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Mill Reef

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Mill Reef is our joint top ranked European racehorse, along with Sea Bird II, with a GR rating of 144.

Mill Reef was bred by Paul Mellon at his Rokeby Farm in Virginia. His sire, Never Bend (a son of Nasrullah and grandson of Nearco), was the leading two year old in America in 1962 and, the following year, was runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness Stakes.

Mill Reef was trained by Ian Balding at Kingsclere and ridden by Geoff Lewis.

Although Mill Reef`s first race was a five furlong event at Salisbury in May 1970, he showed some of genius to come by slamming the 2-9 Lester Piggott ridden favourite Fireside Chat by four lengths. Stepped up in class Mill Reef then won the six furlong Coventry Stakes at Ascot by eight lengths. His next race was the Prix Robert Papin at Maisons-Lafitte and there Mill Reef suffered one of the only two defeats of his career when beaten a short head by My Swallow, ridden by Lester Piggott.

Back in England, Mill Reef then proceeded to win three of the most prestigious two year old races on the calendar - the six furlong Gimcrack Stakes at York, the six furlong Imperial Stakes at Kempton and, in his last race of the season, the seven furlong Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket. His 10 length win in the Gimcrack was widely regarded as the outstanding performance by a two year old all season and Mill Reef was given 9 stone 6 pounds in the Free Handicap, one pound behind My Swallow and one pound ahead of Brigadier Gerard. He was one of the winter favourites for both the 2000 Guineas and the Derby.

By the end of 1970 Mill Reef, sporting his distinctive white noseband, had made Mr Mellon`s colours of black with a gold cross at the front and back a familiar sight in the winners enclosures following the leading two year old races. The British racing public had enjoyed a special year with Nijinsky winning the Triple Crown. 1971 was to be Mill Reef`s year. This was a vintage time in English horseracing.

Mill Reef started his three year old campaign in April 1971 by winning the Greenham Stakes by four lengths.

In our experience the 2000 Guineas in 1971 was one of the best ever run and shares the joint top place in our judgement with the Guineas won by El Gran Senor in 1984.

Mill Reef started favourite at 6/4 with My Swallow at 2-1 and Brigadier Gerard at 11/2. Others in the six horse field included Minsky, the much touted brother of Nijinsky.

At the time Brigadier Gerard`s three length victory over Mill Reef may have been seen as a bit of an upset but Brigadier Gerard is now regarded, with Tudor Minstrel, as one of the top milers in Britain since the Second World War.

Mill Reef was never beaten again, going on to win six Group One races in a row.

Next on his agenda was the Epsom Derby. Among certain elements of the press, there were doubts about his ability to stay the mile and a half and Mill Reef started at 100/30 favourite, a remarkably generous price. Geoff Lewis had Mill Reef perfectly positioned throughout and he was never troubled, winning easily by a long looking two lengths from the valiant Linden Tree and Irish Ball. Not only did he stay the trip but twelve furlongs seemed his ideal distance.

It was now time to take on the older horses. One month after the Derby, Mill Reef won the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown by four lengths in record time from Caro and, later in July, he thrashed the opposition in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, wining by six lengths, a feat that had never been achieved before.

Mill Reef was then given a rest and prepared for the Prix de L`Arc de Triomphe, where he was to face, among others, top French filly Pistol Packer, French St Leger winner Bourbon, Irish Derby winner Irish Ball and Caro. The pacemaker ensured a fast pace and in the straight Mill Reef broke clear and accelerated impressively to beat Pistol Packer by three lengths and in course record time. The English win in the Arc was much lauded at home and Mill Reef had become somewhat of a celebrity.

Paul Mellon confirmed that Mill Reef would remain in training as a four year old, with the Arc as his target.

He started his 1972 campaign with a ten length win in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp, the scene of his Arc win the previous autumn, and followed this up by winning the Coronation Cup at Epsom in June.

He was never to race again because at the end of August, when training for his second Arc, Mill Reef fractured his near foreleg. Fortunately, due to skilled surgery, he was saved for stud and went to the National Stud, where he became a successful sire. His son Shirley Heights and grandson Reference Point both won the Epsom Derby.

Mill Reef remains the only racehorse ever to win the Derby, Eclipse, King George and Prix de L`Arc de Triomphe. The lightly raced Lammtarra won three of the four, namely Derby, King George and the Arc in 1995.

He won 12 of his 14 races. His record of six consecutive Group One victories lasted for thirty years until Rock of Gibraltar equalled and then bettered it in 2002.

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