 1929), Wychwood Abbot (1935 and 1936) and Hippius (1940 and 1941).
Nasrullah, owned and bred by the Aga Khan, gained his biggest success in the 1943 Champion Stakes. He subsequently became one of the most successful and influential stallions of the last century.
The only Champion Stakes dead-heat happened in 1933 when Dastur shared the spoils with Chatelaine. French owner Marcel Boussac gained back-to-back victories at Newmarket in 1951 and 1952 courtesy of Dynamiter, ridden on both occasions by Charlie Elliott.
Seven seasons later Petite Etoile became the first of jockey Lester Piggott’s post-war record of five Champion Stakes successes. Petite Etoile benefited from the training skills of Noel Murless, who also saddled her to success in that year’s 1000 Guineas and Oaks.
Piggott gained his third Champion Stakes on the Vincent O’Brien-trained Sir Ivor, who won easily in 1968, having given Pieces Of Eight an immaculate ride for the Irish trainer two years earlier.
Lorenzaccio in 1970 was only the second horse to defeat Triple Crown winner Nijinsky, although the Vincent O’Brien-trained Nijinsky was undoubtedly not at his best at Newmarket.
Brigadier Gerard, successful in 1971 and 1972, must have claims to be the best Champion Stakes winner. His second Champion Stakes success was his 17th and final victory from 18 outings and there was hardly a dry eye in the house when the Dick Hern-trained horse entered the Newmarket winner’s enclosure.
Cairn Rouge, trained by Michael Cunningham, gave the Irish their fifth success since the Second World War in 1980.
The first Irish victory in that time was Arctic Storm in 1962, trained by John Oxx snr, followed by Pieces Of Eight (Vincent O’Brien 1966), Sir Ivor (Vincent O’Brien 1968) and Hurry Harriet (Paddy Mullins 1973).
From 1982, when Time Charter was successful, until 2001, the race was known as the Dubai Champion Stakes thanks to the sponsorship of the ruling Maktoum family. The support from Dubai has continued and since 2002, the contest has been called the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes.
The 1984 1000 Guineas heroine Pebbles was runner-up to the French-trained Palace Music in that year’s Champion Stakes. Pebbles went one better for owner Sheikh Mohammed in the 1985 Champion Stakes, before going on to further glory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Belmont Park, New York.
Triptych was the next of the race’s dual winners, striking in 1986 and 1987 for Patrick Biancone (training in France at the time), who was also successful with Palace Music three years earlier. The following season Sheikh Mohammed again found himself in the winner’s enclosure, this time courtesy of Indian Skimmer, who easily disposed of Persian Heights by four lengths.
English and Irish 2000 Guineas winner Rodrigo De Triano showed his class when winning the 1992 renewal by a neck from Lahib in a tremendous finish. The Peter Chapple-Hyam-trained colt provided Lester Piggott with his fifth and final success – the fourth came courtesy of Giacometti in 1974.
Hatoof, trained by Criquette Head-Maarek in France, was another Guineas winner returning to the scene of her Classic success when she denied Ezzoud by three lengths in the 1993 Champion Stakes. She had been successful in the previous year’s 1000 Guineas at Newmarket.
Bosra Sham won the same Classic in 1996 for trainer Henry Cecil. Unlike Hatoof, the Woodman filly went on to win the Champion Stakes later in the same campaign, giving Pat Eddery his third victory, and the following season she was victorious in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot by eight lengths.
Not content with winning the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Woodbine in Toronto, Canada, Pilsudski scored the following season for Newmarket trainer Sir Michael Stoute and gained four successes at the highest level, including a two-length triumph in the Champion Stakes.
Alborada became the most recent dual winner in 1998 and 1999 for Newmarket-based trainer Sir Mark Prescott.
The first running of the new millennium in 2000 went to Kalanisi, who provided Sir Michael Stoute with his second victory. The winner proved to be a true champion as he was successful in the Breeders’ Cup Turf on his next start.
Nayef will always possess a special place in the heart of Marcus Tregoning as his victory in the 2001 Champion Stakes was the trainer’s first Group One success. The son of Gulch subsequently gained three further wins in the highest grade.
Storming Home enjoyed his first Group One success when he beat Godolphin’s Moon Ballad by half a length in the 2002 Champion Stakes, the first to be run under the Emirates Airline banner.
Trained by Barry Hills, Storming Home was subsequently transferred to the care of American trainer Neil Drysdale, for whom he won two Grade Ones in 2003.
Haafhd give trainer Barry Hills his second success in three years when the three-year-old got the better of Chorist by two and a half lengths in 2004. The Alhaarth colt had won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket earlier in the campaign.
The 2005 renewal went to the Brian Meehan-trained three-year-old David Junior, who beat, amongst others, the 2003 winner Rakti. Victory at 25/1 made him the longest-priced winner since Hurry Harriet’s 33/1 success in 1973, but subsequent Group One success in both the Dubai Duty Free and Eclipse Stakes proved the result was no fluke.
In 2006, the Alain De Royer-Dupre-trained Pride gained a deserved Group One success following a string of excellent performances, including second behind David Junior in this race the previous year. Pride went on to end her career by collecting the Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin in December.
Her victory meant that fillies and mares have succeeded 23 times since 1945.
The impressive record of French-trained horses continued in 2007 when Literato scored by a short-head from Eagle Mountain in a thrilling finish for trainer Jean-Claude Rouget.
Until 2008, no Epsom Derby winner had progressed to win the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes since Sir Ivor in 1968. That all changed when New Approach was the stunning six-length winner from Twice Over on his final start. Trained by Jim Bolger, New Approach had won the Dewhurst Stakes on the same card a year earlier and was also the first Irish-trained winner since Cairn Rouge in 1980.
Twice Over made amends in 2009, winning for trainer Henry Cecil before going on to capture the 2010 Coral-Eclipse Stakes.
Pictured: Peter Chapple-Hyam