Every owner of a Flat-bred filly dreams of the glory of owning the winner of one of the Classic races which are open to only the 3 year old generation.
In normal times a very carefully planned series of Classic trials are run before each of the five Classic races take place. The 1,000 Guineas comes around very quickly every year as it is generally run in the first weekend of May. Considering that the Flat turf season normally does not start until the last week in March, trainers have to be pretty well organised with their potential runners, especially tricky fillies. There is an old horseman’s’ saying: ‘You can tell a gelding, you can ask a stallion, but you have to persuade a filly’.
The key trials for the 1,000 Guineas are the Fred Darling Stakes run at Newbury and the Nell Gwyn Stakes run at Newmarket. In the 1990s The Fred Darling Stakes had a great record, with four of the winners going on to win the 1,000 Guineas. However, since then not a single winner has gone on to win the main event. The Nell Gwyn Stakes is run on the first day of the Newmarket Craven meeting. Just like the Fred Darling, the race does not have a good recent record of winners going on to do the double. During the 1980s Fairy Footsteps, Pebbles and Oh So Sharp won both races during a five year period but since then only the 2006 winner Speciosa has gone on the win the Guineas. However, having a prep race appears to be important as seven of the last 10 winners raced earlier in the season.
The 1,000 Guineas was first run as early as 1814 and there have been some fillies who have gone on to have stellar careers. Pretty Polly won the race in 1904 having been unbeaten in nine starts as a two year old, winning both the Cheveley Park Stakes and the Middle Park Stakes. Her ‘Classic’ year saw her become only the sixth horse to win the Fillies’ Triple Crown of the 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and St Leger. The feat has only been achieved nine times in total. She also won the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Nassau Stakes at Glorious Goodwood before winning the Coronation Cup at Epsom in 1905 and 1906. Her final career winnings were £38,597 in 1906 which would be worth a staggering £4,723,954 today.
Pretty Polly produced 10 foals at stud and four of them were Flat race winners who won 11 races between them. Her four daughters were successful broodmares, founding the Classic-winning Pretty Polly family which still has some significance in the Stud Book today.
The last Fillies’ Triple Crown winner was Oh So Sharp who took the crown in 1985. She was trained by Sir Henry Cecil who had a reputation at the time for his sympathetic training of fillies. Her two year old season saw her run three times, winning on each occasion, including the Solario Stakes and the Fillies’ Mile. She began her Classic campaign by winning the Nell Gwyn Stakes at Newmarket beating Bella Colora by a length.
She was back at Newmarket two weeks later to contest the 17 runner 1,000 Guineas run on unusually firm ground for the time of year. Oh So Sharp was not among the early leaders and appeared to be struggling in the final quarter of a mile when the race seemed to be between Bella Colora and Al Bahathri. In the closing stages however, Steve Cauthen produced the favourite with a powerful run and she got up to win in the final strides in a three-way photo finish to win by two short heads. Her effort saw her set a new record winning time for the race of 1 minute, 36.85 seconds. The previous record had stood since 1950. The form of the race turned out very well with Al Bahathri going on to win the Irish 1,000 Guineas and the Coronation Cup, while Bella Colora went on to win the Prix de L’Opera.
On 8th June Oh So Sharp was stepped up in trip to 1 mile 4 furlongs when contesting The Oaks at Epsom. Up against the Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Triptych, who had beaten all of the colts, Oh So Sharp sat in behind the Irish Guineas winner before sweeping past her 2 furlongs from the finish to win by 6 lengths in Soft ground.
She finished her racing career by winning the St Leger on 14th September. She was sent off the 8/11 favourite but had to battle hard for her final win. The finish was contested between her stable companion Lanfranco – winner of the William Hill Futility and the King Edward VII Stakes and the outsider Phardante. Moving past Lanfranco on the long Doncaster straight, Oh So Sharp was unable to draw away and quickly came under renewed pressure. She hung right in the closing stages winning by three quarters of a length, but had to wait on the outcome of a Stewards’ Enquiry before being awarded the race.
After the race Henry Cecil commented that her form had been declining and that “another week and it might have been too late” and said later: he was “hanging on to her” by early September, but not for nothing did Cauthen describe her as “the best filly I’ve ever ridden”.
In 2015 in an interview for the Yorkshire Post, Steve Cauthan spoke about his partnership with Oh So Sharp and Sir Henry Cecil. “She was the best filly I rode because she was so versatile over any distance. She should probably have gone through her career unbeaten. She was also lucky to be trained by Henry. He was touched by genius, which we all saw, and appreciated, with Frankel. We just connected and understood each other. We would talk about horses and racing at breakfast, we were always talking, but he never tied me down to instructions. We might talk about the ideal scenario, and then he’d just say ‘Good luck old chap’.”
Throughout her nine-race career she never went off at odds higher than 2/1. As a footnote, Henry Cecil became the first trainer to win prize money of over £1 million in 1985, Oh So Sharp’s Classic season.