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MILL REEF – 50 years on – His career and his legacy

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MILL REEF – 50 years on – His career and his legacy

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It is now 50 years since Mill Reef won the Derby, proving to the doubting pedigree experts that he really could stay a mile and a half.

Mill Reef, a handsome, strong, compact colt, was by Never Bend (second in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness), out of the maiden Milan Mill, bred in America by his owner Paul Mellon. He was then sent to England in December 1969, to be trained by Ian Balding at Kingsclere.

As a juvenile, he won five of his six starts and after taking Newbury’s Greenham Stakes as a three-year-old, he finished a three lengths second to Brigadier Gerard, in the Two Thousand Guineas.

So lets now go to Derby Day, and despite his sires’ owner/breeder, Harry Guggenheim, strongly doubting Mill Reef’s staying ability, the bookmakers sent him off the 100-30 favourite.

On a warm day, under blue skies and after a long delay at the start, caused by, Bourbon breaking his bridle, the 21 runners finally got on their way. Linden Tree took them along and led into the straight from Homeric, Lombardo and Mill Reef. Two furlongs out, Linden Tree was still going strongly, but Homeric weakened and Lombardo soon gave way. Soon after, Mill Reef, with Geoff Lewis aboard, cruised up to the plucky Linden Tree and inside the distance, went on to win by two lengths, in 2 min. 37.14 sec.

Mill Reef then won all his remaining starts, kicking off in the Eclipse Stakes when annihilating the French crack Caro and lowering the Sandown Park course record. Next up, he won Ascot’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, then in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe he broke the Longchamp course record, defeating the popular French filly, Pistol Packer, by three lengths.

Kept in training as a four-year-old, he won the Prix Ganay by a contemptuous 10 lengths and followed up taking the Coronation Cup. Soon after he contracted a virus infection, missing his second Eclipse Stakes. Then. sustaining a swollen hock, he also missed the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup and so the long-awaited rematch with Brigadier Gerard failed to come off.

The tragic run continued when on 30 August, Mill Reef broke his near-foreleg while working at Kingsclere. After a six-hour operation involving the insertion of a steel plate in his leg, followed by six weeks in plaster, he fully recovered and retired to The National Stud in 1973.

In 1977, his problems returned when he contracted contagious equine metritis. As a result, he got only nine mares in foal. Nevertheless, two of the offspring proved exceptional: Fairy Footsteps won the One Thousand Guineas Guineas and Glint of Gold went on to take six Group 1 races.  The following year, when Shirley Heights won the English and Irish Derby’s he became Champion Sire, and then again in 1987, when Reference Point, won the Derby, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the St Leger. In 1988, he sired his fourth Classic winner when Doyoun won the Two Thousand Guineas. Furthermore, the line of three Derby winners – Mill Reef – Shirley Heights – Slip Anchor – not only gave Thoroughbred breeders access to his legacy, but has assured his place in history.

Sadly, Mill Reef was put down on 2 February, 1986, after suffering a severe heart condition and was buried at The National Stud in Newmarket.

The above extract is from The Classics Chart 1776-2020 

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