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greatest stayers


Ten of flat racing’s greatest stayers

Racing expert Steven Dowler continues his series on the greatest ever racehorses by listing ten of flat racing’s greatest stayers.



There is no question about it, Yeats was comfortably one of the greatest European stayers of all time and was trained by the master Aidan O’Brien. He raced 22 times, winning 14 of them with seven coming in major Group 1 races. Even if the opposition he beat wasn’t the strongest, Yeats accomplished a feat that no other horse is ever likely to match by winning four Ascot Gold Cup’s in consecutive years.

Yeats achieved this remarkable feat between 2006 and 2009. He was truly a heavyweight of the staying division and not only did he beat all the older stayers as a five-year-old but he also defeated his younger rivals at the age of eight, proving to be the master of all age groups. His regular rider Johnny Murtagh described him as the “ultimate heavyweight champion” and it would be hard to disagree.



It is unique to see a racehorse possess an electric turn of foot over staying distances on the flat but Vazirabad had that attribute in his inventory. He was a top-class french stayer and was trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre in the colours of the famous Aga Khan IV. He raced 23 times in his career, winning 15 and placing 6 times which led to him only finishing outside the top-two twice in his entire career. Vazirabad won three times in Group 1 company, seven times in Group 2 company and three times in Group 3 company.

In Vazirabad’s prestigious career, the french champion stayer won two Prix Royal-Oak’s in 2015 and 2016 and also claimed the 2017 Prix Du Cadran which has long been described as the toughest long distance race in France. Despite these great achievements, arguably Vazirabad’s greatest feat was claiming the Dubai Gold Cup in three successive years between 2016 and 2018 under Christophe Soumillon. No other horse has won a World Cup race three years running and that is what makes Vazirabad one of the greatest stayers on the Flat of all time.



Rite Of Passage is one of two Dermot Weld-trained racehorses to make the top ten stayers list. He was a lightly-raced horse in his career having run just 11 times in total. However, Rite Of Passage won seven times and placed three more with form figures in flat racing of 11131. His career was slightly different to the rest of this list because he established himself to be a high-class performer under National Hunt rules as well finishing third in the Grade 1 2009 Champion Bumper and third in the Grade 1 2010 Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, both runs coming at the Cheltenham Festival.

Rite Of Passage’s first run after his defeat at Cheltenham was in the 2010 Ascot Gold Cup where he demonstrated a willing attitude to claim the prize at 20-1. He returned to the track eleven months later to finish a close third behind Fame And Glory at Leopardstown before returning from another monster absence, this time 510 days in the British Champions Long Distance Cup back at Ascot but was victorious again. It was a hell of a performance from Rite Of Passage and there is no doubt he is one of the greatest stayers of our generation.



Dermot Weld’s other fantastic stayer was Vinnie Roe. He was one of the greatest stayers ever to grace Ireland where he won four Irish St Legers in consecutive years between 2001-2004. He made a brave attempt to win five in 2005 but finished an honourable third, beaten by less than a length. He won five Group 1 races in total and is best known for attempting to win the Melbourne Cup three times, finishing fourth, eighth and second, the latter of those behind one of Australia’s all time greats Makybe Diva under top-weight.

Vinnie Roe was rated the world’s champion stayer on three occasions in 2002, 2003 and 2004. He won 13 of his 29 starts and built up a fantastic partnership with rider Pat Smullen along the way. What makes Vinnie Roe even more of a brilliant racehorse is that he won Group 1 races on various ground conditions which included, good, good to firm, and heavy ground showing how versatile he was which many horses can’t do especially over longer distances therefore, Vinnie Roe was clearly one of the all time greats.



Makybe Diva was no doubt a once in a lifetime racehorse having become the first horse in history to win three Melbourne Cup’s and what made her wins even more substantial was the fact she achieved this extraordinary achievement in three consecutive years in 2003, 2004 and 2005 coming from unpromising positions each time to take top honours.

She won seven Group 1 races in her career and defeated some fabulous racehorses in this time. I don’t think we are likely to see a horse win three Melbourne Cup’s again because it is very rare you see a horse win two let alone three as so many have failed to go back-to-back wins in the event. This goes to show that Makybe Diva was a very special mare and confirmed herself to be amongst the greatest stayers of all time.



We move on to not only the greatest stayer in Australia but the highest rated horse in Australian history, Phar Lap, who was born in 1926. He achieved a rating of 141 and won 37 of his 51 career races including a Melbourne Cup. The legendary stayer dominated Australian racing, winning other major races such as two Cox Plates, The Futurity Stakes and an AJC Derby.

In the final race of his career, he won the Agua Caliente Stakes in Mexico and broke the track record while doing so. Phar Lap was an unbelievable racehorse and the mystery still remains about how he exactly died in 1932 due to the horse being poisoned with many saying it was an accident whilst others thinking different. Even so, Phar Lap was the greatest horse in Australia of all time and comfortably makes the top ten list of the greatest stayers.



Another top-class stayer who was one of the best racehorses of all time was three-time Ascot Gold Cup winner Sagaro. He was trained in France and won 10 of his 24 races, seven of those was in major events. Sagaro was a champion stayer in both France and the UK.

Having won the Ascot Gold Cup in 1975 and 1976, Sagaro become the first horse to win the race three times and it had taken over 33 years for that achievement to be surpassed as Yeats won his fourth in 2009. Sagaro was ridden in all of his major races by the multiple champion jockey Lester Piggott.



One of the toughest and bravest stayers to make the list was Double Trigger, trained by Mark Johnston. He was a fan favourite due to his lazy style of racing and the way he always showed resolution when looking in trouble the majority of the time. His ultra-tough attitude led him to twelve Group race wins, including the Ascot Gold Cup in 1995.

Double Trigger also won three Goodwood Cups and three Doncaster Cups as well as landing both the Henry II and Sagaro Stakes twice. He had a wonderful career and secured the stayers’ triple crown in 1995 which was the highlight of a long list of achievements.



Drum Taps was a notable high-class stayer, having shown his best form over extreme distances on the flat. He was an American-bred racehorse but came over to the UK to contest the Ascot Gold Cup in 1992 and 1993, dominating the event both times against strong opposition under the phenomenal Frankie Dettori.

He won 11 of his 21 career starts including numerous Group races on his long journey whilst also managing to be crowned European champion stayer in 1992. Furthermore, Drum Taps was a global specialist having raced in seven different countries in a career which lasted from 1989 to 1993.



Westerner was a very consistent horse throughout his career. He won various top-class races over various distances but was arguably seen to best effect over marathon distances which led him to Ascot Gold Cup glory in 2005. In 2003 and 2004, Westerner won back-to-back runnings of the Prix Du Cadran and Prix Royal-Oak which is a feat that has rarely been achieved by others.

What we also know is that Westerner was crowned European Champion Stayer in 2004 and 2005 on the back of some brilliant performances and he also managed to finish a gutsy second in the 2005 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe behind impressive winner Hurricane Run. His final race saw him finish fifth place in the Hong Kong Vase before heading to retirement. A top class horse and one of the greatest stayers ever.



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